Bugeja, Manuel (6.10.1900-11.1.1993)


Born in Valletta, Bugeja had little formal education. He was nonetheless a bright student and in 1914 he was offered a scholarship. In 1915 he was employed as Chief Messenger with the British Army Ordnance Store in Valletta. In 1918 he joined the navy and travelled widely. He then worked at a wine and spirits store in Sliema, supplying the Admiralty.

During the early 1920s, Bugeja was concerned that carnival had become too traditional. Together with Arthur Mifsud, he introduced bold and imaginative costumes and thematic approaches. The following year Bugeja, as a member of the Carnival Committee, introduced a jazz band. He remained actively involved in the organization of carnival in Malta until 1955. Between 1947 and 1955 Bugeja was carnival's chief organizer while he was employed by Malta's Reconstruction Commission as Public Relations officer. During World War II he had served as Sergeant in the KOMR. Later he was placed in charge of prisoners-of-war at Ta' Qali.

Bugeja emigrated to Australia with his family in April 1955 and was employed as clerk with the Motor Registration Branch of Melbourne. On the very day of his arrival, he attended a meeting of the Australian-Maltese Association and was to play a key role in the process of the rejuvenation of the Maltese Community Council in Melbourne in the early sixties.

Bugeja maintained his theatrical interests and helped set up the first Australian Maltese dramatic company - The Malta Stage Amateurs. In television, Bugeja found a new vehicle for his talents and between 1961 and 1979, he appeared in at least ten high-rating TV serials, such as Consider Your Verdict, Division Four, and The Malta Story. He appeared as a Pole, a Greek, a Hungarian, and an Arab. It was not until the 1970s that he was offered the role of a Maltese character.

Bugeja was best known by his Australian nickname 'the grandfather of the Maltese' - in-Nannu tal-Maltin not only because of his rich experience and long years of life, but because of the compassion, love, and care with which he served his fellow migrants. Between 1955 and 1981 Bugeja was the unofficial social worker in Melbourne. Barry York, in his Episodes in Maltese-Australian History, said that Bugeja often dug deeply into his own pocket to help out needy new-arrivals from Malta. He helped with all manner of problems, including interpreting. One of his proudest achievements was in 1974 when, at a meeting of 80 different ethnic organizations, Bugeja made an impassioned plea for unity among Australians of all ethnic backgrounds. From that meeting, the Ethnic Community Council of Victoria was formed.

Bugeja was married to Frances Vella and they had six children - five boys and one girl.

(Updated thanks to Nerissa Murphy, the daughter of that one girl. 31 Aug 2002.)

Source: Maltese Biographies of the Twentieth Century (1997), editors Michael J. Schiavone and Louis J. Scerri

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