Sisto Malaspina represented the best of Australia’s European migration wave. Picture: Kelly Barnes
Sisto Malaspina represented the best of Australia’s European migration wave. Picture: Kelly Barnes

The perspective we need to have, post-Bourke St

The late, great Sisto Malaspina represented the best of the European migration wave that shook up our dull Anglo city last century.

I hope his grieving family and friends have been buoyed by the outpouring of love and affection for him.

His famous espresso bar, Pellegrini's, is a much-loved symbol of the transformation of Melbourne in the post-war period. Wonderful food, a great love of family and a tremendous work ethic are legacies of post-war migrants such as Sisto and his co-owner, Nino Pangrazio.

They opened small businesses that changed our city forever. They brought us good coffee. They taught us how to dance. They gave us an appreciation of good food.

Sisto Malaspina was among the migrants who changed our city forever. Picture: Kelly Barnes
Sisto Malaspina was among the migrants who changed our city forever. Picture: Kelly Barnes

But it wasn't always easy for them. For decades, European migrants were viewed as outsiders because they didn't behave like their Anglo neighbours. They concreted their yards, ripped up lawns and planted tomato bushes and sent their kids to school with funny-smelling sandwiches.

Epithets like "wog", "dago", "guido" and "eyetie" were used to make sure they knew they didn't fit in.

As we struggle with a new wave of immigrants from countries such as China, India and Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan, we face a whole new set of challenges.

It would be nice to think we've learnt something from the Europeans who are now so well accepted that "wog" is largely an endearment.

I don't want to idealise how difficult it was for many European families coming here, families who suffered discrimination, abuse and violence because they were different.

A tribute to Sisto Malaspina outside Pellegrini's Espresso Bar. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
A tribute to Sisto Malaspina outside Pellegrini's Espresso Bar. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

But they contributed to our society because they were grateful to escape their distant war-torn homeland and have somewhere safe to raise their children.

They missed their homeland but they wanted to be here. They wanted to keep their customs, but also wanted to become part of our Aussie culture.

Now, we seem to have some migrants who aren't happy to be here, but resentful and determined to destroy our culture and way of life.

Many people struggle to understand why we continue to allow radicals like Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, Sisto's killer, to stay here.

A Somali migrant, he was on ASIO's terrorism watch list amid plans he was going to join Islamic State butchers in Syria. Why aren't people like him sent home?

And yet we must continue to keep such attacks in perspective. Most migrants are more like Sisto than his attacker.

While Melbourne continues to be under attack from a number of crazed, lone wolf Islamic terrorists, crime overall is on the decline.

Sisto’s kindness and generosity has been remembered in Melbourne and beyond. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Sisto’s kindness and generosity has been remembered in Melbourne and beyond. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

By far the biggest number of violent deaths are perpetrated by local-born individuals, especially men who kill their former partners.

I understand concerns about African street crime, and Sudanese youth are over-represented in crime statistics, but they are only a tiny proportion of those who commit such crimes. A bigger problem are Kiwis, but there doesn't seem to be the same push to send all New Zealanders home.

More must be done to send back those who give us trouble, such as Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, but we must make sure we don't demonise all migrants every time someone from their country commits a crime.

The vast majority of migrants want to be here, they want to fit in and they are grateful for the opportunities our stable, wealthy country offers them.

They want the same chance and the same fair go as the Europeans arriving last century - and if they don't feel like that, then they should leave.

There are many people who want to come to Australia and we don't need to accept people who don't want to integrate, who don't feel happy to be here, who don't appreciate our way of life.

Melbourne is now home to 5 million people - 2 million of whom were born overseas and 1 million whose parents were born overseas.

By mid-century, we will be home to nearly 8 million people, with migrants making up the majority of the population growth.

We have to confront these issues head-on. As the Bourke St attack showed us, lives depend on it.

Get it right and we all benefit, just as we benefited from the bountiful legacy of men like Sisto Malaspina.

Get it wrong and the outcome can be deadly, such as in the case of Hassan Khalif Shire Ali.

- Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist



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