Giuseppe La Barbera (1929-2020)


Nat Map Senior Assistant (Printing)

(circa 1952-1982)


By Laurie McLean August 2022


Giuseppe La Barbera.

Edited extract from an XNatmap image kindly provided by John Payne.


Giuseppe La Barbera worked with Nat Map in Canberra for about 30 years from the early 1950s to the early 1980s.  At Nat Map, and in various public notices, Giuseppe was known as Joe, an anglicised form of his given name.  However, in his family the Italian Giuseppe was preferred.  Giuseppe worked with Nat Map as an Assistant (Printing) and later as a Senior Assistant (Printing) in the Photolithography Section.  Giuseppe’s appointment to the Department of National Development as an Assistant (Printing), Fourth Division, Photolitho Sub‑section, was promulgated on page 1207 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 17 April 1957.


However, often formal gazettal of Public Service staff appointments lagged the actual commencement date.  Also to be appointed to the Public Service in those days a person had to be an Australian citizen.  Giuseppe had become an Australian citizen in September 1956.  Giuseppe actually commenced with Nat Map about 1952 after spending a year or so working with Westinghouse in Adelaide.  While in Adelaide he saw an advertisement for the Assistant (Printing) position and flew to Canberra to pursue that opportunity.


When Giuseppe La Barbera started work in the Photolithography Section, the Section was located in the Acton Offices that were then in Lennox Crossing Acton.  The actual crossing over the Molonglo River was inundated in the early 1960s when Lake Burley Griffin was created.


Commonwealth Bank and Acton Offices circa 1927.

National Library of Australia Call Number PIC/15114 LOC Box PIC/15114.


Around 1962, the Photolithography Section moved with other Nat Map head office elements to Derwent House at 28 University Avenue (on the corner of Marcus Clarke Street) on the west side of Canberra’s Civic Centre.  The Photolithography Section was located on the 8th floor at Derwent House.


The Photolithography Section remained at Derwent House until the mid-1980s when it moved to the newly constructed Photolithographic Laboratory at the Fern Hill Technology Park in the Belconnen suburb of Bruce.  However, that move did not occur until March 1986; a few years after Giuseppe had retired from Nat Map circa 1982.


From around 1981, with the Photolithography Section still at Derwent House, Giuseppe La Barbera worked in Nat Map’s head office at Unit 3 of the Cameron Offices in Cameron Avenue Belconnen.


During much of his time in the Photolithography Section, Giuseppe La Barbera worked under Supervising Draftsman Trevor Trevillian (1922-1995) and later under Supervising Draftsman Wally Tatarow.


In 1965, Giuseppe La Barbera was promoted to Assistant (Printing), Grade 3, in the Photolitho Sub-section at Derwent House (Position No 119).  This promotion was promulgated in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 25 November 1965.  In this position, Giuseppe supervised the work of the Printing Sub-section.  Typically, the Sub-section’s work involved plate making, proofing, lithographic printing and typesetting operations.


Giuseppe La Barbera was again promoted in 1968, to Senior Assistant (Printing), in the Printing Processes Sub-section of the Map Topographic Mapping Section in the Production Branch at Derwent House (Position No 345).  This promotion was promulgated on page 1452 in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 17 March 1968.  In this position Giuseppe’s main responsibilities were to control and supervise the work of the Printing Processes Sub-section and maintain quality control of the works produced.


Nat Map staff exchange in Hong Kong

While the timing is uncertain, Jeremias La Barbera recently recalled that while with Nat Map, his father Giuseppe spent several weeks in Hong Kong under a staff exchange arrangement.  Presumably this staff exchange was with Hong Kong’s Survey and Mapping Office or a predecessor organisation.


Other employment in Canberra

National Mapping was not Giuseppe La Barbera’s only source of income while living in Canberra.  From at least the mid 1950s and into the 1960s, Giuseppe worked as a waiter in the Members’ dining room at (Old) Parliament House.


Giuseppe was also a keen photographer.  He was often engaged as a wedding photographer; especially by families in Canberra’s Italian and Finnish communities.  Mostly, these wedding photography engagements would be at weekends.


