Paolo Totaro

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I was born in Naples in 1933. Dad, babbo, Giuseppe, was from Sansevero in Puglia, and mamma, Martha Girosi, from a Neapolitan family of some distinction both in the arts and the Navy. I spent the school years at the Jesuit-run college Il Pontano from age 6 to 17. We were in Naples throughout the dark years of bombings and occupation by foreign armies of WWII. On completing school I studied at both the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella, where I graduated in pianoforte, and at the University Federico II, in Naples, where I graduated in law. After a period of indecision – whether to follow the uncertain career of pianist or seek a more immediately stable income – I found a then rarely offered job at Fiat, in Turin.

This led, in 1963, to a short-term transfer to Sydney with Mariella, my wife, and daughter Paola, then three years old. In 1965, our son,Riccardo, was born in Melbourne.

In the following years, I travelled a great deal for Fiat both in Australia and overseas. In 1975, there came, simultaneously, a call back to Turin and an offer to take a newly created government position in Australia. All the family chose to stay in Australia and I became Foundation Director of the Community Arts Board in the Australia Council. Through this body, the Australian Government wanted to foster the arts in the then rather culturally barren areas of the metropolitan suburbs as well as regional and distant areas of the vast continent.

In 1977, an invitation came from the then Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, to chair an Inquiry into Ethnic Affairs. The challenge was to define, for the first time, the principles of multiculturalism in the practice of government, and put them into action in schools, hospitals, courts of law, workplaces, and many other areas of our common living. I was honoured to hold the position of Founding Chairman of the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission until 1989, with a large number of extremely dedicated and clever people with me. I was lucky indeed to serve in other part-time public and community positions until recently.

In 1988, I was awarded the Order of Australia, and in 2006 the Order of Commendatore of the Order of Italy. Poetry had taken a second place in this very busy and committed life but was by no means forgotten. I kept on writing and experimenting and learning. In the 1980s, I was a subject of study in early books on Italian Australian poetry by such scholars as Vincenzo Cincotta and Gaetano Rando. I was thrilled when my works were included by poet Mark O’Connor in the anthology Two Hundred Years of Australian Poetry (Oxford University Press, 1991).

In 1992, I wrote a short novel, Storia Patria (The Melting Pot, 1993) that won First Prize in the Concorso Letterario ‘Due giugno‘. For a few years, I was a contributor to the national weekly, The Bulletin, and the presenter for the national TV program, Face the Press. With as presenter, and a small panel of well-known journalists as co-interviewers, Face the Press introduced SBS to a new form of current affairs, with guests that ranged from Prime Ministers, to public persons such as Peter Ustinov and Richard Dawkins. Paolo also served for a few years as Visiting Professor at the University of Western Sydney and as a member of Council and Pro-Chancellor at the University of Technology Sydney. He also continued to perform as a pianist, mostly in small chamber music groups. For example, in 1992, Paolo and bass-baritone Geoffrey Ashton performed the second last work of Dmitri Shostakovic, Suite on Eleven Sonnets by Michelangelo, Op. 145 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

I live in a small house built on a rocky beach, at Pittwater in Sydney, with my second wife, Patrizia. I have six precious grandchildren, Rosie, Stevie, Harrison, Sean, Cameron and Allegra, and am blessed with a very large circle of dear friends.


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Paolo Totaro
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Hannah Ackermans