Migrant Voices – Denis Muto

Denis Muto was born November 23, 1958 in Sarreguemines, Northern France to Italian parents. He is married Mary with two teenage daughters. Denis says, "The resources of the Goulburn Valley have been developed using the labors of the migrant people. We have all benefited from their labour - giving this area the well-deserved name of the Food Bowl of Australia."

My Story:


Born November 23, 1958 - Sarreguemines, Northern France to Italian parents. Married Mary with two teenage daughters.

Education Qualification

  • Certificate of Technology Communication (RMIT) 1980
  • Associate Diploma of Administration 1990 (La Trobe University)
  • Diploma of Education Technology 2004 (La Trobe University)

Denis arrived in the Goulburn Valley in 1961 at the age of three having been born in France of Italian parents. He attended the local primary school and secondary college.

Denis served four years in the Australian Army Reserve - Unit 2nd Royal Victorian Regiment (2RVR).

Denis' career includes 22 years as a Technical Officer with Telstra and five years with Commander Communications. Denis returned to university in 2002 and completed a Diploma of Education and taught in various colleges through out the Goulburn Valley.

Denis has been a member of the Italian Catholic Federation for the past 27 years and served a ten-year period as President. He is the Vice-President at present.

Denis is also a member at the Shepparton Rotary Club and is President Elect for year 2008-2009.

Denis has returned to the family business of property development and is currently building his own home.

Migration: the Goulburn Valley Experience

Like the first migrants to this country - the English convict ships, the Muto clan arrived on these shores in similar fashion. My uncle was a prisoner of war with the British and transported to the POW camp in Murchison during the Second World War. He fell in love with the countryside and at war's end, after being repatriated back to Italy - returned to Australia. After his family came out to Australia he sponsored my father and his family. My father found a little farmhouse in Toolamba and this is where my first recollections of this wonderful country began.

I was six when I started my education at little school called Toolamba West Primary School. I did not know a word of English. I don't know how the teacher managed us as our class was well over thirty pupils. My recollection of those days was sitting in the play ground taking out my lunch which consisted of a chunk of bread - home baked of course and a stick of salami (which looked like a piece of dried up dog turd) while the other kids had neatly wrapped sliced bread cut into quarters with this black stuff inside which I found out later to be Vegemite!

Very few migrants of the 50's and 60's had skills or professional qualifications but what they did have was a strong work ethic, enthusiasm, determination and a belief that they had left behind a poor economy, a class structure and generations of prejudices - but above all they valued the worth of education. I always remember my father (who was a bricklayer) constantly telling me if I didn't succeed at school or didn't want to continue with school, he would buy a bigger wheelbarrow - one with a big wheel, mind you at the time I could barely push the one with a small wheel. Our parents belief was that the higher you were educated the more socially accepted you would be.

Going through school was always a struggle - especially English classes and the writing of essays. My grades were never anything outstanding. It reminds me of the time I was playing up in an English class and the teacher decided it would be better if I attended the Sheet Metal Shop classes to become a plumber. I was so embarrassed and so afraid my father would find out that I worked like crazy and kept my head down for the next three months until I got my ticket out of the plumbing shop. What a mistake that was - just look at what a plumber earns today!

There were always problems with fitting in, I could never relate to Australian kids; they eat differently, they thought differently, they weren't afraid of their parents as much as we were. The whole issue of girls was a complete different mindset: you only brought home the girl you were going to marry -- any thing else was unacceptable.

It is only in the last 10 years that ethnic diversity is more acceptable and the teaching of languages other than English is much more common.

Having returned to Italy on three occasions (1969, 1983,and 2004), I found the situation one of not quite fitting in. I find myself in-between 2 cultures not quite fitting in either, but with the passing of the years I feel much more relaxed about it all and take advantage of the best each culture has to offer.

Religion played a very important role in our family. My parents always had a great respect for Catholic Priests and the Parish of St Mel's. So I was raised in this environment and I thank God for this. At the time, St Mel's Parish was under the auspices of the Scalabrian Fathers. These Scalabrinians were were an Order of priests whose mission was to attend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of Italian migrants throughout the world -- and by this time the Italian population had grown considerably in the Goulburn Valley area.

The priests encouraged the celebration of Feast Days and a lot the festivals were centered on a particular saint and the most popular in this area was and still is - St Anthony who is celebrated in early June. Having a strong faith is a great benefit to migrant families as it has cultural and historical basis. Traditions are kept alive and are encouraged to continue with each generation. I believe this religious connection to our cultural traditions are intertwined and so religion plays a major part in our social fabric. Most of our celebrations are tied up with our religious beliefs.

I believe the migrant success is due to 4 factors:

  1. The attachment to the; land and the similarities of agricultural production from their respective countries in Europe.
  2. The quality of religious leadership (I can only speak from the Catholic perspective), but I can assume that other denominations had the same experience.
  3. The consistency of family bonds and ties. Families formed work clusters and lived together, worked together and saved together. This enabled them to get ahead a lot faster than would normally be the case.
  4. The resilience of the people: there was very little social security and people had to be much more resourceful to survive, their tolerance and attitude was much subdued.

Let's not be afraid of immigration. Most of us are migrants whether we are recent or generational. People are our greatest asset. Diverse cultures create work, consume goods, and enhance our communities. They provide experiences in food, art and industry just to name few. We don't necessarily have to travel to experience the world. There is so much right here in this area!

The Goulburn Valley has provided and is till giving opportunities to new migrants. The resources of the Goulburn Valley have been developed using the labors of the migrant people. We have all benefited from their labour - giving this area the well-deserved name of the Food Bowl of Australia.

It hasn't always been easy and there is an old saying No pain - no gain!


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