Commercial property interests

Through their company Grassia Investments Pty Ltd, Giuseppe and Saara La Barbera owned a shopping centre in Kambah for some years.


Family visit to Europe 1978

Over the years, Giuseppe together with other family members made several visits to Europe to see his relatives in Italy and his wife Saara’s relatives in Finland.  On one such visit in 1978, Giuseppe was accompanied by Saara and their 2 younger children Lisa and Jeremias.


Towards the end of that visit the La Barberas were in Rome shortly after the election of Pope John Paul II (on 16 October 1978).  Just before the family was due to go back to Australia, Giuseppe was knocked down by a police vehicle on a pedestrian crossing in Rome.  Giuseppe suffered a severe head injury and was hospitalised in Rome for some time.  Afterwards he went to stay with a cousin in Turin to continue his recovery.  In the meantime, Saara had returned to Canberra with the 2 children as they had to return to school.


Unfortunately, Giuseppe required further surgery for a still fractured skull after his eventual return to Canberra.  He was to have lasting adverse effects from this head injury including mood swings and difficulty concentrating and in carrying out his Nat Map duties.


Nat Map retirement

Unfortunately, a Gazette notice or other formal record of Giuseppe La Barbera’s retirement from Nat Map was not discovered during the research for this article.  However, Saara and Jeremias La Barbera (his wife and son) recently recalled that Giuseppe retired around the age of 52 or 53 years; in circa 1982.


Early life

Giuseppe La Barbera was born at Casteltermini, Sicily in September 1929.  Although official documents indicated Giuseppe was born on 30 September 1929, his actual birth date was 25 September 1929.  Giuseppe grew up in Agrigento and later in Palermo.  As depicted on the map below, the town of Casteltermini is in central Sicily about 68 kilometres (direct) south‑east of the capital Palermo.  Casteltermini is also about 26 kilometres (direct) and some 39 kilometres by road north of the hilltop city of Agrigento near Sicily’s southern coast.


A recent image over Casteltermini, Sicily.

Image from Agrigento delle Meraviglie web site.


Locations of Casteltermini, Palermo, and Argrigento in Sicily.

Edited map from Weather web site.


Immigration to Australia

Around 1951, Giuseppe La Barbera travelled to Adelaide as a marine engineer (crew member) on a vessel and decided to stay in Australia.  As mentioned, initially he worked with Westinghouse in Adelaide.  Giuseppe became an Australian citizen in September 1956.  At that time intending citizenship applicants had to have resided in Australia for at least 5 years.  Thus Giuseppe La Barbera must have arrived in Adelaide at sometime prior to September 1951.


Australian Citizenship 1956

Under Australia’s Nationality and Citizenship Act 1955, applications for citizenship could be made six months before the end of the five-year residency qualifying period.  Under that legislation, there was no longer a requirement for intending citizenship applicants to advertise their intentions in a newspaper.


While working in the Members’ dining room in Old Parliament House, Giuseppe La Barbera became acquainted with one of the great characters of the Federal Parliament, Billy Hughes.  William Morris Hughes CH KC (1862-1952) was the Federal Member for the New South Wales electorate of Lindfield from Federation in 1901 until his death at 90 years of age in 1952.  Billy Hughes was Australia’s 7th Prime Minister (from 1915 to 1923); later he was Minister for External Affairs (1937-1939) and Attorney General (1939-1941).


During a conversation with Billy Hughes in the Members’ dining room around 1956, Giuseppe La Barbera sought the Little Digger’s assistance with working through the Australian citizenship process.  Owing to Hughes’ great knowledge of government processes and his many connections in the then Menzies Government, Giuseppe’s citizenship application was promptly processed.


At a ceremony in Albert Hall, Commonwealth Avenue Yarralumla, on 18 September 1956, Giuseppe La Barbera was one of the 57 new Australian citizens who received their Certificates of Naturalization from Mr Frederick Douglas Aloysius Quinane, President of the ACT Advisory Council.  The ceremony was also attended by the then Gordon Freeth, MHR (Forrest WA) (later Sir Gordon Freeth, 1914-2001) who was representing the then Minister for Immigration (and later Prime Minister) Harold Edward Holt MHR (1908‑1967).


