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story of the Italian settlement near Woodburn, NSW

Volpato, F. from boards on display at the New Italy Museum

The French Marquis de Ray had the very ambitious dream of founding a French Colonial Empire located on New Ireland (an island in the centre of the Bismark Archipelago in the Pacific) which he christened 'La Nouvelle France'. In 1879 he published some literature advertising the scheme and copies of it were distributed widely, even as far as the Veneto Region of Northern Italy. The manifest described the new colony as a "Paradise" with a climate similar to that of the French Riviera, with prodigiously fertile land and very friendly natives. The conditions for transportation and the purchase of a home and twenty hectares of land looked very attractive.

On 9 July, 1880, 340 hopeful emigrants from Veneto, Italy (men, women and children) joined the third ill-fated expedition of the Marquis de Rays and sailed on the India from Barcelona towards the unknown. Conditions on the ship were extremely bad, due to lack of ventilation and fresh food. Many died during the ninety-seven day ordeal. The India reached Port Breton, the "Capital of the Marquis de Ray’s imaginary empire" on 14 October 1880 and the emigrants were stunned when they saw what was waiting for them. It was like a frightening nightmare.

At Port Breton, the emigrants saw no sign of the wide roads, public buildings and rich, arable land as described in the manifest. All they saw were impenetrable forests deluged by continual tropical rain; all they would ever experience would be hell: malaria, starvation and head hunters. During those one hundred and twenty-four black days, the spectre of death hovered like a vulture, plucking first one, and then another. With alarming rapidity, the beach of 'paradise' became crowded with crosses. In desperation, those who were left forced the captain of the India to take them to Sydney. It was 15 February, 1881.

On the way to Sydney, mechanical breakdowns forced the India to stop at Noumea where the authorities declared it unseaworthy. More victims had died during that journey, and more died at Noumea. Ultimately, the survivors were rescued by Sir Henry Parkes, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, on request of the Italian Consul, Dr Marano; and on 7 April, only 217 of the 340 hopeful emigrants who had left Barcelona, arrived in Sydney. Their hearts and hopes were revived, however, by the wonderful sight of the harbour and the warm welcome received. Perhaps here they would find the 'Promised Land'.

After a period in temporary occupations in Sydney, their dream to be established was fulfilled. Early in 1882, following an exploratory visit by Rocco Camminitti and Antonio Pezzutti, the flow to this area began. After a few months, a total area of 3000 acres had been selected and named 'New Italy'. Here, for more than half a century, over 300 colonists worked with courage and determination, turning an infertile forest into a 'Garden of Eden'.

Prosperity, success and happiness were reflected in their colourful gardens, plentiful crops and social activities. Nothing remains now of their homes; but the spiritual heritage left by these pioneers still lives on. It will be passed on to future generation with respect and gratitude.

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