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They came in droves from all over the valley on Monday night (June 4). Seating for about 90 in the LINC Apple and Pears Rooms at Huonville soon filled, half as many more of the curious lining the walls or squatting on the floor. Others, unable to squeeze in, were listening from outside the room.

Mayor Robert Armstrong — who, along with other councillors, had heard on the previous Thursday the talk that was about to be delivered — was among those out in the corridor.

For nearly an hour, engrossed, they listened to an impassioned, hard-hitting message of hope for the Huon Valley’s largely welfare-dependent, educationally handicapped, employment-impoverished economy.

They accepted in silence the shock of the brutality of this Italian immigrant’s condemnation of white Australia’s disastrous mismanagement and unforgivable treatment of our continent’s original owners.

Only on one occasion did they break into spontaneous applause: when he mentioned the unmentionable — the possibility of business co-operation between those who depend on destruction of the forests for their livelihood and those who resist mindless destruction of the natural environment. 

Ernesto Sirolli’s message, as I hear it, is simple: if your business vision has legs, you can make it happen, but only if you have the passion to work for your idea, and, even then, only if you are willing to accept help from elsewhere to handle those areas of the business in which you have no expertise. 

Sirolli, his cultured homeland accent deliciously suited for conveying the passion behind his words, at times boomingly decried the ineptitude of Western white power down the centuries. He told us how we white know-alls have been telling (rather than listening to) other-than-white peoples what is good for them. And he lamented the trillions wasted on “this-is-what-you’ve-got-do” ventures when all that international aid should, instead, have been invested in “this-is-what-we-would-like-you-to-help-us-to-do” requests.

Comfortably at ease on a stage he has trodden for nearly 30 years, Sirolli expressed his delight to be talking to by far the biggest gathering he has addressed since arriving in Tasmania to start up a project — on which Lara Giddings is spending the better part of a million dollars — to put job-producing commercial life back into three economically languishing regions.

I came away thinking that, even if nothing comes of his efforts — and I feel gut-certain that’s not how it will turn out — it was some of the most inspirational public speaking I’ve listened to in years.

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Initially, it looked as if the government money would be spent only in the state’s north. But when Georgetown and Scottsdale decided to take on the Sirolli revitalisation process as a single region Giddings was left with more than $300,000 to allocate. So where did she choose to spend it? Just by chance, in the struggling Huon Valley, which is in Franklin, the electorate she represents. (The remaining $300,000-plus is going to the Burnie region in the northwest.)

On their way in, many of the 150-or-so who came to hear Sirolli filled in attendance sheets. On their way out, on one sheet alone, more than 50 left a tick or cross against their name — their signal that they want to be part of a valley revival adventure that is to be guided over the next two years by the expertise of agents of the Sirolli Institute (see sirolli.com).

Scanning the packed room, it was clear that advertising about the Sirolli talk had not captured the imagination of under-30s adults. I couldn’t spot one. A few looked to be in the 30-40 range. Most were 40-60. And there was a goodly smattering of the likes of me, people past the age where they have still to make a dollar to see out their days but keen to see the generation of a long-term and sustainable economic future for the valley. Among the audience there were, perhaps, a few cynics, some of whom may have been about to have their minds changed.

Most important, the room was jam-packed with a huge reserve of wisdom, experience, skills, talents and — if measured by the enthusiasm of the applause at the end of Sirolli’s levity-leavened harangue — a preparedness to help kick-start a commercial revival.

Whether the sustained passion Sirolli is appealing for exists will only begin to become apparent after he sits down at the initial meeting of the 50 or so people he stressed were vitally needed if this project is to get off the ground.

On reading the Sirolli Institute’s literature and about the credentials it spruiks — backed by reputable references — one might reasonably get the feeling that this could be the Huon’s best chance in decades to set itself on course to building a sustainable and widely prosperous community.

There is a hard, even bullying, edge to Sirolli’s tone, but his message is amazingly simple — so simple that it’s hard to believe no one has brought it to the valley before.

Noteworthy was the lack of public endorsement by Mayor Armstrong of this Giddings’ initiative. Sure, the money is coming from the State Government; and, sure, it was an envoy from the Department of Premier and Cabinet who introduced the speaker. But one would have imagined that council — if it were convinced of the merit of what Sirolli says he is about to try to do — would have willingly thrown its weight behind it. A good way to have done that, one might think, would have been for the mayor to front this talented array of valley residents and deliver at least a few words of encouragement.

He didn’t. But he was the only one of the five councillors present I saw helping stack chairs after the meeting broke up. It was much appreciated help, but not the action of a community leader seeking popular political approval. Perhaps he didn’t spot any votes worth chasing among the gathering. Or maybe he is thinking he won’t be seeking any at all come the next election.

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All about Ernesto Sirolli

First published: 2012-06-07 05:18 AM

• Peter Brenner, Comment 14:
Italian_Experience.pdf