Cooper's Creek

The Trevisani

Overview Introduction Photos More Info Book Launch History Awards 2005 Articles Email


Trevisani – Italian Migrants in Cooper’s Creek
From 1920s  -  1950s

The aim of this writing is to acknowledge a group of Trevisani – Italian men who worked and lived in the town of Cooper’s Creek and the settlement of Jubilee, from the late 1920s to the early 1950s.  While there is little physical evidence left in the area of their existence, the old photographs, letters, a diary and other documents stand as a testimonial to this group.  Being part of the Italian community, I often heard stories of these men and their families, the arduous life and the work in the Australian bush.  Conversing with old friends I felt compelled to do some research, as much of this information would soon disappear with the next generation.  I was shown a number of letters and some very beautiful old photographs from the 1920s – 30s.  This spurred me on to interview people here and in Italy to help put names to the photographs.  The group I have researched arrived in Australia, after the First World War, in the latter years of the 1920s, from the province of Treviso.

I refer to the group as Trevisani because this best describes the people in the research, as they came from the Northern Italian Veneto Region, in the Province of Treviso.  The authors Lack and Templeton explained very clearly in their work the Anglo perspective of Italianism and the migrant regional affiliation.  They say, “British Australians invested Greeks, Italians and Southern Europeans with quite spurious national identities.  The notion of an Italian nationality, identity or ideology was quite fanciful: settlers from Italy felt first and foremost an attachment to their locality of origin, and then to their province or region.  They were (Trevisani), Piedmontese, Lombardians or Sicilians before they were Italians”.  1 (Lack and Templeton).  The way these Trevisani lived and worked together, the selection of marriage partners, their migrant sponsorship and the creation of their social world, clearly demonstrates what Templeton and Lack stated.  This local and regional binding was and is very strong in the people I researched.  They came from various towns just north of Treviso, in the Veneto Region, and shared the same culture, language and history.  I think the author Morris West sums up this identity well.  He wrote, “the texture of the land imposed the texture of the history, enacted upon its surface… Change the contour and you changed the men and the history, all at once you changed their cults and their fables and their visions and their gods.  There if you had eyes to read, the story was written.” 2 (Morris West).  Undoubtedly, the Trevisani people in the fertile pianura of the pre Alps of Italy were strongly bound together.  This identification was increased by the detrimental experiences of the First World War, the famine, illness and destruction of their homes and death of loved ones.

Most of the Trevisani I have researched had experienced the First World War, either as combatants or as children in the midst of the ravaging war that caused so much havoc.  One theatre of the Great War was in North Eastern Italy, in the Veneto – Friuli Region.  At first it was along the Isonzo River near Austria’s border and later for almost two years on the Piave River near the Town of Treviso.


The War and its aftermath changed both the political and social fabric of Italy and aided the rise of Fascism.  The political system that had promised these peasants so much failed, there were no major land reforms for the landless contadini, and this may have politicised some of them.  Also, Russia’s great revolution in 1917 may have indirectly given some Italian contadini a model and the hope that Italy too could change.  The Italians hoped for land distribution and a more egalitarian society, but this did not eventuate.  Furthermore, the spoils of war promised by the Allies – more land to Italy were not all handed over.  Added to this unsettling period, there were droughts and agricultural hardships.  However, the final blow was that after the war, the world suffered the Great Economic Depression.  Dispirited, the Trevisani packed their bags in the 1920s and left Italy.

The Trevisani men I researched came to live and work in the town of Cooper’s Creek and the settlement of Jubilee.  Several men remained throughout the three decades that the lime works operated.  Most stayed there for many years, some stayed a shorter time and others lived and worked there intermittently.  They were employed in the limestone quarry smashing rocks, or as woodcutters in the bush, and in the lime burning kilns.  Each work site relied on the production of the other two.  Looking at this micro-cluster of Trevisani-Italians, they have shown some very interesting sociological characteristics.  There were over thirty men who came from the same area just north of Treviso, from the towns of Arcade, Cusignana, Paderno, Selva del Montello, La Barucchella, Cusignana Bassa, Trevignano, Biadene and Volpago.  Many arrived at approximately the same time in Australia, from 1925 to 1930, some brought out their families later, the younger men married girls from the Trevisani community in Australia and others married, by proxy, girls from the same province; all this led to many being interrelated.  Though my research concentrates on the Trevisani, I must state that on the periphery of this community there were several men who came from other areas of Italy.  Also, I mention a few Australian men who worked side by side with the Trevisani.

I believe that this cluster of Trevisani was brought about by many factors, some direct, others indirect.  The first factor was caused by the United States closing its immigration borders which forced potential immigrants to look to Australia.  Another factor was attributed to the Australian Immigration Policies of the 1920s, with the Sponsorships Program.  This program caused the ‘Chain migration’, and the discouragement of family reunion that in turn created a demographic imbalance of males.  Furthermore, family travel was economically difficult because the voyage was long and costly, and was further exacerbated by a departure tax and a landing tax.  Another sociological factor was a shared paesani (same village) mentality that bound the people, briefly mentioned earlier.  The Veneto – Treviso culture has a strong family ethos, a Catholic religion practice that intertwined the private and social life of the individual, the speaking of the Venetian – Trevisan language and a shared rural life background.  All these factors added to the creation of a small cluster of Trevisani in the heart of Gippsland.


