Castiglione, Cantania, Italy
Messina, Sicily, Italy on 8th February 1968
Sydney in March 1968
Victoria Street, Burwood, Sydney
Rondells Dressmaker, Market St, Sydney
Dressmaker for Mr Canz Bridal Wear
My father Giuseppe Zumbo was the first one of the family to come to Australia in 1964. My two elder brothers, Carlo and Vince, came a year later in 1965 with an aunt and uncle. Mum, my youngest brother Domenic and I came on the Archile Lauro four years later. We left Messina in Sicily on 8 February 1968 and arrived in March 1968, a month later. The trip was very rough and a bit boring for me. I was 15 at the time and wasn’t allowed to do anything alone. My mother was very strict. No freedom at all!
In Italy, my father was a contadino (farmer). Our grandfather had some land but Dad worked as a sub-contractor for other landlords. In those days in Italy, when you had five children it wasn’t an easy life. But my mother was very fortunate, she never had to work in Italy; in a way she was a lady of leisure because most women in those days went to work in the fields. She had her children and they became her work.
Our family came to Australia for the same reason that everyone else did: a better future, better living, more money and more land. Opportunity! My father already had relatives here in Sydney so he knew what to expect. My mother was very happy to leave Italy but my father never quite accepted it. He found work upon his arrival with the public school system as a maintenance man. That was his first job and he stayed there until he retired in his late sixties.
For me, it felt very sad leaving Messina. When you’re young, of course you feel excited, but when I think back now, it was a sad and scary time too. Although I left lots of my friends behind, we were together as a family, so I also felt a sense of security.
The day we arrived in Sydney was beautiful and sunny. My dad and brothers were there to meet us with all of our cousins. But I could only see Carlo, Vince and Dad. My mother was crying with joy to see her two sons whom she had worried about continually while they were in Australia without her. We had a big celebration at our new house in Victoria Street, Burwood. Dad had done everything in preparation for our arrival. In those four years he had saved and bought a house, renovated and furnished it with everything we could ever possibly need. It was beautiful.
We had brought two large trunks and lots of suitcases with us. Dad had told mum to only pack winter and summer clothes, shoes, sheets and towels but nothing else, so mum sold everything else before we left Italy. Dad also said, “just bring yourself and make sure that you cut off all that hair and wear lipstick”. He said, “don’t come to a big city with your hair in a bun”. So Mum reluctantly had a perm. I thought that she looked gorgeous but she felt so ashamed that she wore a scarf.
These sheets were in one of the trunks. They are mine now and were very precious to my mother because they had been a wedding gift from her own mother. My mother hand embroidered them in a special ’800′ design (a fashionable design of the time) for me in readiness for my corredo (glory box). In the village in those days, all the girls learned to sew and embroider. She had made some gorgeous pieces for me over the years, such as linen hand towels, bath towels and washcloths.
These special bed sheets get used only very occasionally now. They could never be replaced. They’re an heirloom, irreplaceable today. They are stored safely in my cupboard.
Not long after our arrival I started work at Rondels, a dressmakers in the city. I couldn’t speak a word of English at the time and this Italian lady that I worked with insisted on only speaking to me in English. It was so hard, humiliating really. I should have gone to school to learn English but I wasn’t allowed because my mother was very strict and didn’t want me, a girl from a small village, out of her sight unnecessarily. A neighbour got the job for me. Her name was Joyce, a wonderful Australian neighbour.
I met my husband Ferruccio five months after we arrived in Sydney. We met through the family, Ferruccio just kept coming to visit our home. We realised that it was serious about a year later. In those days you just didn’t play up, my parents were old fashioned and very strict. We saw each other for about two years, always chaperoned. We were engaged for about five months before we married on 21 September 1969. I was only 17 years old at the time. My parents actually liked him because he had a very positive attitude and was a hard worker. He was a cabinetmaker for Kafka in Alexandria.
I became pregnant with my daughter Sara only eight months after we were married. She is now 34 and a lawyer. In 1974 my second child was born, Tizziano, who is now 31 and works in the building industry. We’ve now been in Australia for 37 years. I’ve never worked since the children were born. Ferruccio has had his own building business for the last 20 years and has worked hard to provide a very comfortable life for us. I don’t miss Italy because we came here when we were young with our family. Australia is definitely our home.
Mum just loved Australia. For her it was a dream come true. When she arrived in Australia she just smiled with joy and kissed the ground. She saw how clean things were here, the good roads, the order of things. She was by nature a very private person and hated the gossip mentality of her small village life, so she loved the freedom and anonymity of living in Australia.
My father, on the other hand, always missed Italy. He was 49 when he left and to him, it was still his home. In Italy he used to love to hunt and spend time in the country with animals. I think there was always conflict between my parents because of this. My father said that he wanted to be buried in Italy. It didn’t happen.
We love Italy too, especially when we’re there on holidays, we have such a wonderful time. But our kids were born here and we’re all Australian citizens. We’ve had a very fortunate life and are happy that we made Australia our home.