The Italian “Fifth Column” in Australia: Fascist Propaganda, Italian-Australians and Internment

Gerardo Papalia

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3 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that the widespread internment of Italian-Australian civilians during the Second World War was the product of two overlapping discourses. One was the policy of the Italian Fascist government to consider the Italian diaspora as an extension of Italy. It established an articulated and wide-ranging network that sustained migrant loyalty through cultural and welfare activities as well as by surveillance and threats of retaliation. The other discourse was the widespread belief, reflected in the Commonwealth's security policy, that all Italian-Australians were potential adherents to an enemy “Fifth Column”. Whilst there is substantial evidence that Italian migrants sought to resist both discourses, in particular by naturalizing, the overlap between them facilitated the Commonwealth's decision to intern almost one third of male Italian-Australian civilians. Ultimately, internment caused much suffering: the vast majority of Italian-Australians, to the extent that they believed in Fascist propaganda, did so mainly out of patriotic pride in Italy and not ideological conviction. At the end of the war, Australian authorities found that no Italian-Australian had engaged in espionage or in any serious act of sabotage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-231
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

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