Italian Club cements place in WA history

Italian Club stalwart Michael Gangemi joins friends as it marks 80 years. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Sipping coffees, a group of Italian men in their 90s are chatting about life . . . and soccer. It's practically their daily ritual.

For some, the member's area of the WA Italian Club has been like a second home since moving to Australia decades ago to ensure a better future for their family.

"It is their place ... it's like them being at home in their lounge room," committee member Christine Madaschi explained.

"We have been the heart of the Italian community for many years."

Italian Consulate Adriano Tedde yesterday helped the club celebrate its 80th anniversary by unveiling a plaque in honour of the organisation's contribution to the Italian community.

Club president Joe Radici said it was the first club of its kind in the world – built and owned by Italian immigrants.

"That's why the Mussolini government issued medals to the original members, to honour the establishment of the club," Mr Radici said.

The original club, La Casa d'Italia (the house of Italy), was established in a boarding house on Aberdeen Street in Northbridge in 1934, attracting Italian families and young men.

"It was a little place where the Italians could go to be with people from the same background," Mr Radici said.

"They came here to find work, accommodation and friends, so it really was a home away from home."

Quickly outgrowing the premises, the community – with a subsidy from the Australian and Italian governments of the time – raised money to buy land a few blocks away on Fitzgerald Street to build a small hall, which was inaugurated in 1937.

When World War I broke out, the club "virtually ceased to exist", Mrs Madaschi said.

"Italy entered the side of the axis powers and the Italians living in Perth were deemed enemy aliens, even those who were naturalised," she said.

"There was a confiscation act enacted by the Federal Government and our property was confiscated and given to a scouts group for the war."

When the war ended, members petitioned the government to get their club back, which took until 1947.

The club continued to outgrow its premises, until major renovations to the current building were completed in 1968.

At its peak in the 1970s, the club officially had about 6000 members. But as the Italian community moved to outer suburbs and opened regional clubs, the figure started to drop.

There are about 1000 members today and Mrs Madaschi said the challenge was ensuring that the WA Italian Club continued to be relevant to today's society.

"We have to find a relevance in the next 50 years to make sure that this feels comfortable to our members – not necessarily Italian members, because we're finding that a lot of our new members are not Italian, they just want to come here and enjoy the food, friendship and quiet time," she said.