Guide to the Santospirito Collection

Lena SantospiritoThe Santospirito Collection comprises the personal papers of Mrs Lena Santospirito (1895-1983). Mrs Santospirito was a leader of the Italian-Australian community in Melbourne and is best known for her charitable work as President of the Archbishop's Committee for Italian Relief in the early 1950s period of Italian mass immigration to Australia. The records in this Collection document her work with the Archbishop's Committee, as well as her involvement with other institutions and her personal and family affairs.

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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.

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Source: The Argus
12 November 1952, page 5

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Item SP-01656