Author: Federico Di Campli, Italian community , George Hanna Memorial Museum
It was 1956. I was 21. I left Lanciano, Italy with one wooden suitcase full of my belongings. The Australian consulate was looking for workers to go to Australia on work contracts. I was young and looking for a future. So I decided to go to Australia as a Government assisted migrant. Initially I went to Tasmania to work at Wayatinah Dam.
Born: Lanciano, Italy
Migrated: 26 February 1956, 21 years of age
Transport: Ship ‘Farisea’ from Genoa
Luggage: 1 wooden suitcase full of my belongings
Journey: 55 days
First Job: Worker on the Wayatinah Dam, Tasmania
Lanciano is a very small Italian town where the houses are made of sandstone and the people hang out in the piazza. Both my parents and grandparents were born in Lanciano.
I moved to Australia to find work. Dad made the wooden suitcase for me, which I brought with all the belongings I had. The Australian consulate was looking for workers to go to Australia on work contracts. I was young and looking for a future. So I decided to go to Australia as a Government assisted migrant.
I was young, thinking that I would come back in two years time. I talked to my Dad about it. We decided it was only two years and I could always come home if I didn’t like it. Still, it was very hard to leave family and friends.
The boat trip left from Genoa, Italy, and took 28 days travelling through the ports of Trieste, Messina, Giacardo and Colombo. From Colombo we travelled continuously for 19 days to Fremantle, Australia. It was a great feeling putting my feet on the ground after that boat trip. Then we travelled a further eight days from Fremantle to Sydney.
I remember thinking that Australia was a big country but there were not many people and minimal facilities. Initially I went to Tasmania to work at Wayatinah Dam. I lived in the camp provided for workers. You could work 16 hours a day, seven days a week if you wanted, and make a lot of money quickly but that made life pretty boring. We worked shift for three weeks and then had three days off. About five of us used to go into Hobart on our days off.
In Hobart at that time the police would always move us on if we stopped to talk on the street with one another. There was also a pub, The Newtown Hotel , where they would not let us in because we were ‘New Australians’. If we tried to get a drink they would just say “Wogs are not allowed in here”.
After three months I wrote to my Dad and told him I wanted to come home. He encouraged me to stick it out for two years, get some money together and then come home. I worked for one and a half years at Wayatinah. After my contract finished in Tasmania I went to Mascot to live with my brother at Rosebery, Botany Road, and found work as a maintenance fitter. My brother had emigrated in 1952 and worked in Tasmania and on the Snowy River project.
Sydney was a bit more accepting of Italians at that time, although we were still called ‘wogs’ sometimes. After eight years I had enough money to buy a house and had also met my future wife. So my life was now in Australia. In 1977 I went to work at Botany Council. I think I was one of the first ‘New Australians’ to work for Council. For me, Botany was an area of opportunities. There was a lot of work and people were friendly. The Italian community would meet every Sunday for 8.00am mass at St Therese’s. Today Botany has been beautified into a loving and friendly town. It is a very clean area with all facilities in close proximity.
I think it was about 1970 when my brother decided to go back to Italy because things had improved – with jobs and the standard of living – and he had not married here so it was easier for him. A lot of people did that. I also know Italians who stayed, like me, but their children, who were born here, have gone to live in Italy. I go back to Italy to visit my family. Of course I miss them, but my life is here.
A special event in my life was my marriage to Maria Luisa on 27th February, 1965 and the purchase of our first house here in Botany in the same year. I also remember buying my first car in 1959, it was a Holden and cost me Â£350.00.
Ten years after I left home my father visited me. I remember we went to the pub for a drink and he couldn’t believe there were no chairs and tables to sit and relax. There was just the bar. He said “Do they think I am a horse and will drink standing up?”. Also, back then the pubs closed at 5.00pm and then reopened at 7.30pm, so in between the drunks would be on the street! It was a bit different to the European way of life.
I like my Italian food, music, dancing and enjoying life. I like socialising with my family and friends and playing bocce with the men. In 1986 I was named Botany’s ‘Father of the Year’, my daughter had nominated me.
I also love gardening. I have built an extensive vegetable garden in my backyard. I have planted a few fruit trees like oranges, lemons, grapefruit and paw-paws. I also grow lots of vegetables including chilli peppers. I harvest the bell pepperino so that it can be dried and crushed up to a powder to be used in Italian dishes such as bolognaise.