Australian Donna is an open-space for women of Italian origin in Australia.

We aim to favour the exchange of information, knowledge and topics related to the world of women.

Our space will grow and be enriched through the contribution of different realities and individual experiences of all participants.

International Women’s Day 2019 Speech – Antonietta Cocchiaro

Good evening, Ladies, my name is Antonietta Cocchiaro and I want to thank the wonderful women volunteers of Radio Italiana 531 for asking me to speak with you this evening as we celebrate International Women’s Day. As volunteers for the radio, you bring joy to many people but especially the elderly who are at home, in retirement villages, and in nursing homes, so thank you for your dedicated service.

International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries and it’s the day that we recognise the achievement of women throughout the centuries but also acknowledge the hardship they had to endure and for many women they are still enduring today. This year is special as in South Australia we celebrate 125 years that women were given the right to vote. This was a huge milestone considering that Italy and many other western counties did not grant women the right to vote until 1940s.

I want to also acknowledge that our journey has been long and hard in our endeavor to achieve gender equality and unfortunately today for some women equality, choice and participation still are elusive things. We a community of amazing women must not forget the women in Australia and around the world who continue to experience hardship and trauma.

Like many of you my life has had its challenges as well as its blessing. I was born in a very small Calabrian town called Placanica on the Ionic coast. Life was very difficult not only for its poverty but prior to my birth my sister died of typhoid fever. She was 16 years old and the apple of my mother’s eye. My mother was completely traumatized as you can imagine, so she made a vow to St Anthony that if she had another daughter she would call her Antonietta. I was born soon after and hence I’m Antonietta.

Two years later at the age of 35, my mother died of breast cancer. Dad had already migrated to Australia. My brother who was 16 years old, and I went to live with our aunties and their family in a one-room house. Although I was just a young child at the time and my family treated me with kindness the sadness and trauma of this experience has remained with me so much so that even now after all these years when I visit the old house I struggle to step in side.

The hardship continued when we come to South Australia. Like so many other migrants the first few years were very difficult. Our living quarters comprised of one room in a friends house and our kitchen was another friends garage. What we had, however was the great desire and determination to succeed in our new land. His Excellency the Governor Hieu Van Le when he was appointed as Lt Governor spoke about our invisible suitcase in which we carry our culture, beliefs, values, fears, joy and sadness. It is what we carry in our invisible suitcase that makes us who we are. So with my invisible suitcase I set out on my professional journey, as a teacher, deputy principal, principal, professional assistant to the CE, superintendent and regional director. One of the things I took out of my invisible suitcase and held tight against my chest was the strong and unbending belief that all children could learn no matter their background, and economic circumstances. This beliefs never waned in my 46 years in education.

On the whole my professional journey was reasonably peaceful. No doubt as a women, especially a non English Speaking background women I had to work twice as hard as men and perhaps even some women. There was a period in the Education Department when the women’s movement was at its strongest. Changes were implemented in girls’ education, changes that have made a difference to girls’ success and achievements. Strangely, however, there was also a sinister side to this surge called feminism. Let me give you an example. In the latter part of the 70s I was appointed as principal of Salisbury North West Junior Primary School. I was there a year when the school was designated to be a Class A school. This meant that the school had many challenges and difficulties and needed a super principal to run it. I was told I could apply for it and if I didn’t get I would be moved to another school. You can imagine how I felt. I had worked very hard in my first year facing many difficulties but with the help of my staff, we were overcoming them.

To my surprise I was told by several of my colleagues that I was never going to be appointed to the school as the so called ruling women in the department had already chosen who they wanted there and it wasn’t me. Even through a merit selection, I did not have a hope. I was mortified. I could not believe that the women who were supposed to support other women were planning to undermine the process to ensure the woman they wanted won the position. Then I thought I can’t let this happen. I’m a strong Calabresi girl; I’m not going to be push around like that. So I went into battle mode and not only did I win the battle, I won the war. With the help of the whole school community, I became the youngest female Class A principal appointed in South Australia. And the first non English speaking person to that position.

