From Abbazia, Italy to Australia – Michael Strazzari

» Read the Italian version of this story

Author: Michael Strazzari
Storyteller: Silvano Strazzari
Community Language School: Italian Community School, Newcastle
Main School: Merewether Heights Primary School

Silvano Strazzari, a member of the NSW Community Languages Schools Board is interviewed by his seven year old grandson Michael Strazzari.

Where do you come from?

I come from Italy. I lived in a coastal town called Abbazia, which is near a port town called Fiume. My father came from a port city called Bologna.
It is a very beautiful place, popular with tourists.

I lived with my parents, brothers and sisters in an apartment.
Besides Italian food, my mother introduced us to Austrian and Hungarian dishes. Her parents were Austrian and the place where we lived used to belong to the Austrian-Hungarian empire a long time ago.

Christmas and Easter were special celebrations for us. At Christmas time we had chicken and panettone. At Easter we had lamb and pinza. At Christmas time we always sang a German Christmas song, "Tannen Baum".

Why did you leave?

My family left Abbazia after the Second World War because we had become displaced persons. This was because Abbazia did not belong to Italy any more.
This was a very sad time, as my mother became very ill and died in a hospital in Bologna. My young brother was only three.

The family had to be split up. I went to a refugee camp in Bologna where I lived and worked for about three years.

Then, at 20 years of age, I left all my family behind in Italy to migrate to Australia. I came in a Norwegian migrant ship and landed at Melbourne. It was very crowded on the ship.

What was your arrival in Australia like?

I lived in a migrant hostel in Bonegilla. It seemed very backward because it was in the country with no shops and it was isolated, hot and dry. There was plenty of food but it was always the same – mutton. Then I moved to a migrant hostel in Newcastle at Mayfield West and worked in the steel works.

It was very difficult to find Italian food in Australia. I told an Australian work mate that I couldn't buy any spaghetti. The next day he gave me a tin of Heinz spaghetti, which his wife had bought for me. I didn't like to tell him that there was a big difference between tinned spaghetti and the spaghetti Italians ate ! To let him know I appreciated what he had done I made myself eat it and pretended that I liked it.

What is it like here and now?

I have been back to my country three times, with my Australian family.
Abbazia is still as beautiful as ever but it is foreign as the people are different and speak another language. Also it all seemed much smaller than I had remembered it from when I left all those years ago.

We visited Abbazia and Fiume but stayed with relatives in Trieste and Bologna.
Australia has become much more like Italy because it has adopted so much of its way of life. Australians now eat lasagne, pizza and osso buco and drink cappuccino and wine. This is so different from the time of my arrival.

I miss being involved in an Italian life style at times but my three grandsons more than make up for that. It makes me happy that Michael is learning Italian.