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Meet the SBS broadcasters who became Australian citizens live on air

Becoming an Australian citizen is no small feat. In an historic moment in 1996, four broadcasters from the SBS Italian program chose to do it live on air.

Revisit and listen to that moment and read and hear their stories as Luisa, Renzo and Marco (who still work at SBS Radio, 22 years later!) share their stories here. 

A unique event in 1996
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January 1996 marked a unique and historic moment in Australian radio, as four members of the SBS Italian program became citizens live on air - but why?

A government push for citizenship

The mid-1990s in Australia saw a renewed push to promote the idea of citizenship to both migrants as well as to all Australians, to encourage the idea of a 'national identity' 

This followed the 1994 publication of the report Australians All – Enhancing Australia Citizenship, by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration.

The reports recommendation included: 

Such promotion [of citizenship by the Commonwealth] should serve the dual purpose of encouraging non-citizens to become Australian citizens and increasing awareness among all Australians about the meaning and value of Australian citizenship. 

Senator Nick Bolkus, then-Minister for Immigration under the Keating government, helped lead a push for promotional activities that would encourage migrants to become citizens.

Parliamentary timeline records also state that "a Senate committee discussion paper in 1996 also examined the idea of citizenship as an activity rather than a legal status, one that constitutes the national identity.

"The growing push towards a republic during the early part of this decade also brought the idea of citizenship to the fore in public debate."

A unique moment in Australian radio history

This government push was part of what resulted in a truly unique moment in Australian radio, and the somewhat unusual decision of four SBS Radio broadcasters, Tony Palumbo, Luisa Perugini (née Giovannini), Renzo Colla and Marco Lucchi to become Australian citizens live on Australian radio.

Listen to the moment, in Italian and English that Luisa Perugini (née Giovannini) and Marco Lucchi became Italian citizens live on SBS Radio in 1996:

By undertaking their citizenship pledges live on the airwaves of SBS Italian Radio, led by Keith Owen, Regional Director of Immigration for NSW, the idea was to encourage other Italian-Australian migrants and residents to take up citizenship themselves. 

This was a concept encouraged by (what was then) the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Listen to the moment that Renzo Colla became an Italian citizen live on SBS Radio in 1996:

 

Their stories

But what was behind the personal decisions of the four SBS Italian team members to undertake such a momentous step live on the airwaves? 

22 years later, three of them, Luisa, Renzo and Marco, still work as broadcasters at SBS Radio. Here, they share their stories.

 

Luisa's story
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Arriving in Australia

I arrived in Sydney on the 1st October 1967 together with my 6-year-old daughter Manuela, to join my husband Giancarlo who had come five months earlier.

Giancarlo had decided to migrate to Australia as he felt unhappy about the working system at RAI (Italian Radio & Television) where he was working in the Head Office of the programs section. 

His brother Piermario had already migrated to Sydney to follow what was intended to be a brief encounter adventure, that instead ended up lasting a lifetime.

I did not agree with the decision taken by my husband. I thought that it was irresponsible to leave the security of an excellent, well-paid job to dive into an unknown situation.

I did however accept to join him.

Without even realizing I soon found myself seated on a Qantas flight from Rome to Sydney with countless stopovers.

I remember vividly the stopover in Calcutta where we stayed overnight and where I had my first encounter with cornflakes and Vegemite.

Later I found these to be the typical breakfast in Australia. My preferred breakfast is still caffè latte and biscuits.

I knew very well that 25,000 km were separating me from my loved ones. I did not know however that it was going to take 13 years before I would reunite and see them again.

I remember three things after the landing in Sydney: of a couple of officers on board with cylinders of disinfectant in their hands spraying on all the passengers as if were contaminated.

The other odd thing was the long wait to land and disembark the plane, because of the high volume of air-traffic, due to all the planes bringing home the soldiers from the war in Vietnam.

It seemed like arriving in the Wild West, with all the the chicken wires enclosing the airport runways.

Working at SBS

It was the year 1976 when I entered for the first time in the SBS premises (Special Broadcasting Services). The year before, in 1975, the Labour Minister Al Grasby had launched the first 'Ethnic Radio' station in order to explain to Australia's migrant communities in their own languages, (seven languages in total) the functioning of Australia's newly-launched Medicare system. 

I remember the long working hours (early mornings and late nights).

Apart from the Italian news and music, we used to inform the listeners about Australia's local politics and economy.

In those years there were not many Italians who could speak English and hence they could often feel isolated and alienated from society.

For the Italian community, in those years, a firm appointment to listen to the radio, (which was known at the time, not as SBS, but in Sydney as 2EA and in Melbourne 3 EA) for one hour every day was a must.

Becoming an Australian Citizen

I became an Australian citizen after 29 years after my arrival.

Why did I wait so long? Because before that time, I would have been to give up my Italian citizenship.

