Introduction | Migration | Unemployment | Social Life | Religion

Much of Mrs Santospirito's time as President of the Archbishop's Committee was devoted to finding jobs for Italian migrants. Migrant unemployment became a huge problem in Australia in the early 1950s, when an economic down-turn and recession drastically lowered the job prospects for the steadily increasing numbers of post-war migrants.


During the crisis years of 1952 and 1953, unemployed Italians would show up at the Santospirito family home in Carlton every morning. Lena Santospirito's son, Tony, remembered the scene: 'In the early 1950s when the unemployment problem was pretty bad, there'd be people in the front room, there'd be people in the passage outside the front room and the dining room, people on the front verandah under the balcony...'

These men were desperate to find work - many of them had borrowed money to make the journey to Australia and needed a job to be able to pay off their debt. Others needed to save money to pay for the passage to Australia of their families. It was common for Italian men with wives and children to come to Australia alone and become settled before being joined by their family.

The unemployment crisis for Italian migrants coincided with the signing of the first assisted migration agreement between Australia and Italy. The first assisted migrants from Italy who had been promised two years of work by the Australian government found themselves marooned without jobs in rural migrant reception centres like Bonegilla. Some migrants at Bonegilla who had heard of Lena Santospirito and her charitable work wrote letters to her from the camp. For more information see Series 44 - Lettere Varie Emigranti.

I look for work

Source: The Argus
12 November 1952, page 5

Employment letter

Item SP-01656

Mrs Santospirito and the Archbishop's Committee worked to help assisted and unassisted migrants from Italy who were suffering during the early 1950s. Santospirito endeavoured to find work for these men through a variety of channels: she put classified ads in the newspapers, wrote letters to major employers such as General Motors and the Victorian railways and tramways, and used whatever contacts she could to place the migrants who showed up at her door in employment. Santospirito prepared personal references and 'letters of introduction' for migrants to take with them to job interviews. The Collection also contains copies of certificates produced by Santospirito, certifying the number of months that particular migrants had been without work, presumably to help the unemployed to access government assistance. For more information see Series 37 - Copie Lettere di Presentazione.

There are several series in the Santospirito Collection relating to migrant employment:

Published by the Italian Historical Society, CoAsIt, December 2001
Listed by Cate Elkner and Tony Santospirito
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Updated 14 May 2004

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