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Costanzo, Evasio (1921–1993)

by Francesco Ricatti

This article was published:

Evasio Costanzo (1921–1993), journalist, editor, and community leader, was born on 4 September 1921 at Casale Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy, son of Giuseppe Costanzo, farmer, and his wife Pierina, née Farello. Evasio graduated in law at the University of Turin in 1947 and the following year enrolled to practise as an attorney but was not interested in the legal profession. During the years of his tertiary education he had worked as an intern for the important Italian newspaper La Stampa—first at the age of seventeen in 1938, and then again at different times during and after World War II, becoming a journalist with the paper.

In 1950, having already considered migrating to Australia, Costanzo met Father Anastasio (Alfredo Paoletti), an Italian-American Capuchin friar who was the superior of the Australian Province of Capuchins in Sydney, and the editor of the weekly religious bulletin La Fiamma (The Flame). According to Costanzo, the publication at the time had a circulation via individual subscriptions and parish distribution of around five thousand copies. Fr Anastasio convinced Costanzo to migrate to Sydney in order to become its first professional editor and transform it into a general newspaper for the Italian migrant community. Costanzo arrived in Melbourne in January 1951. He had not signed any contract, and in the first seven months of his life in Australia, had to work in factories and transport to sustain himself. Finally in August 1951 he began working at La Fiamma. On 29 December that year he married German-born Hildegarde Maria Muhlenhoff, a hairdresser, at St Fiacre’s Catholic Church, Leichhardt; they had no children.

Over the next two decades Costanzo transformed La Fiamma into an important and influential Italian-language newspaper with a circulation of around forty thousand copies. Issued twice weekly by 1958, it became an essential point of reference for the community of Italian migrants, especially in New South Wales. A committed anti-fascist, who had taken part in the Resistance, Costanzo had centre-left political views. The paper’s editorial aims were to develop a lay and objective newspaper, representative of the broad Italian community in Australia, and to increase sales and distribution. He also wanted to present a contrast with the rhetoric about Italian civilisation, which had been strongly influenced by fascism and was still prevalent among migrants. Instead, he intended to show migrants how to integrate—rather than assimilate—into Australian society, as well as to provide information about the new Italy gradually emerging from the tragedy of the war and through the economic miracle of the postwar period. In the 1950s and early 1960s the newspaper also maintained a strong Catholic character in some of its columns, including those written by Fr Anastasio and the advice columnist Lena Gustin. It also took an anti-communist stance.

During the early years of his editorship, Costanzo faced many challenges, including the initial disorganisation and lack of resources of the newspaper; the resentment of the Capuchin friars, who, for the most part, wanted La Fiamma to remain a religious bulletin; the interference from the Apostolic delegation; and the hostility of mainstream Australian media towards La Fiamma. In the first decade of his editorship, he supported Italian immigrants protesting in 1952 at Bonegilla, a migrant reception centre in Victoria, against the lack of jobs. Many Italian migrants began recognising that La Fiamma was no longer solely a religious bulletin and could express and effectively represent their wider views.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s the newspaper increased its political influence, and lobbied for a number of migrants’ requests, including the portability of the Australian pension to Italy. A significant example of Costanzo’s moral and professional rectitude was the admission in the columns of La Fiamma in 1964 that it was likely that Italian criminal organisations were active in Australia. Over the years, he and his newspaper also addressed the issue of racism towards Italian migrants. From the late 1960s the newspaper openly supported the Australian Labor Party. When the newspaper was sold in 1968, Costanzo bought it, but it struggled financially and he sold it in 1975. He resigned as the editor that month, due to the new owners’ decision to adopt a neutral stand towards political parties after the Australian constitutional crisis.

Costanzo was described in 1974 as ‘a tall, sun-burned, ex-skier turned swimmer’ with ‘a thatch of grey hair’ (Herald, 6). He played a role in the development of radio programs for the Italian community (through the Catholic radio station 2SM), as well as in the creation of APIA (the Associazione Polisportiva Italo Australiana) and its popular and successful soccer team. From 1966 to 1988 he also worked as Australian correspondent for the Italian Associated Press (ANSA). His contribution to the Italian migrant community, and to Australian society more broadly, is demonstrated by his appointment as a member of the Immigration and Publicity Council, the Australian Council for the Arts (Australia Council), and the Library Council of New South Wales; he was also appointed a commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. Survived by his wife, he died in October 1993 in Milan, while on holiday in Italy, and was buried in a provincial cemetery; a memorial service was held for him at St Fiacre’s.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Cresciani, Gianfranco. Recorded interviews with Evasio Costanzo, 23 April and 4 June 1981. Private archive of Gianfranco Cresciani
  • Herald (Melbourne). ‘“Long May We Differ.”’ 6 July 1974, 6
  • New South Wales. Legislative Council. Parliamentary Debates, 14 October 1993. Accessed 26 August 2019. https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/permalink?id=HANSARD-1820781676-4158. Copy held on ADB file
  • Rando, Gaetano. ‘I malavitosi dei castelli d’erba: la criminalità organizzta italoaustraliana nei media e nell’editoria in Australia,’ in Emigrazione e organizzazioni criminali, edited by S. Palidda and M. Sanfilippo, 39–44. Viterbo, Italy: Edizioni Sette Citta, 2012
  • Reynolds, Anne. ‘A Thematic History of Italians in Leichhardt.’ Italian Historical Society Journal 9, no. 2 (July–December 2001): 4–19
  • Ricatti, Francesco. Embodying Migrants: Italians in Postwar Australia. Bern: Peter Lang, 2011
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Editor of Paper Resigns.’ 28 November 1975, 15
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘La Fiamma Editor, Voice of Italians.’ 12 October 1993, 9
  • Wales, Brennan. ‘La stampa italiana nell’Australia multiculturale.’ Il veltro: Rivista della civiltà Italiana 32, no. 1–2 (Gennaio–Aprile 1988): 133–36.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Francesco Ricatti, 'Costanzo, Evasio (1921–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/costanzo-evasio-29679/text36691, published online 2020, accessed online 28 October 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

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