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Edoardo Crismani's mission to uncover his Wiradjuri and Italian roots

Edoardo Crismani (left) with Elder Gary Murray and Edoardo's mother wearing traditional possum skin cloaks. Source: courtesy of Edoardo Crismani

With a Wiradjuri mother and Italian father, Edoardo Crismani has spent the last few years digging deep to piece together the history of his ancestors, and where he fits in the world.

Edoardo Crismani is a film director, writer, singer-songwriter and actor. Born of a Wiradjuri mother and an Italian father and raised in the South Australian outback, he also counts German and Scottish blood in his veins. 

Crismani has spent the last few years of his life investigating his cultural roots and expressing his findings through artistic outlets such as filmmaking.

“Knowing your heritage – your story – makes you stronger," Crismani tells SBS Italian. "You are more whole as a person when you embrace your culture.”

In 2012, he graduated with a Bachelor of Media Arts from the University of South Australia, majoring in film and TV production with a minor in creative writing. 

Crismani’s journey in search of the missing links in his heritage deepened when he set off with his mother to find out more about his grandfather, the champion boxer Joe Murray, known in the ring as 'The Black Panther'. This journey and Murray's life became the subject of a feature documentary, The Panther Within.

That's also when he discovered a lot about the suffering endured by people like his mother for decades. 

“I never understood the depth of racism and collapse of culture and family until I had mum in front of the camera," he says. "She revealed stuff on camera that I never heard before... She was protecting us.”

Art 'has a great capacity for change'

Crismani has recently been awarded an Australia Council for the Arts grant in the literature category.

“I’m planning on using that for the development of my novel manuscript,” he says.

The novel - which is again inspired by the story of Crismani’s grandfather - is set to be a fictional re-imagining of a past set in Depression-era in Australia when Aboriginal people weren’t considered citizens.

His manuscript will explore themes of identity, belonging and place in a contemporary and historical Australian context.

Crismani believes that storytelling, whether through writing or images, is a way of looking into "a world which may not have been seen before."

He believes in activism in all it’s forms, but for him his activism it is “art which creates empathy in an audience, and has a great capacity for big change.”

The quest for his Italian roots

Crismani’s desire to find answers to more questions about his own sense of belonging and family history led him to explore his Italian heritage as well.

Crismani’s father had his own unique story, having come to Australia as a refugee.

“He served during the war, but because he was born in Istria - which was no longer Italian when the war ended - he had nowhere to go,” Crismani said.

That is why he came to Australia.

"After working in Victoria at a washing-machine factory, then up north working on the dingo fences, [my father] decided to move to Coober Pedy to dig opal," Crismani said.

Crismani was born some years later in Adelaide. Few years later the family moved to the mining town of Coober Pedy, 846 km north of Adelaide in South Australia on the Stuart Highway.  

In a short documentary called Barbara’s World, Crismani’s mother recounts living in the outback with her husband. 

“We would all sit outside in the nighttime, this is the most magnificent thing you would ever see in the outback: the moon rise up so huge you could reach out and touch it," she remembers in the short film. "And he would come up and he would say, 'You know, the angels told me to come here and I would meet the girl I am going to marry. That’s you'.” 


'Embrace all of your heritage'

“Growing up in Coober Pedy with a mixed heritage felt normal. It was such a multi-cultural melting pot, and out in the desert with no running water or electricity it was a matter of necessity to get along with everyone.  Not that there were no incidents of racism but I think the circumstances made for a general acceptance of different cultures” Crismani remembered.

Adelaide was also where he discovered the value of honouring his cultural heritage. 

He remembers the moment when, while studying film and writing at the University of South Australia in 2012, an Aboriginal Elder told him “embrace all of your heritage”.

Until then, Crismani had been going by the name Ed, or Eddie. But from then on, he took on his full name, Edoardo.

“It's easy when you are called Eddie or Ed to forget your name is Edoardo," Crismani says. “[Now] I’m embracing all different aspects of my culture and it’s kind of honouring my mum, and honouring my dad."

While not all the chapters of his tale have yet been revealed, Crismani's is a story of belonging and the hunt for connection across cultures.

As his mother so poignantly says in his short documentary, "People are finding now that they have a heritage, and they are not ashamed to say they are from this race, from this mob or the other, or this is my nation”.

Watch Crismani's documentary The Panther Within on SBS OnDemand

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