PHOTO ESSAY BY SABRINA LAURISTON | WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM-BLAIR
Devastated by the Second World War, an estimated 288,000 Italians immigrated to Australia between 1945 and 1970 in search of work and a new life. Their contribution to Australia has been significant, helping to shape our culture, history, economy and taste buds. Today, almost 153,000 Queenslanders identify as being of Italian ancestry and about 18,000 speak Italian at home.
Sabrina Lauriston immigrated from Italy to Bundaberg in 2007, where she started a family and became a photographer. “Migration was a positive experience for me; it was an opportunity to create a totally new life,” Sabrina said. “In time, I realised I missed my roots and culture. It was a hidden feeling, like something was missing but I didn’t know what. Then I found it in other immigrants of my origin.”
Sabrina met some local Italians, aged in their 80s and 90s, and wanted to learn more about her elders. “I was comparing my experience to theirs,” she said. “In their homes I found a sense of belonging; being welcomed into their kitchen, the heart of the home for Italians where the kids do their homework while laundry is folded. It was like visiting grandparents when I was a child, hearing old stories about war, starvation, poverty, love and death; describing those times as tempi duri – the hard days.” As she was offered coffee with biscotti or dolce, Sabrina’s eyes darted between familiar objects. “All those little details and habits in their homes were part of my memories.”
In an attempt to reconnect with her cultural heritage and honour those who had come before her, between 2017 and 2019 Sabrina set about capturing the homes and lives of Italian immigrants in Bundaberg, Fremantle and Melbourne. With the assistance of curator Trudie Leigo, in April last year Sabrina opened her photographic exhibition, Australia: the Italian experience, at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. “In every single shot I can see my sense of belonging and a nostalgia for a land and culture that made me who I am today,” Sabrina said.
Sabrina and Trudie’s photographic collection perfectly depicts the fragility, sentimentality, and mettle of a peoples whose lives have spanned some of the most significant events of the 20th Century. They are a humble generation who carry deep scars of loss, grief and homesickness. They courageously sailed away from family and friends to start a new life, unsure when or if they might ever see them again. “Not one of the people I photographed regretted life in Australia, but with their old age they are getting closer to their far away memories,” Sabrina said.