Australia’s Maltese Herald turns 50
The 50th anniversary of The Maltese Herald is not some common anniversary but that of a newspaper which has been an influential icon in the lives of Maltese people living in Australia, according to Lawrence Dimech, the first editor and one of the paper’s founders.
It all started when three young determined men who shared an interest in football - Nicholas Bonello, Vincent Pisani and Mr Dimech himself - put their heads together and brought out The Maltese Herald on July 28 of 1961.
“The paper is older than the Maltese independence,” Mr Dimech, 74, says proudly, gazing into the distance, recalling a time when shiploads of Maltese made it to Australian shores in the 1950s and 1960s.
Thousands of Maltese pooled into communities across the southern-hemisphere continent seven times the size of the UK.
“The Maltese had to stick together. You’d use other Maltese as a crutch. We’d gather in groups and form social and football clubs among other things. Had it not been for football and other activities, I think 90 per cent of the migrants would have returned to Malta,” he says, holding one of his palms in the other.
“It was permanent migration and it was a vast continent with the bare necessities. It was a traumatic experience in the total sense.
“Our small community was engulfed by a very large country and the newspaper was one of the means of fighting discrimination.”
The need had been felt to create a medium that would voice the communities’ concerns while maintaining a link with Malta.
Mr Dimech, who left for Australia in 1956 for the Melbourne Olympic Games, describes The Maltese Herald as having served as a shield for the rights of the Maltese community in Australia. The articles covered social services, housing schemes and dual-citizenship issues among others.
“The first 10 years were a struggle,” he recalls about a time of manual pagination, when typesetting relied on lead blocks and none of the linotype operators and setters were Maltese-literate.
“It was a time riddled with huge sacrifices but we were a very determined team.”
The Maltese Herald followed the short-lived existence of Leħen il-Malti and the Malta News.
Soon afterwards, Manwel Pisani and Lino Vella joined the team in Australia, while Joseph Xerri lent a helping hand from Malta.
Returning to Malta in 1962 for a couple of years to gain further experience in journalism, Mr Dimech worked at Allied Newspapers, on Il-Berqa and The Times.
In 1967, the newspaper he helped found started being issued weekly. But 10 years after its birth, Mr Dimech had to leave his editorial post to join the Malta High Commission in New South Wales.
Ġorġ Chetcuti preceded the current editor, Mr Vella, for a few months. Mr Vella, the paper’s editor for the past 40 years, was supported by his late wife Barbara and Rita Kassas.
The newspaper team is now made up of two full-timers and around four volunteers.
As with all media outlets, the 24-page bilingual newspaper, issued from Sydney, had its highs and lows. It has battled its way through the rise of modern means of communication, lack of support from the business industry and an ageing population.
“However, it’s by far the biggest and best Maltese newspaper that was ever published there,” Mr Dimech says.
Nowadays, some 60,000 Malta-born and more than 120,000 second-generation Maltese people live in Australia. “I cannot imagine the Maltese community in Australia without a national paper in Maltese. It’s the link between Malta and the Maltese in Australia.
“Although there are various radio and TV programmes in Maltese, the printed media will always be the most effective and intimate means for those who really want to evaluate news and comments.”
The team does not intend to go online although some of the stories are featured on www.allmalta.com.