I had learned to love this country but I was not prepared to renounce to my Italian citizenship.

Together with Renzo Colla, Tony Palumbo and Marco Lucchi, we suggested to SBS management the idea to broadcast the citizenship ceremony live on air to encourage our listeners to become Australian citizens too - especially as dual citizenship was now allowed, so people could keep their Italian citizenship too.

We took our oath to the nation before two federal representatives.

We were given our certificates and the gift of a small plant for which I was so lucky to find the right spot in my garden. Today, it is still there and the little plant is a huge tree with solid roots, symbol of my roots and my belonging to this country.

The ceremony was a very emotional moment for my colleagues and myself. It remains an unforgettable moment in my life.

After 20 years I feel Australian when I am in Italy and Italian when I am in Australia.

My love for Italy is always present, however Australia has made me a better citizen - certainly more respectful of regulations and cultural diversity.

Today I have the privilege to enjoy the best of both my original and my adopted countries.

English

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Marco's story
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Coming to Australia

I came to Australia on November 23, 1993, to marry my fiancée.

We had met in Rome four years earlier. We married on 3rd December in a very simple ceremony at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

I felt great about coming to Australia, as I’d always had a love-hate relationship with my native country, Italy.

Superficially, I immediately appreciated the less chaotic atmosphere and the efficiency of the bureaucracy - it only took me just a few days to complete ALL the documents I needed to do to start my new life here.

I also enjoyed the the laid-back attitude of most of the people I me. One example was an encounter with a guy at the local bank branch, who had long hair and tattoos – something you never saw in Italy.

I also loved the idea of living in a cosmopolitan city where you could find anything and everything and see people of all possible backgrounds.

The funny thing is – and this is long before the advent of the Internet – I thought Australia was this very hot and sunny continent where it was summertime 12 months of the year.

After living in Melbourne for a year, and living through it's harsh winter, I quickly realised that was NOT the case.

Working at SBS

I started working at SBS on October 31, 1994, after going through the customary selection process.

I was a journalist and broadcaster in Italy and had started working in local radio stations in Rome ever since they were legalised in the mid ‘70s.

I’ve always thought SBS was my natural destination as a journalist and broadcaster.

I believe in publicly-funded broadcasters because they are less likely to be influenced by commercial interests – and because their programs are usually of a higher quality.

Becoming a citizen

I decided to become a citizen because I wanted to share all rights and duties with all other Australians.

At the time, there was a federal government campaign to encourage people to take up Australian citizenship (a very different approach to the current government’s policy).

I had just become eligible, so I happily agreed to take part in this “SBS Radio Live Citizenship Ceremony” experiment.

To my knowledge, nothing like that had ever been done before.

It happened almost 22 years ago, so my memories of the actual day are sketchy - however, I remember being nervous, especially about stuffing up the enunciation of the oath.

I remember not wearing a suit or even a proper jacket - maybe because I thought it wasn’t warranted or because I had forgotten to do so.

It was myself and other colleagues of the SBS Italian Program.

At the time, we used to go to air at 6pm, so I had probably been busy preparing the news bulletin most of the afternoon.

At some stage we were informed that the official from the Department of Immigration who was coming to officiate the ceremony, had arrived and we moved into the studio.

From memory, it was myself and SBS colleagues Luisa Perugini, Renzo Colla and Tony Palumbo.

What Australian Citizenship means to me

Do I feel more like and Italian or an Australian? I’ve always thought of myself as a “citizen of the world." Yes, maybe a cliché, but that’s the way I see myself.

I’ve lived in other countries, albeit for shorter periods, and, with very few exceptions, have never felt like an outsider.

I consider myself an Italian living in Australia more than an Italian-Australian.

When I break a glass, just as an example, I still swear in Italian. I still prefer Italian food and about 50 per cent of my friends here are recently-arrived Italians  -probably because we share the same sense of humour and knowledge of popular culture.

Having said that, I like to think that I behave like an Australian, in the sense that I respect the law of the land and defend Australia from criticism (when I believe that criticism to be unfair) when I’m overseas.

I’ve also become a cricket tragic, which probably qualifies me as a dinky-di Aussie!

I’ve also attended the citizenship ceremonies of a few friends, which have always been happy occasions, and I still keep my framed citizenship certificate on the wall.

This is just my personal opinion, but I believe that, in time, we should change the date of Australia Day.

Most countries celebrate their Independence Day, or Liberation Day or End-of-War Day.

Australia still celebrates the day that Captain Arthur Phillip took possession of the as-yet-unnamed southern continent. This clearly excludes from the celebrations a specific group of people.

I am proud I took the citizenship oath live on air, because I like to believe that I inspired or encouraged other Italian-speaking SBS Radio listeners to do the same.

English
 

Renzo's story
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My life in Italy

My journey to Australia really started very early in my life - when I was 12 years old.

