Joe Spagnolo: Immigration makes Australia a better place

MY old man turns 90 years old this week and this milestone birthday has got me thinking a little about immigration, which of course continues to be a polarising issue in Australia.

I know I am being totally subjective about this, but I reckon Australia is a better place because of its intake of immigrants.

I first started writing a column for The Sunday Times 13 years ago.

Anyone who reads the column knows that my father, Francesco, has featured in it from time to time.

Joe Spagnolo
Camera IconJoe Spagnolo

But had it not been for a twist of fate, Dad would have ended up in France.

Instead, he was put on a boat by his dad, which was headed for Fremantle.

His mission was a simple one — stay in WA for a few years, make some money to send back to Italy to feed your 11 siblings, and then come home.

But he fell in love with Australia, and my mother, Carmela, and he ended up staying here.

Dad is my hero.

He has survived a heart attack and suffers from Parkinson’s — which has wrecked his once-strong body — and here he is today celebrating yet another milestone.

He refuses to accept that he is old.

For example, I know my old man will be wary if we all line up to take a photograph with him at his 90th birthday party.

In an Italian family, if you are over 75 and people are busting a gut to have a picture taken with you at a family occasion, it is usually bad news.

In our family, we call it the “departure lounge shot” and Dad is well aware of this.

The other day he was arguing with me that we had it wrong — that he was turning 89 this week and not 90.

It took some convincing from my mother to assure him he was about to hit 90, and that the reason for that special get-together was justified. And so, begrudgingly, he has agreed to a small “Francesco party” in Bunbury today.

It is rather symbolic that this get-together is being held at a good old-fashioned Aussie pub in my home town of Bunbury.

The fact this very traditional Italian-Australian family would gather at an Aussie pub to celebrate such a momentous occasion, I think, is a nice touch and symbolic of what has been a remarkable journey by my father and mother.

What I really have always loved about my dad — and my mum, for that matter — was a willingness to accept and encompass a different culture, while still maintaining some of the old ways.

One of the bigger issues in Australian politics over the past decade has been what to do with legal and illegal immigrants.

The questions usually surround how many to let in, how many not to let in, and of course who to let in.

I am pro immigration — but with a clause.

In my father and mother’s case, there was a willingness to assimilate and make Australia their new home.

It is strongly my view that if you come to this country you must change to suit it — and that Australia should not change for you.

In this era of political correctness gone mad, Australia must make sure it continues to open its borders to those worthy of coming to this beautiful country.

But Australia must make sure it retains its identity in the process.

In any culture, there are good and bad eggs.

And I really do hope that we continue to allow good people — people with integrity, a strong work ethic and goodness — to our country.

When I talk about my father as a hero, it is not just because he continues to fight for life.

It is because this dinky di Italiano, morphed into a dinky di Australiano.

He changed to suit his new home. He changed for Australia.

Australia did not need to change for him.

Happy birthday, Aussie Frank.

Stay away from the cameras.