06 February 2009

The Mill in Ossolaro - part two

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My face is a blue rose today, at least on my blogger profile. It represents the fact that we are having such strange weather here, and no-one really knows how this might affect us in the future.

I did not feel like seeing my smiling face shining back at me when we are expecting a scorching day tomorrow, with strong winds and the possibility of bushfires (wildfires to those of you in the northern hemisphere).



Finding certainty


The only place where we can find certainty is in the past. Yet the past no longer exists, except within our minds. All we have in the external world to remind us of the past are the remains of it in the present; in material form, in documents, and in the minds of others.

Uncovering the truth about the past can sometimes be very difficult. For example, I am trying to research the lives of people who came to Australia from three regions of Italy in the 19th and early 20th centuries: The Veneto/Venetia, Lombardy/Lombardia and Basilicata/Lucania.

It might be difficult enough for someone who understands Italian fluently, but I do not know very much of the language at all. My good fortune has been that I have had the kind assistance of several Italian-speaking academic researchers. They have been helping me along the way and pointing me in the right direction.

Important aspects of research

Most of the research I have done, though, has been through my own initiative, and this is an important aspect of any research project. Trying to uncover the history of a small village in Italy that no-one appears to have written much about before, especially in English, is important to me. I like to know the reasons why people made particularly significant decisions in the dim and distant past that affect my life today.

The history of Ossolaro is also important to the history of Australia. My father-in-law's paternal family came from that village. They had ice-cream factories in several Australian cities from the 1880s to the 1950s, pioneering the multi-cultural interaction and acceptance that have become an enriching part of Australia's social life and national values.

Shared heritage

Building up a picture of the cultural and political background to life in Ossolaro is important to our understanding of Australia's heritage and values. Why, for example, did people from a small village in Lombardy come to Australia? Many other Italians, after independence in 1870, headed for other parts of Europe, especially France. Quite a few established communities in London, large numbers went to the United States and South America, and some went to South Africa.

Local histories

Exploring the wider context of our ancestors' lives can enrich the story as we weave it, slowly and consistently seeing the picture develop before us. I am still to find the mill in Ossolaro. Perhaps I'll succeed in doing that sometime this year. My father-in-law's grandparents had that mill.

The discoveries I have already made are giving me a deeper connection to the past. By reading local histories, those of us who have European ancestry can take our personal story back to even before the Romans. We can identify patterns of continuity and change and find a sense of place in the wider world.

How strong is your connection to the past, and to the future?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.