Image Trieste Choir, 1952. Courtesy Natalie Senjov-Makohon
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER RECALLING THE JOURNEY II
. Recalling the Journey II, reflects the experience of migration from 26 different perspectives. It is the fourth publication in the series of rich microbiographies born from the overarching ‘What Happened at the Pier’ program. Lella Cariddi and Multicultural Arts Victoria
What Happened at the Pier: Recalling the Journey II Edited by Bailey Wall ISBN: 978-0-9871810-0-8 The researcher and publishing editor Lella Cariddi and Multicultural Arts Victoria retain joint copyright in the Recalling the Journey II publication. Copyright ÂŠ Lella Cariddi and Multicultural Arts Victoria 2018 Multicultural Arts Victoria recognizes that the authors retain copyright of all original text and images. Individual stories shall be properly attributed to the authors. Reproduction of any material contained in this publication will require acknowledgement of the publication as the source of the material. Disclaimer Although the publishing editor Lella Cariddi and Multicultural Arts Victoria have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time, the publishing editor and Multicultural Arts Victoria do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. Recalling the Journey II has been supported by the City of Port Phillip through the Cultural Development Fund. Multicultural Arts Victoria is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. First Edition Printed and published August 2018
Note One | IX Bailey Wall Note Two | X Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper Note Three | XI John Watts Introduction | XIII Lella Cariddi Foreword | XVII Jill Morgan Acknowledgments | IXX
What Happened at the Pier: Recalling the Journey II 1. A Wiltshire Emigrant’s Story | 23 Paul Brown Written by Paul’s great-great-grandson, Wayne Brown 2. A Family History | 31 Louey O’Hoy Written by Louey’s great-granddaughter, Michele Wong 3. The Diakakis Family | 37 Helen Pagonis - Written by Con Pagonis 4. A Unique Migration Story | 43 Bayliss & Evdokia Xeros and Aristides & Anastasia Kampaklis Written by Sophia Xeros-Constantinides and Miria Cambel
5. Walking with My Ancestors | 49 Louis Stellato - Written by Jemana Stellato Pledger 6. Marriage in Palestine | 55 Eileen Capocchi 7. Last Entry (11 September 1942) from the Diaries of Siegmund Emanuel Kleerkoper: 1940–1942 | 61 Siegmund Kleerkoper - Introduction by Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper 8. ‘After War’ and ‘Voyage’ | 69 Sergio Cerne 9. My Aunt, Zia Rosa | 83 Written by Pina Geracitano 10. One-way Ticket from Abruzzo to Melbourne: With a Trunk of Embroidered Linen and One Decent Pair of Shoes | 87 Natalina Iacuone & Sabatino Varrasso Written by Gina Varrasso 11. Images on a Quilt Capture Steps in the Life of Anne Cocks | 93 Anne Cocks 12. Before and After: A St Kilda Story |103 Sylvie Leber 13. My Grandmothers (and Grandfather) | 111 Peppina Forzisi, Marterine Azzolini & Nino Composto Written by Josie Composto Eberhard 14. Burlak Family - Waves of Diaspora Communities | 115 Translated and transcribed by Natalie Senjov-Makohon 15. Tracing the Many Threads of the Past: La Famiglia Cufari | 121 Written by Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo 16. Selfless | 127 Rosina Byrne Written by Rosina Byrne
Journey of a Triestina, Viking and Piscean Tiger-Poet | 131 Graziella de Clario Written by Domenico de Clario and Linda de Clario
From Natile in Italy to a Farm in Red Cliffs Australia | 139 Giuseppa Callipari Pipicella
Perils of Migrant Sea Voyage to Australia aboard a Dangerous and Dilapidated ship | 145 Written by Salome Argyropoulos
Our Voyage from Egypt | 151 Teresa & Anita Carcour
21. We Were Certain There Was No Turning Back | 155 Charles Dâ€™Anastasi 22. Biography about My Grandfather | 157 Vincent Cinanni 23. A Road Travelled | 161 Shaio-lim Mau Written by Edith Chen 24. The Silence of Re-remembering | 165 Elif Sezen 25. What If I Pee in This? | 171 Nefeli Manja 26. This Is Me | 181 Maryam Babaali
hen I joined this project in March 2018, I felt I had a solid enough understanding of What Happened at the Pier’s purpose and mission. But there is a difference between reading descriptions of the program and witnessing for myself the fruits of its labour; the narratives it accumulates in the form of books, symposiums and more. It is a network of products and events I am grateful to have been exposed to since coming on board. Similarly, reading over each author’s story for this book, I realised how limited an understanding I had of 20th-century experience itself. Through fact-checking and verifying claims, not only did I find myself needing to wrap my head around shifting geographies, where individual masses of land would be named and renamed, but so too did I have to recognise that these turbulent political situations were things that these authors (and their ancestors) have had to live through. As such, to me this book underlines the importance of, in addition to preserving migrant narratives for history’s sake, having access to them so that readers can empathise and relate to the experiences of these authors and their families. I am glad to have contributed to this book’s production, so that these experiences will be available for generations to learn about and, ideally, understand. Bailey Wall
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he narratives gathered from immigrants who arrived in Melbourne from all over the world in this, the second e-book of ‘Reflections…’ were hunted down by the indefatigable Lella Cariddi, passionate in her conviction that they are in danger of being lost, just like the elderly houses, with their elegant decoration, giving way to tedious apartment blocks in Melbourne’s inner north. They range from the arrival of the ‘ Brown family’ in 1851, ‘Louey O’Hoy’ in 1887’, Sieg Kleerkoper in wartime 1942, to Dr Shaio-lim in 1970, Maryam Baabali in 2012, so more than one and half a century. Many members of the O’Hoy family were even born in Australia, bringing into question the notion of who really is ‘an Australian’, as they were ’stopped at the border on the way home, because of their looks. What unites these stories is their arrival in Port Melbourne. Anna Callipari records her first sight of the new country:…we were impressed to see the city lights and tall buildings which we had never seen in our small village!’ My own experience of the first day in the new country, on the other hand, was of ‘corrugated iron sheds – a down at heel café.’ (first ‘Reflections’) We commend this new collection of ‘ship stories’, edited by Bailey Wall to you. Marietta Elliott- Kleerkoper
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ecalling the Journey, Volume 2, is an invaluable publication that poignantly and vividly captures an essential aspect of what has gone into making Australia the country it is today. The publication of the stories contained within its pages give “voice” to a range of first-hand accounts of migration, that otherwise may have been lost forever. Not only the text but also the images accompanying them are important for anyone who wants to better understand aspects of the multi-layered history of the migration experience to these shores. Editor and curator of these stories and images, Lella Cariddi, is to be applauded for her outstanding and tireless efforts in liaising with writers, publishers and editors in bringing these invaluable personal stories to the public domain. Many of the first-hand accounts tell tales of hardship in the land in which migrants grew up and the difficulties of migrating by ship – tales that can be full of pathos and humour at the same time. They also capture the sense of isolation and travails in trying to fit in to an unfamiliar culture and learn a new language, and the great camaraderie that was often experienced by migrants from the same country who settled close to each other in their new land. As a person who was asked to proof read, and where necessary edit some of these wonderful stories, I would commend their close reading to anyone who has a curiosity and love of learning more about some of the historical foundations that have gone into making Australia the great multicultural success story that it is today. John Watts
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I have always thought that all stories are important, but stories only come to life and stay alive when they are being imagined and remembered, and then in the telling, how they are retold to make sure they are being heard. —Alexis Wright
nly Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders can claim Australian Heritage. For the rest of us, regardless how many Australian-born generations we can lay claim to, the roots of our ‘Heritage’ are to be found somewhere else. This acknowledgement pays respect to the traditional custodians of the land that this publication is being launched on, the Yalukut Willam Clan of the Boon Wurrung people. We would also like to pay our respects to their Elders both past and present and their descendants. How do you go about telling authentic stories by-and-about immigrants and displaced people from so many diverse cultural backgrounds, about many who may no longer be alive? Mary Elizabeth Calwell states: ‘Of the 220,462 assisted settlers who arrived between January 1947 and June 1950, 128,153 or 58% were displaced people (DPS)’. And why must these stories be imagined and remembered? On the Australian Government Home Affairs’ website, we read: Like all Australians, migrants pay taxes to, and receive benefits and goods and services from the government. Research shows that overall, migrants contribute more in taxes than they consume in benefits and government goods and services. Yet, with very few exceptions, stories by and about the immigrants’ experience as a body of work, are by far and large, absent from the Australian literary canon. Most importantly, they are stories that at best have been overlooked and /or forgotten, and by consequence, they’re not featured in the annals of Australian history. Thus, stories born of rich and diverse heritage which has made Australia such a successful ‘migration nation’, get left out untold, unread and unheard. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | XIII
The idea of a vehicle through which stories about the migrants’ experience can be read, heard & shared, was first muted by Jill Morgan. Jill had observed the power of storytelling through an exchange between an older migrant and a recently arrived refugee. By listening to the refugee story, the older migrant felt less of a victim and became sympathetic to the plight of the refugee. In the beginning, the challenge was to ensure that people off all ages, from all cultural background and all walks of life -not just the ‘literati’- could be the authors of their family story if they wished to. And if the people who first undertook the perilous journey are no longer with us, their descendants then have every right to memorialise their ancestors’ experiences. To that end, a series of free community consultations in collaboration with libraries, the Immigration Museum and community organisations, were held right across Melbourne from Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) to Diamond Valley in the North East; and in regional Victoria: from Mount Evelyn to Ballarat, Mildura and Bendigo. At these encounters we offered participants some non-prescriptive suggestions such as: ‘think of threads rather than themes– threads which can guide the weaving of rare and unique stories that reference authentic migration experiences aligned to Princes or Station Pier. For example, what were the circumstances that informed you or your family’s decision to migrate? What and who did you leave behind? What objects did you bring with you? What happened during your journey to Australia? What was it like when you first arrived?‘ People from all over Victoria and some from South Australia, responded to the call generously. They volunteered to inform other people, and one even compiled a story on behalf of a friend. This cross-fertilisation resulted in a Palimpsest of illustrated experiences, spanning 1840 to 2012. Individually constructed, they are held together by straight-forward telling and authenticity. Recalling the Journey II, reflects the experience of migration from 26 different angles. It is the fourth publication in the series of rich micro - biographies born from the overarching ‘What Happened at the Pier’ program. And the second e-book published with support from the City of port Phillip. In 2018, private donations enabled a ‘limited edition’ to be also produced in print.
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The first collection titled: ‘Memory Keepers Revisit The Past’, is an A5 size print publication produced by Multicultural Arts Victoria in collaboration with Diamond Valley Library, and with support from the Shire of Nillumbik, (2015). The second, titled: ‘Recalling the Journey’, Vol.1, is the first collection of stories produced as an E-Publication with support from City of Port Phillip (February 2017): URL to: https://heritage.portphillip.vic.gov.au/People_places/Community_ Stories/Recalling_the_Journey. The third, titled: MIGRATION- Stories from Banyule, is an A4 size print publication supported by the City of Banyule (October 2017). Woven within the fabric of today’s Australia, these stories spanning from the mideighteen-fifties to twenty-twelve, seamlessly reveal faces of Australians from across the cultural milieu. Most importantly, they also reveal that there have always been pull and push factors in the history of migration to Australia. For example, following WWII, Australia took in hundreds of thousands of migrants because its’ population had been depleted due to the large number of men that had died in the war. On the other hand, significant historic events that changed the course of history: the 1922 conflict in ‘Smyrna’ now Izmir, the displacement of people from Egypt, and from all over Europe including the former Yugoslavia, drove masses of people to these shores. Eventually, when all the Europeans were forced to leave Egypt in the 1950s, this arm of the family would end up shifting to Athens (Con Pagonis, 2018). On a broad level, each story coalescing between the pages in this literary vessel enables us to rethink the way we respond to migration’s pull and push factors in the 21st century. With history comes weight. We can either be held down by it or use it to create momentum (Joe Toohey, 2018). I firmly believe that we are duty-bound to bring these stories to life and ‘create momentum’ around the social history of immigration to Australia across the centuries. Perhaps, a good place to start is by investing in the journeys of immigrants and displaced persons included in this publication, who separated WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | XV
themselves from the ‘forever home’, and with gritty courage, resilience and adventurous spirit, moved across borders, across countries, across continents, and with humor and cultural heritage deep in their heart, they made the long journey to Australia. After more uneventful morning drills, everyone stayed on deck to escape the heat below, but then had to hide from the sun and the heating metal of the upper deck. It was a makeshift refugee camp. Some dozed under lifeboats. Others tried to get relief by using sheets and blankets as sunshades. Some read; others loafed in groups, talking, joking, laughing, farting, smoking and sharing the lunacies of heat and boredom (Sergio Cerne). Suspended between vivid memories of the mother country now left behind and having to accommodate ‘the new’ while holding a mirror to the past, stories by old waves of migrants coalescing side-by- side with stories of more recent arrivals in Recalling The Journey II, form a bridge to an optimistically inclusive future for all Australians, regardless of origin. In Recalling the Journey II, we meet memory keepers whose roots are: Bosnian, Chinese, English, French, Greek, Dutch, Iranian, Italian, Kurdish, Maltese, Palestinian, Taiwanese, Turkish, Ukrainian, and who as the agents for remembering, imagining and transmitting their family story, also give us a peek at Australia’s social history at the time of their family’s migration. We are thrilled that this illustrated cross-cultural, intergenerational publication of significant micro biographies will be launched by Jill Morgan AM, who as MAV CEO, has been an unstinting supporter of the publication of family histories authored by ‘memory keepers’. Lella Cariddi
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ecalling the Journey #2
Migration in our globalised world is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon. Migration-driving factors, especially a desire for a new life and economic prosperity, a safe place to live and a need to support one’s family plus education, influence how all migrants adapt and respond to challenges in a new city and a new country. Acculturation in a new context brings about psychological and socio-cultural change for the people migrating and can lead to difficulties including: social isolation, prejudice, unemployment and a feeling of loss. Being in the minority has been perceived as a ‘stressful’ life event that requires considerable adjustment on the part of the migrant. In this context the adaptation has often focused and tended to be too skewed towards the negative on the part of the receiving country. However, what the twenty-six stories in Recalling the Journey #2, especially reveal, is the individual strength and resilience of women who have left their homeland to migrate to places all across the world, some places chosen, others by fate or destiny. These stories demonstrate that even though there were many challenges to be overcome by the immigrants, there were enormous positive aspects that came out of the migration experience. Not only has there been a positive adjustment and adaptability on the part of the migrants in the process of integrating in the host countries- especially the women who have used strategies to cope with the demands of their lives in a new country, while at the same time holding families together, some of them singlehandedly - they have also actively contributed to the cultural growth and development of the host countries. The stories collected by Lella Cariddi for ‘Recalling the Journey #2’, focus on how this experience went beyond coping and correspond to transformation and, in turn, affects the well-being of women and importantly demonstrate their resilience. These stories need to be told. They are very moving and powerful stories. They are true life stories on how these inspirational women became the beacon of hope in WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | XVII
building a better life for their family and for generations to come. It is my hope that in reading the stories contained in ‘Recalling the Journey #2’, we will gain a deeper knowledge of the characteristics that enable a new society to build resilience, leading to a greater understanding on the process of cultural adaption which will inform the implementation of culturally competent policies which recognize the important role women play in the migration process. Jill Morgan AM CEO Multicultural Arts Victoria June 2018
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There are so many individuals who have contributed to the research, compilation and editing of this publication that I would like to thank, but none more than the twenty-seven ‘Memory Keepers’ and their extended families to whom I want to give heartfelt thanks. So, thank you all of you for working closely with me throughout the process, and for your heroic efforts to ensure that historical details in your story are correct. A huge thank you to the many volunteers, particularly: Stella Michael, Con Pagonis, John Watts, and Janna Hilbrink, who generously gave their time and expertise to: read the stories, provide historical details, if needed, make grammatical suggestions, and do some editing. Bailey Wall, a Master student from the University of Melbourne, for undertaking an academic internship at MAV, and for dedicating many extra weeks of his time to work alongside me to meticulously edit the final manuscript. While always ensuring continuity of style, Bailey understood that maintaining the author’s voice, is critical to the authenticity of the book. So thank you Bailey from me and management at MAV. Other internees and students from the University of Melbourne that assisted along the way include: Bianca Winataputri, Astrid Tao, Ambrin Hasnain, and Arnesia Ranggi. Thank you all very much for your dedication and for support when needed. Elisa Stone for assisting with translitteration from Yiddish into English alphabet. Devana Senanayake for sound recording some of the stories. Colleagues at Multicultural Arts Victoria, Deshani Berhardt and Sneha Varma who have assisted me most generously with technical advice and support throughout the process. Tommaso Durante, who as cover and book layout designer has creatively guided the aesthetics of this publication, and responded to the call to make last minute changes and adjustments with generosity.
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Image Aristides Kampaklis and his 7 year old son, Omiros, outside the grain store in Athens. On arrival in Melbourne Omiros was quarantined and admitted to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital where he died three days later. 1924. Courtesy Miria Cambel
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER RECALLING THE JOURNEY II
. Woven within the fabric of todayâ€™s Australia, these 26 stories spanning from the mid-eighteen-fifties to twenty-twelve, seamlessly reveal aspects of world events that changed the course of history.
A Wiltshire Emigrant’s Story Paul Brown - Written by Paul’s great-great-grandson, Wayne Brown
aul Brown was born 12 August 1799 at Slaughterford, Wiltshire, close by the villages of Tiddleywink, Biddestone, Foord and North Wraxall, and only 5 miles from Chippenham. The village lay at a crossing point on the Box brook in a pretty wooded valley, just 9 miles from Bath and 16 miles from Bristol. Paul was a farm worker when he married Mary Hulbert on 31 December 1828 at North Wraxall, Wiltshire. Mary was born 22 December 1806 at North Wraxall. They raised a family of 8 children. Naomi was born at Bath in Somerset, Charles, George, Paul and James were born at Slaughterford, then Ruth and Silas were born at Bitton in Gloucestershire, and Mary, the youngest, was born at Slaughterford again. A tenant farmer reported in The Reading Mercury on 10 February 1849 that wages for able-bodied men in some parts of Wiltshire were 7 shillings per week but many were unable to find work. The Argus on 20 March 1850 reported an interview with a typical agricultural labourer in Wiltshire. The work day began at 6 am in the summer, later in winter. The couple had 7 children and their diet consisted of bread with some potato and cabbage. The only meat they could afford to buy was half a pound of bacon for the whole family of nine on Sunday. Clothes were bought from extra money earned at harvest time, and the winter months were a very hungry time. Two pence per week per child for schooling was unaffordable. A report on rural workers in Britain in The Argus 14 March 1851 stated that able-bodied men were paid 7 shillings a week, from which they also paid for their house rent and fuel. But they were paid only for the days on which they were actually employed, and at times their wages were 4 shillings, or 3 shillings or nothing. Rent paid for a cottage was 1 shilling per week. Their homes were miserable in the extreme, seldom being more than two rooms, generally damp, unwholesome and dilapidated. It was the prevailing custom for father, mother, sons, daughters and cousins, to sleep in the same room, the beds so close together that one must crawl across one to reach the other. A report on wages in Wiltshire in 1850 (The Argus 9 January 1856) gave this account of a farm worker’s daily diet – ‘After doing up his horses, he takes breakfast, which is made of flour and a little butter, and water from the tea-kettle poured over it. He takes with him to the field a piece of bread (and if he has not a young family and can afford it) cheese to eat at midday. He returns home in the afternoon to a few potatoes, and possibly a little bacon, only those who are better off can afford this. The supper very commonly consists of bread and water.’ Higher wages were offered in the colonies. The British Government operated Emigration Depots at Plymouth and London, and offered free fares for agricultural workers, shepherds, and farm and domestic servants to Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide. Regulations were printed in The Argus 1
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Image 1. 1 Paul Brown Jnr and wife Mary Baylis at the homestead “Airlie” at Neilborough North, near Raywood Vc, on their Golden Wedding Anniversary 21 June 1908. Both were reported to be “hale and hearty” but Mary died 3 weeks later of a heart attack. Courtesy Wayne Brown
November 1851. Candidates must be sober, industrious, and of a general good moral character. Each emigrant paid a part fare, usually paid by emigration society funds as follows. Married labourers and female servants aged 50 to 60 (Paul senior) £11, aged 40 to 50 (his wife Mary) £5, aged under 40 (his daughter Naomi) £1, single men aged 18 to 36 (his sons Charles and George) £2, children under 18 (his children Paul, James, Ruth, Silas and Mary) £1 each. These fares paid for the bedding, blankets, knives, forks, spoons, plates and mugs used by the passengers. These items were given to the family after arrival in the colony. Specified amounts of biscuits, beef, pork, pressed meat, flour, bread, oatmeal, raisins, preserved potatoes, suet, peas, rice, tea, sugar, treacle and butter were provided on the voyage. In 1856 fares were reduced to £1 for a whole family.
The emigrants had to provide a proper outfit, for males, two complete sets of exterior clothing, six shirts, six pairs of stockings, and two pairs of shoes. For females, six shifts, two flannel petticoats, six pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes and two gowns. Three sheets were required for each berth, and three towels and 2 lbs of soap for each person. Emigrants took their tools of trade and the baggage allowed for each adult was a maximum of 20 cubic feet or half a ton. The Brown family was set to embark on a big adventure. Paul’s eldest daughter, Naomi, married George Bull in February 1851, and they sailed from Plymouth on the ship Emperor on 22 February, and arrived in Sydney on 6 June 1851. The ship was 753 tons and was commanded by Captain Liddle. There were 10 deaths on the voyage and 4 births. Extracts from National Library manuscript NL MS670 a letter from David Atkinson, a passenger: ‘On board the ship Emperor at sea, March 4th 1851. Dear Brother, as we are in daily expectation of meeting a homeward bound vessel, I have taken this opportunity of addressing to you these few lines. I have also great cause for thankfulness to god that I have been preserved from the effects of seasickness, those of us that were well had to attend the sick. ‘There are nearly 300 emigrants on board, the greater part are Irish. Ours is not a government ship. In that I am disappointed as we should have better order and better allowances. Our living is very good because they are government stores … but only a hired vessel. The less they allow us, the more they will have to spare at the end of the voyage, when they can sell or do as they like. We have plenty of good meat, beef one day, pork another, and plum pudding every other day made of flour and oatmeal mixed together, pickles, also tea and sugar. They give us very short allowance of flour, rice, potatoes and biscuit. If the emigration officers in port knew it they (would) pull them over the coals, and we shall be sure to report them when we reach Sydney. ‘We were well treated at the emigrants depots at Deptford and Plymouth. We left the Deptford WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 24
depot on Saturday February 15th and were conveyed by a steamer to Plymouth depot, which we arrived at on Sunday night about 8 o’clock. The 2nd day of our arrival there we were conveyed on board our ship. We set sail from Plymouth on Saturday afternoon. We have had most favorable weather since we set sail. We crossed the Bay of Biscay without any danger a few days ago. We passed this morning the island of Ascension. We are now nearing the island of Madeira, and expect soon to cross the line. ‘Last Sunday divine service was performed on deck by the Captain, the surgeon officiating as clerk. The Union Jack was spread on the capstan, which served as pulpit. Sunday night a child died. It was thrown overboard on Monday. We are divided into messes of 8 persons. Each has a captain who serves out the provisions to the mess. Constables are also appointed to preserve order. I am happy to say I still enjoy good health …’ The Empire newspaper reported on 7 June 1851: ‘The Emperor has experienced some fearful weather on her passage – off St Paul’s a complete hurricane, and again in long 105E and 39S. She brings out 263 immigrants, viz., 113 male and 96 female adults, and 54 children. They appear of a superior class, and no doubt will meet with ready employment. The high state of discipline maintained amongst the immigrants is shown by the great cleanliness and order of the ship, and tells well for the surgeon-superintendent, the captain and officers of the ship. On the captain’s leaving the ship for the shore, he was saluted by three hearty cheers from all of the immigrants.’ The ship lost three sets of topsails on the voyage. Upon arrival 17 seamen on the ship went on strike and expressed a desire to go to the goldfields. They were charged and sentenced to 12 weeks hard labour in Darlinghurst Gaol. Goldfield discoveries around Bathurst were widely reported from May 1851, beginning the very first of many gold rushes. Merchants now advertised all kinds of supplies and outfits for the diggings. In The Argus on 30 June 1851 it was reported that 500 families in Sydney had already been abandoned by their husbands, leaving the wives and children with no means of subsistence, in many instances almost starving. Paul’s son George Brown was the next to leave. He sailed two months later from Plymouth on 19 April 1851, on the barque Sarah, 729 tons, and arrived in Sydney on 14 August 1851. The voyage was somewhat eventful as a number of the ship’s crew twice refused orders so Captain Aymers and his officers armed themselves and clapped five of the ringleaders in irons. Once the ship dropped anchor off the Cove, the immigrants mustered aft on deck, and presented Dr Jeffs and Captain Aymers with highly complimentary addresses, to thank them for their safe arrival. The 269 immigrants, two thirds of them Irish, could be hired onboard the ship from the 19th August. There were 3 deaths on the voyage and 4 births. The ship’s cargo was mainly barrels of beer, wine, stout and rum. George arrived to find news of more goldfields, labourers now asked as much as £1 per week in wages, and the colony was in an election campaign where immigration, convict transportation and land ownership were hotly debated. Paul and Mary, with the rest of the family, sailed from Plymouth on 19 August 1851 on the 465 ton ship Hooghly commanded by Isaac Durrant. The ship was advertised in those times as the fine, first-class, river-built ship Hooghly, having superior poop and between deck accommodations for passengers. They arrived at Melbourne on 27 November 1851 after a journey of 99 days. The ship carried 229 government immigrants, mainly from the Scottish Highlands, and a variety of cargo including coal. It sailed back to London with a cargo including 6642 ounces of gold. Five WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 25
children died and there was one birth during the voyage out. The Argus 29 November 1851: ‘Immigrant ship Hooghly. The inspection of this ship having been concluded, the families and single men will be open to engagement on board at ten o’clock, a.m., on Monday, the 1st proximo. The single females will be brought into Depot on Saturday, and be open to engagement on Monday, at 11, a.m. Clergymen are requested to call at this office on their way to the ship on Saturday. Immigrants by the Hooghly – Families 39, Single Women 43, Single Men 56, Hugh Childers, Immigration Agent. Immigration Office, Melbourne.’ Charles Barrett of Pentridge employed Paul and Mary for 6 months at a rate of £65 per annum with rations and he also employed their children, Charles and Paul jnr. Another son James was employed by George Coghill for 10 shillings per week for 1 month with rations. Ruth, Silas and Mary remained with their parents. Gold was the biggest news at that time and reports from The Argus in December 1851 stated that in a single week 100,000 ounces of gold had come in from Victorian fields, that several townships and the Ballarat diggings were briefly deserted as the Mount Alexander rush was on. To reunite his family, Paul advertised in The Argus 20 March 1852. ‘If George Brown and George Bull, who arrived in Sydney, lately, from Slaughterford, Wiltshire, will call or send to Kinlochewe, Sydney Road, on Mr Thomas Barrett’s farm, they will hear of Paul Brown who is living there.’ Kinlochewe was a small village at a crossing on the Merri Creek near Mount Ridley. The village had been wiped out by the Black Thursday bushfires in February 1851. Travellers from Melbourne to Sydney on the Easterly route came through Irishtown (Preston) to Epping, forded the creek at Kinlochewe (Summerhill Rd, Craigieburn), went on to Rocky Image 1. 2 Paul Brown jnr in the 1850s and Ruth Brown’s husband, son and son-in-law all drove bullock teams to save for a farm and to Water Holes (Kal Kallo), and supplement the farm income later. Courtesy Wayne Brown joined the other Sydney Roads at Pretty Sally’s Hill at Wallan. So the Browns had moved on to work for Thomas Barrett, a farmer on the Merri Creek. Paul again advertised in The Sydney Morning Herald throughout July and August 1852, ‘If George Bull, who married Naomi Brown, and arrived in Sydney per Emperor, 6th June, 1851, also George Brown, who came to Sydney per Sarah, 14th August 1851, will communicate their whereabouts as early as possible to their parent, Paul Brown, care of Captain Pearson, Mount Ridley, Kinlochewe, Melbourne; or, to Mr John Clarke, Bankside Cottage, Balmain, Sydney, such communication with be thankfully received.’ Paul’s family reunited at Melbourne soon after and the Browns mainly worked on the farms and market gardens in the Pentridge area until 1857, though a son, Paul junior, also worked as a carrier to the goldfields. The name Pentridge was changed to Coburg in 1870. Wages published on 5 May 1853 in The Argus were for married couples with children with rations, £60 to £85 per year, good farm labourers, £1, 5 shillings to £1, 13 shillings per week, bullock drivers with rations WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 26
£2, 10 shillings to £4 per week. Just 5 years after arrival the 1856 Electoral Roll shows the family had already bought one small farm in the name of the eldest son Charles at West Pentridge, and leased 3 more farms, all at Pentridge, in the names of Paul, his son Paul junior and son-in-law George Bull. The main crops grown in those days were grain, hay and potatoes. Among the entertainments at which the sons and daughters of Pentridge farmers could get to know each other was a Farmers Ball, held at the Young Queen Hotel, Pentridge, on 24 June 1857. Paul Brown junior married a farmer’s daughter and Ruth Brown married a farmer’s son, both in the following year. Another big day out was the Port Phillip Farmers Society Show, forerunner of the Melbourne Show, held in September in Sydney Road. By 1857 inland towns had grown around the goldfields. Coach lines such as and Cobb and Co, Criterion and Telegraph advertised daily coaches from Ballarat to the nearby towns and to Melbourne and Geelong. Fares from Ballarat to Melbourne were £2 and coaches departed at 6 am to arrive at 3.30 pm. Paul junior saw some good farming country on his travels to and from the goldfields, and the family liked the rich soils at Mount Prospect near Creswick. The Browns sought to buy farmland, but buying in competition with squatters was not easy. Mount Prospect began as a goldfield as discoveries were made in the nearby creeks in March 1856. The Bendigo Advertiser on 8 April 1856 reported: ‘The rush to Mount Prospect continues. Upwards of 2000 are working in the vicinity of Mr Egans paddock, and the lead is taking the direction of Creswick Creek. Many of the claims have proved exceedingly rich, numbers yielding one pound weight to the tub; the conduct of the miners orderly, and their health good; population 4500. 15 puddling machines and 6 quartz crushers at work.’ At a government land sale on 11 August 1857, Charles Brown bought lot 34, 47 acres, at Mount Prospect for his father at a price of 40 shillings per acre, and on the main road between Creswick and Daylesford. Paul Brown senior was listed as the owner on the rate records. Mount Prospect became a coach stop and it had three churches, a school, two hotels, a general store, post office, and a blacksmith’s shop. Railway sleepers cut from the surrounding Bullarook Forest helped to build the Ballarat and Bendigo railway lines which both opened in 1862. There was plenty of work for timber workers and carters for nearby sawmills for anyone needing extra money to supplement their farm income. Paul’s three sons-in-law joined the family at Mount Prospect, William Harding who married Ruth Brown was a carpenter there in 1858, George Bull farmed there by 1860, and John Newton married Mary Brown in 1865 and he also farmed there. Farmers donated produce to fundraising bazaars for the local school which started in 1863 and the Brown families would have taken their children to school picnics such as this one reported in The Star on 25 December 1865: ‘The breaking-up of the Mount Prospect School for the Christmas vacation was celebrated in a very pleasing manner on Thursday, 21st December, by a picnic at Hepburn’s lagoon. The children mustered about sixty in number and were conveyed from the school in wagons belonging to the various farmers, and on arriving at the lagoon were fed to their hearts’ content with fruit and confectionery. Subsequently they entered most WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 27
zealously into the various sports which had been provided. Numerous recitations were given and hymns sung in a manner that reflected great credit on their teachers. A brass band was also present, to the music of which a number of the ladies and gentlemen tripped right merrily on the green.â€™ Paul Brown senior died 21 October 1870 at Mount Prospect where he was buried. The sons went on to select farms at Neilborough North near Raywood in 1871. Mary died 19 March 1887 and she was buried at Raywood. So their fourth child, my great-grandfather Paul Brown junior came from a life of poverty in Wiltshire. He arrived in 1851 at Port Philip as a lad of 16. He married Mary Baylis in 1858, and they raised a family of 10 children. Through hard work they succeeded in business, and helped to build their small rural communities with schools, churches, halls, sports and social clubs. Paul died in 1923 and he left 3 houses and 1232 acres to his children, most of whom had their own farms.
