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MALTESE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION – AUSTRALIA  (INCORPORATED)

Joseph Borg

In the winter of 1986, Dr. (Prof.) Maurice Cauchi, then President of the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, together with the late Dr. Joseph Grech, organised a series of lectures on the history of Malta. I happened to learn about this when listening to the ABC radio (3LO as it was then). This series of lectures was to take place in the evening over a period of five weeks at the Maltese Centre in Parkville. I decided to go along to find out more about the speakers, the Centre and naturally to learn something about my heritage.

 

There I met Dr. Cauchi, who delivered the first lecture and Dr Joseph Grech. I also met Dr. (Prof.) Henry Frendo. After the first lecture, he and I got to talk to Dr. Cauchi and expressed an interest in what he was doing. Towards the end of the lecture series I suggested that we should organise an association whose interest would be the study of Maltese History and Culture. Dr. Cauchi supported this idea, but he himself could not be on the committee. He suggested that we get a group of like-minded persons to further this proposal. Several people were approached and eventually, a small group, namely, Dr. Henry Frendo, Dr. Joseph Grech, Ms. (Prof) Mary Galea , and myself ( Joseph Borg) were invited to Dr Cauchi’s home to dinner and to discuss the possibility of forming such an association. After a hearty meal and a lot of talking, it was decided that the concept be promoted and that we form an interim group with the express purpose of forming a Historical Association.

 

Luckily for us, Mr. Joseph Sammut, a well-known person in Malta and who also is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Knight of Malta) happened to be visiting some of his relatives in Melbourne during December 1986 and January 1987. Mr Sammut’s interests are many and varied. One of his favourite subjects is of course Maltese History to such an extent that he has written and published quite a few books on the subject. While in Melbourne he was asked to deliver a lecture, titled ‘Maltese History during the period 1798-1807 in Caricature’, based on his book of the same name. The venue for the lecture was the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville on the 15th December 1986 and some forty people were in attendance, amongst whom were  Dr Maurice Cauchi, Mr. Albert Agius, Prof Richard Divall, Dr Joseph Grech, Dr Henry Frendo, Mr Edgar Mercieca and many others.

 

This confirmed to us that the need for such an association existed. Hence we took the opportunity to float the idea to those present and, after the lecture both Dr. Maurice Cauchi and Dr. Henry Frendo addressed those present and put forward the reasons behind the formation of a Maltese Historical Association. A leaflet showing the ‘Ideals’ of such an association was handed out. These ideals were:

 (i)   The Association will be formed in Melbourne, however, any Maltese in Australia could become a member.

(ii)  The Association was to advance all aspects of Maltese History, social, cultural, economic, political and religious, as well as covering history throughout all the ages, from prehistoric to the present. The Association was to try and make contact with other similar Maltese historical associations wherever they may exist, particularly those in France, England, Canada, USA, Italy and Malta.

(iii)  The Association would endeavour to print a review on Maltese affairs, including interviews with senior persons, well-known persons living in Australia as well as those visiting Australia. The Association would also hold meetings, exhibitions and discussions on Maltese history, book reviews and other issues as they arise.

 

After the addresses by Dr Cauchi and Dr. Frendo, a vote was held by a show of hands to see whether those present were in favour of the formation of such an association. A unanimous ‘yes’ was the result.  An interim committee to establish the association was then formed, made up of Dr. Henry Frendo (President), ), Mr Joseph Borg ( Secretary),  Dr. Joseph Grech , Prof Richard Divall and Ms. Mary Galea (members). After this issue was settled, it was decided to take advantage of Mr Joseph Sammut presence in Melbourne who kindly agreed to deliver the first official lecture of the Maltese Historical Association on the 12th January 1988. The subject of the lecture was the ‘Numismatic History of Malta”.  A notice of the formation of the Association was printed in the Maltese Herald of Tuesday, 13th January 1987.

 

 

Over the next few days, the committee was very busy informing the Maltese Community of Melbourne and other interested parties of the formation of our Association with letters to the media and to announce the first lecture of the association. A proposed constitution was also drafted ready to be presented to the members at the first meeting.

