Australian Screen

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The Joys of the Women (1993)

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clip Promised bride education content clip 1, 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Kavisha Mazzella performs a song about an arranged marriage to a man in a 'faraway country’ – Australia. The song’s story is acted out music-video style in black and white.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows an aspect of the experience of Italian women who immigrated to Australia after the Second World War through arranged marriages to Italian immigrant men. The clip includes the song ‘Wedding sheets’, written and performed by Kavisha Mazzella, which is accompanied by images of Mazzella performing the song, archival photographs, and black-and-white footage that recreates an Italian bride’s journey by ship to Australia to meet her husband.

Educational value points

  • After the Second World War the Australian Government launched a large-scale immigration program that echoed prime minister Billy Hughes’s slogan 'populate or perish’. The Government believed that Australia’s relatively small population of 7 million people needed to be boosted to improve the nation’s economic growth and to ensure it could be defended if attacked (a fear prompted by the threat Japan had posed during the War). The Australian Government made arrangements with the British Government to give financial assistance to British ex-servicemen and their families who wished to emigrate, and Australia also paid for refugees to emigrate. When sufficient numbers were not forthcoming, Australia also made migration agreements with European countries such as Italy.
  • Between 1947 and 1971 255,000 Italians settled in Australia. The majority of Italian immigrants in the first influx were men, who provided much-needed labour for the reconstruction and industrialisation of Australia following the War. However, by 1954 men outnumbered women by more than two-to-one in the Italian immigrant population, and the Australian Immigration Department actively supported the immigration of Italian women to address this imbalance.
  • The high proportion of men among Italian immigrants to Australia meant that many entered into arranged marriages with women in Italy. Arranged marriages were frequently brokered by family or friends, thus continuing the tradition of family involvement in matchmaking, and allowing the families to ascertain and vouch for the characters of the couple.
  • Some couples were engaged before the husband-to-be emigrated, however often the two met for the first time when the bride arrived in Australia. These marriages were most commonly between people from the same village, town or province, so the couple may have known each other by sight. Once engaged, they would exchange letters and photographs.
  • The cost of overseas travel often prevented the groom from returning to Italy for the wedding, so the marriage ceremony was carried out by proxy, with a friend or relative standing in for the groom. This was also designed to protect the woman’s virtue and ensure that the groom did not jilt her once she arrived in Australia. Statistics for Western Australia from 1938 to 1971 indicate there were 923 instances of proxy marriages of this sort.
  • In the song, the bride refers to being hungry and adds that in Australia she 'won’t be hungry, won’t be poor’, suggesting that poverty motivated many people to emigrate from Italy. The majority of Italians who immigrated to Australia in the 1950s and 60s came from the poorest parts of Italy. Italy, an ally of Germany in the Second World War, had been left economically devastated by defeat at the end of the War, and many Italians sought a better life with a more secure economic future.
  • The song refers to the woman’s 'dreams’ being 'in the sheets’, a reference to the wedding sheets that were traditionally part of an Italian woman’s trousseau – the subsequent reference to the wedding sheets being 'in the suitcase’ may allude to the woman’s future being tied to that of her husband in a new land.
  • The film The Joys of the Women took its name from The Joys of the Women choir, based in Fremantle, Western Australia, which performs Italian traditional folk songs. The choir formed in 1988 when Mazzella, then part of an Italian folk group called I Papaveri, performed for a group of Italian immigrant women who spontaneously joined in. Mazzella recalls, 'their voices were really strong … the land and the earth were in their voices’. The film traces the choir’s collaboration with Mazzella, their experiences as immigrant women and Mazzella’s quest to document Italian traditional folk music.

This clip shows an aspect of the experience of Italian women who immigrated to Australia after the Second World War through arranged marriages to Italian immigrant men. The clip includes the song Wedding Sheets, written and performed by Kavisha Mazzella, which is accompanied by images of Mazzella performing the song, archival photographs, and black-and-white footage that recreates an Italian bride’s journey by ship to Australia to meet her husband.
Kavisha Mazzella (sings) Then the long journey to a faraway country, Australia. I’d never seen the sea before. So big and so blue. I must marry a man whose photograph I’m holding in my hand. I’m scared, I’m nervous, to give my body to the hands of a stranger. He’s the friend of my brother, who’s already waiting. He went before us, to work. And save some money. Oh, I’m so hungry, the children in Napoli are hungry. Wistful eyes. I see their eyes say goodbye. I’m leaving today. (sings in Italian) We won’t be hungry, we won’t be poor. (sings in Italian) My dreams are in the sheets. My sheets are in my suitcase. My suitcase in my hand. As I step off the land onto the boat . (sings in Italian) La-la-la-la-lie. Lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie. La-lie-lie-lie.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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