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Image 2. 1 (From left to right, all the O’Hoy siblings) Meelan (in dress, standing), My grandfather Fee Lan (Sitting), Quong Lan (standing), Suey Lan (standing), Que Lan (Sitting), Sheow Lan (little boy standing). Photo courtesy Dennis O’Hoy.’
A Family History Louey O’Hoy - Written by Louey’s great-granddaughter, Michele Wong
At uni, I began my first search into ancestry. I was trying to understand history seen through the eyes of a different generation. I was lucky at that time to get Mom involved. She has always been a quiet soul and now she has dementia. One of my philosopher friends once told me some afflictions of the mind can be a self-soother. It uncomplicates life. With dementia, one does not remember mistakes or squabbles and hence regret is not all consuming. Oddly, it had been dear Mother that allowed my world of expression and memory to bloom. She was the first person who got me writing as a toddler. She was the one who told me about her childhood in Bendigo. And how she had moved from Australia to Singapore after meeting my father at a university dance. She left what was comforting to her and entered a city-island known more for its busyness and business. This is where I learned there are many sides of us we sublimate because sometimes an ocean-crossing and a foreign environment does not induce an ease of being. Mom has always been warm and yet has always found it hard to break into conversation with my father’s family. I often ask her about my O’Hoy roots as it brings out an untraceable illumination. I may jump around but only just a bit as I would like to juxtapose certain comparisons about my ancestors as I am rather philosophical about the past and present. There is a certain currency of pride and passion when it comes to family history. But I’ve also realised there is a learning and this often comes from the less pride-filled truths of history. 2. This brings me to the ocean-crossing of my great-grandfather’s (Mother’s paternal grandfather). Louey O’Hoy was one of the early Chinese to arrive in Australia from the village of Wah Lock Lea. The village was in an area called Sun Ning. Migrants in North America from many older areas of China came from this region and spoke the dialect Toishan. Louey arrived in Australia in 1861. I imagine the journey on the ship Active must have been an odd experience for someone whose centre has always been the land, whose daily routine revolved around the warmth of family and, very likely, a familiar business that included the sale of dry goods and herbs. Greatgrandfather’s name was Ocean Way (Tao-hai) Thunder (Louey). However, the landing authorities reversed as well as anglicised his name, which became Louey O’Hoy. My school friends often asked me if he was a convict or a gold-digger. I always answered, ‘No and he was never Irish! Neither did he run a laundromat or a Chinese café.’ 3. As a child, Mom would take me and my sister to Melbourne to visit my ‘Por Por’ (grandmother) Alice, along with Aunt Lorna (Mom’s oldest sister), Uncle Eddie (oldest brother) and Aunt Marjorie (youngest sister) and my cousins. I remembered beetroot sandwiches, cheesecake and kangaroos. I remembered how mother laughed and showed a side of herself never seen. In the university recordings I did with Mom and my aunts, she would talk about how she used to walk to school or play with her cousins Aunty Myrtle and Lucy, and how little Uncle Dennis (Myrtle and Lucy’s youngest brother) would often try to tag along behind. This made
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us smile as Dennis was by the time of the recordings working diligently at a university of which he later became dean (and then recently, a recipient of the Order of Australia). Mom would talk about being one of only a handful of Chinese families in Bendigo and yet how racism was not as apparent as in the bigger cities. Some small towns are known for their provincial attitude toward migrants. Perhaps it was because she played field hockey and Aunty June (another of Mom’s sisters) was a star athlete who trained with many of her schoolmates. Mom also worked in a pharmacy in Bendigo and got on well with her employer who still recalls her fondly. Uncle Eddie, the eldest boy, joined the Royal Air Force, trained in Canada and got on very well with those at the RSL after the war. 4. In my early years, I started doing theatre and performance poetry. I was fortunate enough to have this as a platform to explore various aspects of ‘being’. I worked with a media company that did History Channel shows. I workshopped and directed actors on stories ranging from plantation life to coming out to one’s Asian grandmother. But all that while, I hadn’t come out. The stories I told were braver than I was. I was most able to speak stubbornly about ambiguous modifiers but was totally tongue-tied when it came to my own cultural and sexual identity. I realised the hindrance of voice for me was partially inherited. My mother was a foreigner in Asia where she still lives. She grew up in Bendigo, a town muscular in its birth, from goldmining and trading. It was more her paternal grandfather and his sons that were known in the community. It’s also probably the fact that my own paternal family are mostly traditional despite being educated. I grew up going to Catholic Church with my paternal grandmother whose family also kneeled in front of the family altar with incense and food offerings. 5. When I met my Aussie-Chinese grandmother, Alice, her Caulfield house was old and rather run-down. She also tended to wear the same old dress and a tattered apron. I had assumed that raising 6 kids including my mother must have had something to do with my grandparents’ simple life. It was a surprise to learn from my uncle Dennis that Louey’s family led a comfortable life and that coming to Australia was more to find his own way than from economic hardship. Instead he ran a simple store, ‘Sun Ack Goon’, which sold rice, dry goods and Chinese herbs. As a supplier of herbs, I suspect that this gave him a close business friendship with renowned herbalist James Lamsey. My grandfather Fee Lan was born in 1890 and he worked alongside his brothers in that Bridge Street store. 6. Mom told me my grandfather was often quiet although he and Por Por had a slight affinity with betting on the horses! It was my uncle Dennis who told me he was quite chatty especially with his brother Que Lan (Dennis’ father) as they worked diligently at the store together. As I got older, I began to appreciate the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, the idea of possibilities of opposites coexisting at the same time. I am speaking more in terms of shadow and light, rather than the predictable idea of good and bad. It was in my late teens when I began talking to my aunty Lorna that I saw how simplistic a heroic migrant’s story can sometimes be. 7. On the other hand, I’ve heard mostly good things about Louey from Uncle Dennis. Louey lived in a town whose Chinese population of about 1200 represented 4% in the 1870s but Bendigo’s Chinese population dwindled to 300 in 1911. Sun Ack Goon still managed to thrive selling Chinese provisions like rice and herbs. In 1887, Louey and James Lamsey entertained the Chinese Imperial Commissioners during their Bendigo visit. It was after this that my greatWHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 32
grandfather became a mandarin (of the fifth rank), which some say was an equivalent to receiving a British knighthood. In 1915, Louey became president of the Bendigo Chinese Association. This was after James Lamsey’s death, when the newly refurbished Bridge Street association was officially opened by the Chinese Consul-General. 8. I too take pride in the immigrant struggle and how united in many ways the Chinese community was. But I’ve also heard one or two stories from Aunty Lorna, Mom’s oldest sister. It was she who had told me that she had heard about some customers at the family store gambling and occasionally smoking something in a haze. She mentioned that she was just a toddler and didn’t quite understand the gravity of such acts. Due to the Immigration Restriction Act beginning in 1901 (often termed the White Australia policy), Chinese men weren’t allowed to bring in their wives and children. Hence the men treated her like their own child and she imagined how they must have missed their own. And so it isn’t surprising to learn that the early Sun Ack Goon was a centre for lonely men. My aunt Lorna was a straight talker and an avid smoker, and didn’t seem too embarrassed to mention her suspicion of certain activities. Lonely Chinese migrants wouldn’t have seen a shrink (well hardly anyone did) in those days. Loneliness or any kind of hollowness was and still is a stepping stone into various forms of compulsion. When I talk to family, we understand the complex situation with opium. The White Australia policy caused movement to become restricted and prohibitive head taxes in Victorian ports to be imposed. Many Chinese men not only didn’t see their wives and children, they likely realised Australia would never see them as true Aussies. I suspect when you are presented the notion of being a lesser being, you feed any predilection with less guilt. As it was, opium addiction eased the men while making them even worse pariahs in society. 9. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather became one of the leaders of the Chinese Easter Fair committee when it raised money from the Chinese in Bendigo and Echuca. The money went into importing the first transport of parade costumes from China for the annual procession as well as the first Easter Dragon in Bendigo in 1892. The dragon (called Loong in Chinese) took 46 men to carry the body and 6 to hold up the head. It was a big part of the procession until 1970 when the world’s longest imperial dragon, Sun Loong, was imported to take its auspicious place. Louey remained president of the Bendigo Chinese Association until he left for Hong Kong in 1918. He then passed away in 1920, a year after having a large birthday celebration on turning 90. I think he knew his time was coming and being buried in Aberdeen (Hong Kong) Cemetery was probably his last wish fulfilled. 10. About 10 years ago, Mom began asking the same questions repeatedly. And then we began noticing how she would point to a certain food and ask how it tasted, although she’d already tried a piece. These were the minor signs. The major sign was when she hit a tree while driving (which soon ended her time driving), and when she got lost in a small shopping mall and was found in a hair salon. Her silence grew but so did her wit; ‘If I’m going to get lost, I should at least get my hair done.’ But there were still some vague images in her head, and they all belonged to the very deep past. I increasingly realised these stories were even more invaluable. Which brings me to the story of a key person in my family, as we don’t often hear the histories of the women as much, relatively WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 33
speaking. My Por Por, Alice Tong, led a rather different childhood which I thought might account for her disciplining when we were younger though she also had great patience at times. My aunts told me how sociable she was. She liked playing mahjong and cooked quite a few delicious meals for family gatherings, and was gracious to anyone who dropped by. However, her youth was a bit unsettling. In my university interview, Mom had told me about how Por Por’s parents and four siblings lived in a small home (which I later found out from Sophie Couchman’s work was smaller than 300 square feet) at Lacey Place off Little Bourke Street. Her father, Chin Tong, died at a young age in 1912. Her mother then took her family to China not only to be educated but also very likely to have the support of other family members. While in China, Alice’s mother and two of her siblings died. She and her two other siblings, Ethel and Kay Sing, were then taken under the care of a herbalist called Chin Wah Moon. He ran his business on Russell Street. However, Alice did not return home to be with her guardian for too long; she returned because she was betrothed to Fee Lan O’Hoy at the age of 16, an arrangement most likely made by Wah Moon.
Figure 2. 2 Mom ( center) with siblings & parents ( Fee O’Hoy &Alice Tong) 1947. Michele Wang. Photo courtesy Julee O’Hoy
It was in her arrival back with her younger sister, Ethel, that some Australian immigration officials questioned their origin. They did not believe the two were Australian-born. Por Por was questioned about her memories of Chinatown and Little Bourke Street, and was almost given the Dictation Test. Chin had to pen a support letter explaining their status and soon after, officials allowed them into Australia.
When my maternal grandparents later travelled back to China to see family, upon returning to Australia they needed letters to prove their citizenship as well as to state their reasons for their visit, even though they were both Australian-born. This would be the second time Por Por had to prove her nationality. Fee Lan needed to apply for an exemption from the Dictation Test and Alice had to write a letter explaining her Australian birth. I bring this up as there is something very telling that occurred before she passed on in 1988. Por Por and my grandfather got on well with everyone, no matter where they came from. She was used to mixing with Caucasians in Bendigo and at family parties as our family have had many mixed marriages. But the day I visited her in hospital after she had become unwell from a hip surgery, she looked fraught. She then spoke to me in part Cantonese (as I could not speak Toishan). She said she did not want to be alone in the hospital as almost everyone was white. This wasn’t the Por Por I once knew as she never spoke of such fears before. It was obvious being fragile WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 34
made her feel vulnerable. I think deep down, there had always been a memory of something not being equal. My uncle Dennis was separated from his two Aussie-born siblings who were with their mother in China as Que Lan tried to get the immigration authorities to allow his wife home. These two siblings died before they could return. I think these things live in the bones of our ancestors as dignified as they tried to look in their photos. And yet when I think of my ABC cousins and their children, it’s obvious we have come a long way. Our families see the dualistic nature of the past and those that have come before us. There is no longer denial and there is no longer blame. It isn’t just the Yin and Yang of human nature; it’s the nature of history. In a way, history teaches us to live consciously, to understand that consequences can reverberate. We’re a tough bunch; we take it all in. Perhaps that’s what being a true Australian is.
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Figure 3. 1 Helen Pagonis as a young girl in ethnic costume c.1941
The Diakakis Family Helen Pagonis - Written by Con Pagonis
y Australian-born mother, Helen Kathleen, grew up in a community of ‘displaced persons’ of Greek heritage from Asia Minor who resettled in South Melbourne in the aftermath of the First World War. Helen was born in 1930 to Constantine and Argyro Diakakis. Argyro was born in 1887 in the regional township of Alatsata in what is now Turkey. The thenprovincial capital of Smyrna is the modern-day city of Izmir. Argyro’s parents were Manuel and Anna Samara. Following the First World War, and the subsequent Greco-Turkish War, Turkish forces, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, reoccupied Smyrna. Atatürk had previously come to prominence for his role in securing the Ottoman Turkish victory at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1916 – a defining moment in Australian and Turkish history. He went on to found the modern Republic of Turkey, serving as its first president from 1923 until his death in 1938. On 9 September 1922 Atatürk regained control of Smyrna. Four days later a massive fire broke out, completely destroying the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city. A refugee crisis ensued, which culminated in the monumental 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey involving some two million people. Argyro was living in Cairo with her sisters at this time, so returning to her hometown was no longer an option. Following this crisis, some members of Argyro’s family migrated to Boston, and my mother, Helen, would go on to correspond with her cousin Kathryn in Boston for many years. In 1923, Argyro reunited with her father, Manuel (my great-grandfather), on Chios, a Greek island off the Turkish coast not too far from Alatsata. Argyro cared for him there until he passed on. She then returned to Cairo to resume living with her sisters. Eventually, when all the Europeans were forced to leave Egypt in the 1950s, this arm of the family would end up shifting to Athens (I met some of them on a trip to Greece in 1990). Living in Egypt when the forced population exchange took place, Argyro was spared the immediate traumas of those events. Altogether she spent seventeen years in Egypt. There she met and married Constantine Diakakis. Our family documents show Constantine was born in Athens in 1889. We know he had been a soldier on the Turkish front during the First World War. Together Argyro and Constantine sailed to Port Melbourne in 1924, and settled in South Melbourne. Like many, they faced huge struggles during the depression years in Australia. For Argyro at the age of 43, and not expecting to have children, their daughter, Helen, was an unexpected arrival on 21 May 1930.
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In the depths of the Great Depression people went to great lengths to find work. While Helen was still an infant, her father received word from a distant relative who lived in Geraldton asking him to go there, as there was work available for him. This vulnerable family of three, with no English, made the arduous journey to the Western Australia coast only to find disappointment, and to be stranded there without a home or work. They eventually made their way back to Melbourne in the early 1930s. Our family documents show Helen’s parents regularised their Australian residency in January 1938. Argyro acquired British nationality and we have a Certificate of Naturalisation for Constantine. Further into the depression years, Constantine was away from home, doing what was known as ‘sustenance work’ in regional Victoria. When he finally did find work in Melbourne, it was on night shifts. During the Second World War he fell ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalised. Helen at that stage was still under school leaving age. With the assistance of neighbours, she applied for an exemption to enable her to leave school at age 14 to work and support the family as the sole income earner. When Constantine died on Christmas Eve 1945, after his long illness, Helen was 15. As was the custom, following her husband’s death, Argyro wore black for the rest of her life, including a traditional headscarf. Helen had limited quality time with her father and was too young to think about asking more about his background before he passed on. His death left mother and daughter without family in Australia; their only relatives were in Cairo and Boston, and correspondence was only with the relatives in Boston. These circumstances brought mother and daughter closer together and the bonds became stronger with the passage of time. Argyro became over-protective, even for those times. When Helen left JH Boyd Domestic College in South Melbourne to go to work, her mother insisted that she could only go to a workplace with an all-female workforce. So she became an employee at ladies’ garments manufacturer Lucy Secor in Sturt Street, South Melbourne. There she was trained on the cornely (embroidery) machines. This was a position other young women shunned because the work was tedious, requiring a lot of practice, attention to detail and creativity. Helen mastered the skills to operate cornely machines and was able to move on to another organisation in a role where she engaged directly with clients and was often left in charge of the workplace. This new position was with Yardley’s in Capitol House, Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall. This was the position that Helen held when her beau, Nicholas Pagonis, was courting her. Fortunately she had an employer that allowed her to receive his telephone calls and gave her time off for them to meet in the afternoon. The dressmaking and needlework skills she gained gave Helen much pleasure and satisfaction over subsequent years. Later she acquired a cornely machine of her own and was able to do much of this work at home. Her mother had to sell family possessions, mainly a gold watch, chains and other things belonging to Helen’s late father, to enable her to buy this second-hand, nineteenthcentury, pedal-powered machine. The items sold to pay for the machine were, of course, of great sentimental value and would have become family heirlooms. Helen became innovative in the application of her skills, and her creative cornely and other craft work became much sought-after WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 38
by all that knew her. After the First World War, South Melbourne had become an enclave of Greek-Australians from Alatsata. Helen’s mother did not always enjoy good relationships with her fellow expatriate townspeople, who considered her somewhat eccentric. Once he got to know her, my father, Nicholas, put this down to her extroverted nature and intellect. He assessed that she was above all the small talk and gossip. He reflected that she was interested in world news and current affairs, which was not appreciated by many of her gossipy compatriot neighbours. However, Argyro was held in high esteem by other Greek people who frequently came to her for advice and counselling. Many Greek women, whose most common problem was husbands who spent their days and nights gambling in kafenia (Greek coffee clubs), owed the survival of their marriages to the sound advice they received from her. In Cairo, Argyro had led a cultured life with her sisters and their families. She took pride in telling people about attending the opera, Verdi’s Aida, before the war. It was staged outdoors at the foot of the Great Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo. Smyrna also had an opera house of its own; in its day the city was known as ‘the Paris of the East’. Argyro was very accomplished at hand embroidery and crochet. Despite not being able to read English, she was able to reproduce intricate crochet placemats and embroidered clothes from pictures in women’s magazines without any instruction on the complex designs. As well as the Greek and Turkish languages, she spoke French, Italian and Arabic, which she learned during her seventeen years living in Egypt. This cosmopolitan environment would have broadened her outlook. She attended a religious school where she was taught by nuns and where she acquired a cultural and intellectual education, as well as handicraft skills. She was a most hospitable and generous person and never took payment for any of her needle craft-work; she only gave it as gifts, often as thanks for assistance to herself and Helen. Helen married Nicholas Pagonis in October 1950 and the family moved from South Melbourne to Chadstone in 1954. I was born in 1952 and named after my grandfather, Constantine. Sisters Leigh (in 1955) and Catherine (in 1958) followed. After her marriage, Helen became a full-time homemaker, raising her three children and nursing her own mother who passed away aged 72 in 1959. I was 7 years old when she died and I have clear memories of her, particularly her scary Greek folktales. Helen was always very industrious at home, making a lot of her children’s clothes and, like her own mother, needlework and other handicraft gifts for friends and relatives. She was always very generous with her handiwork. Over time, she became heavily involved in fundraising and charitable work, at first with our Chadstone High School Mothers’ Club, and then with the wider Greek-Australian community. For over twenty years she was a leading volunteer with Fronditha Care, an organisation that provides services to elderly Greek-Australians. This included hospital visits and visiting people in residential care. She was also a significant fundraiser. For this dedicated work, Helen was awarded an Honorary Life Governorship of the Australian Greek Society for Care of the Elderly (Fronditha Care) in November 1990. Helen and Nicholas had a wonderful marriage and were a devoted couple. Helen lost Nicholas in WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 39
Image 3. 2 Helen Pagonis as a young adult, at 18 c. 1948
2007 when he was 83. Eleven years later at age 88, Helen passed away following a second bout of cancer. Following Nicholas’ passing, Helen surprised all of us, not least herself, by the depth of her resilience. Helen was testament to the proverb: ‘What goes around, comes around’. Though still living independently in her family home, she remained well supported; not least because of her lifelong generous spirit. She had her children and their families, including daughter-in-law Julie, sons-in-law Russell and Trevor, and grandchildren Andrew and Peter. She also had a close circle of relatives and friends (some girlfriends she had since childhood). She busied herself knitting scarves and making other handicrafts for fundraisers, but mostly to give away as gifts. I have drawn much of this family history from my late father Nicholas’ unpublished memoir, and discussions with family members who were generous in assisting with putting this account together. This story complements the one on Nicholas, which appeared in the first volume of the e- book (see Port Phillip Library, Recalling the Journey pages 79–83).
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Image 4. 1 Xeros siblings (L to R) George, Ulysses, Maria and Nicholas with infant sister Liberty. Frank Zaetta studio, Mildura, C. 1938. Courtesy Sophia Xeros-Constantinides
A Unique Migration Story Bayliss & Evdokia Xeros and Aristides & Anastasia Kampaklis Written by Sophia Xeros–Constantinides and Miria Cambel
he following is a story written jointly by Sophia Xeros-Constantinides and Miria Cambel (nee Mirianthi Kassianides ‘Cass’) in honour of their maternal grandparents, Bayliss and Evdokia Xeros, and Aristides and Anastasia Kampaklis (Campaclis ‘Camp’) respectively, and their ancestral home of Smyrna – the ‘Jewel of the East’. ‘He who has dwelled there longs for her in other lands and sighs for the vineyards and olive groves, the villas and ruins, the delicious breezes and the star-eyed maidens of Smyrna.’ SG Benjamin The Turk and the Greek (1867) Our maternal grandparents were of Greek origin, born and bred in Vourla (now Urla), in Asia Minor, near the cosmopolitan centre of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). Their families had settled there generations earlier, establishing what would become ancestral homes and cultural heritage, as part of the Greek diaspora extending around the shores of the Aegean Sea. For Sophia’s grandparents, Bayliss and Evdokia, meeting for the first time was full of promise. When he first set eyes on her, she was alighting from a carriage in the street. Bayliss swore to his friends that one day he would marry her, which he duly did. He owned a shop selling wine, and lived in a house with marble columns in the Greek quarter of Smyrna. They started a family within the year, and their daughter Eleftheria (‘Liberty’) was born around 1921. It seemed their life was set for a prosperous and bountiful future. Miria’s grandparents, Aristides and Anastasia Kampaklis, had four sons: Nicholas, Yiannis (Jack), Omiros and Efthimios (Jim), and a daughter, Hermione (Mary – Miria’s mother). Aristides was a merchant who ran a tavern on the waterfront in Smyrna. He was an industrious man who also assisted the extended family on the land. His father owned flour mills and Aristides learned how to grind the wheat into flour and bake bread. He had a small boat and would regularly sail to the Greek Islands across the Aegean Sea to sell his produce. Anastasia was an accomplished young woman, who had completed two years at high school before her marriage. She was a sought-after tutor for the local children, and she taught them to read and write in Greek. While Aristides was away, it is imagined she spent her days with her mother-in-law and friends, including Evdokia, in Vourla. Social life centred around the Greek Orthodox Church and Name Day celebrations. Family and friends would gather to share Smyrnean cuisine, and they would sing and dance to traditional Greek music. Greek spoon sweets, tou koutaliou, were always offered on arrival, followed by a small Turkish coffee.
