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Like the 19th-century gold diggers, Claude Rossi left for Australia with a one-way ticket. And like many Ticinesi before him, he decided to put down roots in the "fifth continent".

Luigi Jorio met Rossi, president of the Australian branch of Pro Ticino, and talked to him about efforts to maintain Swiss-Italian culture in Australia.

In the park in Gisborne, a town north of Melbourne, Swiss flags and red-and-blue banners are flying for the first meeting this year of Pro Down Under, the Australian branch of Pro Ticino.

In the shade of a large canopy, salads and cakes are being prepared. On the barbeque, steaks and bullboar sausages – the Australian version of Ticino's luganiga – are sizzling away. Sipping wine and nibbling at cheese, the guests leaf through family photograph albums and scrapbooks.

The general good humour is reinforced by popular songs played through a laptop computer.

Claudio "Claude" Rossi, born in 1952, head of the Australian branch of the Ticino social/cultural association, beams with pleasure. Despite competition from the Australian Grand Prix being staged in Melbourne, dozens of members have gathered to spend a Sunday together.

swissinfo: Claude, we might describe you as a "latter-day emigrant". What brought you to Australia?

Claude Rossi: I was 21 years old and a rather bored with life in Ticino. Some friends and I thought Australia might be a good place to try our luck. Initially, we were a group of eight, but in the end only two of us set off with one-way tickets and SFr500 in our pockets.

In the 1970s, there were plenty of jobs going in Australia and lots of people were emigrating from all over Europe, especially Italians and Greeks. Our plan was to stay for a couple of years. As it turned out, I met my future wife, bought a house, had two children and stayed for ten years!

Then we returned to Giubiasco in Switzerland for a few years, before settling permanently in Australia.

swissinfo: Don't you ever feel homesick?

C.R.: Yes, of course, though after more than 30 years in Australia I've got used to life here. My accent says it all (laughs)! But there are some things I miss... trips into the mountains, skiing in winter and, above all, ice hockey. I'm a great supporter of Ambri Piotta and follow all their games, though only on the internet...

swissinfo: We are focussing our reports on the migrants who left Italian-speaking Switzerland for Australia 150 years ago, and about their descendants. What do you find most fascinating about this?

C.R.: It is amazing how the fifth generation of Ticino immigrants are still so interested in their country of origin. Many have taken an English name, but they are still curious to discover where their ancestors came from. And some have involved their partners, who have no real tie with Ticino. I've met one Englishman who knows the history of Ticino better than I do. It's fantastic!
If truth be told, most of the members of Pro Down Under are not of Swiss origin. But they take an active part in our meetings. For them it is an opportunity to learn some Italian.

swissinfo: The Australian branch of Pro Ticino was founded in 2005, thanks to your efforts. What activities do you organise during the year?

C.R.: When I first came to Australia in 1974, I joined a Swiss association, the Matterhorn Club. They yodelled and played cards. I got a bit fed up with Swiss German and dreamed of starting a club with the focus on Ticino. But I couldn't find enough people who were interested. Then, one day I was asked to found a branch of Pro Ticino, and I jumped at the opportunity!

With my wife's help, we organised our first meeting. Gradually numbers increased and, on August 1, 2005, at the Museum of Immigration in Melbourne, we officially founded the Australian branch. We now have around 40 members, all resident in the State of Victoria.

Our purpose is to socialise and organise festivals and cultural events. We like the idea of keeping the values and traditions of Ticino alive, even if we are 10,000 miles from "home". We also provide support for any Ticinesi who come to Australia, helping them to integrate and make social contacts.

swissinfo: The 19th-century migrants came here to dig for gold, but not many struck it rich. Have you found your "gold"?

C.R.: In Australia, I "found" my wife Margit, who comes from Vienna in Austria, and my children. Maybe not gold, but at least silver (laughs). When all is said and done, gold is not all that valuable. The most precious thing is your reason for living.

Luigi Jorio in Gisborne, Australia, swissinfo.ch

Pro Ticino

The Pro Ticino association was founded in 1915 by a number of Ticinesi living in German-speaking Switzerland.

It has many aims, in particular: to preserve Swiss-Italian culture; to safeguard and value the Italian language; to promote cultural and economic activities and culinary traditions.

At the present time, Pro Ticino has 33 branches in Switzerland (4,500 members) and five in other parts of Europe (430 members). Overseas, in California, Australia, Argentina and other countries, there are 14 further branches with around 1,200 members.

Promoting the culture of the four Italian-speaking valleys of Canton Graubünden is the task of Pro Grigioni italiano.

Founded in 1918 in Chur, it has 12 branches in Switzerland.



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