Nicastro, Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy
Rome, Italy on 1 May 1957
Sydney on 3 May 1957
Headland Road, North Curl Curl, Sydney
Smiths Chips, Neutral Bay, Sydney
Top Dog (Bonds) factory, Brookvale, Sydney
I was one of seven children born in Nicastro in Provincia di Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy in 1934. Our family owned vineyards, grew olives, pears, beans, corn and wheat that were sold at the markets. My mother didn’t work in the fields but busied herself with the children and went everyday to the shops to buy items such as bread, salami, cheeses and mortadella.
I came to Australia because I just wanted to get away from Nicastro. There was too much work to do. I had to not only work in the fields with the other women but also helped my mother prepare all the meals for the workers. The other men worked with my brothers and my father. It was hard work, a very hard life. It started from early in the morning until late at night and the wine harvest was the worst. It was night and day with no rest. During the day we gathered the grapes for the men to crush and then we went home to wait for the trucks to come to take the wine away into the warehouses. Those barrels had to be carried on the head. It was exhausting. We worked this way six days a week.
My mother and father didn’t want me to leave Nicastro, neither did my brother [Vincenzo] who was in Melbourne at the time. They all agreed the place for a young girl like me was at home working with her family. But I was stubborn; I didn’t want to end up marrying and staying here for the rest of my life. I didn’t care where I went. I just wanted to get away.
One day, a cousin of my future husband came on his behalf to see my father about marrying my older sister. But this sister had become engaged only a month before to a local man. My family discussed the situation amongst themselves and decided that if I was so determined to leave Nicastro that I could marry this man instead. His name was Rosario Cosentino and he was living in Sydney, Australia. I said ‘yes’ straight away. We exchanged letters and photos over the next two years. My father wrote that he wouldn’t send me on a boat because the trip took 40 days and I had never been out of Nicastro. So they (my father and Rosario) agreed to each pay half the price of the airfare.
Rosario and I married by proxy with my brother standing in for Rosario. I took my health examination and organised my travel papers in Messina, Sicily and was all set to leave. I left [Calabria] for Australia on 30 April 1957. I travelled to Rome, my first time in a big city. I flew Air France to Tehran [Iran]. We had to spend the night in a hotel in the countryside because of propeller problems and I had to share a room with another girl who was also a proxy bride. We couldn’t sleep a wink with all the animal noises and mosquitoes. It was terrible, dirty and smelly. I thought it was Australia. We stopped four times but I don’t remember all the airports. The actual flight was really lovely because whenever you were ready to leave or land the hostesses would come around and give lollies.
When I landed in Sydney , Rosario and Vincenzo weren’t expecting me, as I did not arrive on the scheduled day and they hadn’t been informed of the change. I arrived late in the evening of the next day and Rosario and Vincenzo just happened to be at the airport that day. As they were told there was a passenger by the name of “C Terri” (not “C Perri”) they decided to wait and see. I had sent Rosario a new hand made suit that he was going to wear for my arrival. He didn’t have it on because I arrived unexpectedly. Vincenzo hadn’t seen me for five years and didn’t recognise me but Rosario did. I felt strange and Rosario looked all embarrassed. He was so nervous in fact that he broke the stem of the bridal bouquet he was carrying. It was the custom for proxy weddings that when the couple meet, the groom brings the bridal bouquet and the bride wears bridal veil and headpiece.
We went straight to our new home, a brand new two bedroom brick and tile house in North Curl Curl on Sydney ‘s northern beaches. Rosario had arrived in 1952 and had worked hard [water board at North Ryde], saved and bought half of the house with his brother and he had furnished it too. It was beautiful.
I brought a large suitcase with me on the flight and two full trunks came later by sea with some relatives. In the trunks I had packed saucepans, dinner sets, everyday plates and cups, a cutlery set, all sets for 12 people. I had three handwoven and embroidered bed covers that I had made. I had also embroidered face towels and serviettes. I brought a coffee pot, even a colander.
The coffee cup is part of a set that is so very special to me. It was a wedding gift to me from my mother. My sisters got one too; in fact we all received the same items for our corredo [glory box]. We were lucky; our parents could afford to spoil us. My mother sent Rosario a gold watch, ring and chain from Italy .
My first job was for Smiths Chips in a factory at Neutral Bay . After one year I applied for a job at the Bonds (known then as Top Dog) factory in Brookvale. I went four times to convince the boss I could do the work. She didn’t want to hire me because I didn’t have experience with electric sewing machines. I finally convinced her and became their sample maker. I worked there for nine years and soon knew how to work all the machines and was asked to train all the new workers.
Our first-born child was Anna Maria and my next daughter was Rosetta. We stayed in North Curl Curl for about seven years, then bought land in Beacon Hill and built our current home in 1968. We’ve had a very happy life here in Sydney, Australia.
Rosario was thrilled with all my beautiful things that I brought over from Italy as he only had some very old plates and cups. I always used my very good pieces when we had guests. The coffee set is now stored in a large display cabinet at home. The last time we used it was in 1970s. It’s become an heirloom now and it will be handed down to my daughters.