From the early 1900s the Italian Government had been keen to alleviate the suffering of its poorer citizens and to solve overcrowding by encouraging emigration. By the 1920s Australian had become a favourite choice for Italian immigrants; a consequence of Prime Minister Billy Hughes’s desire to increase Australia’s population and by increasingly tight immigration laws in the United States.
The Lauricella and Mastroianni families were typical Italian immigrants of this period. Salvatore Lauricella and his family arrived in Melbourne in 1910, operating several fruiterers’ shops around town before opening a shop at 293 High Street Northcote in 1924.
They were not the only Italian immigrants in the area. The previous year J. Bernasochi ran a fruiterers business from the same premises, with M. Capicchiano at 237 High Street and R. Scecchitano at 370 High Street Northcote, each operating as fruiterers. Across on the east side of High Street Albert Sanguinetti operated a home decorator and paint store.
In 1926 Salvatore’s daughter Mary married recent immigrant Nicola Mastroianni. From 1928 to 1932 he operated a fruiterers business from 453 High Street Northcote, whilst the Lauricella’s - after a brief time operating a similar business from 104 High Street, Kew - moved back to Northcote in 1931. There they bought the shop at 277 High Street and re-established their fruiters business.
In 1937 Mastroianni left Footscray and took over his father-in-laws business at 277 High Street Northcote. Nicola and Mary would work tirelessly to help the poor, giving food regularly to St Vincent de Paul in the city and to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
This did not save Nicola from briefly being interned when the Second World War began in September 1939. He appeared to hold no grudges and on VE Day, 8 May 1945 he painted a white V sign outside his shop to celebrate the end of war in Europe. Although faded, the V can still be seen today on the second storey of 277 High Street Northcote.
Mary Mastroianni was to prove herself a notable Northcote character. Her early adoption of trousers made her a distinctive presence in Northcote, as well as her fondness for two-up games in Eastment Street behind her shop.
In 1950 Nicola Mastroianni sold the business to M. Antonello thus ending nearly thirty years of trading in Northcote.
Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic. : 1882 - )
Sands and McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory 1864- 1974. [Microfiche]. (1974). Melbourne, Australia: Sands & McDougall.
Conversations with Madeleine Campanaro, July 2008