 

The first official lecture of the MHA was again very well attended.  After the lecture was over, the interim committee presented the proposed constitution to the attendees. This was accepted. The committee was also formalised by presenting nominated persons for the various positions on the committee for elections. The committee formed consisted of: Dr. Henry Frendo (President), Dr. Joseph Grech (Vice-President), Mr. Joseph Borg (Secretary), Mr. Michael Agius (Treasurer), Ms. Mary Galea (P.R.O.). Meetings were to be held every two months and membership was open to all. Guest speakers were to be invited to talk on topics related to Malta and its people. It was also proposed that two members of the committee were to approach Mr Victor Aquillina, head of the Maltese Language Program on SBS Radio, for a possible interview, the idea being to promote the MHA’s  to the larger Maltese Community.

 

1987, the first year of the MHA was most successful, with lectures on a variety of topics including “Maltese Numismatic History under the Knights by Mr Joseph Sammut, “Maltese settlement in Egypt” by Mr Nicholas Chircop, “Aspects of Maltese Music” by Mr Victor Aquilina, “The Great Siege of 1565” by Mr. Roger Vella Bonavita, “From Aqueducts to Reverse Osmosis” by Mr. Victor Calleja and “Il-Maltin ta’ Tripoli” by Mr Romeo Cini. In addition the MHA, in conjunction with the Council of Adult Education, ran a half-day seminar on Maltese History on behalf of the MCCV as part of the  Maltese Cultural Festival. At this seminar, lectures were presented by Mr Victor Aquilina who spoke on “Malta and her People”, Mr Joseph Borg  whose lecture was titled “The City of Valletta”, Ms Mary Galea who spoke on “Sixteenth Century architecture of Valletta, with special reference to Gerolamo Cassar”, Maestro Richard Divall (also a member of the Order of St. John) spoke about the “Medical Aspects in the History of Knights Hospitallers” and lastly Dr Henry Frendo discussed “Maltese Colonial Identity: Latin Mediterranean or British Empire”.  During the year, the Association also applied for membership with the Maltese Community Council of Victoria. Approval of this application was granted at the MCCV meeting held on the 6th April 1988.

 

As time went by, because of pressure by the membership of the Association, meetings were changed to monthly rather than two-monthly. This  proved to be a great success since the number of attendees  climbed to between fifty and sometimes eighty per meeting. The Association has also co-operated with the Maltese Community Council of Victoria when organising the annual Cultural Festival by providing useful and worthwhile lectures and/or slide shows on Maltese History and Culture to the general public. It was instrumental in bringing  to the Maltese people in Melbourne a slide show, titled “The Malta Experience”, based on a show of a similar name in Malta. Permission from Demajo Brothers in Malta was sought and given to produce this show in Melbourne. This slide show was put together by Joseph Borg and consisted of some 650 slides using three slide projectors. Similar slide shows have been  held on other subjects such as Mdina and Gozo. Lecture topics over the years have included History, Culture, Folklore, Language, Ghana, Postal History, Banking, the Maltese Diaspora, etc. The MHA has also worked closely with the Maltese Literature Group when lectures on the Maltese Language were presented as well as the Returned Servicemen’s Association when celebrating events associated with World War II.

 

Over the years, the MHA  has  been graced by a large number of speakers, including visitors from Malta. Among these were: Dr Godfrey Wettinger (Nov 1988), Prof. Daniel Massa (March 1990), Dr. George Griffith (May 1991), Sir James Gobbo (Sept 1991 and Feb 1994), Prof Lino Briguglio (Oct 1991 and Dec 2002), Mr Guze Chetcuti (Nov 1991), Mr Paul Guillaumier (March 1992), Fr Lawrence Attard (Aug 1993), Prof. Richard Divall (Feb 1994 and Nov 1996), Hon Anton Tabone (May 1994),  Commodore Dacre Smyth (Oct 1995), Dr. Anton Sagona (Feb 1996), Dr. Lydia Sciriha (May 1997, Aug 1998 and July 2003), Dr. Rev Victor Shields (Aug 2001 and Sept 2003), Magistrate Dr. Silvio Meli (Dec 2002), and many others. The most prolific speaker and presenter so far has been Joseph Borg.

