Stanley Street in East Sydney is today recognised as a centre of the Italian community, but this was not always the case. Prior to 1900, few, if any Italian families lived in or around the area. In 1903, one of the first families to take up residence was also to become an anchor for the growing Italian neighbourhood.
Luciano and Carolina Rizzo, who had arrived in Sydney in 1895, moved into Stanley Street in 1903 opening Sydney’s first pasta factory at No.73. Known as the Sydney Macaroni Manufactory, and later the Italian Warehouse, Rizzo’s works became an anchor for a growing Italian community in the area.
The factory stood beside the Rizzo’s house, and still stands. Tragically Carolina died in 1905 at only 35 years of age, leaving three daughters and one son. Luciano remarried in 1908 to Carolina’s sister, Maria, who together with Luciano continued in the business of macaroni. Their successes were great and recognised.
In 1911, Rizzo’s pasta won a silver medal at the World Fair in Turin, Italy, an achievement he proudly displayed on the letterhead of his company from then on. In 1916 he supplied pasta to a shipload of Maltese refugees stranded via Government refusal for their landing, in the harbour at Woolloomooloo. Rizzo rowing out to the ship with a boat load of pasta can almost be imagined. Luciano died in 1927 but Maria continued the business into the 1940s, by which time Stanley Street was the centre of a thriving Italian and Maltese community.
Contemporary to the Rizzo’s were the Melocco Brothers: Peter (Pietro), Antonio and Galliano. Peter arrived via America in 1908 as a trained mosaic artist and marble worker. His first job was the floor of the chapel for Irish Saints in St Mary’s Cathedral, a job on which he made enough money to support his two brothers’ journey to Australia.
And so it was that the Melocco brothers were reunited and one of Sydney’s great artistic families took the stage. The brothers, accomplished in marble, terrazzo, mosaic and scagliola (a form of concreting made to look like marble), registered their business in 1925 and were soon decorating the cinemas, theatres, offices and banks of Sydney. 90% of the decorative work in marble, terrazzo or scagliola in Sydney between 1910 and 1965 is thought to have been done by the firm. Peter died in 1961 and in the same year the company became a subsidiary of Blue Metal Industries.
The Capitol Theatre foyer, the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place, the foyer of the Mitchell Library and the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral all remain as testament to their skills.
So next time you are eating your leftover pasta or passing by the floor map at the Mitchell, try to imagine Sydney without these two staples.