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Image 4. 2 The burning of Smyrna (Print), from the Bedlam Catalogue. Courtesy Sophia Xeros-Constantinides
Smyrna has a long history as a cultural and trading centre, having thrived on its mix of races, religions and cultures. It was a prosperous port and merchant township, inhabited by Greeks, Armenians, Levantines, French, Americans, Turks, Christians, Jews and Muslims who coexisted in a respectful and tolerant manner. On balmy evenings, couples and families would promenade along the picturesque waterfront with its impressive neoclassical architecture, conversing with others and enjoying a life of plenitude. Surrounding the city port was a rich, fertile land, which was farmed by our forebears, giving rise to citrus fruit, figs, grapes, olives, tobacco, wheat and silk. However, this idyll vanished all too soon after the sacking and burning of Smyrna in September 1922, where Christian Greeks and Armenians were endangered, persecuted and killed, culminating in a catastrophic wave of ethnic cleansing. In late August that year, Aristides was warned by a friend, a Turkish Government official who drank at his tavern, that trouble was brewing politically. He was emphatic that Aristides should take his family and leave without delay. Aristides collected his family from Vourla, put them in a small caique (sailing boat) at night, and set off to Samos Island where they hid in the mountains for thirty days until they were able to get a boat to the Greek mainland. Bayliss was likewise warned by his close Turkish friends. Just prior to the burning of the city, he locked up his house and the wine shop, took Evdokia and the baby (along with their incense burner, gold watch, bangles and icons), buried the keys for when they could return, and fled by boat to Athens, in fear of their lives. In Athens, our grandparents, as refugees from Asia Minor, were made to feel unwelcome, and local Greeks called them xeni (foreigners) even though they were Ionian Greeks. Bayliss and Evdokia’s losses were compounded by the death of little Elephtheria from pneumonia in a basement. Aristides was fortunate to be able to establish himself in a grain store business, when he was reunited with Bayliss at a kafenion (coffee shop). A compatriot convinced them that they should consider building a future in Australia, to kato kosmo (the Land Down Under), as it had many opportunities for migrants who were prepared to work hard, and had the advantages of being far away from the wars of Europe as well as being free of conscription. Together in Athens, the Kampaklis and Xeros families made the courageous decision to immigrate as refugees to Australia. In August 1924, they boarded the Italian ship Carignano in Piraeus, Athens, bound for Melbourne. Their ship finally berthed in Melbourne at Station Pier. It was 7 November 1924 – Melbourne Cup Day – and the city was quiet. The families thought it was a religious holiday. The journey to Australia had taken three long months and conditions were severe. Evdokia was heavily pregnant during the journey, and seven year old Omiros had fallen ill with pneumonia. After arrival at Station Pier, the families were met by a fellow compatriot, George Heliotis (Helos), who took them to a rental property at 30 Eastern Road in South Melbourne, a suburb where many Greek families had already settled. However, the sick Omiros was not able to WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 45
Image 4. 3 Kampaklis (Campaclis ‘Camp’) Family Portrait circa 1936 in Melbourne. From front seated: Flora, wife of Yiannis (Jack) holding Jack junior know as “Buddy”, Anastasia (Miria’s Yiayia, Aristides (Miria’s Pappou) and Ermione, known as Mary (Miria’s Mother). Back row standing: Jack, Nick and Efthimios, known as Jim, Miria’s Uncles.
accompany his parents, as he was quarantined immediately on arrival and admitted to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital at Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield, where he tragically died three days later. In the 1920s there was little support for new migrants in Australia. There were no interpreters, English classes or government assistance. The Great Depression was looming and employment for migrants was scarce in the city, so Bayliss travelled up to Mildura to try and find work so that he would be able to earn a living to support his family. Mildura was chosen as it was a centre for the dried fruits industry, and there was a culture of employing immigrant workers. In addition, it had a similar climate to Smyrna, and there were grapes and citrus fruit that grew there with which Bayliss and his family were familiar from their homeland in Asia Minor. Back in South Melbourne, Evdokia went into labour without her husband there to support her. Anastasia raised the alarm by running into the street and calling in broken English for help to get Evdokia to the hospital. Evdokia delivered her second baby, Nicholas, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital on 6 December 1924 – just four weeks after having disembarked in Melbourne. After the birth, Evdokia moved to Mildura to join her husband where he had found farming work in Mildura with WB Chaffey. Within the year Bayliss and Evdokia were joined by Aristides and his family, as Aristides had found work in share farming in the area. Together they lived in the same small weatherboard house, in quite primitive conditions. Evdokia and Anastasia nurtured their children while they cooked, cleaned, embroidered and crocheted together. This companionship provided the support they all needed. Under the stars, our grandparents recalled the homeland by giving voice to the lamenting Rebetika – a type of Greek popular song accompanied by instruments such as violins and bouzoukis. Evdokia and Anastasia were both capable and resilient women who were forced to adapt to their often difficult circumstances and losses. There was no contraception, and it was common for women to have many pregnancies and also many perinatal losses. Evdokia went on to carry twelve further pregnancies, but in all only five of her babies survived to adulthood. They were Nicholas (Nick), Odyssea (Ulysses or John), George, Sophia’s mother Maria, and Eleptheria (Liberty or Libby). Anastasia had eleven pregnancies, and only four of her children lived to adulthood. In 1925, within twelve months of arriving in Melbourne, Anastasia gave birth to a daughter, Eleni Unfortunately, Eleni died in infancy after an accident caused by caustic soda inhalation within the shared house in Mildura. The Kampaklis family returned to Melbourne after this tragedy, and sadly the families lost contact – although later in life Anastasia asked to be reunited with Evdokia. Many grandchildren and great-grandchildren have followed on both sides, and their grandchildren Miria and Sophia have come together to recount and tell the amazing stories of survival, of courage and the sometimes arduous experiences of travelling from their beloved Smyrna to Station Pier in Melbourne, to build for themselves and their children a future of possibility. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 47
Image 6. 1 Louis Stellato in Italian Army uniform, Cremona. Italy 1924
Walking with My Ancestors Louis Stellato - Written by Jemana Stellato Pledger
y nonno, Luigi Stellato, was born in Castrolibero near Cosenza City, Calabria, in October 1887. His father (my great-grandfather), Francesco Antonio Stellato, was a manager for one of the large landowners, and, from an early age, educated my nonno on the injustices visited on the Calabrian peasants by absentee wealthy landlords, who paid little attention to the conditions of their workers and the running of the estate. My ancestral family were not living in poverty, neither were they well-off. However, without formal qualifications they were rich in culture; well-read and intellectual with firm beliefs in justice and equality. Being outspoken on such matters meant that Francesco Antonio was persecuted by the fascists. Around the year 1911, my nonno Luigi first became involved in social justice organisations such as the Lega dei contadini (a movement of share croppers, rural labourers and small farmers) who came together to push for land reform. Thus, my nonno’s socio-political enlightenment began. In 1913, when he was 17, he joined his brother in Chicago, changed his name to Louis and remained in the US for nearly 10 years. It was there he learned English and came into contact with anarchist ideas. He returned to Italy in 1922 to request his family’s permission to marry his then American girlfriend, but he was required to do his military service under the fascist regime and never returned to the US. At the same time, a romance was developing between Louis and a beautiful and intelligent woman named Elisabetta Passarelli. Her academic acumen was noticed at school and she was offered a bursary to further her studies. Unfortunately, in those days women were required to marry, and her wishes to pursue a career as a teacher came to an end. This was something that irked her throughout her life and she encouraged all her granddaughters to go into academia. Elisabetta and Louis married in late 1923 and unwittingly, she too became involved in the fight against fascism. Though the marriage was semi-arranged, Louis and Elisabetta were well-suited, particularly in terms of their love of learning and inquisitive minds. I remember asking my nonna if she loved my nonno when they got married. She said that he did, but it took longer for her. But she had great respect for him from the very beginning. Their love did blossom; they had their first child in July of 1924 and my mother, Guiditta, in 1926. From all accounts he loved his first daughters very much. However, though he had a young family, his political activities never wavered. By 1924, Italy was in the firm grip of fascism. Mussolini was fully ensconced as leader; Matteotti, an Italian socialist politician, was assassinated. In Southern Italy, the activities of the Red Shirts (anti-fascists) flourished underground, and they were constantly under surveillance and at risk of
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exposure by a neighbour or ‘friend’ unsympathetic to the cause. By 1927 it was clear that the work of the partigiani (partisans) was becoming too risky and the black shirts (fascists) were hunting down anyone that opposed the government. It became too dangerous for Louis to remain in Italy, and so Elisabetta assisted her husband’s escape. Forged papers were made, money exchanged and in the dead of night, walking along the rugged Calabrian Hills, Louis dodged bullets and black shirts as he made his way to the bay of Napoli and boarded a ship bound for Australia, leaving behind his young family. My nonna told me of the many letters they wrote to each other. I remember sitting with her and she’d smile as she showed me and translated the letters.
Letter to Elisabetta I am sorry to leave you my love. Forgive me. Our struggle is not in vain, you will see. Our ideas, our beliefs in freedom and peace will be carried on. And in the time it takes to leave these mercilessly, punishing Calabrian hills I will have cried a million tears. But tears will not bring you to me.
Letter to Louis Ricordo sempre quel Giorno che partisti Quel Giorno che da me Lontano andarti Pensando a quel triste momento Il mio cuor e` E` sempre pui dolente
My nonno told me that on arriving in Melbourne at Princes Pier, he stood amongst other migrants and refugees and the realisation of the high price he paid for his life and freedom surged through his body like a knife. He faced the horizon and wept. It didn’t take long for Louis to get his bearings and make contact with other migrants who told him about the large Calabrian community in Maffra. By early 1928 he found his way there and worked amongst the Calabrese. Quite quickly, his knowledge of English and understanding of labour conditions put him in a leadership role. Appalled by the conditions and treatment of the labourers, he fought and won seven months’ back pay for them. This was the beginning of his socio-political activities in Australia (Abiuso 1991). My nonna told me she was always worried he’d get himself into trouble in Australia because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. When she would express her fears, he would tell her in a letter
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that it was for the future that he continued the fight for justice. This fear was borne out when he became involved with ‘underground’ work. However, Elisabetta knew none of it. I knew her as having a strong, intuitive understanding of people. Sometimes there was no basis for her concerns, but more often than not, she was right. Louis often explained himself and his need to continue his fight wherever he went in prose or poetry: A thousand memories will live on in the hearts and minds of our children, our children’s children. We cannot count the stars at night without being reminded of the thousands that have died. And will die in this war and the wars to come. For they are not the end, not now, we are only the beginning of the end. I touch your face in my mind’s eye I remember your smile, our children, it is for the future we must be strong May a thousand winds blow the cries in your heart to me. Do not weep I am soon to be with you (Interpretation of the letter and memories told to me by Elisabetta Stellato) From Maffra, Louis moved around, and for a short time, he became a canecutter in North Queensland. During this period, he met two anarchists from Italy: Francesco Carmagnola and Isidoro Bertazzon. Like Louis, these men were also freethinkers, and both played significant roles in campaigning against fascism, as well as promoting anarchist ideas among the Italian community. Louis joined forces with them to later set up the Matteotti Social Club, which had relocated from Spring Street Melbourne to Victoria Street opposite Trades Hall. Under Carmagnola’s guidance, the Matteotti Club developed ties with Trades Hall and the Australian labour movement. This is significant in terms of the socialist/anarchist papers Louis was involved in, such as Il Risveglio, which was blocked by the Commonwealth Government in 1927, while La Riscossa and L’ Avanguardia Libertaria were suppressed in 1932 by Commonwealth authorities. However, La Riscossa continued underground. When Louis returned to Melbourne, activities continued in connection with Carmagnola. He was required to receive L’ Avanti (an Italian socialist newspaper) from France under the name of L Nemo for which the material was used for La Riscossa. The other, more precarious task was to proofread La Riscossa, then post the papers to Carmagnola in Ingham, Queensland. Had he been caught by the federal police it may have cost him his family’s visas to Australia. While Louis continued his anti-fascist activities, the arrival of his wife, Elisabetta, and two daughters (one my mother Giuditta) was drawing closer. By the time the family arrived in 1931, Louis had established his own business, Louis Stellato Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Produce Merchant in Victoria Market. My mama told me how she was fascinated by the sea of faces and the music of a thousand languages on Princes Pier, but had no idea who her father was. Elisabetta had poems and letters they had written to each other over the years of separation, keeping them alive in each other’s hearts. But she did say it was strange meeting the man to whom she had been separated longer than she had been married. Though the family settled into a semblance of normality, the house was always open to the antiWHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 51
fascist cause and myriad people sought help from legal to migration issues. The ensuing years saw Elisabetta give birth to two more daughters and one boy, Francesco (Frankie). Frankie had a disability and died of yellow fever at age eight. The death of Frankie rocked the family to its core. Louis would not allow one photo of him in the house. Their grief was palpable even years later. My nonna told me that Louis said to her, ‘No-one could have been a better mother.’ With tears in her eyes she would say, ‘The little boy, had never moved from my heart.’ She used to take out photos of Frankie in secret and look at them. It would only be after Louis’ death that photos of Frankie were put up around the house, and a sense of healing could finally begin. As well as managing the family, Elisabetta also helped run the business. This allowed Louis to continue his political work, in which she was also involved. Her passion for learning ensured that she taught herself to read, write and speak English, as well as developing skills in poetry writing. Her relationship with my nonno inspired many of her poems. Their marriage was fraught. They were both very passionate people and I often felt overwhelmed by their fiery relationship. But I also felt the love they shared which was evident with Louis’ frequent reference to Elisabetta as mia regina (my queen). In 1934, with six other committee members, Louis founded Gruppo Italian Contro La Guerra (Italians against War). Belonging to this relatively small group of people at a time when Italian migrants saw fascism as the most stable political regime was alienating, and encouraging them to think differently was almost impossible. It was difficult for Louis and indeed his family to fit in Image 6. 2 Giuditta Stellato and Philip Pledger’s wedding St. Finbars East the broader Italian community. De Brighton. With Louis and Elisabetta Stellato. Circa 1951. spite these issues of ‘exclusion’, Italians against War did rise and made headway in Australia. One of the achievements of this band of ‘anti-fascist angels’ was the organisation of an anti-fascist protest of 15,000 on the Yarra River (Abiuso 1991). Louis’ last, most important campaigns included the demonstration at the Pier in Port Melbourne against the Raimondo Montecuccoli cruiser (1938) that came to Australia on a goodwill visit and was greeted by 10,000 to 12,000 anti-fascist migrant Italians protesting the ship’s visit, including burning an effigy of Mussolini. He was also instrumental in organising the Italian relief operation WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 52
for war victims in Italy. Lastly, his involvement in the creation of Il Risveglio in 1944 was most significant as the paper printed 4000 copies fortnightly for 12 years. By 1945 the anti-fascist movement became more of an academic interest for Louis. While both Louis and Elisabetta maintained their connection to social justice, they also became members of the Australian and Italian Writers group, which met at Melbourne and La Trobe universities. They remained active and interested in the arts, human rights and the lives of their grandchildren to whom they left a great humanitarian legacy. I remember standing in a long line with the family outside a church in East Brighton after Louis’ funeral mass. I recall being kissed and embraced by numerous mourners, half of whom I had never met. It was clear from their grief and words my nonno had touched, influenced and saved many lives. ‘For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment.’ (Said 2002, p. 48) References Abiuso, GL 1991, ‘An Italian in the Australian Militant Left 1927–1983 – Luigi Stellato’, Italian Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 10–16. Said, EW 2002, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Harvard University Press, Boston. Personal communication: Notes taken from conversations with both my grandparents until their respective deaths. I also used their poems and photographs to write this story which gives a taste of the lives of Louis and Elisabetta Stellato. Further reading Cresciani, G 1980, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia 1922-1945, ANU Press, Canberra. Novak, M 2015, ‘The Secret History of Australian Whiteness’, Gizmodo, retrieved from <https:// www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/11/the-secret-history-of-whiteness/#YmqwfOQYX14Tsx re.99>.
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Image 6. 1 Eileen and Sam. Courtesy Eileen Capocchi
Marriage in Palestine Eileen Capocchi
his introductory chapter of Eileen Capocchi’s long and fruitful life is derived from anecdotal information gleaned during interviews with Eileen and newspaper articles and letters from the 1930s. Eileen (born Haya) was born to Jewish parents on 26 February 1925 in Jaffa, Palestine. Her mother, Dora Orloff, was married to 26 year old Joshua Lieb Soffer in 1923, at the age of 15. The married couple also gave birth to a son, Sam (born Shapsl), in 1924. Eileen’s childhood was rocked by frequent relocations across suburbs, states and nations. This was first brought on by Joshua migrating from Palestine to Australia in 1928. Eileen recalls: ‘My father was a clerk on the wharfs and, I don’t know, they pinched things or something. The police were onto him, and he had to – he and his friends – one was going to Canada and one was going to Australia, so he went with the friend to Australia, otherwise he would have been put in jail’. Joshua arrived in Sydney from Palestine in 1928. ‘The rest of the family migrated to Australia in early 1929, at my father’s encouragement’. Eileen continues: ‘He sent my mother tickets to come out to Australia. We came on a ship, I’ve forgotten what the name of it was … There was a couple on the ship (Willy Brumberg and his sister Fanny) and they sort of helped look after us, because it was a long, long trip. ‘When my mother went to the Sydney address that was given to her for when she landed in Australia, there was a woman at the door –my mother showed her this note and the woman said something like, “What do you want to come here for? Your husband’s not here, he’s in hospital or something, he’s got syphilis!” So we went to stay with the couple from the ship.’ Once Dora and Joshua reunited they shared a flat with the Brumbergs. Joshua and Willy soon became partners in a bag making business. The frequent relocations throughout Eileen’s childhood continued, however, due to the difficult circumstances of her parents’ marriage. Reports from Melburnian newspapers such as Truth and The Argus in particular chronicle the proceedings of an August 1931 Practice Court case between the mother and father, over the custody of Eileen and Sam. During the proceedings, Joshua recounted that the family had initially migrated from Palestine to
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Image 6. 2 14 year old Eileen in front, with Jewish girl friends in Shepparton - Courtesy Eileen Capocchi
left a letter on the table saying that she was leaving him, and, subsequently disappeared. Actually, Dora had gone to Melbourne with the Brumbergs. Eileen and Sam, who were at the time boarded out to a Mrs Hurst in Bankstown, were then retrieved by Joshua, as he was planning to follow Dora. Around this time, Mrs Hurst had also received a letter from Dora that, when translated, allegedly reads as follows: ‘I do not wish to know how my children are. You may do with them what and wherever you like.’ In her response, Dora contested the use of this letter as evidence against her, stating that its harsh tone was due to Mrs Hurst promising not to let Joshua take Eileen and Sam from the Bankstown house. Furthermore, Dora claimed to have sent the letter in response to a telegram from Mrs Hurst, which said that Sam had been hit by a tram in an attempt to get her to return to Sydney, though she knew this was a lie. After Joshua’s retrieval of Eileen and Sam, he and the children followed Dora to Melbourne in May 1929. However, for some time after arriving in Melbourne, Joshua had to seek the assistance of the Jewish Society to keep his children. Dora claimed to have visited Eileen and Sam many times a week while they were in the care of this Carlton-based organisation. The children’s accommodation remained stable for a couple of years, though circumstances between Dora and Joshua continued to worsen. A July 1929 article by The Argus reported that Joshua had assaulted Dora around this time. In early 1931, Joshua was financially able to maintain Eileen and Sam without the assistance of the Jewish Society, though he now boarded them out to a friend at Ford St., Newport. Dora claimed in court that she was not informed of this relocation and did not know where they were until August of that year. It was also during this period (in May 1931) that Dora filed for divorce on the grounds of misconduct. In court she explained: I leave him because he hit me and give me no money. Besides, he seek, he seek. However, this was protested on the basis that Joshua wasn’t domiciled in Australia, and Dora would have to return to Palestine to annul her marriage, as they would say in Palestine: ‘to obtain a get’. On 13 August 1931, Eileen and Sam were reported to have been taken from their school by two women in a car. They could not be found for several days, until it was discovered that they were in a house on Rathdown St., Carlton, where Dora was living. By the time of the discovery, Dora had obtained passports with the intention of departing for Palestine, with Eileen and Sam in tow. This is the incident resulting in the August 1931 Practice Court case. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 57
When questioned in court if she would undertake not to leave Victoria if she was given custody of the children, Dora slowly and carefully said: ‘I go to Palestine soon. I cannot get divorce here. I will get it in Palestine.’ A most impressionistic introduction to Eileen and Sam by Court reporters describes them as: ‘A little boy and a little girl, huddled together, big-eyed and wondering, in a corner of the practice court the other day. The little boy is seven and is called Shapsl. The little girl is five, and rejoices in the name of Haya. Perhaps some-day she will be a movie star. Her name has all the possibilities. During cross-examination, Dora passionately protested that she was fond of her children and that she had seen them many times a week during the time they were in the care of the Jewish Society in Carlton. But she had not seen them since because: ‘Soffer take them away and I cannot find them until just the other day’. Following the proceedings, it was ruled by Mr Justice MacFarlan that Eileen and Sam would remain in Joshua’s custody until Dora returned to Australia, since she still intended on travelling to Palestine to annul their marriage. In her statement she claimed that this would only cause her to be away for about six months. Documentation suggests that Eileen and Sam were put into foster care on 9 November 1931. ‘When my father took my mother to court,’ Eileen says, ‘we became wards of the state, and then we went to the Sutherland Homes for Children in Greensborough, which no longer exist. Then the Jewish Philanthropic Society placed us with Mrs Meerman at number 23, The Avenue Balaclava, where I wrote this poem before I ran away at the age of 14’. In the Avenue Balaclava In house number 23 Lived eleven orphaned children as miserable as can be The lady looking after them Mrs Meerman was her name Beat them for any little thing A cruel and wicked dame The surprise for Dora after she returned to Jaffa, was that the Soffer family blocked her from obtaining ‘a get’. And only when her brother Abraham stepped in and provided her with a fake ‘get’, could she marry Willy Bremberg, now the father of her daughter Janine. Back in Paris, as Dora had moved there in the time since annulling her marriage, Dora, Janine, Willy and Fanny Bremberg who never married, lived together as a family. Despite her previous claims, Dora never came back to Australia in her lifetime. A letter written by Sam to her, dated May 1938, reads as follows: ‘My dear and darling mother, Every time Mrs [illegible] comes to see her children I always ask her is there any news from you.
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If there is I listen to it with much happiness and joy, and when I am in bed I cry because I miss you. I always think of you Mummy and I pray to God to help us all to be together and I hope this prayer will be answered very soon. I go to work now but I always find time to help Eileen along with her school work. Mummy please don’t worry so much about us, we are in the best of health and we hope you are too. Well, for the present, Mummy. I will say good-bye.’ Eileen sympathises with Dora’s choice to not return to Australia, explaining that ‘she didn’t have anywhere to live … My father kept chasing her and making life as difficult for her as he possibly could. So going home, well, that’s what you’d think yourself if you went somewhere to a country and you were only there a little while and your life was being made miserable.’ Fortunately, years later, Eileen did get to reunite with her mother in Paris. Although they would continue living in different continents, Eileen was able to keep visiting Dora, even after she moved back to Jaffa, Israel to be close to her daughter, Janine. In Jaffa, Janine’s husband John, enabled Dora to live a full Jewish life with rituals and commemorations. Eileen recalls: ‘During a visit to Jaffa, my mother, took me to see some very old women (family friends), and they were so happy to see me, and told me how sad they were when we left Jaffa for Australia. And this helped me realize for the first time, that I was a wanted and loved child. By the time of Eileen’s last visit before Dora’s passing in 1986, Dora had moved to an aged care facility in Israel. Eileen vividly remembers an exchange from that last visit: ‘I wanted to give my mother a thank you present, but she had everything she needed for her own comfort, so I bought a big bundle of toilet paper. I knocked on the door and she opened it and looked at the stuff I had in my hands, and I remember saying to her in Yiddish, “Zay nisht broyges mit mir mame (Don’t be cross with me, Mother).” It was the Yiddish that I had as a five year old, and she looked at me and she laughed … I always remember that, the words came out in perfect Yiddish, because in that moment from a child’s perspective, she was the mother that I remembered as a five year old’.
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Last Entry (11 September 1942) from the Diaries of Siegmund Emanuel Kleerkoper: 1940–1942 Siegmund Kleerkoper - Introduction by Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper
his extract is from my father’s diary, written in the period from 1940 to 1942. It is the last entry, written just before he lands in Melbourne. The diary consists of five handwritten notebooks, a total of about 350 pages. It was written originally in Dutch. I have translated the diaries into English and am editing it for my children. The originals will be sent to the Institute for War Documentation in Amsterdam. The diary is addressed to Sieg’s wife, my mother Hanna, in the form of a conversation. My father kept these books in a pouch around his neck, at the risk of his life. The diary begins in England and Wales, as my father was there on business when war was declared, proceeds to Colombo (Sri Lanka), to India, back to Colombo and ends just short of Melbourne. He remained in Australia for the duration of the war, working in intelligence in various places, including Melbourne and Brisbane. On board the ship Columbia they are not always sure where they are heading, their destination being kept from them, but now and then Sieg works out their position by examining the stars. He is careful not to be too specific, in case the diary is found. My mother tells me that my father stopped writing the diary because he had heard that the Nazis had ‘solved the Jewish problem’. He assumed that there was no way any of us would have survived. He became so discouraged that he felt there was no purpose in continuing to record the events, as he was predominantly writing for his family. After having spent the remainder of the war years in Australia, Sieg was transferred to the East Indies in August 1945, where he became aide-de-camp to General Spoor and witnessed the struggle, which ultimately led to the creation of the nation of Indonesia. He finally returned to Holland at the end of 1947. The Germans had taken over his company (selling car tyres for recycling as soles for shoes and other purposes). My mother told us: ‘Even the dust from the floor they took.’ My mother, my sister and I had meanwhile moved in with my father’s parents. My grandfather died in 1942. In May 1942, my mother arranged hiding places for my sister and me in the countryside. She remained in Amsterdam, living under an assumed non-Jewish identity and working for the Resistance. At the end of the war she came back to claim us and to bring us back to Amsterdam. The family arrived in Australia in January 1949 on the Volendam. My father died in 1992. My parents ran a successful business here and never regretted immigrating.