What I learnt from this experience was the importance of women supporting other women, to be united in our quest for total participation. We still have many adversities that we need to overcome and this will only be achieved if we work together and support one another. This negative behaviour of that group of women come to the attention of the shadow education minister at the time. So when his party won power, they set about dismantling the group and unfortunately the women’s movement which had achieved some great outcomes for girls was also impacted. Do you know that the Education Department in South Australia was established in 1875 and, to date, we have never had a women appointed to the position of Chief Executive? We had a policeman and now a lawyer but not a woman. This is an indictment considering that 70% of its employees are women. It is very hard to break that glass ceiling.

Choosing to have a career, a family and also to study to improve my qualifications had it many challenges. I had and still have a wonderful supportive husband and had in-laws that supported me by looking after my children when they were little and taking them to school when they were school age. This help was invaluable and for that I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

When I was 5 years old I made the decision to be a teacher. I wanted to make a difference. Education took me out of poverty and gave me many opportunities. It gave me the power to make choices and I want that for every child. I wanted to be in there getting my hands dirty and fighting for the most disadvantaged children we have in the state and fight I did. Some of my co-fighters are here tonight, my wonderful friends and professional colleagues.

I think Australia still has a way to go in supporting women with children to be part of the workforce. We are one of lowest western performing countries in this area. We need more women in politics if any of this is going to change and political parties need to address their internal structures that covertly and sometimes overtly make it hard and for some women almost impossible to be in the work force. As Michelle Obama said most eloquently, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of half of its citizens.”

I’ve came to realise a long time ago the importance of gender equality, so I made certain that this passion was passed on to my children, my daughters and my son and now my granddaughter. I include my son, for I truly believe if we want to achieve structural gender equality, we must also bring the male population along with us. We need to think carefully about the messages we give the next generation and ensure that our action and words are not saying to them, girls are not as important as boys.

So on this International Women’s Day we celebrate and acknowledge the amazing women past and present who have made a difference to our world. And I am not talking about famous women only, but women like your mothers and grandmothers like my mother-in-law and my aunty who left their land of birth, their family, their friends to come to a strange country bringing with them just a suitcase. Many of them held two jobs, and at the same time looked after a husband and children. They had to overcome many obstacles but achieve they did with great strength and determination. They did it because they wanted to build a better life for their family. They are the heroes of this country so let us acknowledge them.

Antonietta Cocchiaro
International Women’s Day, 8th March 2019

125 years of women’s suffrage in South Australia

Multicultural Communities Council women’s delegation to SA Parliament House

The South Australian women’s suffrage campaign

Following its colonisation in 1836, South Australian settlers lived under British common law which made women subordinate to men in that they were subject to their fathers, and then to their husbands. Their property, income and children were the legal property of their husbands. As the nineteenth century rolled on however, certain progressive legislative changes began to occur that separated women’s legal identity from this archaic system, such as the 1858 Matrimonial Causes Act that allowed divorce, and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1861 that allowed owner/occupiers of property (including women) to vote in local government elections.

The fight for South Australian suffrage is said to have its roots in social organisations such as the Ladies’ Social Purity Society, begun in 1883. Part of the platform of this organisation was that they sought to increase women’s legal rights. After successfully campaigning to raise the age of consent, the Society broadened its focus, becoming the Women’s Suffrage League.

The Story of How We Won the Vote

Commemorative tapestry, Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in SA

In conjunction with other women’s groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the campaign for women’s suffrage sought to gain the vote for women as a way of gaining a political voice for a range of social values that many women felt were unrepresented in Parliament. These included children’s rights, girl’s rights, women worker’s rights and the desire for temperance (the reduction in the trade of alcohol).

These women’s groups often had connections with similar movements overseas, and would send members to speak or attend international conferences. Locally, they wrote letters, distributed petitions, wrote to newspapers, gave speeches, distributed information, visited politicians and held meetings, fetes and fundraisers. They were resolute, organised and determined, gaining support for suffrage anywhere and everywhere they could, all across South Australia.

