New Italy, Woodburn

The New Italy Museum celebrates and commemorates the Italian pioneers who bought so much to the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

In 1880, 50 Italian families (340 people) left grinding poverty and desperate economic and social conditions in the Veneto region of Northern Italy to seek a new life. They spent their life savings on an enticing plan, organised by a French nobleman the Marquis de Rays, to sail to a new land in the South Pacific called “La Nouvelle France”. However they were misled and many died on the frightful journey from Barcelona in the ‘SS India’.

When they arrived, after months at sea, at a harsh, untamed and remote part of New Ireland called Port Breton, east of Papua New Guinea, they faced inadequate and rotting food, the tropical climate, sickness and many deaths, and found themselves in greater hardship than what they had left behind. More family members grew sick and died as they endured months under the harsh and remote circumstances at Port Breton.

Feeling no option but to risk the seas again in the ‘SS India’, they persuaded the captain to take them off the island. They wanted to go to Sydney but as the ship was unsound the captain took them to Noumea in New Caledonia, a French governed penal settlement. Sickness and death continued on this voyage, and on arrival in Noumea the ‘SS India’ was regrettably declared un-seaworthy and the families were stranded again.

Through the British Consul in Noumea the plight of the families reached Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of NSW, who gave permission for the stranded Italian families to come to Sydney and sent the ‘James Paterson’ for their rescue. On April the 7th, 1881, destitute and in poor health, 217 survivors of the original 340 Italians sailed into Sydney Harbour. More than one in three family members died on the Marquis de Rays expedition and the pioneers’ journey to Australia.

Within three months, all the families were given labouring jobs throughout the colony for 12 months. But they had a strong desire to re-unite at the end of the 12 months, and when they learned of land that was available in Northern NSW near Lismore, they took steps to buy it and move there together. The land was of poor quality and had been rejected by other settlers. Through sheer determination, tenacity and hard work, the families made the parcel of sterile forest productive and recreated the social fabric of their country of origin. They built a school, a church, a wine shop and small industry. On family values, community and hard work, what became known as the settlement of ‘New Italy’ was built.

As the original pioneers of New Italy began to die and the next generation of the families moved to surrounding towns for work, most of the land of the original New Italy settlement was sold. In 1961 however, The New Italy Museum Incorporated (NIMI) was created under founding President Spencer Spinaze to establish a memorial tribute to the settlers.
Use our Woodburn driving holiday planner to visit New Italy on your trip to Woodburn, and learn what else travelers and our writers recommend seeing nearby.
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53 reviews
  • We stayed overnight in the van and it was a great stopover good facilities and although the coffee shop closes at 5pm we remember from previous visits how good it was.  more »
  • Fantastic museum as you can read all about the early Italians families who settled in this area and how they turned this swamp land in an italian community  more »

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