CANE CUTTING GANG: Both single and married men were often away for several weeks, leaving the women and children to manage their properties and care for their crops and livestock.
CANE CUTTING GANG: Both single and married men were often away for several weeks, leaving the women and children to manage their properties and care for their crops and livestock.

The international scam that led to founding of New Italy

FOR some years there has been an annual celebration in early April at New Italy, near Woodburn.

The celebration is now called Carnivale Italiano and this year it will be held on Sunday April 12. What is it all about?

What is its significance in the history of the North Coast?

Well, it all begins with a rather shady character, the Marquis de Rays, who saw himself as King of the South Seas.

Initially, the Marquis chose Shark Bay in Western Australia as the site of his kingdom.

However, after a few choice words from the British and Australian authorities, he seems to have simply taken the atlas and with a pin transferred the location to a cove on the southern part of New Ireland near New Guinea.

He produced colourful brochures which showed houses, roads, a school and church, and shops already built at this paradise.

Minerals were also there it was said, and the land was well suited for agriculture.

In the early 1880s, he sent four ships to establish his kingdom at what he called Port Breton.

He did not venture to go himself.

There were few survivors from the first two ships.

Most of the emigrants on the third ship were Italian families.

Survivors of a disastrous boat journey settle in what became New Italy.
Survivors of a disastrous boat journey settle in what became New Italy.

They were farmers who were used to hard work and privation.

Land was cleared and some crops sown, but soon disease and lack of proper food took their toll.

The survivors were transferred to Noumea, where the Italians stated that they wished to go to Australia.

After negotiations, they were taken to Sydney, where the people of Sydney welcomed them and helped with food and clothing.

They had landed in Sydney on April 7, 1881, a date they were to preserve for future celebrations.

This is why the New Italy Celebrations are now held in early April.

Though delivered from disaster, they seemed to have lost their hope of colonization.

However, a sailor, Rocco Caminiti, on a trip to the Richmond River, decided that a stretch of land near Swan Bay would be suitable for an Italian settlement.

As the Italians wanted to remain together, they happily agreed to go with him and become selectors.

So, New Italy was born.

Unfortunately, Rocco was not a very good judge of land!

The soil was poor and the area was somewhat isolated.

A file photo of the 2013 New Italy Carnevale Italiano.
A file photo of the 2013 New Italy Carnevale Italiano. Jay Cronan

They somehow grew crops, made wine, began dairying, kept sheep and processed wool, introduced silk production, and they grew pineapples.

As in Italy, women and children worked hard too.

Men tried to obtain work on neighbouring properties, in the richer soils of the Richmond and Clarence.

Many became seasonal cane cutters.

They were hard workers and they soon were sought after by the cane farmers.

While they were away, the women, children, and the elderly had to manage the New Italy properties, look after the crops, and care for the livestock.

Gradually, New Italy became a real community with its own school and church.

IN THE MOOD: Carolyn Yates, Richard Hodgson and Lynne Bolton of Ocean Shores at the 2014 Carnevale Italiano in New Italy.
IN THE MOOD: Carolyn Yates, Richard Hodgson and Lynne Bolton of Ocean Shores at the 2014 Carnevale Italiano in New Italy. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

However, as children grew up and economic conditions changed, better and more productive land was sought. The settlement gradually disintegrated and the buildings decayed.

In the 1950s, Diana Mercer, a reporter from Ballina and a member of the Historical Society, wrote about the settlement.

It was decided to build a memorial to the early settlers.

Local people became interested, the Museum was established and the Carnivale began.

Anyone wanting more information on the day should ring John Barnes on 0408 662 878.


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