New Italy was a community founded in 1882 by survivors of the disastrous de Rays Expedition, a deceptive venture perpetrated by French nobleman, Marquis de Rays, who conned hundreds of Venetians into believing they were leaving behind the poverty of their homeland for the paradise of a prosperous colony known as New France on the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea.
Despite both the French and Italian governments banning the expedition from departing from their respective countries and warning their citizens that it was a scam, 340 Italians signed up for the voyage, paying de Rays in either gold or in a five-year labor agreement.
To circumvent the authorities, the expedition left from Spain on July 9, 1880, arriving in New France four months later. Upon disembarking the ship, in place of the bustling capital city and rich acres of farmland the colonists had been promised, they were horrified to discover dense jungle and Indigenous people who were not pleased with their arrival. Although the colonists attempted to cultivate the land, as their already meager supplies continued to dwindle and members began succumbing to malaria, it was decided to abandon New France and seek help from an already established colony.
After a brief stay at the French penal colony Nouméa, the British consulate intervened and with help from the colonial secretary of New South Wales, arrangements were made for the 217 remaining colonists to be transported to Sydney.
As the colonists struggled to assimilate to Australian life, many hoped to finish what they had set out from their homeland to do: build a prosperous colony. When land became available in Northern New South Wales, many of the survivors reunited, pooling their resources to purchase 40 acres of bush block. They named their new settlement La Cea Venezia—One Venetian. The colonists cultivated the land into fruit and vegetable farms, prospering enough to eventually purchase a further 3,000 acres of farmland. At its peak, the community—now known as New Italy—was home to 250 Italians and included a school, a church, a town hall, even a timber mill, and a silk production industry.
By the early 20th century, New Italy’s fortunes had taken an unfortunate turn. Fire destroyed several of its buildings and caused the settlement’s silk industry to permanently cease production. The timber mill closed soon after. As the original settlers passed away and their descendants moved on to bigger towns and better opportunities, New Italy was deserted by 1944.
In 1983, the New Italy Committee purchased the original settlement and began restoring its remaining structures. Today, a settler’s museum, a café and gift shop, and the rebuilt Italian pavilion from the 1988 Brisbane World Expo now occupy the historical buildings.
Know Before You Go
The New Italy Complex is open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The settler's museum and the Italian pavilion are free to enter.
Free camping is available 24/7 for both self-contained vehicles and tents.
As New Italy is operated and maintained by volunteers, donations are greatly appreciated if you visit and/or use the facilities.