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Maltese Australians

13 April 2019 | Gattaldo

They speak Maltranian (a modified Maltese) and they're keen on keeping traditions alive. I interviewed Maltese Australians on their thoughts about Malta and what sort of itinerary they plan when they visit.

In 1948 an assisted passage agreement was signed between Australia and Malta and a substantial number of Maltese emigrated to Australia in the 1950s. By 1966, the Malta-born population of Victoria was 26,452. According to the 2016 Census, there were 175,563 people of Maltese descent in Australia and 37,614 Malta-born people residing in the country at that precise moment. That's equal to almost half of the population of Malta in 2016.

Most of the people I spoke to were second generation except for Sandie Ayling who moved to Australia in 1974. Sandie is fascinated by the island's rich history so it stands to reason that  on her latest visit to Malta 6 years ago, her time was taken with scouring the various museums and temples scattered around the island. Although Malta's sun and sea were an important feature of her stay, Sandie says she also found great satisfaction in revisiting places from her childhood and in sampling Maltese cuisine she'd yearned for. I guess it must have been a lovely trip down memory lane for Sandie.

With our second generation interviewees, I found that Malta's culture and history were also high on their list, as was their personal history - the places their parents had told them stories about and the Mediterranean dishes their family had introduced them to. It seemed that, without exception, they were all keen to trace the steps of their ancestors. I couldn't help feeling it was very much a personal journey of discovery for each of them. Bernardette Vella told me that St Paul's Bay and Xagħra both had familial significance to her, and were certainly first on her list of places to visit 7 years ago when she travelled to Malta. Bernardette says that despite the fact that she's very much a hotel-by-the-beach-person, her family's history led her to stray beyond the sun and sea. She loves a sea view, and that, she says, explains why she chose to stay by the sea.

Most mentioned wandering around aimlessly as one of the things they'd indulge in when in Malta. It is after all the best way to take in the character of a place without sticking to a guide book which dictates your journey.

Michelle Tyerman was very clear about what she would look out for on her visit. She was last in Malta 10 years ago where she visited the church her grandparents married in, her parents' childhood homes and their local churches in Sliema and Paola. "We enjoyed using buses," she adds "to expose ourselves to as much of the real Malta as possible."

Michelle says she's fascinated by "the traditions in past clothing, in particular the għonnella", the headdress similar to a Turkish Çarşaf, but starched around a curved frame instead of tight around the head.

She specifically sought out restaurants and local shops for the authentic tastes of typical/traditional Maltese foods -"They are never the same here in Australia". The thing most special to Michelle  however is the Maltese lace (bizzilla) she bought to bring back home and get married in.

I asked Michelle if there was anything unusual about Malta she'd had to work out. "As a child," she told me, "whenever I heard the Maltese speak, I remember getting the impression that they were angry with each other, but with my first visit, i understood it was just their way. It didn't help that I had little or no grasp of the language." Michelle says that one of the things she'd like to do on her next visit is to practice speaking the language.

Times have changed and news travels wide and fast, so Maltese Australians can now keep in touch with whatever's happening back in Malta. I asked what was the latest thing they'd heard about the island. I got different answers to this. Some mentioned a soccer win for the Maltese, one mentioned crime, quickly adding "crime is crime & its everywhere unfortunately". A couple mentioned that they had read about the increase in tourism and high-rise buildings and another mentioned October 2017's murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia - "I saw a story on tv about a journalist that was killed because she uncovered mafia money laundering. That pretty well shocked me."

It amazed me how on the whole, even if Malta is so far from Australia, it still is deeply entrenched in the minds and hearts of the Maltin Awstraljani. Well, next time you're in Malta, do pass by for a coffee and a chat.

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