• 20:22
  • 16.10.2021
Genius move that won mafia war
the big reads

Genius move that won mafia war

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In May 1971 Italy’s worst Mafioso were sent to Filicudi, a small island off the coast of Sicily as ‘punishment’ for their crimes.
Instead of being jailed, they were free to walk around, shop and live in paradise.
The only problem was the locals — most who had relatives in Australia — didn’t want them there. And their protest led to the country’s first anti-mafia war, supported by Italy’s diaspora in Australia.
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They had strong reason to want them gone. The criminals walking the streets of the tiny fishing village Pecorini a Mare included Tano Badalamenti, dubbed the “farmer boss”, who had made a fortune with sheep and veggies and was accused of killing enemy gangs, infiltrating public tenders, and drug dealing.
Another, John Bonventre — wanted by the FBI — was a real kick-ass Godfather who controlled the cocaine triangle between South America, the United States and Sicily.
Filicudi was meant to be a harsh prison but turned out a holiday retreat for them. They slept in frescoed kingsize bedrooms with terraces and smooth tile floors made of ancient painted majolicas. For meals, they ate for free at taverns with rainbow-coloured chairs and tables under thatched porches, where they got to devour gourmet dishes locals could only dream of. As a digestive, the bosses loved to gulp down sweet amber-coloured Malvasia wine which was locally made and still served at the bars.
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They were allowed even to pick a lover but local women would have rather died than fall into their arms.
The fact they were pampered instead of punished infuriated the islanders. Locals understood that if the bad guys remained on the island they would have snatched everything with their “blood money”: houses, villages, even the few precious donkeys that helped carry goods along steep stone paths.
“They were prisoners but surprisingly had tonnes of cash in their pockets. I was a teenager and my dad headed the local post office, so when I brought them their mail they would tip me each time ...”, recalled Vincenzo Anastasi, who runs Hotel Le Canne.
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So they hatched a plan — a protest so dramatic it worked.
After winning support from other Sicilian islands, they abandoned Filicudi to the prisoners. No longer would the Mafioso have anywhere to shop or eat.
Other islands welcomed these ‘refugees’ with open arms.
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That was their winning move.
For a few days Filicudi turned into a ghost isle. All shutters down, shops closed, the caper orchards and prickly-pear fields empty. Farmers and fishermen all gone. Not a soul around except for the Mafiosi. Italy’s state was forced to step-in and transfer the criminals elsewhere, to an uninhabited isle off Sardinia’s coast roamed by just donkeys.
“They were smart and fearless — that’s how they revolted, chasing the Mafiosi away,” local historian Pino La Greca, who wrote a book on the revolt, said. “It was Italy’s first anti-mafia war, supported at a distance by Australia. Relatives already settled there sent money back home to help organise the resistance.”
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Many tough islanders who kicked the gangsters out of their golden retreat later also migrated to Australia to join their families after the mafia nightmare ended. And several are now coming back to purchase summer dwellings and restore abandoned parts of Filicudi, lured by the pull of their motherland and longing to reconnect with the past.
It’s not only the history that is drawing them in.
Filicudi is surrounded by clear turquoise waters, purple grottos, cobra-shaped sea-stacks and pebble beaches.
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Today you can relish in Filicudi’s former Mafiosi heaven. It is the only place in Italy where you’ll sunbathe, sleep and eat like a real Godfather, living a gangster sojourn at hotel-restaurant La Sirena, featuring beachfront suites with balconies where the Mafiosi chilled-out, smoking cigarettes in the fresh sea breeze.
You can dine at the tavern downstairs serving the gangster menu: the Mafiosi loved to slurp spaghetti with sea-urchins tomato sauce and indulge in fried meat balls. After a heavy meal, you can crash on the pebble beach like they did and perhaps skinny-dip at night in the same ‘criminal’ waters.
Many Italian Australians are now coming back to restore parts of Filicudi, drawn by the island’s wild beauty and the desire to rediscover their roots and lost heritage.
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Mr Anastasi regularly hosts Australians for months during the summer, and quite a few are now even purchasing and restyling typical white beach dwellings covered in bright pink bougainvilleas, with open-air colonnade patios and stone benches to soak in the sun.
Thanks to them, the mafia past is just a tourist brand attraction today.
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