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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vaccari, Gualtiero (1894–1978)

by Robert Pascoe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Gualtiero Vaccari (1894-1978), merchant and philanthropist, was born on 12 April 1894 at Sant' Agostino, Ferrara, Italy, second child of Carlo Vaccari, merchant, and his wife Olinda, née Pavesi. Educated at the local elementary school, the Royal Technical School of Finale Emilia, Modena, and the Royal Institute of Commerce, Bologna, Gualtiero was employed by a bank at Bologna before learning of opportunities in Victoria from an uncle at Bendigo. In 1912 Vaccari migrated to Melbourne where, while working as an assistant in the Italian consulate for six years, he studied accountancy. In 1921 he founded G. Vaccari & Co.: as an agent for well-known Italian companies, he imported such products as synthetic fibres, ball- and roller-bearings, and cotton goods. In 1936 he was appointed cavaliere of the Order of the Crown of Italy.

In the hothouse Italo-Australian politics of the period he was a leading figure, under fire from both sides: the Fascists accused him of lacking cameratismo (comradeship), while the anarchists vilified his class position. Although Vaccari was a good politician, he preferred a day at his Queen Street office to a stormy evening at the Club Cavour. Naturalized in July 1939, he became an advocate for Italians, especially for conscripted aliens, civilian internees and prisoners of war; his support of non-political Italians who were interned in Victoria secured the release of many. On the recommendation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, in November 1943 the Federal government appointed Vaccari an honorary liaison officer for the Italian community in Australia. At Arthur Calwell's request, Vaccari made an analysis of Australia's post-war immigration needs; his business office provided assistance to the war effort, mounting drives among the Italian community to raise war loans. On 14 October 1946 at the registrar's office, Launceston, Tasmania, he married Elda Nicoletti, an Italian-born teacher. Vaccari was appointed a commander (1955) and grand officer (1977) of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

In 1962 his increasingly diversified business, by then in La Trobe Street, became a proprietary company. He was instrumental in the establishment of a Melbourne branch of the Italian Welfare Association (Comitato Assistenza Italiano) in 1966 to which he gave financial support. In 1972 he created the Gualtiero Vaccari Foundation which endowed a chair of Italian studies at La Trobe University, granted money to the Art Foundation of Victoria to purchase Italian works for the State's national gallery, and established the Elda Vaccari Hostel at North Fitzroy and the Vaccari Italian Historical Trust. He also contributed to the Italian Community Service Fund. His outstanding achievement was as instigator of the Vaccari Homes for the Aged at South Morang.

Handsome, with keen eyes and a ready smile, he was 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall and solidly built. A modest man who valued courtesy and precision, he kept his own counsel and rarely raised his voice. Vaccari died at his Toorak home on 9 September 1978 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew. His wife and two sons survived him; his estate was sworn for probate at $153,435. Two portraits are held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945 (Canb, 1980)
  • R. Pascoe, Buongiorno Australia (Melb, 1987)
  • N. Randazzo and M. Cigler, The Italians in Australia (Melb, 1987)
  • M. Montagna, I Rifugiati Ebrei Italiani in Australia e il Movimento Antifascista (1942-1946) [Italia Libera] (Cuneo, Italy, 1987)
  • Labour History, May 1976, no 30, p 26
  • C. Finkelstein, untitled manuscript biography (privately held)
  • Vaccari papers (Victoria University).

Citation details

Robert Pascoe, 'Vaccari, Gualtiero (1894–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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