HomeHidden Lives: War, Internment and Australia’s Italians

Buy Now

Hidden Lives: War, Internment and Australia’s Italians

A dark chapter in Australia’s wartime history has often been minimised or overlooked in mainstream history books. This collection of five scholarly essays, and 15 testimonials, offers new insights into the deeply personal experiences of Italian Australians whose families experienced World War II on the home front. It is the first such compilation by authors originating from northern, central, and southern Italian provinces, and from five Australian States. Although each story is unique, the authors share many Italian cultural values, language, history, and a profound sense of Italianness, as well as a connection to their Australian selves. These essays and narratives consider the often-unintended negative consequences of war, describing our commonalities through their personal struggles and a fundamental human resilience.

ISBN 9781925231496 (PB, 348pp);
152mm x 229mm
AUD $36 USD $25 NZD $39 GBP £18 EUR €20
ISBN 9781925231649 (eBook) AUD $17 USD $10 NZD $19 GBP £10 EUR €12


Hidden Lives is a valuable addition to Italian Diaspora history, joining Una Storia Segreta (USA) and Enemies Within (Canada) to tell the stories of those immigrants who experienced detention during World War Two as enemy aliens in these allied nations. The combination of emotionally charged personal narratives and well-researched scholarly essays create new history, one that fills a long neglected void in Italian Diaspora Studies, enabling us all to know now what few knew, and even fewer talked about, then.
– Fred Gardaphe, Distinguished Professor of Italian/American Studies, Queens College, City University of New York

Hidden Lives offers new, accessible insights on a significant period in Australia’s history. But beyond mere historical account, it urges the reader to consider these events in light of modern Australia’s ongoing debates about multiculturalism, refugees, defence, and political leadership.
– Susan Carland, Director, Bachelor of Global Studies, Monash University

Not many of those Italians, Germans and Japanese that suffered unjustly during that terrible period of world history are amongst us today, but their stories and the memory of those events need to be told and retold. These stories need to be told because history needs to be set right; it needs to be told to do justice to those that were caught in the vortex of war and became victims of ‘nationalistic’ hysteria; their stories need to be told in the hope that we will not repeat these atrocities to new events and to other communities presently or in the future.
– Joseph A Caputo OAM (JP), Hon. President, Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia

The first-hand testimonies will not fail to move all who read Spizzica’s volume, which reveals the extent of the travesty of wartime policies.
– Catherine Dewhirst, University of Southern Queensland

While George Takei draws attention to the Japanese internment camps at a crucial time in our history, Mia Spizzica has done the same with the Italian story. Hidden Lives: War, Internment & Australia’s Italians is a meticulously recorded compilation of first-hand immigration and wartime accounts. Readers are offered a holistic, historical perspective and receive a greater understanding of what our ancestors endured alongside the fragility of our freedom. Contributors share their wisdom with determination and honesty, invariably distilling the differences across migration experiences while also extolling the universality that binds us all. As an American of Italian descent whose ancestors dug the NY City subways and suffered in unregulated sweatshops, this work at once deeply moved and enlightened me. I purchased my copy directly from the publisher. Do not hesitate to purchase yours.
– Lauren Daniels, Brisbane Writers Workshop

Mia Spizzica

Mia Spizzica has taught at the University of Siena in Italy, the University of Melbourne, and RMIT University in the Humanities and Social Sciences. She is a Melbourne Museum Research Associate. Her PhD at Monash University has focused on the internment of Italians in Australia.


Dr David Reiter introduces Hidden Lives at the 2018 IP Brisbane Gala
Mia on Facebook
Mia's LinkedIn page
Mia's article in Il Globo

from the Introduction

During the first four decades of the 20th century, increasing numbers of Italians migrated to Australia. It was viewed as a distant British Dominion that offered bountiful opportunities for energetic, forward-looking migrants who sought to build an economically secure future for themselves and their families. Yet, the aspirations of many migrants were shattered by the economic consequences of the Great Depression in the 1930s, followed by World War II (WWII) from 1939 to 1945. When Italy declared war on 10 June 1940 on Britain and France, its alliance with the British Empire during the Great War dissolved into a distant memory. This all-out conflict between Britain, its allies, and the key Axis nations, Germany, Italy, and Japan, changed the economic and political trajectory of nations worldwide. Not only did the ravages of this world war change the physical environment, but also the fate of millions of civilians of many nations caught in the crossfire when populated areas became battlefield front lines, or as non-combatant residents in enemy nations. This conflict was to become a critical turning point for Italians migrants living in Australia, other British dominions, and in allied nations. In an instant, Italians living in allied nations had become enemy aliens. Their experiences have rarely been mentioned in mainstream Australian histories.

This collection of five research essays, and memories of fifteen Italian Australians, offers new insights into the deeply personal experiences of people whose families witnessed WWII in Australia. It is the first such compilation by authors originating from northern, central and Southern Italian provinces, and from five Australian States – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Although each story is a unique eyewitness account, authors share many Italian cultural values, language, history, and a profound sense of Italianness – italianità.

While official histories of Italian internment in Australia present one version of the home front war story, the narratives in this anthology offers an Italian Australian perspective. The testimonies rely primarily on recollections of events that occurred more than seventy years ago, which have been corroborated by primary sources that establish the authenticity of each story. Theirs are memories of anguish and hard times, similar to millions of other human beings who have experienced wars throughout the millennia. These unique wartime narratives shed new light on the lived experiences of Italians who were interned in Australia. To understand why wartime internment is such an important issue for the authors in this collection, it is framed with an overview of the historical backdrop of war between the Axis alliance and the British Empire, and the social and political environment on the Australian home front.