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Image 7. 1 Siegmund Emanuel Kleerkoper. Courtesy Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper
11th of September, 1942, on board the Rembrandt Is it really almost 14 days ago that I talked with you? When you’ve been on board for a few weeks it seems as if you have never done anything else. This is inevitable, when the ‘routine’ (this is an Anglicism, but I mean the work, the situation), when every day is the same. Nothing but standing on guard duty, eating and sleeping. Still, it has been a wonderful journey, full of variety. I say, ‘has been’, as if it is finished, but anyway, we are about two days’ sailing from Melbourne, so we will probably arrive sometime next Sunday. Naturally, we are all full of anticipation to go ashore on this new continent, of which we have heard so much. We hope that we will arrive early on Sunday, then we can walk around in the city, because once the instructions from the Admiralty have been received we will probably be sent into transit. In Colombo, where, of course, it was still very hot, we received on board our heavy ‘battle dress’, that is, English khaki uniforms, the heavy overcoats, although we could not imagine that we would wear them again, especially because we were going south. But no sooner were we on the ocean, when the weather turned nasty, colder and colder, heavy rain, hail, fog, storms, chill. So we had to clear the deck, where we had put up our hammocks. We could no longer bear it. We were soon glad that we could put on our heavy suits and coats again, even though it sounds just as exaggerated as the man who, after a year’s stay in Germany, began to speak with a heavy German accent. I assure you, though, that the six-month stay in the tropics has made us much more sensitive to cold during the transition, whereas in England, even on guard duty, I was never cold in my heavy clothes and here I even wore a pullover, oilskins, and still I was shivering at night. I hadn’t expected the Indian Ocean to be so rough, we were often hurled at a 45-degree angle to the waves, and nothing on board ship remained upright. Finally, when the moon no longer came up, they realised the night duty watch for aeroplanes was unnecessary, given the darkness, and cancelled the dogwatch, so we only had to appear from 4 o’clock till 8 o’clock at night, and our guard duty was noticeably less onerous. At the moment it is by turns sunny and rainy, real European spring weather, and we all love being back in a European climate. From the deck we moved into the hold, where the temperature is no longer unbearable but pleasant, and we enjoyed the hospitality of the Merchant Navy officers, who had the huts, some to sleep in, and some to sit. The food was decent, we really had no complaints. As for the phenomena we encountered en route, these were many. I spoke about the phosphorescent sea, which was so magnificent at night. The albatrosses provided the most entertainment on guard duty. They hovered with natural grace around the ship during the whole journey. It is a fascinating sight to see those birds circling round with such elegance, without moving their wings, floating on the wind by means of a slight shift of their bodies, keeling, diving into the waves with the speed of an arrow, soaring over the sea for long distances, their bodies following each movement of the waves. There are some with a wingspan of maybe 1½ metres, long, narrow pointed wings which face slightly downwards, lift up or remain horizontal, depending on whether the birds land on the water, fly into the wind or drift. This is why these birds are untiring: they move their wings so that they barely fly, they drift. It is an enviable skill. We didn’t meet any ships. We only saw a large hospital ship on the horizon. Once we saw a whale with its tall plume of water, and at times there were, according to the soWHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 63
Image 7. 2 Siegmund Emanuel Kleerkoperâ€™s diary. Courtesy Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper
called experts, other sea giants, which did not send up a fountain, but a spray, although those who were knowledgeable about the name of these ocean dwellers were not in agreement. But whether they were walruses, porpoises or whales, they were exotic phenomena. As we approached Australia (even though we remained at some distance from the coast for safety’s sake), other, smaller birds found their way to the ship, except that I never found out if they were attracted by the food which went overboard from time to time (and that disappears in an instant) or by fish, which they hope will be driven to the surface by the propeller. The flying fish were familiar from the tropics, except here they were larger than those on the African coast, move in schools and travel greater distances over the water. We have not yet familiarised ourselves with the stars. We were able to recognise some stars, such as the Southern Cross (which you can only see late at night), Orion and Venus, but we were not able to determine their relationship to the direction of the wind, which was important for our military purpose. This, of course, does not apply to the Southern Cross. The familiar stars, such as the Great Bear and the Pole Star, are not visible here, Cassiopeia with difficulty, but we will learn that. At sea of course, with clear weather, you have an unlimited view of the stars, at least if the moon is not shining too brightly, because then the stars fade. We had also had our share of falling and shooting stars, so that the nights had their appeal. Once we had an amusing experience. It was a dark, cloudy and bitter cold night. Suddenly we could see a bright light in the distance and the English sailors who were standing with us on submarine guard duty and who had just sailed the Mediterranean, immediately interpreted this as parachute lights (i.e. flares), sent by an aeroplane, which was searching for us. In anticipation we took our places behind our machine guns. Then it became clear that the light was not moving, but was remaining still, we were zigzagging, and it only seemed as if the light was moving. It turned out to be the planet Venus, which was appearing through the clouds and was radiating a bright light. Last night we had a similar experience. Suddenly we saw through the rain, directly in front of us, a light, a very bright light it seemed to us, beaming upwards. It looked like a huge anti-aircraft searchlight, which was piercing through the darkness. This too, seemed to be moving up and down. Of course we did not know at first what to make of it, until our English friends told us that it was an ancient natural phenomenon, called ‘St Elmo’s fire’, which is explained as an electric charge in the moist air, radiating from a protruding part of the ship. The movement, which we had observed, proved to be our own movement. A curious fact is that this beam of light shines straight up if you stand immediately behind this protuberant point, but it starts to move on and around that protuberance as centre if you place yourself to one side; it moves left as you move right, and vice versa. When you know what it is, it is a tremendously interesting phenomenon. On the ship itself we have also had plenty of entertainment. Apart from a number of small books and magazines I read Spanish Bride, by Georgette Heyer, a historical novel about Wellington’s exploits with the English army against Bonaparte’s legions in Spain and Belgium; interesting and exciting, even though the English are praised in a somewhat partisan manner, whereas the French exploits and opinions are presented as insignificant. ‘Last but not least’, I found a friend on the ship. The ‘chief gunner’, that is, the commander of armaments, which included our machine guns, proved to be a very civilised young man (an Englishman), from ‘good circles’. Mr Levie would have said that this counts against him, and I don’t like to apply this criterion, but it is allowable in the case of the navy, because there is WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 65
a gulf miles wide between us and the average sailor, in respect of interests, thought patterns and opinions. It seems that he joined the navy as a volunteer. He took part in the Madagascar campaign, on one of the largest English battleships, the Illustrion. After this he became ill and had to be transported to Colombo, to be admitted to the hospital. When he had recovered, he was posted to a marine camp, where he was charged with the cleaning of gutters, steps, mopping, scrubbing etc. At first he thought that it would only last until he could be allotted a ship, but then, when the weeks went by without change, he began to ask for a transfer, pointing out his training as gunner. After he had been rejected several times, he was finally posted to the Rembrandt, where he arrived at the same time as we did. We sat and chatted about all kinds of subjects, he is not very ambitious, but just for that reason he is so unpretentious and pleasant. His rank is that of a common sailor, and his wages 32 a week, whereas a Dutchman in the same role would earn about 5 times as much which, moreover, is paid into his own hands, whereas he receives only half, the other half is deposited for him in England or paid to his family. In any case, he feels very much at home here, has a substantial hut to himself and is treated as a petty officer. He turned out to be a passionate music lover (with impressive experience as a pianist, especially accompanying), so you can imagine that when we were free at the same time we would stage a musical feast. Not the least of our pleasure was the construction of programs, mostly a symphony and a piano or violin concerto, while I took care of the little ‘odds’, surprises such as an entree or encore in the form of a Chopin waltz, a Bach sonata, an overture or a selection of songs. It is always pleasurable and instructive to share the music or the performance, to show each other beautiful passages, a change of key, an anticlimax, an interpretation, etc. You enjoy the music more if listening is shared with a music lover than when you are surrounded with people who only make sarcastic remarks or even obstruct the performance. I have very pleasant memories of this journey. The last few nights the weather was too bad to make the treacherous journey to the rear of the ship along slippery steps in total darkness with records (use of torches is of course totally prohibited) so I spent these playing bridge, even if I didn’t have much success, as I lost rather a lot. But how I enjoyed those evenings I spent with exquisite music, in the middle of the stormy Indian Ocean, when I sometimes had to move the gramophone in the opposite direction to the swaying of the ship in order not to damage the records and keep the gramophone horizontal. When you consider how we travelled in peacetime, we often waited for half a day in front of Harwich or Hoek (of Holland) or remained on the Schelde, because it was too foggy, while all the lights were blazing, and that on a ship like this one you are sailing round the whole world through wind and weather, storm and fog without being able to signal ashore (you can receive signals), in complete darkness, then you have respect for the work which is carried out, of course it is completely different from ‘normal’ circumstances. And so we wait for what will happen. One of the machinists told me just now that the engines are working full steam and that with a bit of luck we will arrive in the port of Melbourne tomorrow. If that is not possible, we will arrive Sunday morning, because you have to remain outside the port in the darkness. So I am 5000 miles further from you. But from here to America is but a hop, skip and jump, and America is almost Europe these days. The Atlantic Ocean, which can be crossed by air in half a day, is now just a puddle, an inland sea, so I am really not so far from you, and in any case I cannot be any further away. Wherever the war carries us, New Zealand, Java, British India, Africa, etc., I will be nearer to you than I am now. So we begin our new life with fresh energy. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 66
Image 8. 1 Sergio aged 8 and his sister Christiana almost 2 in West Footscray, 1954. Courtesy Helen Cerne
‘After War’ and ‘Voyage’ Sergio Cerne
hese two chapters by artist and inspiring English teacher Sergio Cerne are extracts from the publication titled Shifting. In this significant text about the experience of being refugees in war-torn Europe, Sergio recalls the migration journey of the Cerne family who were political refugees from the former Yugoslavia (Fiume was Italian until after WW II). After War: Fiume (Rijeka), Yugoslavia 1946 ‘La dubbia Guerra fa le virtù conte. (Doubtful warfare makes virtues known.)’ Tommaso Campanella In Fiume nothing, except buildings and streets, remained the same following the war. The confusion, the contradiction, the harsh reality of a new order took its toll on countless lives. Fiume was no longer Italian, it was part of Yugoslavia and almost overnight it had new signs, a new language, new politics, a new name – Rijeka – and a new people. Giovanna Radetich had lost some of her weight in the long harshness and struggle for daily survival. She had been reduced to a few pieces of gold jewellery and finding somewhere to live. Giovanna often called on her daughter, Maria, and her grandson, Sergio, cursing the flights of stairs of the high rise flat where they now lived; in fact, she told herself, it was so modest and bare there was nothing worth keeping or staying for. This day her cursing was more than keen because she was bothered by the situation of her daughter and often sick grandson, by the carry bag she lugged filled with too few foodstuffs traded for a shawl and jewellery at the thriving black market, but mainly by the decision she’d finally made. ‘What have you got there?’ her daughter asked. ‘A few things, for the boy.’ Giovanna went to the cot where the toddler slept. ‘Does his belly still hurt?’ ‘It’s as hard as a brick.’ ‘He’s constipated. He needs a clyster.’ Giovanna got busy, taking out a tube from her bag and heating some water. She inserted a nozzle into the baby’s backside, squeezing a rubber ball several times. Her daughter asked, afraid, ‘Will he die?’ ‘Maria, he will if he doesn’t shit. It’s only warm water and soap.’
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‘I’ve already given him medicine from the clinic.’ ‘Let him rest now. He’ll have a movement soon.’ The young mother gently laid the boy in his cot. ‘Maria, look what I’ve brought you, powdered milk, some eggs. It took my good gold earrings to get them.’ ‘You’ve sold your jewellery?’ ‘I’ve nowhere to stash it.’ ‘What about the mattress?’ ‘I don’t really own one anymore.’ Reaching in her carry bag, her mother brought out a folded lace garment. ‘This is for you. It’s only second hand, but you’re so skinny it’ll fit.’ ‘You shouldn’t have, Mamma.’ ‘A farewell present.’ The older woman looked up from the sleeping boy. She faced her daughter, hesitating for a moment. ‘Maria, I’m leaving Fiume. I’m going to Trieste.’ ‘Trieste, Mamma?’ ‘Surprised? Why not? You know they’ve taken over the flats. I’ve got to share with this young drugaritza, a real tart. She has her boyfriends with her every night. I don’t care if she wants to play the whore; I want my sleep. I’m getting out. And if you want my advice you and Pietro should too. Get out while you can. The longer that man of yours waits to make up his mind, the harder it’ll become. I don’t understand your husband, Maria. If he thinks Fiume is going to improve it’s like blowing wind up a dead man’s arse believing you’ll revive him.’ ‘It’s his home, where he was born, Mamma. His family is here.’ ‘Wake up, even if he won’t!’ Maria, not wanting to argue, asked, ‘When are you leaving?’ ‘Tonight.’ ‘Tonight? So soon? But everything we know is here.’ ‘What’s here? A mess. There’s nothing to buy, nothing to eat. And what about the boy? Think of him. You’ve got to leave for his sake. And if you don’t, yes, he could get sicker. He’s weak; he might die.’ ‘I’ll talk to Pietro about it.’ ‘Maria, it’s all gone. Kaput! When I saw the partisans coming out of the mountains and forests, I thought of poor Giulia. Then I asked myself, are they liberating us? It’s all kaput. They’ve changed WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 70
everything. Fiume’s now Rijeka!’ ‘Are your papers in order?’ ‘What papers?’ ‘For Italy. For Trieste?’ ‘Since when have papers come into it?’ ‘Since the frontier was closed.’ ‘I’m only going for the day, of course.’ Her mother winked while her daughter frowned, then she added, ‘Then I’ll forget to come back.’ ‘Mamma, you’ll end up in jail!’ ‘And where do you think we are now? The OZNA can knock on any door at any hour and take you away. Is that freedom? Like I said, no better than the Germans. So much for the new order. The shit changes but the smell’s the same. Nowadays only black marketeers can eat three times a day and smoke new cigarettes.’ In his cot the boy stirred and grizzled. The grandmother looked gently at the drowsy, squirming infant, ‘My boy, it’s your nonna, it’s your nonna, my little prince. There, there, come on, give your nonna a smile, please. Poor little seed.’ She cuddled him in her arms and the infant clung hard to her shawl as though they were in a clinch. ‘I’m surprised you can break wind in all this carestia.’ He didn’t displease her; a pang tensed his body. He smiled and drained warm soapy faeces into his pants. The officer didn’t shake hands. ‘So drusce Cerne, you want to opt for Italy?’ ‘If it’s possible.’ ‘We’re not concerned with possibilities. We’re interested in reasons, drusce Cerne. Don’t you like our Yugoslavia?’ ‘I have no cause to …’ ‘So, now that the struggle for liberation has been won, you’d still rather the old fascists than a future here with us?’ ‘I only want what’s best for my family.’ ‘I cannot understand you people. All you want is to renew old days.’ A resentful silence followed. The official lit a cigarette and coughed. His tense, youthful face was virulently pitted. He was WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 71
proud of his right arm that had lost a hand. ‘We need people to build a new Yugoslavia. The future’s going to be bright. We are going to build a new society, a sound society not built on sand but on socialist ideals and principles. And I assure you,’ he added pointing his stump of an arm at Pietro Cerne, ‘the war and wilderness hasn’t deprived us of humanity. Weren’t you born here?’ ‘Yes, I was born here in Fiume.’ ‘Rijeka.’ ‘Rijeka,’ Pietro corrected himself. ‘There is a family home?’ ‘We live in a flat.’ ‘Inheritance?’ ‘Yes, my wife and son …’ ‘Your wife was born in Istria, like you. She has Italian citizenship. But your son, he was born in ‘46. That makes him Yugoslav. He will need permission to expatriate.’ ‘How long will it take?’ ‘Weeks … months …’ ‘Months?’ ‘Who knows, it could take longer,’ the young official said, leaning forward, emitting a prickly intensity Pietro could almost feel. ‘You may leave anytime if you think Italy will be better. Just let us know. However, you take nothing away except what you have on your back. So as a result, you might like to reconsider, in the light of what I’ve just said … about your future and the future of our great country.’ ‘I’ll discuss it with my wife.’ ‘Naturally, drusce Cerne; we don’t wish to put you in a hasty or ill-considered position. Zivio Tito, drusce!’ A few days later, Pietro, looking like the ground had gone beneath his feet, returned with his answer. He and his wife had decided to migrate overseas. Before he went to Italy to make all the arrangements, he had little time to reassure Maria and his son, no time to shake hands or say goodbye to his few friends, no time to reconsider. His beloved twin brother Paolo had already departed with his family to Italy, waiting to migrate to Scandinavia. Pietro left with a borrowed suitcase and the clothes on his back. There wasn’t a moment when Maria wouldn’t go over every step she would take when the time came to go. As the day took longer and longer to arrive, she began to have doubts about what WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 72
they were doing. When talk came that the Yugoslav army had clamped down on the frontier because of growing contraband, and that fewer and fewer people were now being permitted to leave, she became desperate that they would never depart. All dressed up, Maria and the boy spent their days in slow walks. They went to the abandoned fair ground of the Scietto and she made the effort to visit the old Campo Santo, talking to Sergio about uncle Peppi, Nonna’s lame brother. From the cemetery she looked down on the sea and city, no longer with any interest; Fiume looked so exhausted and miserable. In the harbour, the shattered arm of Molo Cagni still lay broken. Wherever she went in the city she took its bombed-out images with her because, like so many lives, it could never be repaired. One afternoon, Maria heard a loud knock on the door. A postal worker handed her an officiallooking letter. With trepidation, she opened it, read the papers, and let out a cry that quickly became a laugh. ‘Imagine, after all this time, we are all going to be together, with your papa, your papa.’ ‘Papa?’ the toddler said. She nodded, laughing again, but this time she did start to cry. Maria and her boy finally left Yugoslavia for Italy in 1948 and joined Pietro. First they stayed a few weeks with Nonna in Trieste. When Sergio’s grandmother saw them she went all weepy and blustery. She hugged the two year old, held his face against her soft mouth wet with sweet wine. She made the air sing by celebrating with polenta, radicchio, boiled feathery chicken and stories. ‘Near the frontier I heard a noise. Then I knew others were hiding to get past the guards. Suddenly there was shooting, yelling, screaming. I crossed over and never stopped running till I got to Trieste.’ ‘How long did it take?’ Maria asked. ‘Hours, must have been near midnight.’ ‘You must have run fast, Mamma.’ ‘I ran like hell. I had sore feet for weeks,’ Giovanna Radetich said, not failing to laugh at the serious looks she was getting. ‘When I stopped I asked a policeman where I could get some accommodation. When he found I had no papers he put me in jail. I took the pillow and put it under my swollen ankles and aching feet. They deserved rest because they saved my head. I slept well and safe that night.’ ‘But in jail, Mamma?’ Maria said horrified. ‘It was the safest place in Trieste.’ Sergio’s grandmother made it sound like an adventure. She gave her grandson a wooden rifle and a straw broom to be his horse. He rode stiff-backed, bucking and prancing and howling round and round the kitchen. ‘Well, soldier, what have you shot with your rifle?’ asked Nonna. She had chicken down all over her apron.
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‘Nothing yet. He’s an Indian chasing buffalo on the prairie,’ laughed Pietro. Giovanna turned to him. ‘So now you’re off again, this time to Gaeta? You’re really going to migrate to the other end of the world?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Aren’t you going to get seasick floating across oceans?’ Galloping after stampeding herds gave Sergio sore legs. He went to rest next to his tired horse on a blanket on the floor, looking at adult legs and shoes around the table. He was excited but he couldn’t sleep and when the blanket went warm, wet and cold he knew he’d been dreaming of a stout, laughing old woman sitting gloriously in a cloud of feathers, sucking on a pile of succulent chicken bones. After that happy time, all the boy ever remembered about the next few months were his family and many people waiting in queues for buses and trains. The Cernes stayed in several camps in Italy, Aversa, Rome and then finally they arrived at Gaeta. Going up the steep steps daily between cramped white walls with his father, Sergio watched ships passing on the sea below the hot rocky place. Gaeta was a bustling terraced town, with an ancient castle and a view of the sea. To fill in their day, he and his father sometimes browsed for cigarette butts for the others who smoked, then explored along the flights of narrow rock-hewn steps going from one level to another. The white house walls were flush to the steps, some of which brimmed over with flies that exploded into frenzied clouds as they approached. ‘Watch where you step,’ his father said holding his nose. ‘The local kids like to leave natural treasures everywhere.’ Most evenings, in the dusk after the heat, a train load of refugees would leave from Gaeta to some unknown place. His father liked to wave them off; it was a kind of game, a distraction, a brief escape. Afterwards, the family would join the others and face another hot day languishing in quiet, waiting frustration. For his parents it was the beginning of anxious realisation that they were in limbo, waiting with nothing to do and there was nothing they could do about it. This day-to-day repetitive living started them yearning for what they had lost. ‘Where’s Nonna?’ Sergio would ask again and again before going to sleep. He could still hear her loud voice talking and laughing and see her fanning grain to hungry hens. Then suddenly everything went into double time. His father talked of something called IRO – the International Refugee Organisation. His parents began taking him to an infirmary where there were queues of squalling kids all being given shots on their arms and backsides by men in white coats who wrote in booklets. Feeling sore and hot on his bum, Sergio lay drifting off to sleep with his parents talking about things he couldn’t understand. They spoke about Identity Cards and places with strange names: WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 74
Canada, Argentina, Australia. He heard excited and anxious whispers from his parents’ whose muddled emotions confused him. Maria said ‘no’ to Canada just as she had said ‘no’ to Sweden as it was too cold. That northern country was where his uncle, Pietro’s brother, had gone. Argentina was out too because of its geography which was too big and vast and untamed; with monkeys, anacondas and ugly Patagonian giants, which his mother had heard about in school. Then Sergio’s parents talked about Australia. That was their final decision, to immigrate to Australia, not that they knew any more about the place than they did about South America. The boy dozing heard his parents say strange words – ‘merino’, ‘aborigine’, ‘cungurro’. More unending visits to offices and Australian officials followed in the next weeks with more questions and paperwork. ‘Why do you want to go to Australia?’ ‘A better life,’ Pietro replied, hoping it was the right answer. ‘What work did you do?’ ‘Clerical, and teaching,’ Pietro said confidently. ‘Australia doesn’t want clerks and teachers. Australia is looking for tough people, people who work with their hands. We’re interested in manual labour, not brains.’ The immigration official then pointed to a poster of a beautiful girl with yellow hair picking oranges in a faraway land. ‘Next.’ Voyage
‘Ma pur sì aspre vie nè sì selvagee cercar non so ch’Amor
non venga sempre ragionando con meco, ed io con lui.
(And yet I can’t find any paths so harsh or wild that Love
will not always come, talking with me the while, and I with him.)’ Francesco Petrarca
Once again Pietro faced the odds when he was asked by yet another official why he wanted to take his family to Australia. The officer’s grimness seemed made of iron. ‘To work,’ Pietro answered, rubbing callouses he didn’t have, showing the black under, and round, his fingernails. ‘What work did you do?’ the man asked. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 75
‘Mechanic.’ ‘Perfect,’ said the official, having looked at the certificate handed to him. ‘You’re the man we want!’ He offered his hand. ‘Thank you very much.’ Shaking the official’s hand Pietro remembered his training in a truck with no engine – a cavity covered in dirty grease. ‘Here are the spark plugs. This is the pedal to the carburettor.’ The trainees were told to imagine them. ‘Broooomm, broooomm, broooomm. Fast. Slow. Broomm, broomm, faster, broooomm, broooomm, piu piano, broomm, broom. Cosi, bravo!’ The instructor had sounded as if he was playing a game with kids. Pietro had received the Mechanics’ certificate for using his imagination under an empty bonnet. So near a poster saying: A HAPPY LIFE AHEAD. YOUR CHILDREN WILL HAVE A BETTER FUTURE! Pietro’s and Maria’s decision was sealed with yet another handshake by another Australian Commonwealth official who smiled again when they signed their papers. ‘I’ll be given work,’ said Pietro to his wife later, back in their room. ‘Government work. Mano d’opera, because everyone first has to do manual labour for the government.’ ‘Where are they going to put us? I’m tired of the waiting, sick of being photographed and fingerprinted,’ Maria complained. ‘They need to do all this for identification. We only have to report now a few more times. It doesn’t hurt, Maria,’ her husband encouraged. ‘Aren’t you worried about where we’ll live?’ ‘No, Marucci, not at all. They’ll have accommodation.’ He turned to his four year old son. ‘Now, Sergio, show me how you do a forward roll.’ Sergio ducked his head; his shoulders bumped the floor, his legs followed. Somehow he got the tumble wrong, ending up a squashed heap against the wall. ‘Hmmm,’ said his father, ‘that was interesting. Try again, but this time, I’ll guide your movements.’ The boy tried harder. ‘That was much better, wasn’t it?’ His dad looked pleased. Pietro turned excitedly to his wife. ‘I might even be able to teach gymnastics, Maria, or maybe they’ll let me fix trucks without motors?’ He embraced her and his son. ‘You’ll see. We’ll all be happy in this new land.’ He nodded reassuringly to both of them. ‘Sergio, would you like a story? What about Buffalo Bill and his wagon train going to California?’ Sergio sat on his father’s knee, in a covered wagon, lumping along the Oregon Trail. Before they WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 76
reached the Rocky Mountains he was nodding off. As he was lifted to his hard bunk he opened his dozy eyes. ‘Did we see any prairie Indians, Papa?’ he asked. ‘The wagon train, son, is bedding for the night, so you’ll have to wait. It’s time for bed now. All I’ll say is this – I’ll tell you more next time.’ X-rays. Blood tests. Urine tests. Then, finally, one day after official okays were given to leave, Sergio, his father and mother, excited and a little anxious, bundled themselves on to an evening train. The boy sat wide awake, quietly eager, between his parents, as the train moved off. He watched the darkening shapes and passing lights and soon could no longer see the world outside. All night he kept hearing the clatter and echo of the wheels. The following morning, when he looked out the window in the growing light, the train was threading through a changing and unfamiliar landscape. Arriving in the German town of Delmenhorst, west of the port of Bremenhaven, the family felt numb by the cold and drabness of the place. They boarded the back of a covered lorry to arrive at the camp of yet another interim destination. There, their tag numbers were called and they were assigned a room in a big building block. ‘Guten morgen,’ a German official waved them on. Sergio went with his parents to a bench where another official handed his father some small pieces of paper. The man smiled, ‘Guten morgen … coupon to everyone.’ His father shook the man’s hand, then, putting the slips in his pocket, he swung his son onto his shoulders. The Cerne family then followed another official to yet another building where, upon showing their coupons, they were handed clothes and supplies. ‘Nicht schlecht,’ said a man squeezing the cups of a bra, to show Sergio’s mother how soft and elastic they were. The boy saw her go bright red as she took the piece of underwear quickly together with some soap and a comb. She told him not to stare because it was rude. His father received some thick woollen socks, a shaving kit and matches. Sergio was handed an English cap, a satchel and a small blanket. As his parents walked to their rooms he ran ahead, cap on head, wearing the satchel and blanket over his shoulders. After tea, in bed, sleeping with his new possessions, he had a dry night, the first in a long while. After nearly two years living with extended family and in refugee camps, Sergio and his parents were about to sail for Australia. The ship in the port of Bremerhaven looked very long in the drizzly mist assaulting the town. ‘What a big boat! Mamma look!’ ‘Che grande bastimento!’ she exclaimed, too, but as they neared the dock, both realised that they were wrong. Instead of the one ship they thought they’d seen, there were three ships moored together. Members of the black American crew, all in gob hats, stared down from the ruststreaked side of the ship as the passengers climbed up the planks. Once on board, Sergio and his mother were separated from Pietro and had to walk down, down, down, until they reached what seemed to the boy a cramped, noisy, echoing room in the ship’s hull. Sitting on the top of a wire two-decker bunk, the boy looked around at all the women and children crammed together in the quarters now stuffy with human smells. The ceiling was low WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 77
and white. Some kids cried because they were scared and hot and wanted their fathers. Men and women had been placed into different sleeping quarters. Sergio had never slept with so many people before. When he saw a little girl near him tuck her doll under some blankets, he hid his satchel under his bunk. Before long he and his mother were back on deck searching for Pietro. ‘Where have they put you?’ she asked when they found him. ‘At the front of the ship, with the men. That’s the rule, I’m afraid,’ he said, rubbing his wife’s arm. ‘I don’t like this ship and this rule,’ protested Sergio. ‘I want to go back. I don’t want to go away across the sea!’ He began to wail. Suddenly they all shook with the blasts of the ship’s horn. An added horror came when the boy saw the water widening between the deck and the wharf below. ‘See? It’s too late, son,’ his father said, lifting him up. ‘We can’t just jump in the water. We have to stay on board for a long while.’ Later, when Sergio looked for his satchel, it was gone. He sat quietly hiding his emotion. He didn’t tell his mother because he knew she would have given him a lecture and a good cuff on the ear. That evening, he and his parents squeezed past other passengers as they came and went to the steamy galley room. The family sat on a bolted bench and table eating from tin trays, plates, cutlery and mugs. His mother ate a skimpy meal and he squeamishly picked at his food. Only his father talked and smiled, enjoying the tinned-mess-mash. Their long voyage began. In the Bay of Biscay alarm bells shrilled. Emergency! Fear like an electric shock ran through the passengers. A clattering, frightened, single-minded crowd of women and children bumped and jostled against each other as they got from below to above decks, where they fought to get into lifejackets. In the commotion, Sergio’s mother, breathing hard with panic, tied his on upside down. Trussed and anxious, he stood staring at the great waves below, dreading like everyone else the thought of having to abandon ship. The ocean rose and heaved in great grey slabs. When a husky voice announced drill was over, there was a general grumble of relief before everyone went below decks still prickling with fear and confusion. At Port Said the passengers got a bird’s-eye view of the floating bazaar made up of red, yellow and blue bum boats loaded with big baskets. Arab vendors, some in turbans, sold handmade pots, strings of jewellery, clothes and spotted cane-made snakes that twisted tight circles if you held them by the tail. What particularly caught Sergio’s eye were the quaint tin turtles. ‘Here’s a coin. Throw it to them,’ his father said. Even before the coin hit the water, the cheeky naked Arab boys were duck-diving after the darting glitter. A young boy’s black head bobbed with the coin between his teeth. Sergio watched delighted. The young Arab gave the coin a quick look but then tossed it away in disgust, yelling and shaking his thin arm towards the deck. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 78
‘They only want English or American money,’ a man behind them said. Some lucky refugee kids waited to collect their toy green turtles being hoisted aboard. ‘Papa, can I have one of those?’ Sergio begged. His father shook his head, saying that he didn’t have any money for that kind of thing. Envying the fortunate few, Sergio felt glad when the bum boats were sculled back to shore taking their toys with them. The most stunning thing on the way to Aden was the desert. For miles there was nothing but huge dunes with clumps of palms. The hot Arabian night was thick with the acrid smells of naphtha and carbon and the endless racket of hoots and commotion of shipping. The vessel bunkered at Aden before it struck out into the ceaselessly spanking roll of the widening Indian Ocean. After more uneventful morning drills, everyone stayed on deck, to escape the heat below, but then had to hide from the sun and the heating metal of the upper deck. It was a makeshift refugee camp. Some dozed under lifeboats. Others tried to get relief by using sheets and blankets as sunshades. Some read; others loafed in groups, talking, joking, laughing, farting, smoking and sharing the lunacies of heat and boredom. Late in the afternoons the sultry heat and idleness had everyone edgy and irritated. To make things worse, the open-air night movies had been cancelled since married and single women complained that some men had been touching them. Sergio sat alone, bouncing his only toy, a small rubber ball. It rolled away from him, towards a glum-looking woman in a white blouse with dark hair combed back like a movie star. Her children, a boy and a girl, lay beside her. The woman sat with her legs stretched out looking at him with vivid eyes that made him wary. She smiled and handed back his ball while her kids eyed his toy. A garbled noise that wasn’t speech came out of the woman’s mouth. Never having met an adult who couldn’t speak before, Sergio, felt frightened and darted back to his mother. A warm moon moved with them across the sky. ‘Guarda che bella luna!’ his mother said. Sergio, lying flat on the deck, face to the sky, didn’t want to look at the beautiful moon. ‘I’m sick, I don’t want to be sick, Mamma,’ he whimpered as he fought the rising bile inside him. His stomach rose and receded in lazy swells. Bile got to his throat, taunting him with every wave. He fought it back, swallowing in gulps, turning to the merciless sea. His cheeks bulged, gushing vomit. He was seasick for days. To beat the doldrums and to prevent fights, the Americans got everyone involved in preparing for an end of voyage review. The passengers were kept busy, gluing, nailing and painting makeshift stage sets, and having rehearsals to distract them. Sergio, now feeling better, was to be in a skit with his father, playing the part of a sea urchin whose job it was to lower a cut-out sun into the sea. ‘Let it down, like this,’ his father said, showing the almost five year old how to let the sun slowly sink with a string. ‘We have to do it right; the American officials will be watching.’ After days of WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 79
practising they were ready. When the curtain parted, Sergio saw all the expectant faces. His papa was playing a fisherman with a painted moustache, trousers rolled up, mending a net. The sun came to a standstill as a big blonde, squeezed into a blue dress, crossed the stage. Her presence was more noticeable by the silence that followed her entrance –the eyes of the audience never left her. Sergio stood waiting for his cue, watching behind cardboard waves and fishing nets while an American accompanist led the blonde woman into song. In a loud voice, with a German accent, she sang and acted her way through ‘O Sole Mio’, ending with a wiggle of her hips. As the sun suddenly fell into the sea, there was a gush of applause, wolf-whistles and cheers. Then the Americans observed decorum by serving ice-cream and rounding off the night’s fun with a rousing rendition of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.’ The next day, all the sets were thrown overboard. Then, one dawn, there was no drill-call. The ship’s decks became crowded early, even though the morning breeze was harsh. As darkness became less impenetrable, the vast ocean had a steely glitter when, every so often, the rising sun broke through the clouds. There was an air of growing expectation in the glow of deck lights and the general rising excitement. ‘Look on the horizon! Do you see?’ could be heard from everyone. Finally Pietro, Maria and little Sergio could make out a smudge of coastline in the distance. The ship’s speakers began: NOW HEAR THIS! NOW HEAR THIS! ALL TRANSITS ARE TO PREPARE FOR DISEMBARKATION IN TWO HOURS … ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! … ATTENZIONE! ATTENZIONE! The day was overcast in Melbourne. A pair of black tugs docked the ship. Sergio and his parents were off-loaded at Station Pier, Port Melbourne. In this new and strange place their only identity was an official name tag. The train that was supposed to take them to some inland town hours away called Bonegilla was not running because of a strike. The displaced refugees had to go by bus convoy instead. Finally on board the bus, Sergio and his parents looked back at the ship, the USNS General CH Muir, with its funnel disappearing for good behind a bridge. As the three said goodbye to the grey Liberty Ship they looked at the sprawling Australian city of Melbourne flashing by and wondered what their new destination and unknown future would be in this new land. Reference Cerne, H & Cerne, S 2015, Shifting, Vulgar Press, Carlton North.