Around the time of receiving Australian citizenship in 1956, Giuseppe La Barbera was listed as residing at 4 Thirteenth Street Narrabundah.  On a 1958 electoral roll, Giuseppe was listed as residing at 72 Warramoo Crescent Narrabundah.


Marriage to Saara Vahtola 1956

Giuseppe La Barbera and Saara Marjatta Vahtola were married in Canberra in 1956; not long after Saara came to Australia.  Giuseppe and Saara (Sarah) La Barbera were to have 4 children: daughters Anna, Josephina and Lisa (born 1962) and son Jeremias (Jeremy) (born 1966).


About Saara Vahtola

Saara Marjatta Vahtola was born in Finland on 8 January 1929.  Around 1951, Saara left Finland for England.  While working in London, Saara was offered a position with a family at the British High Commission in Canberra.  On 17 August 1956, Saara departed Southampton as a first class passenger on the Pacific and Orient Steam Navigation Company liner RMS Stratheden bound for Sydney.


The passenger manifest for that voyage indicated that, prior to leaving England, Saara was employed as a children’s nanny at 5 Queens Gate Place South Kensington (London).  The manifest also indicated that Saara intended to live permanently in Australia.  (However, Saara recently indicated that had not been her intention; until she met Giuseppe La Barbera.)  The Stratheden arrived in Sydney on 20 September 1956.


Saara was not listed on electoral rolls until 1972 when she and Giuseppe were listed as residing at 9 Mawson Drive Mawson.  The La Barberas had moved to Mawson circa 1968 after previously living at 58 Carstensz Street Griffith.  On electoral rolls for 1972, 1977, and 1980, Giuseppe was listed as a public servant and Sarah was listed as a laboratory assistant.  On the electoral rolls for these 3 years the La Barbera’s were listed at residing at 9 Mawson Drive which remains the La Barberas’ family home.  (Unfortunately, the 3 cited electoral rolls incorrectly listed the address as 9 Melrose Drive rather than Mawson Drive.)


RMS Stratheden.

Image from Western Australian Museum web site.


For some years, Saara La Barbera worked as a Laboratory Assistant in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory within the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, at the Australian National University in Acton.


Community activities

Giuseppe La Barbera was an active member of the Italian and Sicilian communities in Canberra as well as being involved with the Canberra Finnish community through his wife Saara.  As mentioned, Giuseppe was often engaged as a wedding photographer for these communities.


Giuseppe was a founding member of the then Italo Australian Club that opened its premises in Forrest in 1963.  The foundation stone for the Club’s building at Forrest was laid in 1961 by the then Minister for Immigration Alexander Downer MP (1910-1981).  (The later Sir Alick Downer was the father of Alexander Downer, a later long-serving Minister for Foreign Affairs; during 1996‑2007.


Giuseppe La Barbera was also an active member of the Sicilian Association of Canberra and District.



Sadly, Giuseppe La Barbera died suddenly at his Canberra home on 14 April 2020; he was 90 years of age.  Giuseppe was survived by his wife Saara and by their 4 children, daughters Anna, Josephina, and Lisa and son Jeremias as well as grandchildren Jordan, Charlotte, Jerome, and Pia.


Giuseppe La Barbera’s funeral was held at the Finnish Lutheran Church in Gould Street Turner on 24 April 2020 after which his remains were interred at Woden Cemetery.  Unfortunately owing to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions only 10 mourners could attend Giuseppe’s funeral.  Giuseppe’s funeral arrangements were conducted by Toscan Dinn Funerals of Weston.


Giuseppe’s Nat Map friends and work colleagues belatedly extend their sincere sympathies to Saara and her family for their sad loss.




During the research for and preparation of this article the following people generously provided assistance:

·       Mrs Saara La Barbera, Giuseppe’s wife of 64 years

·       Jeremias La Barbera, Giuseppe’s son

·       Murray de Plater, former Nat Map Chief Cartographer

·       John Payne, former Nat Map Senior Executive Officer

·       Paul Wise OAM, former Nat Map Senior Surveyor and founder, operator, and editor-in-chief of the XNatmap web site.

The author gratefully acknowledges the kind assistance provided by each of these people.