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Massola, Aldo Giuseppe (1910–1975)

by D. J. Mulvaney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Aldo Giuseppe Massola (1910-1975), museum curator, was born on 9 September 1910 in Rome, son of Carlo Massola, racing-car driver and mechanic, and his wife Erminia, née Vaccaneo. Carlo drove for Diatto of Turin and competed on the Australian circuit in 1922. After his contract expired, he emigrated with his family to Melbourne in 1923. Aldo was educated by the Christian Brothers at St Thomas's school, North Fitzroy. He entered the restaurant service, rose to head waiter and witnessed the heyday of prominent restaurants, working at the Florentino, Navaretti's and the refurbished Savoy Plaza, and then with the Vigano family at Mario's for twenty years. His friendly, confident manner and loving knowledge of wines were assets. On 28 January 1932 at St Mary's Catholic Church, West Melbourne, he married 24-year-old Marian Zaccari.

An interest in numismatics, ethnography and Tibetan culture was stimulated by Dr Leonhard Adam, from whom Massola received unofficial tuition. Massola accumulated a private collection and an excellent wine cellar at his Montrose home. From June 1954 he was employed as temporary assistant (anthropology) at the National Museum of Victoria, presumably on Adam's advice. His appointment as curator of anthropology, level C, became permanent in June 1956. He commenced his new profession enthusiastically, tidying jumbled collections which had been largely neglected since 1927. While cupboards contained rubbish, artefacts littered the floor. Massola located invaluable Oenpelli bark paintings which had been used as trestle-tables. Although later accused of pilfering artefacts, he saved much from deterioration. He also developed more systematic records and bibliographies.

Massola revived the moribund Anthropological Society of Victoria (president 1959-61). At a time when the University of Melbourne neglected anthropology, he conducted fruitful excursions in search of Aboriginal rock paintings, located several and published notes in the Victorian Naturalist. Victorian Aborigines were then virtually ignored, but Massola visited many communities, won their respect and collected information. He assembled oral, written and pictorial material, and published a dozen books or bibliographies on Aboriginal subjects. Despite their lack of documentation and rigour, they demonstrated the research potential and remain significant for Aboriginal Victorians.

In those impecunious years, Massola doubled as honorary numismatist for the then co-located National Gallery of Victoria. On 6 December 1963 he was charged with the theft of rare coins. Convicted in 1964 on three counts of larceny, he received a two-year gaol sentence, but was released on parole after twelve months. On 6 January 1965 he was dismissed from the museum. In the following year he was charged with six further counts of theft from the National Gallery. Again convicted on three counts, he was fined $110 and costs. According to the sympathetic stipendiary magistrate, Massola was 'an obsessed collector rather than a thief in the ordinary sense'.

Archaeologists knew Massola from the late 1950s as an expedition cook, notable for his wine supplies, exotic meals, and his cheerful and generous company. He typified the rising amateur interest in Aboriginal society before the advent of university professionalism. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of cancer on 6 July 1975 at Fitzroy and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $50,881.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Author, Oct 1975, p 40
  • Age (Melbourne), 17, 19 Dec 1964, 28 Oct 1966
  • Museum of Victoria records
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

D. J. Mulvaney, 'Massola, Aldo Giuseppe (1910–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/massola-aldo-giuseppe-11083/text19729, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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