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Image 9. 1 Rosa Portaro, Melbourne, 1965. Courtesy Pina Geracitano
My Aunt, Zia Rosa Written by Pina Geracitano
y aunt, Zia Rosa Portaro, was born in 1923, in Caulonia, Italy. She arrived in Australia on 5 February 1951, and travelled by herself on the Oceania – one of the three ships of Lloyd Triestino Lines, which also included the Neptunia and Australia. To do this she had to sell all her possessions in Italy, though it would be better to say she had to ‘invent’ a way to raise money to pay for her ticket to Australia. In the end, she sold the tools that were used to work the land to grow grains and vegetables for her family’s table. Rosa sold the loom with which she wove all the fabric that was needed for her family’s household, including the bed linen, towels and tablecloths. From the loom she made the fabric necessary to fashion all the family’s clothing, and even wove material to make the sacks for storing the grain. I had the pleasure of meeting Aunt Rosa in 2012 when I came to visit Australia and she told me ‘her story’. She said that the experience of having to sell everything felt like being ‘reduced to nothing’. Aunt Rosa was a survivor. At five years of age she said to her mum: ‘I go to work,’ and left home to become a domestic servant with a family richer than her own. She hadn’t had the opportunity to go to school or to know the world. Even though her heart wasn’t in it, she knew she had to leave because her husband, Ilario, was already in Australia, having migrated the year before. When she left her town to go to Messina, Sicily for the first time, to apply for the visa to Australia, she understood well that the world does not finish with the line of the horizon. She left Italy with only clothing and bed linen stored in a couple of bauli (trunks). Rosa left behind all that she knew and was familiar with, and, by the age of twenty-eight, went to the other side of the world by herself to meet her husband. She still remembers the journey like a long torment, suffering seasickness the entire trip. During the first months she lived with Ilario in a house owned by some cousins, who charged all of his wages for the rent of a small room. On top of that, she also had to do all the housekeeping free of charge. After six months Rosa and Ilario went to work in the countryside for a year. When they came back they settled near the city of Melbourne and never moved again. Rosa told me of the difficulty she had to face during this time. Coupled with her inability to speak English, illiteracy compounded her inability to find her way in the Australian environment,
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with things such as doing her own shopping, finding a job or navigating her way around the health system. Most disconcerting of all was not being able find her way to the city and back home again. Rosa told to me how she managed to learn some English words to relate with others, and some funny stories that happened because of misunderstandings, such as the time when she went to buy paint to decorate the ceiling, but instead asked for paint for the ‘silly’. What gave her the most satisfaction in life was to be able to work and earn money, and she did this in a variety of jobs such as a machinist in a shoe factory, a clothing factory and a factory where they made kitchen utensils, and as a second job she worked as kitchen hand for a catering company. Rosa was happy that by working she was able to buy a house, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner and a hairdryer. Her ability to purchase such material objects was also in part a fulfilment of the ‘migrant dream’. Having arrived from the isolation of a monocultural small town in Calabria, Rosa had come to a place where she could see the world evolve and become what she today knows as a multicultural society, driven by technology and globalisation. As a child, all this would have been unimaginable. At that time, electricity had not arrived in her village; there was no running water and the houses were not sewered. Rosa told me it was during the war in Italy that she first discovered the radio in her own town, and that she was disorientated in the same way when she saw television for the first time. For my aunt Rosa and uncle Ilario it was like the ‘restart’ to a new life from zero, and that was unthinkable in Southern Italy at that time. Aunt Rosa’s house was a surprise for me. From the outside it looks like a normal house in a Melbourne suburb, but on the inside it looks more like a Southern Italian house. In the backyard I found a faithful recreation of the Mediterranean countryside. She told me that she even used to share wild medicinal herbs with her Italian friends. In the three and a half years I lived with her, I had time to deepen my understanding of my familial and cultural roots from a privileged point of view. Aunt Rosa’s eyes were there in Caulonia ninety-five years ago and her ears heard stories from her grandparents, which, between arcane myths and reality, came back to piece together the world of Southern Italy from the 1850s to the 1950s. Her stories took me back to a place that no longer exists in Italy. I feel fortunate to have spent time with Aunt Rosa who gave me knowledge about my bloodline; information that when she passes I hope will not have to necessarily die with her. When we leave home, we are like small, floating islands carrying with us all the elements that give us an identity. By bringing with her social traditions, manners and relationships associated with her faith, kinships and a resolve to create a new life for herself in a new country, Aunt Rosa rebuilt her life around the Italian community in the city of Darebin.
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It was a pleasure for me to discover idioms, sayings, proverbs, recipes, names of objects, words no longer used, ways of doing things, songs and social graces that have disappeared in my homeland. As soon as I arrived and met her, I imagined that it was her personal situation that led her to be brave and face the unknown, but in a little while what I saw, with my own eyes, was the reconstruction of an old land on top of a new one. Because of a sense of recognition, in the area where she lived for most of her long life, it is possible to go around the streets and speak with people without using English. People look at you and say ‘buongiorno’, and when they want to check you out they ask: ‘Where you come from?’ Anthropologically speaking, I had to come to Australia to appreciate my roots through other people’s lives who came before me and had reconstructed what they had left behind, which has helped both them and me to survive physically, emotionally and psychologically. I went to dinner dances where an Italian-Australian band was playing. I joined a choir where I learned to sing the Italian national anthem exactly … for the first time (my apologies for that!), and a lot of old, beautiful Italian songs that I have never heard before. Because of my family’s religious tradition, I attended the celebration of several patron saints, and I had to fight against five arranged marriages that were offered to me! The other culture shock for me was the time differences, where Melbourne can be up to 12 hours ahead of Italy, and, sociologically speaking, to find my relatives frozen in a time period that goes back to the 1950s – but I’m glad that I went!
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Image 10. 1 Wedding photo of Natalina and Sabatino. Courtesy Gina Varrasso
One-way Ticket from Abruzzo to Melbourne: With a Trunk of Embroidered Linen and One Decent Pair of Shoes Natalina Iacuone & Sabatino Varrasso – Written by Gina Varrasso
y name is Gina Varrasso. Natalina Iacuone and Sabatino Varrasso were the parents of me and my younger sister, Gianna. Gianna and I were born in Melbourne, but our parents were both migrants from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Our parents were no different from other Italians who identify not only with being Italian, but even more strongly with being from a particular region. They were proudly Abruzzesi. This is their story. This is an account of how they met in Italy and arrived in Australia, reconstructed from stories they told me and Gianna as we were growing up. Sabatino was born on 27 January 1928 in Castiglione a Casauria in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He was the third of six children to Egidio and Domenica Varrasso. Sabatino lost both parents to illness before he had turned fifteen. His memory of his father was that he was a very strict parent. Natalina was born in Tocco da Casauria, about two kilometres from Castiglione. On Christmas Day 1929, she was the second child born to Loreto and Gentilina Iacuone. As Natalina was growing up, it seemed to her that her mother was ‘always pregnant’. Gentilina had ten babies in total – eight of which survived – but did not receive the gold medal promised by Mussolini to families of ten babies or more. Instead, Gentilina received a blanket. When my father told his story, he emphasised that he did not wait to be drafted into the armed forces. Instead, in August 1948 – five months before his 21st birthday – he volunteered so that he could choose which branch of the forces he would enlist in. He wanted to be in the navy so he could ‘see something of the world’. It would have been during one of his periods of leave that my father first met my mother. Natalina was washing the sheets in the stream that ran between their two hometowns. One of the sheets got away from her and Sabatino – who happened to be coming past on his way from Castiglione – rescued the runaway sheet for the young lady who he summed up quickly as ‘a good prospect for a wife’. Sabatino and Natalina became engaged after a brief courtship. Our father would walk the two kilometres from Castiglione to Tocco to visit his fiancée, carrying a spare pair of shoes. To make a good impression, he would change into clean shoes before entering the town and hide the dirty ones under a bush to collect on his way home. Sabatino was very handsome, and Natalina was proud that he was her fiancé when he came to visit in his sailor’s uniform. She was a very modest person with a strong sense of what was proper behaviour. Natalina would not even hold Sabatino’s hand as she was afraid of what the ‘gossips of
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the town’ would make of it. When out at sea on the Cassiopea, Sabatino would type letters to his fiancée on a typewriter belonging to the officer for whom he was a personal aide. Natalina sent a photo of Sabatino to her father, Loreto, who was already in Australia with three of her brothers. My grandfather thought that Sabatino looked ‘a bit scrawny’ and wondered how he was going to be able to work hard to support his daughter in the new country. He showed the photo to a fellow worker he had befriended. What he did not know was that the fellow worker was Sabatino’s uncle. This uncle, Antonio, vouched for Sabatino saying not to be fooled by his appearance, as he was very strong and not afraid of hard work. Sabatino and Natalina were married on 28 October 1950 in the Church of Sant’Eustacchio in Tocco. There were very few people in attendance as Natalina’s family could not afford new clothes and were embarrassed to appear in their scruffy, old clothes. Image 10. 2 Sabatino’s Certificate of Registration (required according to the Common wealth of Australia Aliens Act 1947). Courtesy Gina Varrasso
Natalina did not have a white wedding dress as they could not afford such a luxury item. Sabatino instead suggested that she have a suit made that she could take with her to Australia when they migrated, as planned, after the wedding. There was a small wedding reception in the form of a party in Castiglione. To afford this celebration, Sabatino had sold a small plot of land that belonged to him – which was possibly part of his inheritance after the death of his father. Sabatino and Natalina spent very little time together as newlyweds before my father organised the documents that were required for his migration, and made the one-way voyage from Italy by ship on the SS Assimina to reach Port Melbourne on 11 February 1951. He was met in Port Melbourne by his father-in-law, Loreto Iacuone, and two brothers-in-law, Domenico and Nazzareno, who had arrived by taxi. Sabatino went to live with his new family in a small house at 18 George St, Fitzroy, which, along with the house next door, was owned by my grandfather. He started working in a factory where nails were made and soon found better paying work at WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 88
General Motors Holden at Fishermans Bend, where he subsequently worked for thirty-three years before he was retrenched. For some of their meals the men would go to a place on Johnston Street in Abbotsford. The meals were provided by an Italian lady who had no qualms about taking money from her fellow countrymen with little intention of providing them with anything as simple as a decent meal to make them feel more at home. Our father used to speak of his first Easter, shortly after having arrived in Australia. The meal on offer that day was a pig’s head that did not go far when shared by the six or seven men seated at the table. It was not long before my father decided to try his hand at cooking, which made him even more appreciated by the household of men. When our mother was preparing to leave for Australia in 1952 to join my father, he wrote telling her to have a pair of slacks made for the journey. He said that he knew it was not the custom for ladies to wear trousers but, being the very practical man that he was, assured her that she would be much more comfortable – and he was right. It was customary for young ladies to have a dowry and Natalina had worked hard, every moment that she had free from her domestic duties and from working in the fields, to prepare hers. Her great-aunt was a seamstress and had taught her how to sew and embroider and Natalina took great pride in her accomplishments. She would sit at night and embroider her handwoven sheets, pillowcases, bath towels and table napkins with her initials. These prized possessions were to accompany her to Australia in a trunk so that regardless of whatever else would be missing when she set up house with her new husband, she knew that she had the essentials. My mother used to tell me that she sang on the ship all the way to Australia. It did not trouble her that she had left her mother and younger siblings in Italy, as she was going to be reunited with her husband. Natalina was embarking on an adventure and the sea voyage was a holiday – even if she was not travelling as a tourist. The accommodation was very basic and there were shared facilities, but each day took her closer to the country that she would eventually call home for the rest of her life. She arrived in Melbourne on 3 June 1952. The ship stopped at the quarantine station at Point Nepean where all passengers were asked to remove their clothing, including their shoes. These items were then put into large ovens to be fumigated. Whether or not this method was effective is debatable, but it did have the unfortunate side effect of ruining the only decent pair of shoes that Natalina had brought with her. She joined her husband, father and brothers in the house in Fitzroy where they were all living. One of her earliest recollections of the new life in Australia was that of being able to taste foods that she had never even seen before. Natalina discovered that she loved bananas. Sabatino would buy them for her at the Queen Victoria Market and she would eat one every day. It was such a luxury to be able to be indulged in this way, as growing up in Tocco Natalina was WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 89
denied even the most basic things. When she used to accompany her father to the neighbouring towns to sell figs and other produce, Natalina would hide some of the takings so that she could buy herself a pair of stockings or perhaps even the zoccoletti (sandals) that she had her eye on. There was no thought in her mind at the time that one day, when she would be living in Australia, her husband would encourage her to buy elegant dresses. Natalina’s first job was in a shoe factory. She worked there until one day, when she was eight months’ pregnant, she fainted from heat exhaustion. There was no air conditioning in those days and no union to protect the migrant workers. The house in George Street was overcrowded, so three months after I was born in April 1954 my parents decided it was time to move. For eight months they rented a room at 155 Eglington Street, Kew from a couple who were paesani (people who are from the same town or region in Italy), after which time they had saved enough money to buy a house of their own. They moved into number 8 Peel Street, Kew, just before the birth of my sister, Gianna, in March 1955. The house was the third and final address listed on Natalina’s Certificate of Registration Card. This card was issued to all ‘aliens’ upon arrival in Australia, and regulations required that any change of address had to be registered. The house at 8 Peel Street was a 100-year-old, two-bedroom weatherboard house with an outside toilet, which cost about one thousand pounds. As humble as it was, at least there was a toilet, and our mother did not have to go to the fountain at the end of the street to fetch water as she did in Tocco. Natalina loved the house our father had built in 1964 on the site of the one-hundred year old building at 8 Peel Street. When they moved from Kew to Bulleen, she always said that it was ‘more difficult than moving from Italy to Australia’. So much of the life that our parents made for themselves in Australia is pretty much the same as that of their many relatives and other paesani. It was made possible because they had the courage, brought on by desperation, to move to a country that was on the other side of the world. Sabatino and Natalina had no regrets about having migrated to Australia and never actually returned to Italy – even for a visit. They had no reservations about becoming naturalised citizens even as far back as 1959. They were happy living in Australia. It was home; it was where their daughters were born and grew up and where their friends were. Eventually, all of Sabatino’s family and the rest of Natalina’s family migrated to Australia where they too settled and no longer continually thought of Italy as home. Natalina died in 1998 at the age of 68 from diabetes. Sabatino died in 2008 at the age of 80 from bowel cancer.
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Images on a Quilt Capture Steps in the Life of Anne Cocks Anne Cocks
nne Cocks recounts the experiences she and her family had as migrants from their native Holland after World War 2, and, in particular, how she created a quilt, on which she sewed many images as a way of capturing the ‘Steps in Her Life’. My given name was Adriana Lambertha Huisman when I was born in 1949 in Hardinxveld in the South of Holland. My father, Cornelis Huisman, was born in 1908 and my mother, Elizabeth van Heukelom, in 1911. They married in 1933 during the years of the Great Depression. Before WW2 began, three children were born to them and the extended family lived in neighbouring villages with grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins nearby. In 1940 Germany invaded Holland and bombed Rotterdam and within a week it became an occupied country for five years. In 1942 men in certain age groups were rounded up to work in German factories. Many died during the Allied bombardments of German cities. Some survived and returned after the war. My father was one of these. On 5 May 1945, the Netherlands was once again free. When the war ended my father walked home from Germany, which took weeks. Whilst relieved to be home safely, he was restless and settling down to village life was difficult for him. He found Holland a broken country, with housing and food shortages, and the experience of the past few years had changed him. The threat of a war with Russia was a fear held by many Europeans and so in 1950, a year after I was born, my parents thought about emigration. First we applied to the US, but my father did not qualify due to his age and the two-year waiting list. Canada was considered too cold and South Africa already had many problems. Many Dutch people migrated to these countries. Australia and the Netherlands had made an agreement to encourage migration as the Netherlands had housing problems after the war and Australia needed skilled workers. Australia seemed a good option, and as my father knew a man from our village who had already migrated to Melbourne with his wife, he wrote to him. He replied, encouraging my father to migrate and became our sponsor, which we needed for our family to migrate. Our family had sufficient money to pay full fares for our family to sail by boat, but were told we
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could not take any money out of Holland and so were encouraged to spend our remaining money in the Dutch economy. So we bought new beds, two bicycles and a treadle sewing machine. We would be given landing money, which was fifty pounds per couple when we arrived in Melbourne. It took two years before we were accepted as a grown family of three teenage children and myself, a toddler, to emigrate. Many Dutch migrants had families with as many as twelve children, and Australia was keen to have these large families emigrate. Finally, in September 1952, we were able to set sail on the Fairsea, an Italian ship. We had our furniture stored in a crate on board. The journey took five weeks going through the Suez Canal. Men slept in one part of the ship and women in another. Families were separated but could mingle on board during the day. We arrived in Melbourne in October 1952. To disembark from the ship you either needed a sponsor or were sent to migrant camps such as Bonegilla. We were fortunate to have our sponsor, Lo van Noordenne, meet us and arrange transport to our first lodgings. This happened to be located in The Basin, a long way from Port Melbourne, and the guesthouse, which looked quaint, was set amongst bushland. My father, brothers and sister all found work within the first week as the boarding money we had received was fast disappearing. My eldest brother, eighteen, was picking asparagus in Koo Wee Rup; my sister, sixteen, stitched buttons on dresses in a factory in Melbourne; and my youngest brother, fourteen, found work as an apprentice carpenter. My father found work in a factory, so we had four wages coming in. Our accommodation at The Basin was very expensive, so within weeks we found half a house to rent in George Street Fitzroy located near the Dutch Reformed Church in Melbourne. This was more central to public transport. My mother and I spent many happy hours on her bicycle as we acclimatised to our new surroundings riding around Fitzroy. We had come from a small rural village with many dairy farms surrounding us and were now surrounded by shops and factories. In the 1950s, Fitzroy was very much a working-class area unlike today where warehouses are being turned to spacious apartments. We lived in this house less than a year, and then moved to Lyons Street in Williamstown to rent part of a double-storey house. Many Dutch people lived in this area and worked in the dredging industry. Our sponsor, Lo van Noordenne, was a bricklayer and lived in Altona. We stayed in touch with him. He was now a builder and offered to build us a house in a new estate in Altona, which was then being developed just outside Williamstown. My father had a bit of money put aside at this time, as all the familyâ€™s wages were pooled together, WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER â€˘ RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 94
and bought a block of land in Nellie Street, now Civic Parade. Our new home was to be a three-bedroom brick-veneer house. My parents couldn’t believe they would have their own house within this short time in Australia, but they saved well and this was the ‘Lucky Country’! The house was built and finished off by members of my family, and we moved into it at the end of 1953. The area had no made roads, deep muddy ditches for gutters, and was a much longer walk to the station for those who caught the train to work. My sister and brothers would walk with their old shoes to the station where they would be taken off and left on the platform in a row with others. Better shoes would then be worn for the trip to Melbourne to work and on coming home people would change into their old shoes again for the dusty, sometimes muddy walk home. Honesty was a way of life then, and nobody, apparently, took other people’s shoes home. We had no fences and could see the Geelong railway line in the far distance. Snakes were a common enemy and we would find them in the coal box outside and in the vegie patch. It was legal to kill snakes in the 1950s, and I remember seeing several of them hanging on our back fence. At one time, we knew there was a tiger snake under the house and to entice him out, we placed a plate of milk near the brick air vents at the base of the house. Eventually it did emerge to drink the milk, and my father then chopped its head off. However, it was a good time for our family and we met other Dutch people who lived in the area. Not having any relatives in this country, these people became aunties and uncles to us. For me, it was a whole new beginning and I loved living there. Young families lived nearby and I had friends to play with. I enjoyed a term at kindergarten and began my schooling in 1954, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. My father began to work for Lo van Noordenne as a drainer, digging deep rows into extremely dry soil so that terra cotta pipes could be laid for drains to the houses. This was very physical work but he was strong, in his mid 40s and worked six days a week for many years. I never remember him taking sick leave as he was self-employed. In the meantime, my mother decided to find a job doing housework. I remember Mum telling me about her new job with Mr and Mrs Baldwin in Blyth Street. While his wife worked, Mr Baldwin worked night shift but was often home during the day when Mum came to clean the house. It must have been a nice sunny day, because my mother asked him to help her bring the mattress outside so it could get an airing. This is what she used to do in Holland during spring when houses really got an airing after the long, dark European winter. Mr Baldwin must have looked surprised but did as my mum asked, and together they moved the WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 95
Image 11. 1 The Huisman family, in Holland just before they emigrated to Melbourne, in 1952. From left to right Cornelis, Lam
mbertha, Gerrit, Johannes, Elisabeth, Adriana. Courtesy Anne Cocks
mattress on the porch into the sunshine. Later in the week he told one of his neighbours about this Dutch woman with high standards and the following week, Mum had the neighbour as a client. Altona Primary School was multicultural and the principal gave English lessons one night a week to those interested. My mother was keen to improve her English and attended regularly, but my father was too tired to go. My brothers and sister knew English from lessons on the boat and improved daily within their workplaces. I joined other children as we walked to school along the muddy roads in all kinds of weather and home again. I loved being at school and learned with great enthusiasm. By 1958, when I was nine years old, my parents decided it was time to find a business opportunity to invest in. By then I was the only child living at home and my older brother and sister had married Dutch migrants and lived elsewhere. My other brother had finished his carpentry apprenticeship and decided to return to Holland. The Old Royal was a guesthouse for single men in Nelson Place Williamstown, and seemed to be a good prospect to invest in. It was originally built in 1852, is three stories high and a beautiful building, which still stands today. At first there were twenty-four male boarders, but when they found out we were migrants only twelve remained. My father decided to continue his job as a drainer and rode his bike to and from jobs, sometimes as far as Sunshine with the shovel strapped along the length of the bike. He did not drive a car until 1960. It was a light-blue panel van, which fitted his shovels. The number plate was HDW 680 and we said it stood for ‘hard worker’. My mother was in the kitchen each morning at 5.45 am to serve the men with bacon, eggs and toast on working days. The men who worked nearby at the Dockyards, Harbour Trust and Woollen Mills would come home at midday and eat a warm meal. Those who worked at the Newport Railway Workshops or the Abattoirs would take a cut lunch, which we had prepared the night before. I would butter five loaves of bread after school and we would use different fillings for the sandwiches and six slices for each lunch. We had a house cleaner who would come from 9 am to 2 pm on weekdays. She would help my mother make the beds daily and tidy the rooms, emptying the cigarette ash from the ashtrays. The boarders were not allowed to smoke in their beds for fear of them falling asleep and starting a fire. Bed linen was changed each week, top sheets to the bottom and the top sheets replaced. Sheets were laundered commercially, and on school holidays it was always fun to help the housekeeper by gathering all the dirty sheets and throwing them down three flights of stairs to land on the ground floor. My mother learned to cook in the Australian way from the cook, Kath, who was employed there from 2 pm to 7 pm each weekday.
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The evening meal was served in the dining room. It had a splendid, carved wooden sideboard in one corner, which housed the crockery and cutlery. There were ten laminated tables placed in the room, each with four vinyl chairs. (These days you see them for sale as ‘retro furniture’.) Each table would have a white linen tablecloth with a green border and then a damask cover on top for easy removal in case of spills. Bottles of HP, Worcestershire, tomato and mint sauce would be placed at the end of each table with a sugar bowl in the middle. I would set the tables each evening after school with cutlery, glasses and a jug of water. As I had the neatest handwriting, I would write a daily menu on a chalkboard. Dinner was served in the dining room and started at 6 pm with three courses available each evening. After my father had finished his day job he would come home and tidy up to become a waiter, carrying in the fifteen-litre pot of soup and placing it on the sideboard where he would serve each boarder. This could be pea, vegetable and barley or sometimes tomato soup. My mother was a great believer in good, hearty meals for these hard-working men and I remember the aromas of a roast dinner, usually beef, lamb or pork, with roasted pumpkin, potatoes and greens served twice a week, on Wednesday evening and Sunday lunch. Meals on other days could include corned beef with mustard sauce, braised steak and kidney pie with dumplings, grilled chops or sausages, and on Friday nights, it was always baked fish for Catholics and grilled steak for the others, together with homemade chips and vegetables. The men ate well and, of course, dessert was served each evening. I remember eating apple pie, baked-rice custard, bread and butter pudding, jellied fruit in squares, and custard with baked apples. All desserts were served with a huge helping of whipped cream and at the end of the meal a pot of tea was set on the sideboard with a jug of milk and the boarders helped themselves to a ‘cuppa’. By this time a huge pile of dishes had accumulated on the kitchen table and these were washed by hand in the kitchen sink. We worked together systematically, each having their role, and after 7 pm we sat down to eat our meal in the kitchen. By 7.45 we had finished most of the dishes and the boarders were then watching TV in the dining room. This was their time to relax and they were then free to have a beer with each other if they wished. There was only one television for all to watch, which was set high above the sideboard in a castiron stand. My family sometimes joined the boarders on Thursday nights to see Sing Along with Mitch when Mitch Miller and his choir came on and sang wonderful songs. An Australian girl, Diana Trask, was a newcomer to the show. We would sing along together to the words printed on the television to songs such as ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, ‘I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’. I loved that show and still remember the words to many songs. One of the boarders, an Irishman named Bill, could get a bit merry after a drink or two, and, WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 99
with tears in his eyes, would begin to sing ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ or ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’. He missed his homeland. We had a few different nationalities but there were no problems such as drugs in those days and the men were respectful of me, a young girl, and would apologise if a swearword was inadvertently uttered as part of their conversation as I passed through. My parents had kept in regular touch with the family back in Holland as we were the only ones to migrate. Weekly letters were written not of homesickness but of pride in adapting to this new Australian culture and for sharing family news. My mother always told me that she was never homesick because she had all her direct family with her. As a result of these exchanges, I knew I had an extended family with cousins from the many photos, birthday cards and letters we received in return. I walked to Williamstown Primary School and later Williamstown High School past Seymour’s Wool Factory and the hotels located along Nelson Place. Many are now transformed into cafes, which run the length of Nelson Place, but in the 1950s it was very different. I met my husband at Williamstown High School and it holds many happy memories for me. I later went to Stott’s Business College in Melbourne and found work in the legal field as a secretary. My eldest brother migrated to the United States in 1962, as he wanted to study rocket science and later worked for NASA on the Hubble Space Project. My sister worked as a manager in a dress factory and later settled in Mount Evelyn with her husband. My younger brother returned to Holland in 1959 but was disappointed as he felt Holland was not the same as when he had left and his friends had moved on. He found it difficult to settle and returned to Australia, but ended up returning again to Holland in 1962 and married his pen friend, a German girl. I married in 1970 and became a naturalised Australian citizen. In 1971, over 160,000 Dutch people had arrived in Australia but more than one third returned to Holland. In 1971 my parents sold the Old Royal and retired to live in Altona. Together they travelled back many times to visit family members in Holland and enjoyed their old age. In 1988 my father died and in 1989 mother took me back to Holland. It was a life-changing moment for me. I was then 40 years old and it was the first time, since I was three years old, that I had been to Holland – although my parents had many trips back over the years. I loved the country and felt very much at home with all those aunties, uncles and cousins I had heard so much about over the years. I had not spoken Dutch much since I was nine years old, as we spoke English once my parents had bought the Old Royal. It is an amazing thing how your brain stores up information and within three days I was thinking, understanding and speaking in Dutch. Over the years I have returned to Holland six times and now communicate with several cousins WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 100
on a regular basis in Dutch through email, telephone and mail, and they are constantly amazed at how good my language skills are. I have taught myself to read, write and speak Dutch fluently. Actually, in 2014, my oldest brother John, who has lived in the US since 1962, asked me if I would meet him in Holland to celebrate our birthdays. He was to be 80 on 3 May, and I was to be 65 on 4 May. He returns regularly to the land of his birth for vacation and to see members of his family. It seemed a wonderful idea and together with my brother Gert, who lives in Holland and is 76 years old, we had a party for forty relatives with whom we are still in contact. It was such a great celebration for all those present. My sister died in 2009 and so we missed her at this, our first reunion in the land of our birth, since we migrated in 1952. However, many of those at the party could remember the impact of our migration on the remaining family in Holland. They remembered saying goodbye to us from the village as we rode away on a bus. In 2000 a friend told me about the Australian Quilts in Public Places exhibition with the theme of ‘Journeys as an Immigrant’. I enjoyed sewing and decided to make a quilt about the ‘Steps in My Life’, which became the title of the quilt. It was selected to be hung at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne for three months, and later travelled to San Francisco and Canada for exhibition as well. It is very meaningful for me because the images on the quilt are literally the steps that I took in my life after migrating from Holland. I used original photos which I transferred onto fabric and added to the quilt. I finished the quilt in 2000 when my mother was in poor health and while she was not able to see the quilt at the Immigration Museum, she did see it completed. My mother died in 2001 with all her children by her bedside, which was very special.
