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An incontro with Mathew Trinca, Director of the NMA

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In a country like Australia it would be difficult to find an individual that hasn’t been touched by a migration story.

The threads of migration from all over the globe have been woven thickly into the Australian landscape, influencing the society we live in.

Paola and Patrizia from the aptly named P&P Eventi are celebrating Italian cultural connections through Canberrans’ personal experiences or Italian art, music, fashion, politics and regional cuisine. These connections are packaged as a series of ‘incontri’ (meetings). Mathew Trinca, Director of the National Museum of Australia, spoke at their most recent event held at EQ Bar, recounting his own migration story.

Mat Trinca (right) with Patrizia

Mat Trinca (right) with Patrizia

Trinca was born in a town in WA close to Perth, to Italian parents. They hailed from Valtellina, an area located in the region of Lombardy and close to the border of Switzerland. Valtellina is a picturesque location with soaring mountains, famous for its history (over 2000 years) of wine making. From these peaks to the flat, scorching heat of Western Australia, Trinca’s parents embedded their culture and melded it to the Australian one they migrated too.

“Our family life was in retrospect a curious mix of Australian and Italian influence,” says Trinca. “I grew up on a poultry farm on the outskirts of Perth, and loved the sense of freedom we had living near the bush … We would have barbecues on hot summer evenings, and sleep outdoors on rugs when it was hot, as it could be in Perth our summer.”

“There were always the traces of our very Italian origins – homemade red wine and Italian sausages, often with polenta, which is very much a regional staple in Valtellina. I also particularly remember as a kid sitting at the kitchen table when friends of my father came over; we would eat walnuts and peanuts as they sat and talked, and drank wine. Conversation would skip around from the dialect my parents spoke, to Italian, and to English. A kind of mosaic of sounds and smells that melded the two worlds together, in some ways.”

Trinca’s parents ironically met in WA, where they were happily married. His father passed away when he was nine years of age – but Trinca has strong and fond memories of him.

“I remember particularly following my dad around on the farm in the years before I went to school. I loved to do what he did, he was a very handy fellow and had been a stonemason, but could really turn his hand to most things. My enduring memory is of going with him to buy wine in bulk from an Italian small producer in the Swan Valley, outside Perth.”

“He had managed to get an old glass acid bottle, that holds 12 gallons in it. He had cleaned it thoroughly, obviously and then made a crate for it, and he used this to buy wine in bulk which he would then bring home to decant and bottle. We would drive out with this huge bottle strapped into the boot of the car. The boot wouldn’t close, so he would tie it down with string, but you could see this enormous bottle sticking out the back, and it must have looked a sight. You can just imagine!”

This story highlights the handiness of Italians in general, from turning suburban gardens into virtual hobby farms, to bottling wines and sauces in annual ‘pasta’ days – Italians always have the capacity to create something from nothing. An artful magic is woven into the tapestry of their very beings and everything they produce. Australians have richly embraced their innate eye for detail and joie de vivre over the years.

Trinca was then raised by his mother and three older sisters – and he is the first to admit this was a heavily female-dominated household, and that women have played a resounding impact on his career and on his values.

“I think the fact that our family life revolved around discussions at the kitchen table when I was younger, with four women clamouring to be heard, had a big effect on me,” he says. “Those boisterous discussions, that sometimes turned into passionate arguments, meant that we all enjoyed wrestling with ideas, and we still do … I think that all these women in my life made it possible in some ways for me to imagine a life that was not so constrained or bounded as many men my age felt growing up. … I was encouraged to do things that were a little outside the norm for many men.”

In a broader sense Trinca’s role at the National Museum of Australia allows him to bring Australian stories alive.

“The Museum is the place where the stories of Australians come alive, where the long human history of this continent intersects with the more recent creation of the modern Australian nation we know today. That role gives us a tremendous opportunity to honour the astonishingly successful endurance and adaptation of the First Australians over millennia, dealing with wrenching geophysical changes; and to explore the foundations of a modern Australia which is marked by its great diversity and pluralism.”

“This country has, I think, a lot to contribute to the broader global storytelling of the human condition, and the Museum is well-placed to take those stories across the country, and indeed out to the world. At the same time, I think we have a responsibility to bring the best collections from abroad to this country, because after all we draw on those traditions every day as we build this nation of peoples from all parts of the globe,” Trinca said.

Trinca continues to keep his Italian heritage alive with his children today. “I’m very grateful that my wife Melinda has learned some Italian to try and participate in our efforts to give our kids a sense of their mixed Italian, Scottish and English heritage,” he said.

P&P events will continue their series of Italian-inspired ‘Incontri’. In early 2017, Incontro Moda Sposa will feature Italian bridal gowns from 1950s to 2000 and their special Italian-Australian connection.


P&P Eventi have also launched the annual Carnevale di Venezia Gala Ball based on authentic themed balls in Venice in Venetian Mask costumes. In 2016 two guests won tickets to Venice and many other fabulous prizes. The Casanova Grand Ball 2017 will be held on 17 February 2017 at the National Museum of Australia. For more information on P&P events and to book your tickets, click here.

We’re giving one lucky reader the chance to win a double pass to P&P Eventi’s Carnevale di Venezia Gala Ball on 17 Feburary 2017. Simply email hello@hercanberra.com.au and tell us what your Italian connection is (family, a love of traveling there, the food) to go in the draw to win the double pass!

Entries close November 30, 2016 at 11:59pm. The winner will be notified by email. Only successful entrants will be notified. 

Feature image of Trinca’s family, supplied. 

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