Key suffragists from this time include Mary Lee and Catherine Helen Spence who both worked tirelessly for the campaign. Lesser known but still instrumental were Elizabeth Webb Nicholls (President of the WCTU twice during the period 1889-1904 and credited with having gained 8,268 of the 11,600 signatures on the largest petition), Mary Colton, Serena Thorne Lake, Rose Birks and Augusta Zadow (first ‘Lady Inspector’ of factories).

Their efforts culminated in the passing of the Adult Suffrage Bill which granted women – for the first time in Australia – the right to vote and the right to sit in Parliament. This historic moment occurred on the 18th of December, 1894. This was a Constitutional Amendment meaning that it had to be endorsed by the Queen – which it was in March 1895, allowing women to vote for the first time in South Australian state elections in April 1896.

Click here to read the story of the Centenary Tapestry.

Inspirational SA Women

To see more on inspirational SA women speaking about how winning the vote continues to have an impact on women’s lives today, click on the following link:


SA Suffrage 125 Schools Competition

Highgate School was the winner of the SA Suffrage 125 Schools Competition with their short film answering the question:

What was life like for women in the 1880s and 1890s before Women’s Suffrage and why did so many people believe it needed to change?

The competition was open to South Australian students enrolled in government, Catholic and Independent schools in years 6 to 9. The competition provided the opportunity for students to participate in a historical research project that developed:

• understanding and empathy of the tireless efforts of South Australians that culminated in the passing of this landmark legislation

• appreciation of the impact of history on lives of South Australians today.

Click here for the Screenplay for SA Suffrage 125 Schools Competition winner.


Italian Business Women’s Network: new business network empowers Australian and Italian women


The female who’s who of the Italian business community gathered Wednesday evening 23 October for the launch of the Italian Business Women’s Network, hosted at Ferrari Brisbane. Attended by over 130 guests from across the Australian corporate sector, the glamourous Newstead showroom for Italy’s most iconic supercar, was a hive of networking and celebration. Founder of the Italian Business Women’s Network, Mariangela Stagnitti, said the launch of the Network was a project two years in the making. “From the very beginning in 2017 when I started workshopping the concept, everyone I spoke to was incredibly supportive, and saw a real need for an initiative like this.” said Stagnitti. “The aim of the Italian Business Women’s Network is to provide a channel to link and empower Italian career women and women working within the Italian business space, in order to facilitate vital connections and mentorships.”

Stagnitti highlighted how Italian businesses have long been global leaders in various industries, from automotive, fashion, hospitality, property development, arts, design and more. “It’s very apt that we’re holding this launch at Ferrari Brisbane,” she said. “Italian professionals and businesses, locally and in Italy, are renowned for excellence, so engaging with the Italian cultural and corporate space is simply good for business and professional development. I envisage this project as a converging point for Australian and Italian organisations and individual professionals, to collaborate and mentor one another.”

Stagnitti, who was born in Australia of Sicilian parents and has worked for 30 years in the banking sector said that her immigrant background has given her a unique perspective on the need to foster supportive, female-driven business communities. “We all stand on the shoulders of amazing, courageous women who have come before us, who sacrificed and worked hard to provide the best opportunities they could, so we can succeed and have choices in life – including to have fruitful careers. “The Network continues that legacy.”

In addition to her contributions to the banking sector, Stagnitti has served the Italian community for 12 years as the President of COM.IT.ES Queensland and Northern Territory – a publicly elected role to provide community initiatives and diplomatic support, in collaboration with the Consulate of Italy and with funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The event was MC’d by local television and radio host Olympia Kwitowski and included inspirational speeches from The Hon. Teresa Gambaro, the first woman of Italian origin to enter the House of Representatives, renowned Italo-Australian Executive Coach and two-time cancer survivor Josie Thomson, and the Consul for Italy in Queensland, Salvatore Napoletano. In addition to Ferrari Brisbane, sponsors for the evening included prosecco provided by Italiquore, premium sparking water and iced tea by San Pellegrino, Swiss Deli West End (Marinelli Catering) and luxurious furnishings by Ideare.

Based currently in Brisbane and open to members nationwide, the Network aims to expand chapters and events to other major Australian cities.

To find out more about the network and how to get involved, like and follow the Italian Business Women’s Network on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.