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Image 12. 1 From left my mother Madeleine Leber, Sylvie Leber & aunt Rose Goldblum. Cnr. Burnett and Grey St St. Kilda. Circa 1953. Courtesy Sylvie Leber
Before and After: A St Kilda Story Sylvie Leber
Why this epic journey? Our family are Ashkenazi Jews. My four grandparents were born in Poland. In East Europe violent anti-Semitism was widespread and so, along with many other Jews, they migrated to France between the two world wars as it was seen as a more tolerant country. Both my parents, Sam Leber and Madeleine Benczkowski, were born in Paris in the 1920s. I never knew my grandparents. Three of them didn’t survive the Holocaust; murdered by the Nazis and French collaborators. My father’s parents, David Leber and Rivka Szaldayewska, were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where they both died. My mother’s father, Hirsh Benczkowski, was sent to Drancy, a holding station outside of Paris, where he was killed. This happened with the help of the French collaborationist Vichy government who handed the Germans their names and addresses and assisted in rounding them up. My mother’s mother, Chaya Benczkowski (nee Szyrman) survived the war as a refugee, but died of pleurisy right at the end of it. My father, following his parent’s advice, left Paris and initially tried to get to England, but then at nineteen joined the French Resistance in the mountainous Grenoble region. He was mostly involved in sabotage operations and after being injured he worked in intelligence. ‘Sometimes an action went wrong and people got killed and things like that … I was shot in the leg in the middle of town. It was about six o’clock in the morning and there was a curfew I was with a friend and we were stopped by two Germans. We started shooting. We didn’t let them ask questions. They would have asked for papers and they would have gone through our clothes. We had a couple of hand grenades and revolvers, so we started shooting and I got a bullet in the leg. I was lucky I got out of it because a broken leg is pretty hard so I was taken clandestinely to the hospital and a sister who worked in the Resistance brought the ambulance and we went to the hospital. I was lucky and that’s it.’ (eds Wood & Wajsenberg 1987) Even with a bullet in his leg he took a nearby bicycle and rode off carrying his colleague, who had been shot in the stomach, away from enemy fire. They eventually knocked on a door which fortunately had people on the same side inside the house. Never able to fully recover, he had extreme health problems late in life. After the war he received the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military bravery award. During this time Mum, her mother and her brother Samuel, were assisted by people smugglers to WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 103
escape south to the Free French Zone in Lyon. They used jewellery as payment. My mother said there were three types of people smugglers: those who did it for humanitarian reasons, those who did it for the money and the rare few who took the Jews’ money then handed them over to the Germans. They lived with false names and forged papers till France was liberated. As my grandmother had a strong non-French accent my mother had to do the talking when dealing with people they didn’t know. She became an apprentice furrier in Lyon at sixteen. My mother and grandmother had an incident in Lyon where they narrowly escaped being shot by a German firing squad; a common punishment used by Germans, if any of their soldiers were shot by resistance fighters, was to round up innocent civilians. In this instance, just as Mum and my grandmother were about to be killed, a general drove up and said ‘Stop what you’re doing!’ to the firing squad, ‘Quick, we’ve found the location of the resistance fighters!’ When the war started my mother was fourteen and nineteen when it finished. She never knew what it was like to be a teenager. Orphaned, she was invited to stay with family in London where she stayed for a short time. Both my parents lived in the 19th arrondissement, Belleville, as children. After the war they went back to Paris and it was not long after that they met, eventually marrying in 1948. Mum and Dad had a loving relationship which helped them survive and start healing from what they’d been through. They worked in their apartment as tailors making men’s trousers while I sat in the high chair playing with buttons. In 1950, the year that I was born, the Korean War broke out and there was talk of a third world war. My parents wanted to get away from war-torn Europe to a country where they would feel safe, and, for my father, for the adventure too. It was a toss-up between Canada and Australia. My parents had friends who had moved to the French-speaking part of Canada. My dad’s cousin, Rose, and her husband, Leon, had moved to Melbourne and Rose told my folks that Australia was a good place to raise kids. Australia’s warmer weather won out. My dad being an only child didn’t have any immediate family left in Paris but Mum had Samuel, who also was married with a baby daughter. It was very hard for her to leave him behind. Voyage Mum, Dad and I arrived in Melbourne, from Paris, in 1952. We’d spent six weeks sailing on the Italian ship, the Sydney. We’d travelled to Italy by train. It was the ship’s maiden voyage having left from Genoa. On the way to Australia, we stopped at Port Said, Egypt, where my parents bought a beautiful embossed leather document holder that I’m privileged to now have. We later stopped at Colombo, Sri Lanka, then on to Fremantle and finally landed at Port Melbourne pier. We had a great time on the ship where apparently everyone kept an eye out for my safety. The passengers were French, lots of Italians and a few other nationalities and if any were performers they were invited to take part in the nightly entertainment. The family joke was that I was the only one on the ship that didn’t get seasick. We travelled with a large, rectangular, cane-basket trunk with our possessions, which included WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 104
Limoges plates, a wooden coffee grinder, bedding, clothes, the lessiveuse, which is a portable metal washtub, and my wooden cot. Arrival My mother tried to find work here in fashion and jewellery retail but was told they did not want to employ someone with a foreign (French!) accent. She became a pieceworker making clothes at home. Dad became a toolmaker and ended his working life at Fishermans Bend. Before the war Mum had wanted to be an accountant and Dad an engineer. They described how in the 50s you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee here till Pellegrini’s opened in 1954 and that the women all wore the same styled conventional dresses. Style and fashion did not exist. I heard that our family’s friends waited till I grew out of my nice Parisian clothes so that their kids could wear them. In 1956 my mother was so homesick and missed her brother so much that we had tickets to return to France but as luck would have it, the Suez Canal crisis broke out and no ships were able to get through. So here we stayed. PART 2 I loved growing up in St Kilda. It was a time where I lapped up the beach, the food, the edgy street life and the fun places to hang out. From the age of two till eleven I lived in a third-floor flat at 58 Grey St. In the 50s there was a tramline there and I have a faint memory of dashing across the road and nearly getting run over and Dad scooping me up as the tram dashed past. Dad painted the walls of our flat a mixture of reds, pinks, oranges and yellows. It was wild and wonderful. We had lovely next-door neighbours who let me watch TV at their place when it first appeared in 1956; the same year as the Melbourne Olympics. I was particularly hooked on The Mickey Mouse Club. I would wait outside their front door till they got home to see my favourite show. My neighbour was in the Returned Serviceman’s League (RSL) and often arrived home in his neat uniform after six o’clock closing. Yep, pubs closed at six back then. I went to a Yiddish kindergarten around the corner in Robe St. It was a beautiful, slightly rundown Victorian mansion called the Bialystock Centre which sadly is no longer there. My kinder teacher was the highly cultured Dobke Apelowitz who was also a family friend and who gave me my first art book about Rousseau for my 7th birthday. At kinder we had an orchestra. Bronia Glatt, a fellow kinder kid, was the conductor. I recited poetry at our end of year concert and played the handsome prince in the ballet probably because I had short hair. Also in Robe St was the Alliance Francaise in a very humble little house where my folks would borrow French books from its library. After kinder I went to St Kilda Park State School behind the bowling club in Fitzroy St. On my 50th birthday, I had a party at St Kilda Bowling Club with the band Windows playing and DJ Chicks with Discs.
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Image 12. 2 Front from left great aunt, Chana Szyrman, me, Sylvie on her lap, center-ront aunt, Nicole Benczkowski, right my mother Madeleine. Back r Paris 1951. Courtesy Sylvie Leber
row: my mother’s cousin, Chana’s son, Serge Szyrman, center-back, my mother’s brother, Samuel Benczkowski, back right, my father, Samuel Leber. Belleville,
My English was not very good as I spoke French at home and Yiddish at kinder. Supervision at lunch times was slack. My buddies and I would often leave the grounds. On at least one occasion we went across the road to Rockmans, Melbourne’s first supermarket (though it is no longer there), and without hesitation ran in, stole lollies and ran out. The staff ignored us. We also ventured a few times to the iconic George Hotel where the daily TV show Lady for a Day was recorded. I would take my autograph book with me to get all the famous stars’ signatures. For a short time there was an American boy in my class whose acrobat parents were in Australia to do shows at the South Pacific’s cabaret show. I thought he was fascinating. Sometimes the tough girls would have after-school fights and the rest of us would come and watch. As well as school I had piano and ballet lessons. The ballet lessons were in a hall which no longer exists on the corner of Mitford and Blessington Streets with Miss Jackson who was also a portrait painter who exhibited at the Herald Outdoor Art Show and whom my parents commissioned to do one of me. On the weekends we would go to the movies (back then we called them ‘the pictures’) at the Victory in Barkly St (now the National Theatre) or the Palais and yes, kids did throw Jaffas down the aisles. In winter especially, I would go to St Moritz ice skating rink on the Upper Esplanade, where Novotel is now. It had a kids club where if you turned up and if you were a girl you would earn ‘brownie points’ if you wore a pleated skirt and not ‘slacks’. And of course there was Luna Park which was quite different to how it is now. We had the Giggle Palace back then with the weird-looking king on a throne laughing and moving his legs and nodding his head from a tower. Acland St for Melbourne’s Jewish community was similar to Lonsdale St for the Greeks and Lygon St for the Italians. It was our social mecca. Scheherezade was particularly well known but there were the cake shops as well; Europa, Monarch and Le Bon. For me specifically it was where we bought the yummy ponshkes, traditional East European large fried doughnuts filled with jam. Another culinary thrill for our family was Leo’s Spaghetti bar in Fitzroy St. I was particularly fond of the takeaway ravioli in cartons. Way ahead of their time. When we first started to go there it was a couple of doors down from Grey St. It’s moved another two times closer to the beach since then. We often meet there now for special family occasions. Mum liked to shop at the lively Village Belle (not the pub in Barkly St), an indoor market with many stalls on the corner of Acland and Barkly in the arcade which now is home to a giant supermarket. She always bought her meat from there. On Sunday afternoons I went to a Jewish lefty youth group called SKIF. We met in a lovely old Victorian house with a tennis court in Wellington St just up from the Junction. Although nonreligious, our family would on occasions go to the St Kilda synagogue in Charnwood Crescent for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Spending many summer days at the beach, I became a good swimmer but never became a skilful horse rider even though I often went on the horsey rides which were past the pier towards the city. I have fond memories of fishing at Port Melbourne on the pier with Dad and recall seeing many migrants gleaning the plentiful mussels on the pylons but perhaps it wasn’t only migrants doing this. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 108
The 50s was the time of the Bodgies and Widgies, a youth culture phenomenon from which the Rockers arose. There was the St Kilda Boys gang too who used to fight the South Melbourne Boys. In Grade 6 there was a very cool, nice Polish girl in our class. She was 14, a couple of years older than the average, adopted, and the rumour was that she was a sex worker. The sex industry was everywhere when I was growing up particularly in Grey St and Fitzroy St. I think might have been the reason my folks wanted to get me out of the area when I started to go through puberty. My brother Danny, my daughter Colette and my two nieces Sarah and Rebecca were born in Melbourne. Three generations and three countries of birth! All the Lebers are keen travellers. There’s certainly something to the expression ‘the wandering Jew’. For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary they got an inscription in the Immigration Museum Tribute Garden as my gift. An important event occurred on Station Pier in May 2002. The Norwegian ship the Tampa was moored here. The year before, its captain Arne Rinnan had responded, according to international maritime law, to the mayday call of 438 mostly Afghan Hazara asylum seekers on a distressed fishing vessel. He allowed them on board his ship. Australia would not let them land on our mainland. Rinnan stood up to Australia’s cruel refugee policies and there was a major stand-off. The Australian Navy eventually stormed the ship. A year later when Arne was doing his final round-the-world voyage, a tradition for sea captains when they retire, some of us went out on a ferry boat with placards to show our appreciation for what he’d done. Reference Wood, F & Wajsenberg, J (eds) 1987, Survivors & Students: Learning about the Holocaust Experience, Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne.
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Image 13. 1 Nonna Marta and Nonno Peppino on their honeymoon in Rome 1935
My Grandmothers (and Grandfather) Peppina Forzisi, Marterine Azzolini & Nino Composto Written by Josie Composto Eberhard
oth my grandmothers were strong, independent women who lived into their nineties and had a profound influence on my life and the person I am today. Both were born in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century and both have stories of love and loss. Nonna Pina, nee Giuseppa (Peppina) Forzisi – after whom I am named – was born in Francavilla, Sicily, in 1910. She was the eldest of five children and grew up on a large agricultural estate of which my great-grandfather was the overseer. He employed a hundred workers and it was my nonna’s job – together with her mother and sisters – to feed the workers every day. They were all given a litre of wine, bread, cheese and whatever minestra or pasta dish my great-grandmother had prepared. Even before she was eighteen, Nonna had had a number of proposals – but she was not interested. She enjoyed being free and said that before she and her sisters walked into town for an evening or went to a festa they would drink a glass of wine to put colour into their cheeks and bit their lips to make them appear redder. One day a young man she had never seen before walked past her. She felt un colpo di fulmine (a thunderbolt); it was love at first sight! Antonino Composto, a carpenter and musician, proposed, but my great-grandparents deemed him unsuitable, so Antonino convinced my nonna to run away. They went off for a couple of weeks around Sicily and when they returned (in disgrace) they were quickly married in the sacristy of the village church at 6 o’clock in the morning. Nonna said that despite the disgrace, her dress was beautiful. It was ciclamino – cyclamen pink and in the popular style of the 1930s, with the hemline just below the knee at the front and gradually becoming longer at the back. Nonna had four children, but only three survived. Giovanni, my dad, was the eldest and was born in August 1931. A year later she had a girl, Sara, who sadly lived only for an hour. Later she had my zio (uncle) Angelo and zia (aunt) Rita. Despite the initial colpo di fulmine it was not exactly the happiest of marriages. Times were tough and they were poor, which caused them to argue, and my father can recall plates being thrown across the room on more than one occasion. Fascism and the Second World War were in full swing and there was little work around, so Nonno Antonino volunteered for Mussolini’s Libyan Campaign in 1942 from which he, sadly,
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never returned. My father was just ten years old and Nonna Pina was left a widow with three children to look after. But Nonna Pina did everything she could to provide for her children. Not only did she sew, weave, embroider, etc., she also divided the front room of the house they were living in and made it into a shop. From this shop she sold all sorts of things including foodstuffs, pasta and bread, which she made herself in a wood oven. One day while she was baking a batch of bread she ran out of firewood and was forced to burn a dining room chair, which my nonno had made, to keep the fire going and save the bread. In 1953, when my father was just 21, he left for Australia in search of his future. Two years later Nonna Pina packed up her things and she and my zio Angelo and zia Rita joined my father in Adelaide to begin a new life. That same year, 1955, my mother also arrived in Australia with her mother and two brothers. She was 17, going on 18. Image 13. 2 Nonna Pina war widow card
My maternal grandmother, Nonna Marta, nee Marta (Marterine) Azzolini was born in 1908 in Molfetta in Puglia. She grew up in the old medieval town, Molfetta Vecchia, and could dive from her bedroom window into the sea. Like most girls in those days she learned to sew, embroider, knit and crochet. She was the eldest of six children and when she was 18 her mother died so she had to take over the running of the household and look after her father and her younger siblings. She first saw Giuseppe (Peppino) Amato, a shoemaker and lover of opera, at the local water fountain. With the help of his friends he serenaded her and she was engaged to him for 11 years before her father would allow her to wed. They were finally married in 1935 when Nonna was 27 and they went to Rome for their honeymoon. That weekend, due to it being a Fascist anniversary, Mussolini granted all newlyweds free travel on public transport and free entry to all museums and other places of interest. Nonna Marta had three children but would have had five. My motherâ€™s little sister, Mina, died of the measles when she was 16 months old. At the time, Nonna Marta was also pregnant with her fifth whom she sadly miscarried just a week after the death of little Mina. My mother remembers that her father put the tiny fetus, a boy, in a little box and buried him with their little sister. Just three months later, Nonno Peppino went on a road trip to Naples with friends to buy the WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER â€˘ RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 112
newly created, standardised shoe moulds. But the roads were bad. There was an accident and my nonno was killed. He was buried in a nearby cemetery, at Avellino. Three years later, Nonna Marta received notification from the cemetery that Nonno Peppino’s remains were about to be exhumed and transferred to a box in a wall. So Nonna decided it was time to bring her husband home. This was by no means an easy thing to do. Transferring a person’s remains to another cemetery usually involved enormous amounts of paper work and lots of money. Without these things it was highly illegal. Nonna had a special box made of zinc and covered in such a way that it looked like a small suitcase. She travelled down to Avellino by train with her nephew, Salvatore, and they managed to bribe the gravedigger to give her her husband’s remains. It was a very tense journey back to Molfetta and Nonna was very frightened of being arrested. But she made it without any hitches and buried Nonno Peppino’s remains in the Molfetta cemetery where he rests today. Ten years later, in 1955, Nonna decided to move her family to Australia to give her children a better future. She was sponsored by her brother-in-law, Sergio, who had been in Australia since the early 1920s. Nonna Marta never remarried and lived with us until a stroke forced my mother to place her in a nursing home. She died at the age of 92. Nonna Pina did, however, find love again. In 1959 at the age of 45 she met a widower, Bonaventura (Arturo) Dini. He was a quiet and unassuming man from the north of Italy. I went to their wedding – I was six months old! He was the only grandfather I ever knew. Sadly, he died of cancer just 11 years later and Nonna Pina was alone once more. She continued to live alone, tend a vegetable garden and keep chickens well into her 90s, until she could no longer look after herself and was moved into a nursing home. She died peacefully, at the age of 98. Both Nonna Pina and Nonna Marta went to Italy in the late 60s to visit family and friends, but neither of them ever desired to go back there to live. They had made Australia their home. Their families were here and they were happy. Nonno’s Drumsticks. My paternal grandfather, Antonino (Nino) Composto who was born in a small town called Francavilla, in Sicily. He was a carpenter by trade but was much admired for his drumming and timpani playing in the town orchestra. He also loved acting and is remembered to this day for his portrayal of Christ tied to a pillar in Francavilla’s annual Way of the Cross parade on Good Friday. In 1936, Nino joined the Italian troupes in Ethiopia and was away for two years. When he returned to war torn Sicily there was little work around so he eventually volunteered for Mussolini’s Libyan campaign but died just six months later in 1942. My father, Giovanni, was ten years old. As the eldest son, he inherited the drumsticks. Dad would have preferred to learn the piano – but pianos were far too expensive and his mother and aunts WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 113
and uncles all said: “Your papa’ played the drum and you have to do the same!”. Times were very tough and dad had to leave school and become an apprentice barber to help make ends meet, but thankfully the town council offered free music lessons to all children who wanted to learn. As a consequence, 85% of the town could read music and the orchestra consisted of approximately 70 members directed by Maestro Settembre. Maestro Settembre was a retired academic from the Naples Conservatorium. He was a very hard task master and would become enraged and throw his batton at any orchestra member who was out of tune. Despite this, he was much loved and admired for his excellent teaching and raising the standard of the orchestra. It took my father a little over a year to learn to drum. Finding a place and time to practice so that no one would be disturbed was always difficult. The neighbours were always complaining. However, his aunt Concetta, provided the solution. “Your father used to practice on the bed base”, she said. “Lift the mattress, lay a towel on the boards and beat away…”. It worked, and after a year he played in his first concert on the Feast of St. Barbara - Patron Saint of Francavilla on 4th December 1948. Dressed in his new uniform he marched through the town leading the procession. Then in the evening, the townspeople gathered in the main piazza for the concert. The first piece the orchestra played was Gioacchino Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) which begins with a dramatic, solo drum roll. Dad remembers being very nervous, but he got through it fine and continued to play in the town orchestra until he left for Australia in 1953. He had to give back the drum and his uniform but brought his father’s drumsticks with him to Australia.
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Burlak Family - Waves of Diaspora Communities Translated and transcribed by Natalie Senjov-Makohon
was born in Gajevo, near Prnjavor, Bosnia on 13 February 1928 to Dmytro and Anastasia (nee Hura) Burlak. My mother was also born in Bosnia on 24 December 1902 to Maria and Maksim Hura, during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My father, Dmytro Burlak, was born on 8 December 1902, in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, Galicia, which was also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but in the lands of todayâ€™s Western Ukraine. When my father was eight years old, my paternal grandparents, Tatiana and Kost Burlak, migrated to Prnjavor in 1910, and like many third wave migrants from Galicia, they had to buy their land. Unfortunately, good quality land was scarce and they were given rocky terrain and forests, which required clearing before they could farm the land. Living conditions were not always congenial and some Galicians did not remain in these lands, but returned to the homeland. Others remained and began the arduous task of building their homes and setting up households and farms to stabilise their lives and feed their families. Their ingenuity and skilfulness enabled them to settle and engage in life, because they had immigrated from a more advanced agricultural area in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They introduced new crops which were not previously available, that is: wheat, rye, barley, and potatoes which were in plentiful supply in Galicia (Nota 1994). On our farm, we also developed orchard growing and we had our own mill to process grain. My paternal grandparents, Kost and Tatiana Burlak, lived with our family of eight children. During the winter months, they often told us stories about Galicia and the beginnings of their settlement in Bosnia. We were taught Ukrainian crafts, including embroidery and weaving. In our home, all the children were taught to read and write in Ukrainian. We would sit at the kitchen table with home-made boards to transcribe the Cyrillic alphabet and join them into words. We had this prayer book that was printed in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1917, and we learnt to read Ukrainian from this book. Christmas carols and Easter matins were memorised from the oldest to the youngest. Music played a central role in our family. The Ukrainian Catholic Church through social, religious and cultural activities enabled us to stay together as a community. Sunday youth dances were organised for mutual exclusion to broaden Ukrainian cultural access and diminish social mobility outside the community. This is the way, we maintained our Ukrainian cultural heritage and identity. Senjov Family In 1948, I married Peter Senjov, who was born in Serbia. He was born on 15 May 1926 in Rakovac, Serbia to Michael and Anna (nee Javni). He grew up on a homestead owned by his father Michael who inherited this land from his father Ivan. The Senjov family migrated in 1898 from Sernyky, Serednee (today Dibrova near Rohatyn) in Ukraine. The Senjov family was part of the second wave of Ukrainians from Galicia. They were offered a free parcel of land which was suitable fertile land for agriculture and herding of animals. However, the Second World War had
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destroyed many of our farms and we had to begin life again. When I married Peter, I had to live with his family, while he was conscripted to the new Tito regime’s army for 18 months. When he returned from the army, we began our lives together on our own parcel of land. In 1948, the Tito and Stalin dispute, the Yugoslav economic crisis and the opposition to collectivisation of land by Yugoslavs occurred (Wilson 1979). This affected us, Ukrainians, since we owned our land from the beginning of our migration into Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Ukrainians, similarly to other minorities, were encouraged to repatriate or resettle abroad; although these lands were the lands of our ancestors, who inhabited them since the 1890s and 1910s. Once again, we Ukrainians became mobile, except this time we migrated to Trieste, Italy. Life in Trieste Peter and I with his siblings and mother, like many other families from Yugoslavia, which consisted of Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, arrived in Trieste on 17 July, 1952 and stayed there for a year and a half before emigrating to Australia at the end of 1953. The Trieste camp was a hub for refugees and was charged by international organisations with the care and the maintenance of refugees. For us, Ukrainians, it was the hub of cultural activities and the development of cultural traditions, heritage and transmission of our Ukrainian identity. The Ukrainian Catholic Church and Plast, Ukrainian Scouting Organisation, played a pivotal role in the transmission of our identity. Besides the scouting activities, we were taught Ukrainian and all traditional heritage, for example, dancing and singing. I joined the youth choir, since I already knew many Ukrainian songs, which my grandparents and parents taught me. In the Trieste camp, I was able to work as a dressmaker, as I learnt dressmaking before I got married. Also, my husband’s cousin, Stephanie Pawluk (Moravski), recommended me to the master tailor of the camp and through that recommendation Peter also learnt tailoring. We both obtained official dressmaking and tailoring documentation before we left for Australia. Finally, in late 1953, we began our journey by sea on the Fair Star ship to Australia. We arrived at Melbourne Pier in the centre of an Australian heat wave on 10 January, 1954. That day, we were placed into cattle trains and for the rest of that heated scorching summer day without drink or food, except for an orange each, we were transported to Albury and then bused to Bonegilla, in Victoria, to an ex-army camp. At ten that night, we were served spaghetti, which was quite uneatable, but a meal was served. In addition, to these hardships, gender separation occurred, the females with the children were bedded into separate army barracks. The next morning, as people began to surface, great laments were heard - where have they brought us - to desolation and the end of the earth was the comment. The area around Bonegilla in the summer months is not the most inviting and pleasant surroundings for newcomers in a strange and isolated environment. However, we were hopeful that this new, hostile and uninviting land would eventually become home. Fourth Wave Diaspora Community: 1954 In our migration, we joined our ancestors and became part of a wave of migration. We became part of the fourth wave of Diaspora Ukrainians who migrated out of the lands of today’s Ukraine. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 116
The previous waves occurred in 1751, 1890s, 1910s (Miz 2007) and now we followed our ancestors from Ukraine but this time to Geelong, Australia, in 1954. We joined the earlier Geelong Ukrainian emigrants who in 1948 arrived from Ukraine via Germany. They, like us, had been displaced. However, Mr Arthur Calwell gave us all a new name - New Australians (Calwell M E 2012). No longer were we considered displaced persons.
Image 14. 1 Katerina Senjov, 1990. Courtesy Natalie Senjov-Makohon
We had been displaced and our lives were disrupted; but we always considered ourselves Ukrainians, wherever we went. We knew our cultural heritage and traditions which sustained us for generations. Within our cultural traditions, we found skills, knowledge and experiences that sustained us and enabled us to settle in many lands through our migrating waves. Therefore, we became Australian Ukrainians, gravitating to and joining the Ukrainian community to sustain our cultural heritage. We became active members of the Church and Peter was the second head of the Catholic Church brotherhood. I, like other wives at the time, supported my husband and actively engaged in various activities.
In the meantime, I, with my friends and kums (godparents of our mutual children), went out to the agricultural fields of our surrounds to contribute to the Geelong economy. This did not last long, as my sewing skills enabled me to join Pelaco to sew menâ€™s shirts. There were other Ukrainian women at Pelaco and this further enhanced my knowledge of the Ukrainian community.
