from The Herald, November 11, 1975



Why an Italian from an old Turin family should devote his life to the Australian Aboriginals, and make their culture his passion, is not readily explained.

Certainly it was not something Aldo Massola could ever rationalise or, if he did, he kept it secret from even his wife Mary.

This extraordinary man, who died just four months ago, at the age of 64, received little recognition during his life (often he was the subject of acrimony and professional jealousy) but he may come to be recognised as the anthropologist who came just in time.

He saw this when he dedicated what he saw as his most important work "Bunjil's Cave", a collection of myths, legends and superstitions of the Aboriginals of south-eastern Australia, with these words:

"This work is dedicated to my grandchildren Christopher and Michael Riley who are symbolic of the Younger Generation, and in whose grown-up time the collectiong of this material will not be possible."

That was only seven years ago but it is true that many of the sources he used have dried up forever - people have died or moved on, scrappy records have been destroyed.

His final work - "Coranderrk, A History of the Aboriginal Station" - is published this week by the small, specialist printing house of Lowden Publishing as a modest but perfectionist volume.

It took more than two years of Aldo Massola's life and the very last of his energy. Mary Massola has the diaries with the last spidery entries he made in his hospital bed; they all refer to the book.

His name will ring a bell with many people who used to get out and about in Melbourne. But perhaps only one in a hundred will link the Aldo they knew with the anthropologist, ethnologist and pre-historian.

To them he was the courtly, amusing and ever-efficient head waiter-cum-host at Mario's when it was in the hands of the Vigano family and recognised as the best - or at least, the most enjoyable - restaurant in Melbourne.

For 20 years he held that job until, to his delight, a delight that lasted him for years, his unofficial stewardship of rapidly-vanishing Aboriginal lore was rewarded with the official post of Curator of Anthropology at the National Museum of Victoria.

But the story gets ahead of itself . . .

He was born in Rome, although his father came from a family which had its roots deep in the history of Turin. His father, Carlo, was a racing driver for Fiat who was sent to Australia by the company in 1923 - and who decided to stay.

Aldo was 13 at the time. On finishing school he went to Melbourne University to study anthropology under Prof. Leonhard Adam, a German who had been interned during the war, and stayed to make Australia his home.

Prof. Adam instilled in him an early fascination with South-East Asian cultures which Aldo partly assuaged by haunting Melbourne antique shops, buying the artifacts which were to become the basis of an extensive collection.

As employment opportunities for anthropologists were slimmer than a strand of spaghetti he took the job which enabled him to work with two of his other great loves - food and wine.

Working at Mario's meant that his afternoons were free and nearly all of them he gave to reasearch in the National Library or the Museum.

He began to publish (eight books in all and more than 100 articles in recognised anthropological journals), and as his name became known he was the one who was often first told of new finds at old Aboriginal sites.

He delighted in roughing it under canvas or even in the back seat of his car, as long as he had his saucepans, his pasta, his wine and his cheese.

Mary often went with him although, on her own admission, she was more usually a bemused bystander than an active participant.

Aldo Massola had limitless patience and used much of it making friends with Aboriginals who, after having their culture almost totally destroyed by white men, were understandably disbelieving of a man who said he wished to preserve it.

He was Curator of Anthroplogy for 10 years and his research was recognised by his being made a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.

In 1973 he was consulted to compile documentation on Victoria's Aboriginal reserves and mission stations to assist in research for specific land claims for the Aboriginal Advancement League of Victoria

Aldo's works include: "Aboriginal Mission Stations in Victoria", "Journey to Aboriginal Victoria" and "The Aborigines of South Eastern Australia - As They Were".

Also he left the manuscript of "Mallacoota - The Scrub Dwellers" based on his last research into the tribes on the north-eastern coast of Victoria.

But he had made only the beginnings of what he intended to be his monument - an encyclopedia of the Victorian Aboriginals.

Mary Massola has replied to requests from the National Library in Canberra for his notes and intends distributing his papers to other interested institutions.

"He loved his life, he loved his women, he loved his work and he loved his food and wine," she says.

"I was married to him for 49 years [sic] and it was wonderful."