Spadafora, Messina, Sicily, Italy
Messina, Sicily, Italy in July 1952
Sydney on 28 August 1952
My uncle’s house in Norton St, Leichhardt, Sydney
Knispels, a hardware store in Leichhardt, Sydney
McCues shoe shop and Reuben F. Scarfe – both in Leichhardt, Sydney. I have had my own childrenswear business since 1973.
I was born in 1945 and raised in Spadafora, in the province of Messina, Sicily, Italy. My father and his father were fishermen and my mother’s father was a fisherman too. My grandfather also owned a delicatessen and a boarding house where he would house some of the workers. The whole family worked together as one. My mother’s brothers came to Australia as early as the 1920s or 1930s and started the “Italian fishing fleet” at the Iron Cove River in Leichhardt. They urged my dad to come over to have a better future for the family.
Dad came to Sydney on the Sorriento in May 1949 and he lived in Fraser Street, Leichhardt with his brother Joe. We followed him three years later in 1952. We left Italy on the Sorriento too with my mother, brothers and sisters. For me it was a month full of fun and games with all the other children on board. My sisters suffered from seasickness but not me. I had the time of my life.
When we arrived in Sydney, we stayed in my uncle Tony’s house in Norton Street, Leichhardt. Dad had already bought us a house in Church Street, Leichhardt but unfortunately it was not ready for us to move in yet. We stayed on for a few more months.
I just loved Sydney. I was young and it was so exciting being surrounded by lovely people and lots of family. I didn’t miss anything at all. Of course I was young and had to go to school, so my cousin Josie organised our schooling at St Fiacre in Catherine Street, Leichhardt. There were a few migrants already at this school and a lot more came later. We had the same old ‘salami’ problems, you know, other students would say ‘yuck’ about the food we brought to school for lunch, stuff like salami. It was the usual story, like being called ‘wogs’ because we were different. But we all ended up fitting in well. Today everyone loves salami!
Our mother never worked, she kept busy with the kids. After a while, Dad bought a trawler with his brother and he did really well. The Iron Cove area was ideal for fishing. My brother was 14 when he arrived, so he went straight into the business. When there was no fishing my father and brother went to work in Woolloomooloo at the painters and dockers and also at a sugar factory in Pyrmont. After all, he had six children and a wife to support. We girls weren’t allowed to go anywhere, only to work and church on Sundays. I stayed at St Fiacre’s until I was 15 and 6 months. There was no education after that.
While I was still at school I had an afternoon job at Knispels, a local hardware store on Parramatta Road in Leichhardt. I sold paints, nails and saucepans and did some interpreting. My brother, Francesco, was working there too so he would take me there and bring me home. That was important because Mum was very strict. I started my second job after I left school at McCues, a shoe shop in Norton Street, Leichhardt. I was there for six months before I went to Ruben F. Scarfe, a clothing outlet in Parramatta Road, Leichhardt. Here I looked after sales, worked as a cashier, did promotions and printing of signs for display. I translated in these jobs too!
This is the liquor decanter that I was telling you about. It was special to Mum because she had lost almost everything in a robbery just after her marriage in Spadafora. They took all her wedding gifts. This liquor decanter was somehow stashed away and she was so happy to find it and pack it carefully for Australia. Mum made homemade liquor for my confirmation and she used to pour it carefully into this decanter to serve it in the matching glasses for my comari (godparents). It was used on these very special occasions. She did the same for my sisters’ confirmations. There were six little glasses that went with it but they all got broken over the years. It would be about 70 years old now. I really treasure it, mum gave it to me in 1988 and I’ll never risk using it.
The other thing that I will always cherish is this green woollen healing scarf. My mother used it on all her children to cure all sorts of ailments. For example, in my case, I suffered from a lot of earaches and sore throats. But she also used it for headaches as well as all general aches and pains. At one time it had some sort of hair woven through it but now, as you can see it is almost threadbare. It’s probably about 80 years old now. I plan to tell my grandchildren all the stories my mother would tell me when she was comforting me with this healing scarf.
I’ve always loved to work and have had my own childrenswear business called La Gardenia since 1973. The first shop was in Great North Road, Five Dock and I stayed there for eight years until I moved here to Norton Street. I’m still working in my shop because I just love dealing with people from all walks of life. Basically I love people and I love to work.