The two ‘ndrangheta down under. One hundred years of constructing the Italian mafia in Australia.

Anna Sergi1
1University Of Essex, Colchester , United Kingdom

The presence of Italian mafias in Australia almost exclusively refers to the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta – the mafia group and phenomenon from the Calabria region, in the deep Italian South. Clans of the ‘ndrangheta appear to be wealthy, entrepreneurial and rooted in different territories and in different illegal and legal markets in Italy and abroad. Italian authorities, therefore, are extremely committed to a ‘global’ fight against the ‘ndrangheta whilst often lamenting a perceived lack of understanding of the mafia phenomenon and its seriousness and dangerousness abroad.

In the past two decades, the Australian ‘ndrangheta has been object of media attention, academic inquiry and growing policing concern. This has been prompted by an increasing focus on the mobility of the Calabrian mafia in countries such as Canada, the United States, and Germany as well as by a series of events in the country that have ignited public interest in the group.

In Australia, however, there are at least two different types of mafia networks.  On one side there are contemporary manifestations of mafia clans, characterised by hybrid structures, poly-crime activities and ethnic diversity. Next to them, there is an historical ‘ndrangheta, with historical families and networks in specific areas of the country. Their activities peaked between the 1950s and the 1970s and their reputation still persists and populate mafia myths.

This paper will analyse historical archives and present fieldwork conducted in Australia. Archival sources contain both institutional documents (from police forces, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies) and, to a lower extent, media sources ranging from 1940s to 1980s. Fieldwork relates to contemporary knowledge instead. The analysis will show how Australian authorities observed, approached and attempted to fight the mafia phenomenon – and specifically that of Calabrian origin – in depth much earlier than usually believed. It will also explain how the original/historical ‘ndrangheta of Australia might represent the reason for the success and the longevity of the clans today or at least, of their reputation.

As a critique of the Italian approach to the mafia mobility that calls for a rigid recognition of the ‘ndrangheta abroad along the lines of its Calabrian nature, this paper will eventually argue that the current focus on mafia mobility needs to be reframed within local and cultural specificities to avoid falling into the conceptual trap of superficial transnational policing.

Anna Sergi holds a PhD in Sociology (2014), with specialisation in Criminology, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex. Her research specialism is in organised crime studies and comparative criminal justice. She has published extensively in renowned peer-review journals in criminology on topics related to Italian mafias both in Italy and abroad as well as on policing strategies against organised crime across states.

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