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Vale Joe Spiteri

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 21:52:54 +1000
From: Lev Lafayette <>
Newsgroups: aus.culture.gothic
Subject: Vale Joe Spiteri

I'm not the sort that often goes into emotional shock. Usually my outlook
is built on the phrase of the Latin playwright (and freed slave)
Terentius: "Homo sum; homini nihil a me alienum puto" [I am human, and
nothing human is alien to me]. Betwixt piss and shit we are all born, and
to mere dust we will all dissolve and somehow many particular instances of
human experience often seem to me overrated in face of these existential

So this evening I shall write of an existential concern. But also of one
Joe Spiteri, whose particular instances of the human experience is
difficult to overrate because of his humility and passion.

I've only known Joe for four years. Our conversation were never that
detailed. Somewhere between his poor English and my abysmal Italian we
could manage a conversation.

I met Joe through the A.L.P. during an internal election campaign. I'd
been in the Party a mere couple of years at this point as was seeking
preselection as a State Conference delegate. Pretty difficult when you're
from a faction that has no spare numbers to put newcomers up, as the "big
two" undoubtably have. But that's par for the course in this game.

So I meet Joe, all five foot two and seventy-nine years of him. I tell him
why I am visiting. A gleam comes to eyes. With extraordinary momentum he
raises himself to his full height, clenches his fist and cries: "I have
been a socialist for sixty-five years! I hate the conservatives! They are
_all_ hypocrites!"

Well, it is well known that the Maltese are passionate about their
politics and are evenly divided in their respective loyalties between
their Nationalist and Labour Parties. But what was Joe's story?

Over the next two years I managed to uncover fragments of history. His
family were poor - even by Maltese standards, which today only has a per
capita income of 1/3 of ours - and his adolescent years were experiences
of the the Depression, of the rise of fascism in Italy and his own
country, and Malta gaining, then losing, independence from British

But British colonialism in Malta was supported by working people, such as
Joe's family in the 1930s. The reason was quite simple: the Nationalist
Party consisted of defranchised professionals and merchants. They were
latinophiles (Maltese is a Semetic language). And their members even
included the dreaded fascisti.

Joe's adolescence was one grinding toil, a pitifully brief education,
constant hunger and even fear for his own life. Perhaps that's a little
different to our own experiences of the formative years. At on the eve of
the second world war, Joe found himself a member of the Royal Navy whilst
still a teenager.

The British had a substantial naval base in Malta. It was undoubtably the
most strategic naval position to hold in the entire Mediterranean. This
made it a very, very important target for the Nazis and the Fascists.

Malta, to this day, holds the dubious distinction of being, per square
metre, the most bombed country on earth. Hell rained from the heavens for
four years. Malta also has one of the highest population densities in the

The combination of the two - high population density and high density
bombing - leaves little to the imagination. People perished in their
tens of thousands, people starved. Somehow Joe survived, and even
took part in the Battle of Calabria.

(The following link merely lists the names of the ships that were involved
in that Battle. It should serve as some idea what it was like...)

Along with so many other migrant workers responsible for the post-war
reconstruction, Joe moved to Australia after the War, fell in love,
married, and purchased a tiny weatherboard house in Brunswick. He joined
the Labor Party and was a regular attendant at Brunswick South branch
meetings and always voted for the left in internal elections.

I cannot forget how much energy and care Joe always displayed. Every
morning he would awake virtually at dawn, voraciously read the broadsheet
newspapers and upon completion, would take them down the road to his
friends. "They are poor, they are on the aged pension, but they must be
allowed to read, to know what is happening in the world!" he would
exclaim. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was also poor
and also on the aged pension.

I guess what I find most difficult about Joe's death is that he seemed
so alive. He had survived the most extraordinary circumstances and was so
full of physical energy and moral fortitude. He is undoubtable one of the
fullest examples of a human being that I have ever had the pleasure to

Vale Joe Spiteri.

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