Glenn Dyer’s one line summary of Bob Bottom’s investigations unfairly broadbrush a whole community. Griffith may have had drugs. But there was so much else going on. Never underestimate the personal dynamics, jealousies, rivalries and gossip of a small Australian country town.
Many Griffith Anglo-Australians resented that the Griffith Italians made a lot of money from farming. Some may have been from drugs. Most was from very very hard work. And basic economics. First cheap labour – the Italian family members were willing to work on the farm for free or for basic wages for years on the basis they would eventually get the farm, or the father would eventually buy them a farm. Second, economies of scale from larger properties – the father would not split the farm between children when he died – he would skip the girls and give the oldest son the farm, or try and give a full farm to each son. Sons didn’t have to buy out their sisters or buy out their father – so they could invest in machinery and equipment.
Sexist, outrageous, but good for the local economy. Third, low fixed costs from extended families sharing fixed costs of harvesters and trucks and scarifiers. Basic economics. But some Anglos didn’t see that. All they could see were people who had come out to Australia dirt poor working on Anglo farms as pickers in the 1920s to 1950s, who were multi-millionaires with huge farms in the 1970s. It was so much easier to dismiss it all as drug money.
And then the Griffith northern Italians resented the Griffith southern Italians. When some southern Italians were pinged for drugs, Anglos lumped the northerners and southerners together – all Italians were involved in drugs. The northern Italians were enraged. So they distanced themselves from the southern Italians, to establish their credibility as ”real Australians”, part of ”us” not ”one of them.”
All southern Italians were tarred with the same brush. It didn’t help that many of the families were very large, so there are lots of different families with the same surname. It didn’t help that many people had the same first name – there is a southern Italian tradition that the grandchildren are named after the grandparents. They were all mafia anyway, why did you need to distinguish individuals?
Some southern Italians hit back. In one case, sloppy journo number one just got a photo of a guy with the same name – and put it on page one. And then sloppy journo number two put the front page in an ABC documentary. Check out Sergi v ABC  2 NSW LR 669. But so many, so many, just couldn’t hit back. Their English wasn’t good enough. They didn’t understand the legal system. They didn’t trust reporters. So they just worked hard, lived honest lives and hoped it would all blow over eventually.
And Grassby dies and here we go again. So many people from Griffith can trace their family to Plati. So many people in Griffith are called Barbaro – check out the white pages, its like Smith. And so many have absolutely nothing to do with drugs or the mafia. Its time to stop the slur.
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