Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Franceschini, Mr Renzo

8:02 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I rise to pay tribute to Mr Renzo Franceschini, who passed away on 14 March 2014 at St Vincent's Hospital after a battle with cancer. He was 76 years old. Renzo was a well-known figure in the Australian-Italian community in Sydney and someone my husband, John, and I counted as a friend. Renzo was born in Ferrara, Italy on 27 March 1937.

I first met Renzo when he was the representative of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, one of Italy's leading banks. Renzo had had a distinguished career with the bank, having worked in Singapore, Beijing and then Sydney. He was the head of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Sydney on two occasions, first in the early 1980s and then from 2000 until his retirement after almost 40 years with the bank when it fell to him to close the last representative Italian bank office in Australia.

Renzo became a member of the Dante Alighieri Society in the early 1980s and was one for many years, under the presidency of the late Mrs Renata Salteri. When he returned to Australia in 2000, he served as secretary under the presidency of Mr Giorgio Anselmi. The Dante Alighieri Society was founded in Rome in 1889 to promote the appreciation and understanding of Italian language and culture worldwide. The Sydney chapter of the society is one of about 450 internationally. It has for many years provided Italian classes and staged cultural events not just for those of Italian background but for all Australians. I know that many Australians have benefited from and enjoyed the society's events.

Renzo was also the delegate of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina—the Italian Academy of Italian Cuisine—in Sydney for many years. The Accademia was founded in 1953 in Milan with the objective of safeguarding the principles of the civilisation of the Italian table. I quote from an article in the April 2011 edition of Italianicious, an Italian magazine, entitled 'The Culture Wars'. It said: 'The Italian Academy of Cuisine is one of the most significant and influential organisations devoted to the preservation of traditional food and culture.' And today, after 60 years, the Accademia is more active than ever. It counts 211 delegations in Italy and 76 abroad. The delegations not only foster the aims of the Accademia but are also a means of cultural promotion through their participation in important gastronomical exhibitions as well as directing their own social activities. The Accademia is also one of two important institutes of the Italian Republic nominated by the President of the Italy.

Cooking is in fact one of the most important forms of expression of a nation's culture. It is a product of a country's history and the life of those who live in the country. Remember the old saying: 'You are what you eat'? Our country's food expresses who we are, helps us rediscover our roots, develops with us and represents us beyond our borders. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibility for multicultural affairs, I am acutely aware of the importance of the culture of the table. Food has been an integral part of the development of our cultural diversity, and Australian-Italians have been at the forefront of contribution to our uniquely Australian multiculturalism. They have done much to change our palates and our table. And the Accademia has also played a role in this.

The first delegation of the Accademia was established in Melbourne by Mr Gino Di Santo, a migrant from Molise in Italy who arrived in Australian in 1952. Gino set up the well-known Melbourne establishment, Enoteca Sileno, which has had an important influence in the Australian food and wine scene. In 1988 Gino founded the first delegation of the Accademia in Melbourne. This was followed by Adelaide. With Gino's help, I worked to establish the delegation in Sydney in about 2000. I headed the delegation until my election to the Senate, when I resigned.

Part of the role of the Accademia is to safeguard the tradition of Italian cuisine. Over the years I have participated in dinner meetings where we visit and judge Italian restaurants in Australia and report to the Accademia for monthly publications and the yearly food guides. When I was elected to the Senate in 2004, Renzo took over the leadership of the Sydney delegation. I am very pleased to say that under his guidance the number of members increased, as did the contact with the Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane delegations

In addition, the formal visits made by the Sydney delegation to various restaurants improved the performance of many chefs. Renzo was well regarded and respected, and he had an excellent understanding of Italian cuisine. In addition, over the years the delegation awarded a silver plate to restaurants in recognition of their high standard of cuisine.

Renzo was a passionate advocate of good food. He was even more passionate about the protection and promotion of the rich culture of Italian cuisine. In an article entitled 'From Italy with love' in the good living and entertainment section of The Sydney Morning Herald on 24 May 2005, Joanna Savill explored the changes to Italian food in Sydney. She quoted Italian trade commissioner Matteo Piccariello, who referred to the exciting move away from 'boring, traditional menus'. The article states:

His compatriot Renzo Franceschini, a banker who heads the Sydney branch of the venerable Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine) agrees. 'Our members are not professional reviewers,' Franceschini says. 'We're just an Italian cultural organisation, recognised by the Italian government, concerned with the preserving of genuine culinary tradition. But we are having many more positive experiences. There's definitely an improvement in quality and choice in the restaurants we visit for our regular members' dinners.'

In cooperation with the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney, Renzo organized a successful exhibition on Italian cuisine with material sent from Rome. It was a very successful exhibition and enjoyed by many not just from the Italian community but from the broader Australian community.

I know I speak on behalf of all members of the Sydney delegation when I say he will be sadly missed. His knowledge and readiness to be critical when required was valued by all. Renzo was not afraid to challenge top chefs when he did not believe that the true norms of Italian cuisine had been followed. Renzo also strongly supported the promotion of cultural events organized by the Italo-Australian community, in particular the performances of Annibale Migliucci's Italian Theatre Company.

Renzo is survived by his wife Isabella. They, like many professionals who came to work in Australia, decided to remain and make this their home and became Australian citizens. They have both made a great contribution to their adopted country. Renzo was well known and respected for his honest and critical comments. Renzo enjoyed debating and discussing politics, and I recall our discussions over the years on the finer points of political life in both Italy and Australia. I enjoyed his frankness and his clarity of thought.

To the many who knew him, I know I speak on behalf of them when I offer the condolences of the Australian-Italian community to Isabella, his son, Paolo, and his family in Italy. He was a good man. He will long be remembered for his contribution to the Australian-Italian community. Vale Renzo.