Written and Researched by Dianne Piccoli, February 2018
It is not possible to mention New Italy without recognising the vision and commitment of Giacomo Piccoli that gave birth to what New Italy is today. Giacomo lived a full life, doing more in his lifetime than most would do today. He spoke four languages, Italian, English, French and Spanish and spent 20 years travelling the world (“New Italy Pioneer Now 83”, 1949).
Giacomo’s first visit overseas began after the failure of the silk industry at New Italy. The silk industry in New Italy came from the need for a long-term industry to support the settlement (Clifford, 1889). In 1891, with financial support from the NSW Government, Mulberry trees were planted. in 1893, the onset of an economic depression, led to the cessation of Government assistance, leaving the silk industry unviable (Thompson, 1980).
Undeterred, Giacomo continued to produce silk. Giacomo’s father Andrea had 50 years’ experience in sericulture and proclaimed that the climate around New Italy was “the very best in the world for the production of silk” (“Local and General News”, 1895). In 1894, Giacomo won a gold medal at the great Chicago Exhibition for silk he produced. Then in 1899, Giacomo won first prize at the Royal Agricultural Society’s Expedition in Sydney with silk he had spun with the help of his sister Josie (“New Italy Pioneer”, 1949). Spurred on by his wins Giacomo hoped to further the industry of sericulture overseas. In 1905 Giacomo travelled to Europe with 62lbs of his silk (“New Italy Silk”, 1905; “Personal”, 1908). He planned to return around six months later. Before he returned he won a bronze medal in 1906 at Milan for his silk. Regardless of his success a market for the silk failed to emerge (“Personal”, 1908).
Giacomo travelled overseas again in May 1908 (“Personal”, 1908). This time he took specimens of Australian timbers with him, in the hope that a trade would develop. Again, a lack of market interest failed to eventuate. Giacomo then travelled the world for the next 20 years. His travels took him to Italy, England, Africa and Russia (“New Italy-Jubilee”, 1931). He spent five years in Europe and after gaining employment on a ranch in Argentina he spent three years there planting Australian eucalypts (“New Italy-Jubilee”, 1931). When Giacomo returned to New Italy most of the settlers had moved to areas that offered long term prosperity for their families.
To celebrate the 50-year jubilee since arriving in Australia the original settlers and their families came back to the New Italy School on Easter Monday, April the 6th 1931 (“New Italy-Jubilee”, 1931; “New Italy Timeline”, 2018). The celebration of the settlers’ arrival in Australia and the settlement of New Italy became a yearly celebration of one or the other. These celebrations were often held at Giacomo’s property, ‘Paradise’ where the day was finished reminiscing and drinking Giacomo’s excellent wine (“Settlers faith in New Italy”, 1945; “New Italy’s Day”, 1935).
How the name ‘Paradise’ came about for Giacomo’s property was explained in 1935, in the following article from the ‘Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts advertiser.
“The Sports were held in Mr. G. Piccoli’s grounds at “Paradise”-the appropriate name, by the way, having been bestowed on the property by the popular local teacher, Miss Dennis, when viewing recently the magnificent display of carnations in the garden, and the designation, was promptly adopted by the pleased old pioneer”. (“New Italy”, 1935)
On Paradise, Giacomo grew fruit trees, grapes for his wine, and ran up to three hundred head of poultry. He baked his own bread and each week travelled to Woodburn by horse and sulky for other supplies (“New Italy Pioneer Now 83”, 1949; “Obituary, Mr Giacomo Piccoli was Real Pioneer”, 1955). He continued to spin his own silk and was proud that he slept on a mattress and pillow that were filled with his silk. Giacomo explained this was something “not even a king enjoyed” (Dairying Was Unheard of, n.d).
Although New Italy thrived for the first twenty years, without a long-term industry the settlers slowly left to continue their success elsewhere. To Giacomo, the settlers’ success was due to that same ‘indominable will and flaming spirit’ the Italian Settlers drew on while on Port Breton (Piccoli, 1944). Giacomo added that this spirit was “not yet dead, but was an inborn heritage passed on from stubborn, daring ancestors” (Piccoli, 1944). To keep alive this spirit in the minds of the new generation, on Saturday the 10th of April 1937, the 55th anniversary of the foundation of the New Italy Settlement, Giacomo held a celebration on his property ‘Paradise’ (“Park of Peace”, 1937; Piccoli, 1944; “New Italy Anniversary”, 1937). To mark this occasion Giacomo announced he had set aside two acres of his forty-acre property which he named ‘The Park of Peace’ where on each anniversary year of their arrival rejoicing and pleasure could held. (“Park of Peace”, 1937; Piccoli, 1944; Ebert, n.d.). Allan and Norm Piccoli’s Grandmother, (Angelo Roder’s youngest daughter), Annetta married Andrew Piccoli. Annetta referred to her Uncle, Giacomo Piccoli as the “Gentle Man of the Park of Peace” (Sullivan, letter 1959).
A strong committee of original settlers’, with Giacomo as President had been formed in 1935 to plan celebrations at New Italy (“New Italy’s Day”, 1935). Around the same time of the 55th anniversary celebration in 1937, Giacomo was endeavouring to include decendents of the original settlers with that “inborn heritage” he spoke of, in the committee to ensure the ongoing future success of New Italy celebrations (“Park of Peace”, 1937; Piccoli 1944). Over the years many celebrations were held at Giacomo’s Park of Peace. In a ‘Northern Star’ article in 1953 Giacomo stated that he hoped “that many of the relics he has of the settlement of New Italy will one day be part of the museum for which the historical society is now working” (“Mattock Work on 89th Birthday”, 1953).
Angelo Roder’s youngest daughter, ‘Annetta’ who married Giacomo’s nephew Andrew Piccoli referred to Giacomo as the “Gentle Man of the Park of Peace” (Sullivan, letter 1959).
Giacomo never married, and he was the only resident of New Italy when he died on the 7th of July 1955. In the years since Giacomo’s death, the Richmond River Historical Society and New Italy committees that followed upheld Giacomo’s dream. In 1983, the New Italy committee, led by Spencer Spinaze, himself a descendent of the original New Italy settlers, purchased the Antonelli farm. The location of the Antonelli farm near the highway, was to become the centre of future New Italy celebrations. 1984, Giacomo’s Park of Peace was moved closer to closer to this central area where a monument to the New Italy settlers had been erected in 1961 (“New Italy Timeline”, 2018). In honour of Giacomo, a song about him was written and sang at “A commemorative ceremony and musical celebration held on the 13th of September 1992 to honour one of the greatest pioneers of the New Italy settlement, Giacomo Piccoli” (Testa, 1992). On the same day a statue representing the spirit of all the New Italy settlers was also unveiled.
The strength and drive that Giacomo showed is carried on today in the achievements of the New Italy committee of descendants, its members and volunteers and in the involvement of the Richmond River Historical Society and Southern Cross University. Those achievements include an average of six hundred visitors a day to New Italy and the museum Giacomo had hoped for as well as the Casa Vecchia Gift Shop, the Taste of New Italy Café, a glass blowing shop (J. Barnes, New Italy committee general meeting, December 2017). In addition to this New Italy has its own website: http://www.newitaly.org.au/.
To his credit, Giacomo’s vision and wish to remember and celebrate the achievements of the New Italy settlers born with that “Indominable will and flaming spirit of industrial perseverance” has succeeded. In April each year the decendents and surrounding community come together for a day of fun, dancing, singing, food and of course some good wine at the New Italy Carnevale.
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