The Ossario, located in a quiet corner of the Murchison Cemetery was completed in 1961 and is a beautifully crafted Mediterranean style building. It contains the remains of Italian Prisoners of War and Internees who died on Australian soil during World War 2.
Every year, on the second Sunday in November, hundreds of people gather to remember the 129 men and one woman for whom the Ossario is their last resting place.
On Sunday 11th November this year, a warm sunny day with a lovely clear blue sky, the occasion was again well attended by over 300 people. Mostly of Italian descent, they travel from Melbourne, interstate, overseas and across Victoria and are joined by locals who appreciate this special occasion. The ceremony is moving, suitably reverent and also colourful with many Italian Military Service uniforms, banners, flags, floral wreaths and bouquets in abundance.
The Official Service begins with a procession along the cypress lined path leading to the Ossario. Officials such as the Italian Consul General, Councillors from City of Greater Shepparton, representatives of many Italian Service and Military Clubs, Australian Returned Service groups, local school children, representatives of the Murchison Lions Club and Historical Society are called forward to walk towards the monument in the forecourt where they lay their floral tributes, then gather on the steps of the Ossario building.
This year I had the privilege of laying a beautiful floral wreath on behalf of the family of Nicola Evangelista whose family only recently discovered that his remains were housed in the Ossario. Joanne Tapiolas a Queensland author who recently published, Walking in their Boots telling the story of the Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland, organised the flowers for me from Avonlea Flowers, to place on the memorial. In the course of her research for the book, Joanne was able to locate Nicola in the Ossario at Murchison. The family, who live in Italy, only had knowledge from his war record that he had died in Australia but no more detail than that. To learn that his remains lie respectfully in the well cared for Ossario, and that each year there is a special memorial service, has given great peace to this family who have wondered about his whereabouts for over 70 years.
After the laying of floral arrangements, the singing of the Australian and Italian National Anthems takes place. Everyone observes a thoughtful and respectful silence as the most moving and heart wrenching trumpet rendition of Il Silenzio, (The Silence) is played. I have to confess it brings tears to my eyes every year.
Various dignitaries address the crowd with messages about the significance of the occasion and appeals for this sacred place and those it honours not to be forgotten. A Catholic Mass is held in the Italian language including the singing of hymns familiar to many non-Italian speaking who are also present.
After the Ceremony is completed, those attending gather at the local Community Centre and in the Riverbank Gardens to enjoy lunch together and to be entertained by bands playing favourite Italian music and there is even some dancing!
Over the years the older generation who attended in the 1960’s, when as many as 1,200 people were said to be present, have passed away or are no longer well enough to make the journey to Murchison. We can only hope that the younger generation, particularly with Italian heritage and family connections with those whose remains lie in the Ossario, continue with this important pilgrimage each year to attend the Memorial Service.
Murchison & District Historical Society