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Melbourne In 1962, Peter and I with our two children, Natalie and Steven, decided to join the rest of the Senjov family in Melbourne and the Ukrainian Melbourne Community. Also, three of my siblings were already living in Melbourne. On arrival in Melbourne, I went to work at Queen Victoria Hospital, like many other migrant women, I became a domestic to clean in the hospital wards. Again, I was fortunate to find, within a short time, a job in the Biochemistry Department as a laboratory assistant in which I remained till the end of my working life. The young girls in the department were extremely friendly and helpful, they always included me in their various activities. Life was pleasant and fruitful, and Peter and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary with both Burlak and Senjov families in 1998. Wonderful Australia Peter and I were not in need of anything. Australia was wonderful to us. We worked hard and life was good; as Peter would often say, before he passed away on 27 July 2003. This same sentiment was echoed by one of our grandchildren, David, who on return from his overseas trip, said: “Thank you, Baba (Grandmother) for coming to Australia”. References Calwell, M E 2012, I Am Bound to be True: The Life and Legacy of Arthur A. Calwell, Morning Star Publishing, Melbourne. Davies, N 2012, Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations, Viking, New York. Displaced Person’s Migration, Bonegilla Camp 1947 – 1971, The Migrant Experience, viewed 10 February 2017, <http://www.dpcamps.org/australia2.html>. Djilas, M 1962, Conversations with Stalin, Milovan Djilas; translated from the Serbo-Croat by Michael B. Petrovich, Rupert Hart-Davis, London. Miz, R (Роман Мизь), 2007, Матеріали до істрії українців у Боснії (Materials from the history in Bosnia), TOM III (vol. 3), Новий Сад (Novi Sad, Serbia). Nota, V 1994, ‘Ukrainians in the Former Yugoslavia’, in A Lencyk Pawliczko, Ukrainians and Ukrainians throughout the World, University of Toronto Press, Canada. Wilson, D 1979, Tito’s Yugoslavia, Cambridge University Press, London. Worldatlasbook, 2011, Map of Europe, http://www.worldatlasbook.com/images/maps/europe- map-countries.jpg, viewed 2/9/2017. Управа Епархій (Eparchy Committee), 1917, Книжочка, Заґреб (Zagreb).
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Image 15. 1 Domenica (nĂŠe Vaticano), Bruno and Anna Cufari, Brancatisano photographic studio, Bovalino, Reggio Calabria, 1954
Tracing the Many Threads of the Past: La Famiglia Cufari Anna Callipari
uci Callipari-Marcuzzo writes from the perspective of her mother, Anna Callipari (nee Cufari), who arrived on the Italian passenger ship, Australia, at the Port of Melbourne on Saturday 28 August 1954. My father, Francesco Cufari, left Platì, in the province of Reggio Calabria in Italy, to find work in Australia in 1951. It was his intention to earn some money and return home. The only form of communication we had with him was via written correspondence to and from Italy and Australia. After some time in Australia, we received a letter to say that he had made the decision to settle here. He believed it was a better place for our future; there was work available and more opportunities for the whole family. So, after three years apart, we migrated in 1954: my mother Domenica (aged 48), my youngest brother Bruno (9) and myself (13). My older brother Antonio (Tony) had already arrived in January of that same year at the age of eighteen. The hardest part about moving to Australia was leaving my older sister Maria and eldest brother Giuseppe (Joe) and their families behind; both of them had two young children of their own. My father had also expressed in a letter that as soon as we were able to save enough money, we would arrange for my siblings to migrate to Australia too, but we didn’t know how long that would take. We left our place, Nefrara, a farmlet of approximately five acres. My parents built the house in 1945–46 (after WW II). The property had a lot of fruit trees, vegetables, and animals – cows, goats and pigs – and an orchard of olives, which my brother and sister looked after once we left. As well as my two eldest siblings, we left behind my two grandmothers and all of my aunties, uncles, cousins and many friends. It was a very traumatic time when we left because we didn’t know if we would ever see them again, what we would encounter once we got to Australia, and what would be there for us. The photo in Image n.1 was taken a few months before we left Italy to send to my father in Australia. We travelled by bus from Platì to Bovalino to have the photo taken at the photographer’s studio. The clothes we are wearing were handmade by our dressmaker, Giuseppina (I used to visit her sister Giustina for embroidery lessons every day after school). The shoes were purchased from a shoemaker in Bovalino.
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Image 15. 2 Bruno, Francesco, Domenica (nĂŠe Vaticano) and Anna Cufari taken at Zaetta Studios in Mildura, c.1956
My hair was in long plaits and my mother also wore her hair in the same fashion but used to pin it up on the top of her head as was customary. I am holding a bunch of dry flowers in my hands, a pearl necklace around my neck and my brother has a camera also around his neck, which were props that the photographer had in his studio. The main thing I can remember during our journey to Australia was being sick. Some days were worse than others, depending on how rough the sea was. After twenty-nine days at sea, we were excited to sight the coast of Australia, then finally arrive at Port Melbourne, get off of the ship, and be on dry land again. When we arrived it was early evening. We were impressed to see the city lights and tall buildings, something we had never seen in our small village. My father was waiting for us when we got off the ship with some friends that lived in Melbourne. We stayed with them for the night, then the following day collected our luggage and boarded the train for Mildura. We were met there by my dad’s boss who owned the property where my dad was living and working. He came and got us in his car from the train station and drove us to the house. When we saw the house, we got a big shock. We were expecting to see a beautiful home, better than the one we left in our small town, but instead we saw an old, run-down place, almost like a shack. The kitchen had a very old wood stove, no refrigerator and no bathroom. It was more like a little enclosure or sleep-out and had no laundry. My mother had to wash the clothes on a big stone outside, which my father found for her, with water carried in buckets filled from an underground water tank underneath an olive tree. We had better facilities in our home in Platì than this first home in Australia. If we wanted hot water, we had to boil the kettle on the wooden stove. We didn’t have a shower. If we wanted to wash ourselves in the old tub, which had no taps or running water, we had to carry the water in from outside, which wasn’t fun. There was a small sink with cold water. The two sleep-outs had really old floorboards with holes in them – the wind would come up through the boards – and when it was hot in summer, the mosquitoes would get in through the open windows as there weren’t any flywire screens on the windows or doors. Sometimes the mosquitos were so bad, my mother would get up in the middle of the night and spray with DDT. My father lined up work for us, and most of the time we had to walk two to three kilometres to get to a job. In wintertime, it was pruning grapevines, which we had never done before. We hadn’t really ever had a large acreage of grapes in Italy – just a few for eating or making homemade wine. I had never worked before coming to Australia, because I was young. And when the pruning finished, we would work picking peas, beans and carrots, and then grapes during harvest season, but mainly field-based work in market gardens, grape and citrus orchards – whatever we could WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 123
find. The photo in Image n.2 was taken approximately two years after we arrived in Australia. We had the portrait taken so that we could send it back to my brother and sister in Platì. The dress I am wearing was purchased in Mildura, along with the bag and shoes. I had outgrown all of the other clothes we had brought with us from Italy. My mother is wearing the dress made by our dressmaker in Platì, Giuseppina, before we left. My mother’s dress is special because she wore it on the ship for her journey to Australia; the shoes and bag were also purchased in Italy. (The dress is very fragile now and has had some conservation work done to it by my niece Elena Callipari-Nemtsas, a dressmaker.) We purchased a new suit for my younger brother Bruno, who had also outgrown his Italian clothes. My father is wearing the black, Italian-made suit he brought with him from home. We were still living at the same property when this photo was taken. My hair is different. I cut it six months after we arrived in Australia because I could see most of the young people had nice, modern hairstyles and I felt old-fashioned. I’m not sure what became of my plaits. I can’t remember keeping them. My mother was still wearing her hair in the same fashion as she had in Italy. We look happy in this picture; we had established ourselves and had got to know other people that lived in the neighbouring towns. We had regular work and money coming in, which we sent back home to my brother and sister, who were looking forward to joining us in Australia so that our family could again be reunited. It took approximately three years of saving to send for my eldest brother Joe, who came in 1957 on his own. His wife and children followed two years later in 1959. As well as happiness, the family suffered tragedy too. My youngest brother, Bruno, died suddenly at the age of sixteen in a tractor accident in 1960, the year before I married Antonio Callipari from Natile, Reggio Calabria. My sister Maria migrated to Australia with her family in 1963, nine years after we had left Platì. They were on their way to Australia when we had our eldest son Michael, who was born in January of the same year. The loss of my brother Bruno was a great loss for our family, and my mother never, ever really got over it. She never wore her red dress again after that.
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Image 16. 1 Mum, Erminia Davoli, nee Crapis and my sister Maria Davoli, Sambiase, Calabia, Italia, Dec. 1954. Courtesy Rosina Byrne
Selfless Written by Rosina Byrne
ear of the unknown and excitement were some of the emotions my mother, Erminia Crapis, faced as she prepared to leave her country, Italy, knowing she may never return. A huge amount of sadness was undoubtedly felt regarding leaving Gizzeria her family town and Sambiase her home since the day of her marriage on 9 May 1950 to Francesco Davoli. These two homes contained her family and all the support that came with a place where many generations had and still do live. However eagerness to be reunited with her husband who had left for Australia two years earlier to pave the way for their young family was a strong driving force. Francesco Davoli (Papa`), left for Australia to start a different life and to provide an improved future for their first child Maria, and other children that may follow. Erminia, (mamma) left everything she ever knew about the world to follow her husband, taking their daughter Maria who was only 3years old with her to a strange, distant country, trusting that her husband was guiding them to a better life. Mother and daughter boarded the ship on 24 December 1954 and set off wearing their striking new coats which were tailored especially for the journey and their life in Australia. The coats marked a fresh beginning. The picture was complete when three-year-old Maria was gifted a little white handbag for the journey which she treasured and carried at all times on the ship. She was a miniature version of her mamma. A long month went by, and at the end of January 1955 Erminia and Maria arrived at Port Melbourne. There was surely lots of merriment to finally reach Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and soon touch the Land of promise. Considerable amount of joy came to the fore. The ship would have vibrated with energy. My mamma spoke of those exciting moments as the ship tugged into place and was secured. Everyone moved to the ship deck where they stood at the rails to look out and wave to the people or famiglia waiting below on the Pier. My sister Maria became so thrilled by what was happening around her she started waving her arms while holding her precious white bag over the rails. My mamma spotted Francesco, her husband, Maria’s papa` and pointed him out to her. Francesco tossed lollies up from the Pier, in an effort to catch them and connect with her papa`, Maria threw out her arms releasing her grip on the white handbag that she loved so dearly. Sadly, the handbag tumbled into the water and gradually drifted away. Maria started screaming…all joy left her body and was replaced by sadness. Tears flowed freely as mother and daughter disembarked and reunited with Francesco. Francesco was 28years old, Erminia 27. The emotions that my mother and sister experienced at that moment, we’re an indication of the emotions that would follow over the first few years as they gave themselves wholly to making a
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new life in Australia: excitement, sadness, loss, but in the end joy. My mamma and papa` died 11months apart of each other, both aged in their late 80s. They lived 60 plus years in Australia on their grape-growing property in Euston, New South Wales, where they had cleared their land of all rocks and boulders with their own hands, planted and nurtured grapevines, and raised five children. They passed away having lost their daughter Maria 5 years earlier but knowing they left 4 children behind plus 14 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren, and knowing many more would eventually follow. Our parents, Francesco Davoli and Erminia (Crapis) Davoli selflessly gave all of themselves for us to have a better future. They worked tirelessly every day of their lives, working the land side by side. We their descendants will forever be grateful. Rosina Byrne (Davoli) ( Daughter, their baby, last born child)
Image 16. 2 Close up of Erminiaâ€™s Coat with the beautiful single large button. Courtesy Rosina Byrne, 2017
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Journey of a Triestina, Viking and Piscean Tiger-Poet Graziella de Clario – Written by Domenico de Clario
he following is an account by Graziella’s son, Domenico (on behalf of himself and his sister Linda).
Our mother was born Graziella Agata Minca in the last days of the winter of 1926, in the small medieval port of Capodistria on the coast of what is now Slovenia but was then Italy. The last days of winter in Northern Italy are the loveliest; everything is slowly warming and the fragrance of the first buds and blossoms begins to spread in the soft air. Graziella was born into a working-class family and at the time of her birth her father, Nicolò Minca, was a successful tailor who employed nine people in a thriving fashion salon. He had trained as a young man in the Austrian city of Marburg and had gained a considerable reputation for being both an innovative and reliable craftsman; his beautiful, hand-sewn trousers, I was proudly told as a child, were always delivered on time. Graziella was born as an unexpected late gift to Nicolò and to Orlinda who was then, unusually for those times, forty years old. Orlinda had previously given birth to three boys and the youngest was fourteen years old when Graziella was born. This meant that she lived her infancy in relative isolation because her brothers had become young men by the time she was ready to begin school. The Great Depression of 1929 also significantly affected Europe and consequently my grandfather’s business folded. In 1932 the family moved to Trieste so he could find employment and they settled in a single room on the first floor of Number 3 Via del Bosco, right in the centre of the city. Graziella lived in this room for 24 years, firstly with her parents, then with her new husband and then for nine years with her parents, husband and my sister and I, until the four of us left for Australia in 1956. Right through her early schooling Graziella was a brilliant language student and a dreamer who spent much time contemplating the wonders of poetry, theatre and dance. Through her early teens she studied dance with a Russian teacher and showed much promise. She was much taken by the new phenomenon of cinema; this art form had become extremely popular in Trieste, so much so that at one stage in the mid-thirties the city’s film audiences supported more than 200 cinemas. As a consequence Graziella’s knowledge of actors, films and directors was until her last few days absolutely impeccable. She sang, when she was young, in a pure and powerful soprano voice and could still reel off many Verdi and Puccini arias later in life. She had also been a great sprinter and in later years she would often affirm to us all that her best time as a teenager for the 100-metre barefoot sprint had been 5 seconds, but unfortunately, she would add, she hadn’t won that race as she only came third. The suggestion was then repeatedly made that perhaps that time might have been for a 50-metre race, but no, she insisted, it was for
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the 100 metres, and given the opportunity of more training and proper footwear she would have cut that 5 seconds down to even less!
Image 17. 1 and 2 Graziella as a 17 year old in Trieste and as a 33 year old in Melbourne. Courtesy de Clario family
She met my father at the age of fifteen when Mario went to Via del Bosco to have his soldier’s uniform made by my grandfather and virtually from the day they met until the end of her life my mother thought about no other man. Before he left for the front two days later Mario gained my grandmother’s permission to write to Graziella and corresponded with her regularly. Upon Italy’s surrender to the Allied forces in 1943 he journeyed straight back to Trieste from the Albanian front, foregoing his own family despite having known Graziella for only a few days before leaving for Albania. They married in Trieste’s cathedral on 20 May 1945, a few days after the end of the war, and spent their wedding night sleeping on a couch at the foot of my grandparents’ bed while their guests slept on the floor. I was born two years later and Linda was born fifteen months after me. My memories of Graziella are of an extremely attentive and loving young mother who always put the wellbeing of her children ahead of almost anything else in her life. Triestines are renowned for their love of a boisterous good time and many evenings of song and dance took place in the little room in Via del Bosco. I remember watching wide-eyed from the bed I shared with my grandparents, as Graziella would provide the initial inspiration with impromptu performances around the kitchen table. My grandfather and his accordion would soon take up the invitation and neighbours and relatives would inevitably join in. Though poverty was endemic this kind of joyful expression seemed to come easily to all of us. Our native city was like a big living room, comfortably worn and known, the inhabitants simply occupying their cosy little corner and proceeding from there to celebrate both the city and their loved ones. My family managed to live happily in such circumstances because our joys were homemade and simple and if necessary all of Trieste would become part of our extended living room!
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Melbourne provided for us an entirely different set of experiences. I remember Graziella’s great anxiety on our departure from Trieste, as she left behind the security of her family nest, friends and relatives and was as a result inconsolable for many months after our arrival. She somehow found a job almost immediately as a sales assistant in a North Melbourne pharmacy and she revelled in the social interaction with the migrant community that then gathered around Victoria Market. These exchanges served to mediate a little the desperate weeping that took place in the laundry each evening after work, with me and my sister clinging to her side. Our new life in Fitzroy bewildered us. We had moved from a city that we experienced as a huge communal living room, with people living in the streets and squares, to one that was desolately shut down after 6 pm each night, except for those passers-by too inebriated to know their way home following the swilling of huge amounts of beer. This took place every night of the working week in myriad pubs throughout Melbourne, as patrons desperately attempted to finish their last orders before closing time. After a year of witnessing the post 6 pm mayhem on the streets of Fitzroy my parents decided to move further away from the inner city to Brighton (‘to the country’, as they called it) and Graziella then had to travel by train and tram to her North Melbourne workplace, leaving home before first light and not returning until after dark to then cook dinner and carry out other household chores. Three times a week I would meet her at the bus stop to help carry the bags of shopping she would ferry home via tram, train and bus from Victoria Market. My father worked overtime and occasionally took on waiting jobs in Lygon St restaurants, so he would often not be home until very late. Our life in Brighton was harsh; we were lonely and isolated, with no contact whatsoever with other Italians. In the early 1960s we moved back to Carlton when Graziella took on a job in a local pharmacy. Here the five of us (for my grandmother had by then sailed from Trieste to join us) came alive, mingling with the large Italian community that then populated most of Carlton and surrounding suburbs. From 1966 each of our Saturday afternoons were filled by a specific routine: various foods and thermoses of steaming coffee would be packed as our parents first attended my footy matches at Princes Park and at half-time would then drive to Linda’s netball games at the nearby Royal Park, some days driving many times between the two to keep up with the scores and enjoy the refreshments … They would crowd the sidelines, Graziella shouting, swearing and barracking fanatically, with my father begging her to show some decorum, Grazia, please … In 1969 Linda married and my own marriage followed a couple of years later. In the mid 1970s we both subsequently divorced, and after dropping out of Melbourne University in the late 1960s, where I had studied architecture, I had subsequently tried to make sense of my life as an artist. To their great credit Mario and Graziella accepted these dramatic changes in both my life and that of my sister’s, and particularly Graziella unconditionally supported every twist of the uncertain paths we had chosen, even though it meant their dream of a profitable, professional career for their son and a happy marriage for my sister had been thwarted. The intensely complex lives that my sister and I subsequently lived fuelled Graziella’s need to express her mother’s anxieties, disappointments and joys through the use of language, and each WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 133
evening she would sit at her desk and write until very late. She composed some remarkable poems and many were consequently published and read at numerous arts festivals and on various other cultural occasions. The following is the title poem that I translated from the original Italian for a little volume titled the idea of silence (as plants never born), published in 1994:
As Plants Never Born
From your earth And through a Blindfolded grieving You shift the roots A little further on And you are as Plants never born Yellowing yet unable to die only bitter tears keep you alive
You tear yourself
In the early 1980s due to ill health my parents retired early from working life and moved down to Dromana, on the Mornington Peninsula. There they began to connect more meaningfully with the Italian community, so much so that Mario was voted president of the Mornington Peninsula Italian Social Club and Graziella the secretary. My father served a number of terms as president, but we can all guess as to who was really president, can’t we? As well as the secretary, treasurer, events organiser and Italian teacher … nonetheless, they both worked assiduously for the good of the club’s members and received much satisfaction from the joy they created for others and from the friendships that followed. They slowly began to run out of energy from the mid 1990s and in 1997 their first and only trip back to Italy gave them a badly needed burst of joy and inspiration. From April to July of that year Linda, Mario, Graziella and I journeyed from Reggio Calabria, in the deep south where my father was born, all the way to Trieste and through that time we spent many wonderful moments together and with our Italian family and friends. Graziella and Mario had always generously agreed to participate in many of my art projects and in 2001 they, along with Linda, were central to the successful presentation of a series of performances that led me to gain my PhD. Then in 2005 they collaborated in my project at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, chronicling what our family life had been like in Trieste. For three weeks my parents and I occupied a full-scale version of our former home in Via del Bosco that was rebuilt inside ACCA. Graziella was then in her late seventies, but she greatly enjoyed the chance to engage with the record number of appreciative audiences that visited us each day inside our reconstructed former room, and she loved the opportunity to give
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full vent to the deep artistry she had always contained inside her. She entranced all our visitors with her stories and had many in tears. I was very proud of her, and of course of Mario; both engaged deeply and authentically with these and other projects and instinctively understood and embraced all I attempted to achieve through them. From then on she and Mario resisted the onset of old age as ably as they could, but eventually they had to move from their beloved home in Dromana to a small unit in a retirement village in Rosebud. * The mystery of Graziella’s life that for my sister and I defined her more than any other is the paradoxical love she shared with my father, he being at once her most unlikely match and her unabandonable soul mate. Their devoted love for each other remains for both of us the great mystery of our lives, extraordinarily defining in its pervasive effect on us yet somehow inspiringly glorious, hopefully human and in the end so very humbling. But what most deeply defined Graziella for the many that knew and loved her? She was a sensitive visionary but also a woman of intense emotions, who often mused that her ancestry belonged to the Nordic hordes, defining herself a Viking no less. She was firstly a mother who loved her children fiercely and a woman who believed deeply in a life narrative that was scripted according to ancient codes of honour, courage and determination. She was committed until the end to calling it, all of it, as she saw it, unafraid at times to change her unflinching moral position to better reflect the flow of the currents, never meekly but with utter conviction, as only a Piscean Tiger-poet might. She was a devoted wife, endlessly patient but never sparing her life partner the urgency of an unpleasant truth; she was a selflessly thoughtful and caring grandmother and in her later years an attentively loving great-grandmother. The Italian mystic poet Giacomo Leopardi had always been her very favourite and his most famous ode, appropriately titled ‘To the Infinite’, was her favourite among all of his poems, possibly because it describes so beautifully the poignant nexus between pain and joy that she herself keenly experienced throughout her life. In her younger days she used to recite this poem regularly; below are its last few lines of my translation from the Italian: Excerpt from ‘To the Infinite’ This lonely hill was always dear to me as was this hedgerow, which deprives one of the view of so much of the last horizon. But sitting here and gazing I can in my mind see the unending spaces beyond and superhuman silences and deepest calm till what I feel is almost fear. And when I hear wind stirring these branches
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I compare that endless stillness to this voice and am reminded of the eternal and the dead seasons and the sound of the present living one. And then as my mind sinks into this immensity to shipwreck in such a sea is sweet to me.
* Graziella passed away in 2015 and my father in 2013. They are buried side by side in the sandy soil of the Rye cemetery. Stelline Linda de Clario It was a cold winter’s evening in mid August 1956. The sky was studded with a million stars, and twinkling across the water were the distant lights of Fremantle. Standing on the deck of a rickety old ship (the Toscana) I listened to my parents’ murmured discussion, their voices almost quivering with anticipation and fear. We were nearing the end of a 42-day sea journey from Italy and had no idea what this new country held for us. Back then our currency was pounds, shillings and pence, and ‘pounds’ translated into Italian is ‘sterline’. But the seven year old me, upon overhearing my parents speak of the value of the ‘sterline’ we would be using as currency, understood the word used to be ‘stelline’, which in Italian means ‘little stars’. So there I was, my heart jumping with glee, my eyes wide open with joy at the realisation that this new land was truly going to be a magical place where things could be purchased with the readily available stars twinkling down at me, clearly singing in unison, ‘Take me … take me.’ We would be poor no more.
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WHAT AT THE PIER â€¢ RECALLING THElives JOURNEY II | 138with her husband Giuseppe Callipari. She is the mother of 6 children and ImageHAPPENED 18. 1 Giuseppa Pipicella Callipari in Mildura, 18 grandchildren. This is her migration story. Courtesy Fortunata Callipari
From Natile in Italy to a Farm in Red Cliffs Australia Giuseppa Callipari Pipicella
ortunata Maria Callipari writes from the perspective of her mother, Giuseppa Callipari Pipicella, who left her native Natile in Italy as a seventeen year old, withstanding both the pain of travelling by ship to a new land, and the hard work undertaken by her and her family to make a ‘proud’ life in Australia. I was born in Natile, Calabria, after the Second World War, into poverty. A relative, already living in Australia, saw prosperity and encouraged us to emigrate. I arrived in 1957 with my mother and two younger brothers on the ship Australia. I was seventeen and the year 2017 was my 60th anniversary in Australia. We did not go anywhere outside Natile, or understand what it meant to leave home or to emigrate. We had no idea where we were going, what to expect, or what was waiting for us in Australia. We imagined having a nicer house and an easier life. My father, Salvatore, and eldest brother, Nick, went ahead of us to work and make money to support us back home, and to save for our tickets to Australia. Salvatore left first. When his visa arrived, we walked around in circles crying because we imagined we would not see him for a long time, and possibly never again. He left at night while we slept. My father sent us money and letters that explained what we had to do before leaving. One letter could take a month to arrive. My mother, Pasqualina, was illiterate, but she dictated and I wrote the return letters in my Grade 3 Italian. With my father away, my mother found it hard to look after four children and keep the property going, but she employed people to help. It was five years before a letter arrived asking us to make our way to Australia. We had a choice. My father said: ‘You come to Australia or I return to Italy.’ We decided to come. In 1952, at the age of sixteen, my eldest brother, Nick, left for Reggio Calabria where he lived with our uncle Giovanni to learn how to be a barber. In 1954 he too left to join our father. They both worked hard to prepare accommodation for the rest of the family to join them in Australia. It took six months to prepare for our journey. We sold our land and arranged for documents, passports and health certificates to be prepared. They did not want ‘sick people’ in Australia. We left our house to my mother’s sister, Maria, and our grandparents – who lived together. Leaving was a heartache, but there was nothing we could do. We left from Messina, north-east of
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Sicily, on 2 June 1957. For most of our journey we were bedridden and seasick, except for my youngest brother, Tony, who would bring us food. Our cabin, on the bottom level, accommodated twelve people, and we could see the line of the sea from our porthole. They showed movies on the ship and people could go dancing, but we stayed in our cabin. We could not move without throwing up. There was also a bar where we managed to buy an orange juice to settle our stomachs. A woman in our cabin liked the taste of beer and encouraged us to try it, claiming it was ‘delicious’ and ‘might help us feel better’. We did not have beer in Natile that I can recall, and so my mother and I shared one, but it tasted hot, sour and unpleasant. When we felt well enough, we would sit on the deck and watch the sea. I remember coming through a port where the sea smelt awful. Another time the sea was very rough, and then we had a special experience – we saw two whales. When we arrived in Fremantle, people said we were getting closer to Melbourne, but it took another two days. As the ship was pulling into Port Phillip Bay, everyone stood on the deck and watched the lights of Melbourne come closer and closer. We arrived in Melbourne at Station Pier about 7 pm on Saturday 28 June 1957. My brother, Nick, my father and a family relative, Peter Medici, who lived in Moonee Ponds, came to greet us. We all went to Peter’s house in a taxi to stay for the night. I felt great relief to be able to stand on firm ground. Seeing my father again after six years was like seeing a stranger. His appearance had changed. He was dressed like a gentleman in a suit, and we felt very proud of him. The next morning we ate our customary breakfast of bread with milk. The bread was different: a white, mushy texture with no substance and an overwhelming smell of yeast. In Italy we made bread often, so I knew this bread was not made properly. It was winter and I did not have a warm coat, so my father walked with me to the shops where he paid five pounds for a winter coat. I still have that coat today – although it is slightly ‘motheaten’. After breakfast, we returned to the pier to process our documents and collect our luggage. All our possessions came in two rectangular metal cases, which were packed with handwoven blankets, pillowcases, cotton towels and three large tins of olive oil – declared through customs. The cases were dispatched to the train station in preparation for our trip to Red Cliffs in the Sunraysia region of Victoria. Sunday 29 June 1957 was La Festa di San Pietro e Paolo (The Feast of Saint Peter and Paul), and it was the first time I ever saw and shared in the ritual of birthday cake. Our host, Peter, who had been named after Saint Peter, was celebrating his birthday and name day. We travelled on the overnight train from Melbourne and arrived in Redcliffs in the morning. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 140
From there we went to my aunty Girolama’s house, where people from our village came to greet us and celebrate. Later that night we arrived at our new two-bedroom home. It was made of weatherboards; not stone like our house in Natile. In one room there were three beds for the boys and in the other room slept my parents. As the only girl, I had to sleep in the eating area. The bathroom and toilet were out the back. We had to boil water for washing and bathing, and council workers collected the ‘dunny’ cans once a week. Our new home was worse than the one we had in Natile. I was very disappointed. Life was hard. We picked peas, oranges and grapes – whatever work we could find – but mostly we worked on our own farm. My father had a 12,000-pound mortgage on the farm and the house we lived in. He wanted to pay it off as soon as possible, and so on weekends he also worked as a barber and haircutter – a skill he learned during military service. Back home in Natile life was simple. It was centred on family and making a good life. We did not place much value on material things. With an acre of land we grew food and tended to animals. To learn a skill or a trade, the old taught the young. As there were no high schools, those who wanted a higher education went to Reggio Calabria but we could not afford it. At fifteen years of age, my goal was to be a dressmaker and the village seamstress taught me to sew. My dream was cut short by migration but my skills survived. I knew how to economise and be resourceful, and made clothes for my family. We always had one or two cows that my husband would milk every morning and I made ricotta and cheese. I learned these skills in Natile, from my mother, where the curdling process was achieved by using rennet extracted from the stomach of a baby goat. Here I used Junket tablets from the supermarket. However, I no longer make ricotta because it is now affordable and easy to buy. My aunty Maria knew that I continued this tradition, and she sent me ricotta baskets and wooden ricotta spoons with other emigrants from Natile. The baskets were made of bulrush reeds picked from local swamps, which would be dried and woven around a wooden mould by shepherds while tending flocks of sheep and goats. The spoons were crafted from olive-tree wood. As the only daughter, I felt lonely and sad. I did not have the confidence to ask questions, and did not share my problems – even with my mother. Topics like sex were ‘hush-hush’ and shameful. I did not know where babies came from, even when I was married. I had to learn through experience. A marriage was the beginning of a relationship, and my parents arranged mine. It was not about falling in love, but about marrying someone who was a ‘good worker’. In 1960, I married Giuseppe Callipari. There was no engagement and ours was the third wedding WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 141
in a new club, now known as the iconic Club DaVinci in Mildura. I was given a dowry of sheets, pillow-cases, towels, table clothes and loom-woven blankets that my mother made. We purchased our first fruit block in Nichol’s Point, Mildura, and worked the land together, learning new farming skills, how marriage worked and what went into making a family. I established my own business, Peppa’s Café, in 1995, which I ran for eighteen years – making bread and selling olive oil and antipasti. With organic vegetables grown on our farm, I continued to make and sell jars of hot chilli paste. As a migrant who has experienced a great deal, I have much to be pleased about. Over a period of twenty years I raised a family of six children and now have nineteen grandchildren to add to my proud history.
