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Valuable look at life in a migrant family

THE EDUCATION OF DR JOE

By Joseph N. Santamaria, Connor Court, $24.95

Reviewed by Fr Tom Boland

THIS reviewer once asked Bob Santamaria, the author’s brother, what it was like growing up in an Italian family and attending an Irish-dominated Catholic school.

He looked surprised that anyone should ask such a question, laughed, and said, “You just took it for granted”.

It was difficult to accept such a simple answer, but this account of the same experience by Dr Joe Santamaria entirely supports it.

Recent riots in Sydney have inspired much anxious self-examination by some Australians, whether or not we are racists.

Dr Joe’s experience suggests that our parents, at least, were not.

He is the son of settlers from the Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily. His parents married in Victoria and set up a fruit and vegetable business in Brunswick, Melbourne.

Dr Joe, in a manner more common in the United States than here, might have said, “in St Ambrose’s Parish”.

He tells us that the chapters of his book are reflections on his life composed on the computer at different times.

They were intended to help his children and grandchildren know where they had come from, culturally as well as geographically.

They are enlightening for the general reader as well. Their story is the stuff of modern Australia.

There is little by name about his famous brother, but the life experience is the same for both.

They are formed by two “religions”, the Roman Catholic Church and Victorian Football. (The broadminded author will forgive the rugby follower who cannot say, “Australian Football”.)

Both are active in the same background – Brunswick and St Ambrose’s. If you want to know what suburban or parish life was like, it is all here.

Everything is experienced in the family. The progeny of the Aeolian Islands, immigrants 100 years ago, supported each other, parents and children, brothers and sisters.

Life is lived, is supported, is fruitful in the family.

Government departments, media pundits, entertainment celebrities do not interfere with the vital growth and development of the Santamaria family.

And it is an extended family. It is amazing how many names well known in Melbourne – and some further – are mentioned here in the Aeolian group.

It was not a welfare society, but it was a caring one. Italian feats and talents are a rich mix and a fruitful one.

Yet it is not a ghetto story. The neighbours are not all Italian and they mix freely with those who are.

Football is a vibrant force binding all together in ritual cohesion. The orthodox Carlton supporters can co-exist with the heretics of Geelong.

This is an important book for those who want to study Australian life.

Formal histories can tell us about life in Australian cities. Books of this genre can tell us what it was like.

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