 

The Association has also been involved in many book launches. Among these were:

“The Maltese Levantine Experience” by Nicholas Chircop, “Emmanuel Attard from Gozo to Gallipoli and Australia” by Dr Batty York and Mark Caruana, “Greetings from Malta WWII” by Shirley Thomas, “Old Photographs of Malta” by Carmelina Grech (this book was also launched in Malta by Joseph Borg, a member of the Association), “It-Tezawru” by Albert Agius and “Worlds Apart – Migration in English Literature” by Prof. Maurice Cauchi. The MHA also hosted a book launch by the Maltese Literature Group at one of its meetings. The book, titled ‘Liliana Lucia – Destination Australia’ was written by Liliana L. Nelson.

 

Apart from the monthly lectures, some members of the Association have also taken a keen interest in the history of Melbourne.  Edwina Mallia, who served the Association both as Secretary and President for many years, organised visits to interesting old homes around Melbourne. These included Parliament House, Government House, Como House, Werribee Mansion, Old Melbourne Observatory and Villa Alba. We have also visited the Immigration Museum and organised other social activities such as Maltese Trivia Nights.

 

Some members of the Association, namely Joseph Borg, Nicholas Chircop and Emmanuel Spiteri were instrumental in helping to collect some photographs for the Maltese Photos Archive Collection for the Public Library of Victoria as part of the Helen M. Schutt Trust Project organised in 1991 by Ms Morag Loh who was then a curator at the Library. This activity was carried out on behalf of the MCCV.

 

In 1997, the Association was also invited to help set up an exhibition at the University of Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Arts Festival. This exhibition was organised by Associate Prof. Antonio Sagona (Reader in Archaeology at the University of Melbourne) and was called “Islands in the Sun: Cultural contact in the Maltese Archipelago”. This consisted of a conference and an exhibition of Maltese artefacts held at the University of Melbourne and other places. The talks at this conference were: ‘Megalithic Malta – Some archaeological Perspectives’ by Prof Anton Sagona, ‘Venturers from the East – Phoenicians in Malta’ by Dr Claudia Sagona, ‘The Knights of St. John’ by Prof Richard Divall and ‘Maltese Identity in Europe’ by Dr Henry Frendo. Among the exhibits were many photographs on Malta by Dr. Edgar Gatt, examples of Maltese Lace by Mary Farrugia, some coins from the period of the Knights kindly lent by Prof Richard Divall, various pieces of Maltese Punic period pottery from the University of Melbourne, etc.  

 

On behalf of the MHA,  Mr Joseph Borg made a presentation at a forum held at the Victoria University of Technology in September 1998. The forum, titled ‘The Malta Migration Experience 1948 – 1998’ was sponsored by the Missionary Society of St. Paul and the Maltese Community Cultural Festival. Mr Borg presented a paper titled ‘A Brief History of the Islands of Malta and Gozo’. He also helped Harmonic 65 with some research in Maltese history, customs, and religious believes for their production of ‘Maleth’.

 

The success of the Association would not have happened had it not been for its outstanding and hard-working committees over the years, led by capable Presidents such as Dr. Henry Frendo, Mr Patrick Calleja, Dr Albert Farrugia, Mr.Joseph Borg, Mrs. Edwina Mallia, Mr. George Portelli and Mrs. Frances Bonnici.  Though the MHA has had its ups and downs, it still remains a viable organisation, ready to be of service to the Maltese Community of Melbourne.

 

The Association is a non-profit organisation and is kept alive by the enthusiasm of successive committees and its membership. Through its activities the Maltese in Victoria have increased their knowledge not only of Malta but also of their adopted country. Since its foundation the Association has brought together people of different backgrounds and walks of life and has contributed immensely to the Maltese community in Australia, particularly in Melbourne.

  

Joseph Borg.

 

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