I believe in Morris West’s quote above, that man’s (woman’s) identity is partly derived from the geographical and historical space in which he (she) lives.  The first few chapters are given over to a brief history and geography of Gippsland, especially the Cooper’s Creek – Jubilee area and the Veneto – Treviso Province.  These histories will help to integrate the men’s stories of work, events and family life over those thirty odd years.  The remaining chapters will tell the story of the work and the life of these Trevisani and events that affected their lives.  My research involved collating various documents and photographs, plus acquainting myself with the geography.  I achieved this through my many interviews with the Trevisani’s children, who are now in their sixties and seventies, and others who have lived in the area.  I have analysed many photographs and maps.  I have explored what little is left of the Cooper’s Creek – Jubilee towns and their surroundings to recreate a sense of space.  The area under discussion is in Gippsland, about one hundred and fifty kilometres north east of Melbourne, in Australia’s High Country.

There are several areas that I have chosen not to research and I must clarify them.  I have only minimally looked at the Australian community that lived side by side with the Trevisani.  Also, there were two limestone quarries at Cooper’s Creek operating concurrently, the Evans Brothers’ Company and the White Rock Company.  It was said that at the Evans Brothers’ Company the workers were predominantly Australian, whereas the White Rock Company employed mostly Trevisani, though there were a number of Australians.  My research refers only to the White Rock Company and minimally to the Australians who worked there.  I concentrated on the Trevisani because their language, culture and religion did not allow them to integrate fully into the mainstream Australian community.  This is evident by the lack of intermarriages and the friction caused by World War 2.  I believe there were two co-existing communities in Cooper’s Creek and Jubilee.  However, in times of hardship there was a reaching out to each other between the communities.

Unfortunately, I barely mention the Aborigines who had lived there for thousands of years.  Whilst the Aborigines were no longer there, I am sure that their marking on the trees, their sacred sites and rock groves around the bush were evidence of their existence, if anyone “had eyes to read”.  To them I wave a gumtree branch in respect.

 Another issue that needs to be clarified was that names of the Trevisani men changed depending on the phonics, so I have used the names that best record them or were most often voiced.  Sometimes the name they were called by was nothing like the names on the documents.  Many had a sopra nome (other names) to distinguish the different family branches.  Like the variety of names, events are seen differently by different people.  I respect that all are valid and I have tried to record those that were substantiated by other people or those that were documented by media and other sources.  Sometimes there was no other evidence and I accepted what I was told.  History always has a certain amount of subjectivity no matter how hard one tries otherwise.  Perhaps, my work may be considered as a beginning to a more comprehensive research.

This research was initially to have been my Master’s Thesis at La Trobe University in 1998.  After collating some basic documents and background information I could no longer continue due to personal demands, but I never forgot it.  I finally became inspired to continue again after another visit to Cooper’s Creek where I saw that nothing was left as testimony to these men, their families and their work.  So, this is a way of acknowledging the Trevisani.

Some of the men who worked in Cooper’s Creek – Jubilee over the many years were the Bertuola brothers Raffaele and Luigi; the Bettiol brothers, Fiorvante (Dante) and Ernesto and their nephew Primo; another branch of Bettiols, brothers Cesare and Angelo and their nephew Gildo; Giuseppe (Nin) Bordin; Tarcisio (Cisso) Costantin; P. Constante; T. Ceccato; the Durante brothers, Massimo and Ernesto from La Barucchella; and another pair of Durante brothers Angelo and Ernesto from Cusignana; the Girardi brothers, Ferdinando (Virginio) and (Ermenegildo) Gimmi; Luigi Grollo; Stefano Giovanni (Nanne) Guizzo; Antonio (Tony) Marchiori; Bruno Morellato; Donato (Dona) Toffoletto; Lino Favaro; Sebastiano Longo; Rinaldo (Rino) Gheller; Tony Saviane; Angelo Zanatta; and G. Patroni.  The majority of these men are Trevisani and are known to have worked at some time in the limestone quarry, lime burning or woodcutting.  The Australian men who are present in photographs and who had worked at White Rock Lime Company were Maurice Joseph Crotty; Fred Hoskin; Mr. Bill; Frank Dent and his nephew Roy; a Mr. Earl; John Jack Meuleman and his son, also Jack.  There may have been others who were not in photographs or in the documents but had worked in the company.  However, due to the type of work required and the economic depression, there seemed to have been a constant movement of men seeking work and moving on for better opportunities.  Therefore they are not recorded in this research.

 Diana Ruzzene Grollo, 2004


© Diana Ruzzene Grollo
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing by the publisher.

This page was last modified on October 2009 AEST.