It began with a school assignment featuring notes and some pictures which I cut and pasted into a notebook for geography class. 

We were free to select any country in the world and I chose Australia, never imagining that one day I was going to live there.

It was a descriptive journey made of facts and touristic information that I collected from a booklet from going one night with my dad to a presentation event in one of the main cinema of Verona, where I was living.

The presentation event was organised by the-then Australian Trade Commission, who were campaigning to convince people to migrate to the vast and new land of opportunity also known as 'Down Under'.

I don’t know why, but of the few items of my early school years that I decided to keep for posterity, I still have this notebook with me today, perhaps as a testimony of my early signs of fascination with the country that I’m calling now home.

1976 was the year that in Italy you could start a radio and TV station from scratch, as long as you got the right equipment and you could find a free frequency spot to broadcast.

No permit was required. It was an epic event which from that moment changed forever the landscape of the media industry in Italy. Before then, only the state-run radio and television service existed and was allowed to operate.

From that year, thousands of new stations started to operate.

I was 18 at that time and still at school, but an interest in the radio waves had started to grow in me and so I decided to join one of the two new private radio stations that started to operate in Verona.

I was not paid, as most people weren't, but the possibility of putting my passion to work was satisfaction enough to keep me going, regardless.

And so, my future career in the media began first, as a newsreader and then later by presenting some light-entertainment programs.

It was in Verona,  a splendid, ancient corner of the Veneto Region in northern Italy, celebrated by Shakespeare, who made it famous as the romantic setting for the moving tale of Romeo and Juliet, that I met my own Juliet in 1983.

She did not come from one of the belligerent families of the Shakespeare tale, but rather from a far and distant land… Australia!

Coming to Australia

One year later I started my real journey to Australia and embarked on my first intercontinental flight to marry my future wife in Sydney.

I arrived in June and I still remember the plane landing early in the morning, still dark, in a sea of lights that seemed never-ending.

Sydney was impressive to me at first sight!

The marvel of the first days and months upon arrival was mixed with the intense time of preparations for the wedding; the meeting of new people and getting accustomed to the local ways of doing things.

Everything seemed to me to be so big, young and different from where I came from.

I was fascinated by the intense colour of the sky, compared to the pale blue and often grey sky of the north.

The large layout of the city of Sydney and its unique harbour was overwhelming.

I couldn’t believe how many parks, golf clubs, beaches, and green areas there were in just one city that seemed never ending.

Everything was new and different to me: the flowers, the landscape and even the sounds of birds.

It took me a while to get used to this new world and to navigate (and drive!) in such a vast place that I considered my temporary home.

Yes - “temporary” - because I thought that I was going to stay here only for a couple of years, just enough - as I thought - to learn the language, because my English was almost non-existent. 

The plan was I would then  return back to Verona and continue where I left off, but with a new companion by my side.

It turned out to be quite a different story.

Working at SBS

Learning English was not so easy, as I thought it would be and, needing a job, I saw one day an ad in the newspaper that SBS, which was then called 'Radio 2EA' was looking for a part-time radio announcer for the Italian Program/

"Why not!" I thought.

I applied, and I was surprised to see myself in 1986 doing the same work that I used to do in Italy, using my native language in a foreign country. Time has passed, but this is how my journey with SBS started and is still going today.  

In these 30 years at SBS, I returned many times to Italy, but surprisingly never went  back for good.

Why? Because since my arrival in this land, Australia has given me a wife, a stable job, the opportunity to develop my professional career in radio and a family of five.

Becoming an Australian Citizen

There was a pivotal moment in this journey Down Under that cemented my decision to call Australia home.

Reflecting on what Australia had offered and provided me since my arrival, it was natural for me to consider becoming a citizen and not a temporary resident anymore.

The opportunity came in January 1996, 12 years after my arrival, and I couldn’t imagine or desire a better, or more original place to do it, when an opportunity was offered to do the citizenship ceremony at work. 

It would be together with my fellow colleagues: Luisa Perugini, Tony Palumbo and Marco Lucchi.

Listen to the moment that Renzo Colla became an Italian citizen live on SBS Radio in 1996:

 

The excitement and the stress of the live broadcast event was running high, but the ceremony went well as planned and was witnessed by family and friends.  

The story even made the news in the Italo-Australian media as indeed, the Department of Immigration hoped to achieve and made it's echo felt in Italy too.

Becoming an Australian citizen was really special for me.

The journey that had started so many years ago had brought me to this moment: to realise how unique this country is and how blessed I was and am to be officially part of it, embracing its rights and duties as a true citizen.

English

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Credits
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Stories and images: Luisa Perugini, Marco Lucchi and Renzo Colla

Video Producer: Katherine Gallo

Online producer: Genevieve Dwyer

Italian editor: Magica Fossati