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Swiss diaspora Australia's Ticinese have strong ties to a faraway home

In the mid-19th century, around 2,000 people left the Swiss canton of Ticino for Australia. More than 150 years later, the legacy of the “Swiss Italians” can still be seen in the state of Victoria. 

In the regions of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, northeast of Melbourne, you will find a hotel Bellinzona, the Locarno thermal springs, the cricket grounds builder Tinetti and the Lavandula farm. They all bear witness to this large wave of emigration from the southern Swiss canton of Ticino to Australia.

During the 1850s, droves of people left behind the poverty of the Ticino valleys and, to a lesser extent, the val Poschiavo in the adjoining canton of Graubünden to seek their fortunes on the other side of the world. Many were lured by the promise of gold in the states of Victoria and New South Wales. But most were bitterly disappointed. By the time they arrived, the gold rush was almost over.

Many returned home empty-handed and with big debts to pay, or left straightaway for the gold deposits and ranches in California. But some stayed in Australia, living modestly and facing hardship. Traces of their lives there can still be seen today.

Having met the descendants of Ticino emigrants in the United States, the Swiss photographer Flavia Leuenbergeexternal linkr, winner of the Swiss Press Photo Award 2015, turned her attention to Australia. Through her photos, she aimed to document the strong ties that link many families to the country of their ancestors.

“In Australia, if you want to know where someone comes from, you often ask ‘where is home for you’? It’s often different to the usual ‘where do you live' and can be understood in a deeper way. It means the place that is not necessarily characterised by your four walls. This concept refers to the topic of emigration from Ticino towards the end of the 19th century,” Leuenberger explained.

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