Captain Henry Curmi (1890-1967)
Captain Curmi occupies a very important niche in the history of Maltese migration. He was Malta's first Commissioner in Australia at a time when Maltese migration reached its peak.
At 18 years he joined the Malta civil service. In 1910 he enlisted with the King's Own Malta Regiment, and saw action during the First World War in Egypt, Palestine, Gallipoli and Mudros where he was mentioned in dispatches.
He went to Australia for the first time on January 1, 1929 as Maltese Commissioner, but had to return home the next year because of ill-health. He was back there six years later. His main aim was to improve the Australian understanding of the Maltese migrant, through his writings and contacts.
The number of migrants to Australia prior to the 2nd World War was not large, but he helped organised 'reception committees' to ensure that they were welcomed and jobs found for them. This committee was also active collecting food and clothing to send to the people of Malta during the war.
Australian policy to migration after the war changed dramatically, partly through the realisation of the need for an increase in population for defence purposes. The Immigration Minister at the time, Mr Arthur A. Calwell, as well as the trade unions became converted to the need for more migrants. A financial agreement, the Australia - Malta Passage Assistance Agreement was reached in May 1948, where adults would pay ₤10 and those between age 14-19 would pay half-price (children below that age went free of charge).
Captain Curmi was very much involved in all these negotiations and was instrumental in ensuring their success. He was also very much involved with the migrants themselves. Between 1949 and 1952, more than 15,000 Maltese had migrated to Australia.
Captain Curmi retired in 1952, aged 62 years. His main aims had been to obtain better recognition of Maltese in Australia, to improve the general tone of their life there, and to promote Maltese emigration.
He died in Kew, in Victoria, aged 77 years.
[For further information see: Profiles in Maltese Migration by Fr Lawrence E. Attard, 2003, PEG, Malta]
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