Local writer Steve Capelin has spent the better part of ten years researching the story behind his forthcoming novel, Paradiso.

Paradiso tells the story of three hundred Northern Italian peasant farmers who invest everything in a gamble for a better life which almost kills them. It’s a disaster story with a hopeful ending.

In 1879, a disparate group of kingdoms and domains had, only thirteen years earlier, been united to create the nation we know today as Italy — the Venetian Republic, home to these forty families, was the last to join the new state. Lorenzo Perin, his wife Caterina, and their two children are eking out a living on the plains north of Venice. Crops have failed, the grapes have phylloxera and the rains just don’t arrive.

Along comes a Frenchman with a scheme too good to be true. Join me in creating a utopian Christian colony in the Pacific he says. I’ll deliver wealth and freedom beyond anything you can imagine. In an age-old story of people seeking better lives, where millions of people move from lives of poverty to lands that they perceive offer hope and escape, Lorenzo and his compatriots ignore the warnings and join the venture.

After a journey by land and sea, numerous deaths and exotic encounters, Lorenzo and Caterina and their children, find themselves marooned in the jungles of New Guinea on a remote beach near the southern tip of New Ireland. The promoter of the scheme, the Marquis de Rays, had never seen the site. He appears to have read about the location in the accounts of French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville who reportedly had stopped there to replenish his supply of fresh water (about the only thing of value that was available to the Italians). De Rays promised a sophisticated settlement ready and fully functioning. Nothing that he promised existed. He was the 19th century version of Christopher Skase and his ilk.

The story is told through the eyes of the children, Domenico and his sister Marietta. They are the innocents in this misadventure. Domenico has visions of adventure while Marietta hopes to be delivered from a life of obligation. When the venture disintegrates, they are faced with a reality that has a profound effect on their view of the world.

There is pain in this true story but there is also hope and redemption and, while the utopian dream does not eventuate, a life in Australia beckons and offers an opportunity to create an Italian community in a place they had never expected, a pilgrimage site for descendants that survives today as New Italy on the Pacific Highway close by the Richmond river and the town of Woodburn in northern New South Wales.

It’s a story with many twists and turns; a story of hope, trust, betrayal and survival and the surprising attitude of 19th century Australia to a group of hapless refugees.

Lorenzo Perin was Steve’s great grandfather.

Novelist, Venero Armanno says Paradiso is:

“A testament to the human will to find a better life … an incredible read,” .


Paradiso will be launched at AVID Reader Bookshop, Boundary Street West End on Friday 9 July 2021. A free event but tickets are limited. Register through the Avid Reader Bookshop.

Published by Brisbane publisher AndAlso Books (andalsobooks.com).