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Di Salvo, Giuseppe (1902–1988)

by Paul Strangio

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Giuseppe Di Salvo (1902-1988), merchant naval captain, labour movement activist and immigrant advocate, was born on 19 April 1902 on the island of Lipari, off Sicily, Italy, first of eight children of Italian parents Sebastiano Di Salvo, builder, and his wife Annunziata, née Virgona. In 1928-32 he lived in the United States of America. Di Salvo had dreamed of going to sea: as a teenager, he had stowed away aboard an English merchant vessel and worked as ‘ship’s boy’ before returning to Italy, where he qualified for merchant ship command at the Istituto Nautico di Palermo, Sicily.

At the helm of cargo ships, Di Salvo travelled the globe. On 30 October 1934 he married Elena Maria Rampolla, daughter of a wealthy Palermo family, at the Church of Santa Lucia in that city. On the outbreak of World War II, his anti-fascism cost him his command and he became a target for harassment by blackshirts. Exiled to Lipari, he joined the Resistance and fought alongside American forces in their 1943-44 landings at Salerno and Anzio.

Returning to sea following the war, Di Salvo visited Australia and become convinced of its opportunities. In 1951 he moved his family to Melbourne, trading their comfortable home in Lipari for accommodation above a Richmond barber’s shop. Multilingual, he obtained work teaching English to immigrants but in 1954, when plans to establish an Italian-Australian newspaper stalled, and short of money, he accepted command of an Italian merchant ship. In 1957 he arrived back as abruptly as he had departed. Naturalised the following year, he was then managing his own travel agency.

Di Salvo soon became active in the labour movement and with the early representation of ‘New Australian’ interests in the Australian Labor Party. Credited with founding (1956) Il Progresso (Italo-Australiano), the official organ of the Italo-Australian Labour Council in Melbourne, he was the newspaper’s first editor, and its director and driving force for the remainder of his life. With the assistance of several unions and the Melbourne Trades Hall Council he also became a full-time liaison officer between the unions and Victorian migrant workers. A friend of the Labor politicians Arthur Calwell and Jim Cairns, in November 1966—as Captain Joseph Di Salvo —he contested a Senate vacancy for the ALP. Although he was unsuccessful, the local Italian community proclaimed him as its first candidate for the national parliament.

In 1972, working from home in Thornbury, Di Salvo founded the Istituto Nazionale Assistenza Sociale, an Australian offshoot of the welfare division of one of Italy’s peak trade union confederations. His efforts were recognised in 1975 when he was appointed officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. By the time he retired as its national coordinator in 1986, INAS was an Australia-wide network.

Di Salvo’s stocky appearance was enhanced in later life by a thick shock of white hair. Headstrong and impulsive, he was also compassionate and an uncompromising enemy of discrimination. The call of the sea never left him; in old age he would wistfully recite John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever’: ‘I must go down to the sea again’. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 27 August 1988 at Thornbury and was buried with Catholic rites in Preston cemetery. ‘Addio, Comandante!’ Il Progresso declared.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Jupp, Arrivals and Departures (1966)
  • 25th Anniversary Almanac INAS-CISL Australia, 1999
  • Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Recorder, Oct 1988, p 3
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Nov 1966, p 5
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Feb 1977, p 12
  • Il Progresso (Melbourne), July 1988, p 1
  • Sept 1988, p 1
  • private information.

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Citation details

Paul Strangio, 'Di Salvo, Giuseppe (1902–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/di-salvo-giuseppe-12422/text22333, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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