Author: Caterina Taviani, Italian community, George Hanna Memorial Museum
It was 1959. I was 30. My husband and I made a huge decision to emigrate to Australia. We left with our two young children. Our motto was “Dove si finisce il mondo, stare asieme”. For us it meant “we may go to the end of the world but will always get through together”.
Born: Bagnaria Arsa, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Migrated: 27th December 1959, 30 years of age
Transport: Ship ‘Toscana’ from Trieste
Luggage: 2 big trunks of linen and clothes, 1 bicycle, 2 casserole dishes, cutlery, 1 dinner set, 6 coffee cups, photos
Journey: 42 days
First Job: Cook/Cleaner in Giru, Queensland
Bagnaria Arsa is a small agricultural town in north-eastern Italy, in the province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. About 1,200 people live there and they grow mostly wheat, corn, soya and tobacco. My mother was born in the same town, as were her parents, and my father was born in Clauiamo, a town 15 kms away. That’s where his parents were born.
I was married in Bagnaria Arsa in 1954. My husband could not find work in Italy so he worked in Switzerland for five years while the children and I stayed at his parents house. At this time I could see no future in staying in Italy. I missed my husband and wanted my two children to have their father with them, so we made a huge decision to leave our homeland and migrate to Australia. The Australian government was encouraging immigrants and said they would provide support in finding a job and house for my husband. We saw it as an opportunity for a better life, especially for our children.
I was really terrified and sad to leave my ten brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. I didn’t cry until I said goodbye to my father. I found out he was sick for a year after I left and that one of my sisters could not go back to Trieste for many years. I was able to cope because I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing and my own family would be united. My husband and I had a motto that we made up before we left Italy: “Dove si finisce il mondo, stare asieme”. For us it meant, “we may go through and to the end of the world, but we will always get through it with each other, staying together.”
The boat trip was terrible because I was seasick for two weeks at one stage and I thought that we would never reach Australia. One day, my daughter almost fell out of the porthole in our room. I worried a lot for the safety of my children, asking and praying to God for faith. When we arrived in Australia there was no one there from the Government to help us settle in and there was no job or house for my husband! We were told that there was plenty of work in the sugar cane fields in North Queensland so we headed north. We went all the way to Brisbane and caught a train to the sugarcane fields of Giru. It took us three days. When we arrived we were met by my brother-in-law, his wife and his farmer friends.
In Giru it was the wet season and I had never seen rain like it before in Italy. There were no jobs on the cane fields because it was the off season. I remember being terrified of the snakes there and my little boy used to call them ‘running belts’. Giru was even smaller and more isolated than my own village in Italy. We were lucky to meet an Italian man, Bruno Nobile, who helped my husband to find other jobs in Giru. We stayed in his house and were lucky because we didn’t have to pay rent in return for cooking and cleaning for him. This house was not in the town, but 4km away in the middle of a sugar cane farm. We were very isolated. Understanding the language, culture and getting used to the climate were the hardest things.
We lasted one year in Giru. We had had enough of the climate, the isolation and the struggle to find work. In 1961 my husband came to Sydney to work and I followed when he found a house to rent in Johnson Street, Mascot. My husband worked as a fitter mechanic for Bradford Kendle, Alexandria. I worked for Parker’s Pens, Gardeners Road, Mascot. We made many sacrifices as we saved to buy our own house and put our children through school. After five years we moved to Flora Street, Mascot. We didn’t get a washing machine until the 1970s. Before that I washed everything by hand.
It was important to me that they had more opportunities in life. I didn’t buy a dress for 10 years! My first dress was actually bought for me as a Christmas gift in 1963 by a very nice Australian man. He was ‘Uncle Bob’ to us and bought gifts for us every Christmas. He also taught my husband English and encouraged us to send the children to Catholic schools, even though he was Anglican.
I love it here because this is the place where I feel most at home, more so than my hometown in Italy. With the accomplishments I have made in learning a new language, culture and way of life I have become more confident. Our decision to move from Italy has meant I and my family had a better future.
In 1988 I lost my husband, due to a work accident. Not having my family here to support me made it a very difficult time. My support here was through my faith, the St. Therese Parish community and the many friends I have made here.
I’ve returned to Italy twice, and I realised I feel more comfortable living in Australia, even though I often miss everyone in Italy. It’s hard to say goodbye to my brothers and sisters. However, it’s a much easier life here than I would have had in Italy. I’m not sorry I moved and have no regrets in coming here, because I’ve provided a good future and a beautiful environment for my children to grow up in. My daughter and her husband run their own business and my son works for the Land Titles’ Office.