Migration, Italian Women and Tobacco Farming in Victoria's North East
Migration, Italian Women and Tobacco Farming in Victoria's North East, Lucinda Horrocks, author, Wind & Sky Productions, 2014.Contributors
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Copyright with Lucinda Horrocks, 2014.
The first true settlers of Victoria’s mountainous North-Eastern region were the Pangerang, Minjambuta, Duduroa and Jaitmathang (Ya-itma-thang) peoples who spoke the Waywurra, Mogullumibidj and Dhudhuroa languages. They inhabited the alpine areas and surrounding river valleys – now known as the Ovens, King, Buffalo, Kiewa and Mitta-Mitta Valleys - for tens of thousands of years. European settlers arrived seeking grazing lands for sheep and cattle in the 1830s. The discovery of Gold in Beechworth and the Ovens Valley in the 1850s sparked a wave of migration from around the world, including thousands of Chinese miners from the Guangdong Province.
Tobacco and hops farming in the Ovens and King Valleys was begun in the nineteenth century by Chinese settlers of the post gold rush era. Italians started arriving and farming tobacco in the region in the 1920s. The industry really boomed in the post war period, particularly the 1950s and 1960s, dotting the valleys with distinctive fields and kilns. The close proximity of the Bonegilla Reception Centre and the attractive share farming model meant the tobacco farms were populated by migrants from all over Europe, but Italians were always foremost. By the 1970s in Myrtleford one in seven residents were born in Italy and features such as local cuisine and an Italian language cinema developed.
Italian women migrants, who in the 1930s-1960s often arrived to Australia later than their husbands and sometimes arrived as proxy brides, played a significant role in the tobacco farms, not only in the domestic sphere – raising families, looking after their own and (at times) other family’s children, cooking meals for the share farmers and labourers - but also on the farms themselves. Before the introduction of mechanised processes women would tie up the tobacco in preparation for drying and also did manual labouring on the farms – hoeing the fields, poisoning for the pervasive tobacco grub, planting out seedlings. Children of tobacco farming families were also put to work.
For more information visit:
The North-East Victorian Migration Story by Samantha Dinning, Wind & Sky Productions.
The History of Myrtleford from Original Owners to Today by John Taylor, Myrtleford and District Historical Society.