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Stories of the Maltese in Australia

Joe Axiaq: Il-bogħod li jifred. Novelli ta’ Joe Axiaq
Trojan Press,
Port Melbourne, Australia 2016, 235 p.

The name of Gozo-born author Joe Axiaq has become synonymous with The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Radio, which is the multi-lingual voice of Australia.

SBS Radio broadcasts in 74 languages including Maltese and it is considered to broadcast more than any other broadcaster in the world. This bit of information is important since it helps us to understand better the important contribution that Axiaq has given in his adopted country or rather continent of Australia.

With diverse cultural and community views, SBS Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day; 74 language programmes are broadcast each week and Axiaq has been instrumental in spreading the awareness of the Maltese language through this particular means of communication. A quick search into Google may prove helpful in understanding better both the literary style and the philosophy behind his literary career.

Born in Żebbuġ, Gozo, Axiak migrated to Australia in 1974. He joined the first group of broadcasters on Radio 3ZZ (1975) and later on SBS Radio.

Axiaq was involved in establishing the Malta Youth Group in 1976, with the aim of bringing young Maltese Australian people of Victoria together, through different recreational activities.

Joe was also involved in establishing the Maltese Literature Group in 1979 and was in charge of buying and bringing Maltese books from Malta to Australia for school libraries and students of Maltese classes.

Many of his poems and short stories are published in journals and anthologies. He is the author of several articles of historical nature published in Maltese newspapers and magazines.

Il-bogħod li jifred. Novelli ta’ Joe Axiaq is his latest publication. Nostalgia tends to be a fruitful source of imagination when it comes to writing. This is no exception with Axiaq.

Born in one of the loveliest villages of Gozo, Axiaq spent his childhood in his native Żebbuġ which is situated on the island’s highest plateau almost ready to project itself into the sea.

Axiaq has succeeded in depicting the authentic lifestyle adopted by the Maltese in their country of adoption

Axiaq must have had a beautiful childhood, next to idyllic. Gozo in the late sixties and early seventies was still safe from the dangerous watermarks of what has been untowardly called progress. The years he spent in Gozo before leaving the island in the mid-1970s have provided our writer with a wide range of ideas which he has translated into enjoyable and readable literature.

One cannot underestimate the new experience which Axiaq delved into, when he chose Australia to be his newly-adopted country. It is in fact more than a country; it is a continent once frowned upon as ‘down-under’ or the prison of the now dead British Empire.

However, Australia has transformed itself into a home for a great variety of cultures and languages. It is said that there are more Maltese living on the continent than in the Maltese islands.

Axiaq’s collection of lovely novels is a proof that the Maltese have done really well in Australia. Going through his voluminous publication, one comes across the new culture that the Maltese coined for themselves in a second home which is at least 14,188 kilometres away from their mother country.

The Maltese-English translation for ‘novella’ is not the equivalent of the English word ‘novel’. In fact, Axiaq’s book does not present us with a long story with different stages leading to one definitive end. On the other hand, it is a collection of different stories which, though fictitious, are certainly a mirror of the truth.

Axiaq has tried to present the reader with particular instances in the lives of the Maltese who have lived in Australia for a generation or two but who can still be recognised within the multi-cultural society they live in, due to their traditions and linguistic accents. I believe that Axiaq has succeeded in depicting the authentic lifestyle adopted by the Maltese in their country of adoption.

As to the rest, the best thing is to obtain a copy of the book and enjoy reading it, digesting one story after the other and in this way becoming more familiar with how our emigrants have survived in a continent so far away from their native country.

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