On 27 May 2021 Paolo Totaro AM addressed the third seminar in the national series celebrating the 700th centenary of Dante Alighieri’s passing. His presentation continued the excellent contributions which have already been made exploring the significance and meaning of Dante’s life and works in an Australian context. The event was hosted as an online webinar by the Dante Alighieri Society of Sydney and drew the participation of members and friends of the Dante Societies from around Australia. Fabio Carosone, President of the Dante Alighieri Society Sydney chaired proceedings and Andrea de Felip, Consul General of Italy, Sydney introduced Paolo Totaro, recalling his distinguished lifetime of public service, including as founding chair of the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission.
Dr Totaro, who is himself a published poet, drew together a lifetime of reflections and engagement with the Italian-Australian community on the topic Dante and the Making of Italians in Australia.
Dr Totaro guided his listeners on a personal and shared journey that weaved together 700 years of history, Dante’s poetry, personal recollections from his childhood, and the perspective of older Italian-Australians for whom Dante is a connection with memory, community and life itself.
Older Italian-Australians and indeed older people generally face the challenges of exclusion that increasingly become part of their lived reality. Thus Dr Totaro wanted to explore the potential of Dante for reconnection, including in his explorations engagement with a focus group of older Italian-Australians to see what Dante meant to them. Dr Totaro emphasised the role that reading to our older Italian-Australians can play in bringing back and sustaining memory and connection.
For Paolo, Dante was also a reminder of parents: of words of comfort from Dante’s poetry recited by Paolo’s father deep underground as bombs rained down on wartime Naples. Dante was a reminder that Paolo’s mother had nurtured his journey into poetry.
Paolo’s reflections also led him to convert his presentation into a new initiative in the field of public service. He engaged with the Worker’s Education Association Sydney and catalysed the launching of a public course on Dante to bring Dante to a larger audience.
Paolo Totaro’s presentation can be viewed online at the Dante Alighieri Society page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOH1e34gGaA