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Image 19. 1 Anastasios & Despina Argyropoulosâ€™s wedding photograph, c. 1955. Courtesy Salome Argyropoulos
Perils of Migrant Sea Voyage to Australia aboard a Dangerous and Dilapidated ship Written by Salome Argyropoulos
alome Argyropoulos tells a story about her father Anastasios Argyropoulos’ immigration to Australia aboard a ship that was so dilapidated when it berthed at Station Pier in Port Melbourne it was seized by authorities and prevented from going back out to sea. My father, Anastasios Argyropoulos, came from a poor family in a village in Simantra, Halkidikis, Greece. He was around eighteen years of age when he left the village and went to the big city, Thessaloniki, to learn a trade. His grandmother, Salome Athanasiadis, came with him, as the family was scared he might be kidnapped by rebels and forced to fight in the civil war. Dad and his grandmother built a hut for themselves when they arrived in Thessaloniki. It was very simple, just some wooden planks nailed together – that’s all. They had no heating, no electricity, no flooring, no money and no decent clothes to wear. Dad ended up making a pair of shoes for himself to wear in public, so as not to be embarrassed by his appearance when he was out and about. He chose, due to his poverty, to come to Australia in 1959 and join his brother, Chris, who had left about four years earlier. Dad left behind his twenty-two year old wife, Despina Argyropoulos, and his two-and-a-half year old son, Jim. He travelled for thirty-three days on the Italian ship Flaminia, which was so old and dilapidated he and the friends he had made whilst on board thought it would sink any day. In fact, when the ship docked at the pier in Port Melbourne it was seized by the authorities and prevented from returning due to the extreme derelict state it was in. The Australian authorities then completely demolished it. My father had literally travelled on its last journey. On board the Flaminia Dad had very little money with him – in a week it had all been spent. That meant he had no money for drinks or cigarettes. There used to be dances held on the upper deck every night, and Dad, being extremely handsome and an excellent dancer, was very popular with the girls. The Greek captain became jealous as he was eyeing the girls for himself. It was depressing for my father to be penniless. Fortunately, he befriended a Greek man who was having an affair on board with a rich German woman whose husband was a bigwig of a steelworks business in Newcastle. This woman would give the friend money, and he used to hand out two to three cigarettes a day
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to Dad and the other eight men sharing his cabin. This man would also buy drinks for Dad and his friends, for they all enjoyed drinking a beer or two. Dad wrote to his brother to send him money on board the ship. One day, over the loudspeaker, ‘Anastasios Argyropoulos’ was called to go to reception. Surprisingly, three men with exactly the same name – including Dad – turned up. Each man was expecting money, so the parentage of each had to be checked before the correct man was given the funds. As it turned out, Chris had not sent Dad any money. Upon the ship’s arrival at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, Chris was eagerly waiting. As the ship docked, many streamers flew in the air. Dad was greatly relieved. Finally he could get off the old derelict Flaminia and stop worrying about the ship sinking. On the third day after arrival in Australia, Dad went job hunting. Within a week he found a job at General Motors as an oxy welder. Another man, a supervisor, accidentally burnt my father on his back with the welder, and Dad decided to leave the job. Despite pressure from management not to leave, he decided the job was not for him. Within a couple of days, Dad found his next job as an electric welder at Frigidaire Trailers in Keys Rd, Moorabbin, and happily stayed there for about seven years. The first home he lived in with Chris was in a tiny bungalow in the backyard of Chris’s rented house. Another Greek man a few Image 19. 2 Anastasios & Despina dancingg the waltz. Courtesy Salome Argyropoulos doors down the street had had an argument with his father and was looking for somewhere to stay. The landlady of the property said this fellow could stay in the bungalow with my Dad. It turned out that this man was very particular and couldn’t sleep with any noise whatsoever. He ended up putting the ticking alarm clock under his pillow, then under the blankets in a vain attempt to get to sleep. However, my father was an extremely loud snorer and used to grind his teeth loudly when he slept, as well as groaning and growling as if waking from a deep hibernation. So, when Dad fell asleep and woke up, it was no surprise that this poor fellow had gone – mattress, pillow, everything. When my father next saw him and asked what had happened, he replied, ‘I was scared you were going to eat me!’ My parents still laugh about this story today, but what intensified the situation was the tiny room that Dad and the other Greek man had to share. Dad’s living facilities had improved since moving WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 146
from Simantra and Thessaloniki, but the space hadn’t really gotten bigger yet. Despina Argyropoulos – the wife of Anastasios Argyroploulos – recounts in her own words how she travelled to Australia with her son, Jim, and some of the many things she encountered including fear that the ship would sink and a miraculous saving of a drowning girl in the ship’s pool. We left Greece for the new country, Australia, in November 1961. My husband, Anastasios Argyropoulos, had already migrated to Australia two years earlier in search of gainful employment, and my five year old son, Jim, and I were joining him in Melbourne. In our village, Simantra, in Halkidikis, Greece, we didn’t have enough to survive on. We barely had enough to eat, and my husband decided we had to go to Australia to earn some money. We were so poor that the floor of our home, which was more like a shack, was made of hard dirt. Our plan was to stay in Australia only for a few years, earn enough money to last us for a lifetime, and then return to our beloved motherland, Greece. However, this was not how things turned out. We had three more children, and ended up making Australia our home. When we left Greece we left behind all our relatives and friends. We had no-one in Australia and had to rebuild a life here from scratch. I took a trunk with me on board the ship to Australia which contained a doona, some sheets and pillowcases, changes of clothes and photographs of my parents and brother and sister to remember them by. I also took my sewing machine and a small box my husband had made himself by hand while working at the metalio (stone factory). I was a dressmaker by trade, and couldn’t do without my trusted sewing machine. I thought there might have been a chance to use it to make clothes for people and earn some money. Many couples found romance on board. We made many friends. I remember one engaged girl was discovered by the Greek captain of the ship to be secretly having sexual relations with the sailors. We were woken one night by his yells as he severely reprimanded the girl, telling her he’d reveal everything to her fiancé. I was personally very, very scared of the ocean. There was a swimming pool on the ship; however, my son, Jim, and I didn’t know how to swim. We came from a poor village, and had never been to a swimming pool or to the beach. My son desperately pleaded with me to let him go into the swimming pool but I flatly refused. One young girl of about twelve years of age was adamant she should go into the swimming pool, even though her mother wouldn’t allow her. The girl would not desist from persistently haranguing her mother, who eventually gave up and in exasperation exclaimed, ‘Ah, go to hell then. Go, drown!’ The young girl jumped into the pool in glee, and, as she didn’t know how to swim, started to WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 147
drown. Her father jumped into the pool with all his clothes and shoes on to save her; however, he was floundering himself. The situation looked grim indeed, until a sailor from way up on high, on the top deck of the ship, thankfully jumped into the pool and promptly saved the girl from drowning. It was a very dramatic moment on the ship, and one I still clearly remember. After that my son didn’t harass me to be allowed to go into the pool again. There was a children’s corner on the ship for the entertainment and recreation of young children, and I would take my son there to take part in their activities. One event that stands out was when the children were asked to read out poems before an audience of passengers. As I was a dressmaker, but without any fabric at all whilst on the ship, I was able to piece together a traditional tsolias, a traditional Greek royal soldier’s outfit, made completely from coloured paper and glue. It looked wonderful, and my son was proud to wear it. It was one of the most creative things I ever did. Even the children’s teacher on board complimented me on my efforts, saying, ‘Bravo!’ When we arrived in Port Melbourne I could see my husband on the pier waiting for us, and I tried pointing him out to my son, who couldn’t, of course, remember his own father, as he had been too young to remember him when he had left. ‘Where’s Dad, where’s Dad?’ he kept repeating as he was wiping tears from his eyes. My poor child was crying so much he couldn’t see his father through all his tears. We ended up reunited with much happiness and relief.
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Our Voyage from Egypt Teresa & Anita Carcour
nita writes from her mother’s (Teresa) perspective about the family’s migration from Egypt.
Never would I have thought that we would go to Australia until my youngest sister, Sylvia, departed. She had married a Maltese man and as the Maltese were British subjects, she and her husband were expelled with the British and French from Egypt. Rosa, my eldest sister, had left for Italy whilst I was pregnant with my second child, Anita. Italy was not prosperous for them as jobs were difficult to find, so she ended up following Sylvia to Australia. My father was living with me in Egypt and he insisted that I join my sisters. He went to Australia and unfortunately died a couple of months before my family and I arrived at the Port of Melbourne on 25 April 1965. We knew war with Israel was imminent as the Israelis were preparing to invade Gaza. We lived in Port Said where the Suez Canal bordered with Israel. The Suez Canal had been occupied by the British and French and they were advancing to Cairo. Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to ally with Russia if they didn’t retreat. Nasser’s nationalism was progressing and Europeans would be disadvantaged so we departed for Australia. Sylvia had sponsored us under the family reunion policy. My husband, Robby, was a faithful employee of the shipping company Worms for 27 years. There was a quota of merchandise that was allowed to be transported when departing Egypt. Il capo del shipping (the boss of the shipping) told me to bring whatever I liked. I had so many boxes because I packed everything: carpets, blankets, sheets, dress materials, pots, pans, everything! My husband was very angry. Not one box was searched because the staff knew my husband and they were on good terms. Money was not to leave the country. The authorities would search the soles of shoes and linings of jackets. I had given my father $300 to smuggle out when he left. He was assisted by a money changer whom he’d favoured as a worker, erecting gangplanks onto the ships. I continued to send money to my father in Australia. I was so happy to be with my family again in Australia. We stayed with Rosa and her family of 4 for 18 months, only paying for bills and food. My husband got a job straight away so we were secure and I felt safe. He stayed as a clerk with APPM (Australian Paper and Pulp Mills) all his working life. We saved enough money for a deposit on our very own house in Battersea St, Glenroy. You couldn’t own your house in Egypt. Anita then offers her own perspective of the voyage to Australia. I love the sea, having been born in Port Said, along the Suez Canal. I learned to swim watching
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Image 20. 1 My 7th birthday party with my Father Robert to the right, my Mother Teresa helping me cut the cake, my brother Gerry on the left with his childhood girlfriend Mona, before our departure for Australia, Egypt, 1965. Courtesy Anita Carcour
my brother taking swimming lessons on the passenger liner headed for Australia, the country where all you had to do was push a button to complete domestic tasks. That’s what I understood from my mother conveying letters from her sisters – my aunts. I think she was referring to electrical appliances, which were not a commodity in Egypt in 1965.
Image 20. 2 Anita, Gerry, and their mother Teresa on the ship, 1965. Courtesy Anita Carcour
bordo tutti i servizi di una citta; the luxury liner had all the services of a city.
We weren’t allowed to take any money out of Egypt so my father spent all the family’s savings to buy a first class ticket on the Galileo Galilei, espresso Italia–Australia. It took more than 11 days from Port Said to Melbourne. A
Unfortunately, my mother and brother could not enjoy the trip as they suffered seasickness. Mum managed to drag herself to enter the beauty competition where she came runner-up. The ship was a floating playground for me. I was allowed to venture to certain parts on my own and enjoyed the independence from an ill mother. Being 7 years old, I was only interested in pasta al burro for meals; pasta with butter and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, which was a pittance, paltry to the banquet of food offered. In the first couple of days on board, my father, overwhelmed with joy, had encountered his aunt on her way to join her son in Sydney. We were to disembark in Melbourne after a stopover in Fremantle. We didn’t have to leave Egypt. My father’s colleagues enquired why he was migrating. He replied, ‘Because my son’s name is Gerardo and my daughter is Anita.’ They were Christian names and opportunities in life would be denied for us under the nationalist government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. My father wanted to go to Canada but my mother refused. She insisted to be with her sisters in Australia. Being isolated from family meant no support. Dad was leaving all his kin behind. When the ship docked, my mother spotted her cousin who worked at the port. He rushed along the embankment to fetch my aunts. I can still see them in their funny hats waving furiously with my chubby cousin, Adrian, alongside. They were nothing like I had imagined them.
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Image 21. 1 D’Anastasi siblings on the roof of the family’s house, Malta, 1965. Back row from left to right, Charles, Sina, Grace & Anne. Front Jrow from left Joe & Mary.. Courtesy Charles D’Anastasi
Image 21. 1 Charles D’Anastasi .Courtesy Lillian D’Anastasi
FIRST STEPS Charles D’Anastasi
y parents’ names are Emmanuel and Salvina D’Anastasi. We departed from Malta in November 1966 on the Achille Lauro, and arrived in Melbourne on 2 December 1966. For the whole family, leaving the island was a turbulent and uncertain time. We couldn’t really imagine what lay ahead, and how our new life would unfold. While we felt ambivalent about leaving Malta to build a new life in a strange land, nevertheless, we were anxious when it came to leave. We wondered about the sea voyage, but I was excited by the idea of all that endless blue. I also remember our sense of subdued excitement, at the boldness of my father’s decision to sell the house, and propel us all forward. In so many ways we had crossed the Rubicon.
First Steps Late evening brought us closer to our departure, distanced us from a continuity that held together our small lives. Unreal as it felt, we had to consider the possibilities: new land, new faces, new home. Handle with care was the hand-painted caution on the five wooden crates held in different rooms, bulging with compressed fragments from our past, future hopes, staunching a sense of erasure. With nothing left to say or prepare, we fretted over the taxi, tried to imagine the waiting ship. How fitting was the absence of even small talk in those moments – surely this was a precursor to the silence that would have possessed the empty house after we closed the door for the very last time. Only a few days at sea, but so persistent was the elsewhere of the blue, the vastness ahead – and behind the horizon. In the end we became more anxious and impatient, ready to turn the waiting into a new beginning. Once the pier came into view it became clear why no one and nothing had been able to dissuade us from mapping those first steps.
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Image 22. 1 Vincenzo Cinanni. Courtesy Effie Cinanni, 2018
Biography about My Grandfather Vincenzo Cinanni - Written by Vincent Cinanni
y grandfather’s name is Vincenzo Cinanni and he was born in Italy on 2 November 1945. He was the youngest child in his family and lived with his 3 brothers and 2 sisters in a city called Reggio Calabria in the South of Italy. He lived there until he was 4 years old and then after World War II he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1949. He moved there with his family because there was very little work in Italy at the time. His father worked as a bricklayer and his mother was in charge of looking after the family. He went to primary and high school in Argentina and learned to speak, read and write in Spanish. He loved playing soccer and learned to play the bass guitar. When he finished high school he wanted to become a bricklayer like his father. However, his father did not want him to because it was very physical work. His father encouraged him to become a tailor and work with his brother who had a clothing business. He enjoyed working as a tailor and worked for 10 years and designed and made clothes for many different customers including doctors, lawyers and also some very powerful politicians. His family lived in Argentina during the time of the revolution, where the Argentine Army was fighting with the government for the ruling power. A very famous politician at the time was Juan Peron who led the people to revolt against the military dictatorship. During the time of the revolution people were not allowed to leave the country but his family wanted to leave Argentina because it was no longer safe to live there while the military was in power due to the political unrest. After the revolution in 1968 my grandfather moved to Australia with his parents. They went to live with his oldest brother who had settled in Melbourne in 1962. At that time Melbourne was a very different city and he did not enjoy his time in Melbourne as he had no friends from Argentina, his English was limited and everything seemed unfamiliar. During his spare time he joined a band called The Sandmen and enjoyed playing the bass guitar at parties and concerts all over Melbourne. In the middle of 1969 he found work as a tailor with his brother at Stafford Ellison, which was a large Australian clothing business where he obtained his qualifications as a men’s suit designer and pattern maker. In 1973 he met his wife Carmelina, who was a milliner, and they married in 1975. He worked for Stafford Ellison for 10 years and then in 1979 he joined the Australian Defence Industries (ADI), which made uniforms for the army, air force and the navy. He enjoyed working at the ADI as it was closer to home and also where his brother worked. He continued to work for the ADI until 1985; however, when the factory was going to be closed by the government he decided to join the Public Transport Corporation as a tram driver. He enjoyed this job as he got to see many different parts of Melbourne and meet many different people.
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Then in 1987 due to his specialist skills in tailoring he was sought out and asked to rejoin the clothing factory (which was now privately owned) to design uniforms and make patterns for the defence industry again. During the 1990s he then worked as a specialist made-to-measure tailor for key Australian military people such as General Peter Cosgrove (the current Australian Governor-General) and many other high-ranking senior Australian defence personnel. This job required that he travel all over Australia visiting all the key military bases including remote places like Thursday Island. He also travelled to Darwin and Perth for special air force and navy general clothing requirements. During this time he also made many suits for his friends and family and even adjusted my Trinity Grammar School blazer for me as the sleeves were too long. He has had 4 children and was actively involved in his childrenâ€™s junior swimming club and is a keen golf player. He continues to play twice a week with his friends.
Image 22. 1 Vincenzo Cinanni with grandson Vincent. Courtesy Effie Cinanni, 2018
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Image 23. 1 Lim leaving for the USA, Songsan Airport Taiwan, 1965. Courtesy Edith Chen
A Road Travelled Shaio-lim Mau - Written by Edith Chen
his story is about my sister, Dr Shaio-lim Mau (Lim), a talented, ordinary, responsible person who places duty above herself. With a 15-month-old toddler in her arms, Lim arrived in Australia in late 1970 to follow her husband, Albert, who was to take up a postdoc position at the ANU in Canberra. They came all the way to Australia, because Albert had a two-year term posting with the possibility of extension. Lim believed her destiny as a married woman was to follow her husband to wherever he went. As for her own PhD study, she would have to let it go halfway, and get on with her domestic life. Lim was born in China; our parents moved to Taiwan when she was about two (in 1945) and that’s where she grew up and received education up to a graduate internship after university. She then packed her bags, and followed many of her peers to the USA, in 1965. Economically, Taiwan had been poor since 1949, when it split from China. Its economy only took off in the 1980s, after its lengthy 38 years of martial law. Politically, the place went through a period of ‘White Terror’, which refers to the repression enacted by the powers that be during this time. However, Lim was not politically inclined; her primary goal in life was the pursuit of knowledge. Striving for a brighter future, Lim applied and obtained a scholarship to the USA to do a Master in Plant Physiology. And we viewed her success as something to be celebrated. While in the USA, Lim met and married Albert Mau, who was also born in China but grew up in Hong Kong, in 1969. When she came to Australia, at first she was very impressed by the ANU housing support: a twobedroom, fully furnished flat costing $17 per week rental, and all household goods provided. She made a comparison with her US housing – there she paid US$200 a month but without furniture or any other provision. But soon she found some challenges: 1) She says that compared with American life, Australian living standards were quite backward. This was particularly acute with the sink not being fitted with a garbage disposal grinder. She was shocked when the sink got blocked. Here, people didn’t use paper towels in the kitchen and it took her some time to adjust.
2) Though Canberra was the capital of Australia, the place was just a small town. In the 1970s,
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towards the end of the ‘White Australia policy’, the presence of Asians was very rare. Armed with English and her master’s degree, she had an uneasy journey to find a job that reflected her profession. It took her more than six months to gain a low-scale temporary position at the CSIRO. The job search brought her attention to racial prejudice for the first time in her life. 3) She was horrified to learn that jobs were blatantly advertised with the pay gap between men and women. Nowadays, though the gender pay gap is no longer advertised, there is still 15% difference. Once she started working, it became easier for her to find a permanent job in her own field. She worked with a well-known scientist named Dr Howard Hatch for over four years until she followed Albert to Melbourne in 1975. This time, she had two children with her and I joined them in early 1972. Her Canberra life was a busy one: working, parenting, having the second child, being my guardian at a time when I had no English, washing, cooking, cleaning, and often having guests for dinner. Involvement with the church was also important. Yet, she found time and energy to learn sewing and knitting. I remember the school uniform, coat and jumpers she made for me. However, at work, she often found that without a PhD, she could not fully express her potential. Image 23. 2 Lim and Albert Mau wedding, Michigan, USA, 1969. Courtesy Edith Chen
When she moved to Melbourne, geography became an issue for her: they lived at Ringwood, Albert worked at Fishermans Bend and Lim worked at La Trobe University for five years – all resulting in a lot of driving. In the early 80s, with the children in need of good education, and with Albert’s parents coming to live with them, they had to find a bigger house, and they moved to Wheelers Hill. After being in the workforce for about 10 years, Lim was ready for her 5th job change. This time, WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 162
she had five offers. She took a good piece of advice and chose to work in a research laboratory at Melbourne University and stayed there for 25 years till her retirement in 2006! With encouragement from Professor Adrienne Clarke, the head of the Plant Cell Biology Research Centre at Melbourne University, who was Lim’s boss, Lim took up PhD study again. She did this while still working fulltime, running the household, having the parents-in-law under the same roof, and being heavily engaged with Chinese church. This time, Albert was her support. At 48, Lim obtained her PhD. With Lim’s cultural background, paying respect to parents-in-law was a must to keep peace at home. One way she managed this was to allocate a weekly amount of money for her mother-inlaw to organise the groceries. Though the mother-in-law helped to cook, Lim would be given directions on what dishes were to be made for dinner the minute she came through the door. She got on with dinner-making for three generations under the same roof for about 18 years. One thing that has been a constant for Lim and the whole family is their faith and devotion with the church community, which has carried her through many crises in life. As time went on, her children grew up and left home. Lim and Albert eventually moved to live closer to their children. Her passions in life now are cooking, making desserts, gardening and church. Questions I asked: 1) What did leaving Taiwan mean to her? Lim’s affirmative answer is the pursuit of knowledge. 2) How about a ‘brighter future’? It is hard to say as Lim is not concerned about it when life became settled long ago. 3) What about emotional displacement? The answer is neutral as Lim says that she has never experienced it. So, where is her ‘home’? It is where her children are and being near them with frequent contact makes her pretty happy. In summary, I think Lim has always placed duty and responsibility as her priority in life. She always gives concern to others and seldom thinks of herself.
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Image 24. 1 My grandmother Hatice Şanlı and my mother Aliye Şanlı, at my mother’s wedding day, Izmir, Turkey, 1977. Courtesy Elif Sezen
The Silence of Re-remembering Elif Sezen
e-remembering is like going back in time and making sense of each fragment that is lost or hidden. Each time-travel feels different. Is what I remember an individual memory or a collective one? How different is personal time than collective time, considering that trauma and separation can distort one’s sense of time and place? Am I carrying a load of intergenerational trauma without having a clear memory of it in this lifetime? How can I break the curse of generations by allowing each memory-trace to transmute and heal? These were the main questions, among others, that kept coming back to me for further clarification. I would like to give some details of my family history. My mother, Aliye Şanlı, was born in Izmir (Western Turkey) in 1956. She lived in Germany and Australia as a young girl, returning to Turkey at age 17. As she told me very often while she was alive, she struggled finding a strong sense of belonging to a place. It took a while for me to dig deep down through the traces of our complex ancestral origins, so I could understand a concept of identity with no home. My mother’s grandmother, Nuriye Özduran, was born in Thessalonica (the principal city and primary port of Macedonia in what today is Greece, known as Thessaloniki). She lived there until the age of 6. She was orphaned as her mother died whilst giving birth to her. Her father was killed in the war when he was on his way home to see his newly born daughter. Around 1924–25, she migrated to a village called Dikili, within the boundaries of Izmir in Western Turkey with her grandparents and they were given a house by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revolutionary statesman and founder of the Republic of Turkey. Having a roof above her head and a newly restored sense of belonging, she got married to a Turkish man at the age of 16 and lived there for the rest of her life. My grandmother and her siblings were born in this house. My grandfather, Hulki Şanlı, on the other hand, was born and raised in Konya – an ancient city of central Anatolia where the great poet Mevlana Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi resided in the 13th century. Having a grandfather who feels strongly bonded to Konya, the city rooted in Mevlevi Sufism – although he lived in other places in his adulthood – had a significant impact on the development of my poetic psyche. Hearing his recital of prayers and poetry in early mornings and in different times of the day, alongside listening to recordings of beautiful instrumental Sufi music (with the reed-flute being the main instrument), beautified our souls when we spent time with him. My father’s ancestors, who lived in Sklithro (also known as Zeleniche, a village in Florina in the Macedonia region of Greece) during the Ottoman period, also migrated to Dikili/Izmir in the early twentieth century. My father, Sabri Sezen, was born in this town. My mother, who was already residing in Melbourne with her parents at the time, travelled to Turkey for a visit and married my father. Together, they came to Melbourne around 1977. My siblings and I were born in East Melbourne and lived both in Izmir and in Melbourne. I
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remember staying with my grandparents in Ayvalık (a seaside town on the north-western Aegean coast of Turkey) at age 4 for a year, and said to my grandmother before returning to Australia: ‘I wish I was a bubble gum and stick on the wall of this house so I don’t go back!’ I was sent back, however, and plunged into a deep silence of feeling dislocated and witnessing the difficulties my mother had gone through due to her unhappy and destructive marriage with my father. Moving between two countries in my childhood was very difficult, for each time we moved back ‘home’(!) to Melbourne or Izmir, we felt separated from a country in which we were learning to survive and master the art of resilience in our own way. I found it quite symbolic that the upheaval which took place within my family has also magnified my feelings of separateness on a deeper level. This upheaval urged me to explore the restorative notions in a many-layered way on an ontological level. My mother was a victim of domestic violence. Witnessing my mother’s traumatisation and woundedness has planted the seed of a deep sense of loss in our family. Our attempts at moving from Australia to Turkey and back couldn’t solve this problem; my mother was never able to recover from the permanent damage that deeply impacted her. For this reason, there was never a home ‘to go back to’. Associated memories were imprinted in the streets, shops, parks, airports and other places, which in turn contributed to the chaotic experience that diminished the possibility of a sense of belonging and peace in our family … On the other hand, as a starting point, the two places I lived encouraged me to underlie different characteristics of identity and its function as a catalyst in manifesting art. The experiences I had in these places, my family, my childhood and other related aspects of domestic disruption all had a significant impact on my growth and creativity as an artist. This process encouraged me to find a personal space to exist. My artworks and poetry became tangled with a sense of freedom emerging from this quality of silence and state of being in-between. I think of this space as being able to interact with and through a ‘silence of a high quality’, as Urgyen Sangharakshita would put it (2006). Beyond the encapsulating nature of cultural borders and conditionings, the metaphorical importance of silence suggests itself as a methodology to live through and within a poetic sphere, enfolding into various meanings that bridge the individual and collective realms (Sezen 2013, pp. 4–5). With the concept of ‘domestic disruption’, I refer to disruption and/or disintegration of a family that is caused by loss, trauma, separation or displacement. Hence, this concept suggests a metaphor of a ‘wounded home’. Through domestic disruption, the potential domestic space becomes threatened, for the foundations and principles of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ are shaken by the sudden loss of boundaries and personal/familial spaces (both on ontological and physical levels). This state of being un-located might urge the individual to redefine and reset their boundaries to have a grounded and healthy sense of self and survival. As a poet and an artist, my attempt to reconceptualise memory traces is another dimension of suggesting a redefined inner space in which a sense of belonging can be restored. I departed from my own personal and family history; however, through the blend of personal and archetypal symbology in my art and poetry, I intended to make this process and models of reconstruction become available to other people (Sezen 2013, p. vi). In the process of reconceptualising, I realised that some narratives were known to our conscious, and some to our deep subconscious minds in our family. We grew up hearing stories of loss and displacement told by my great-grandmother, as she was still haunted by memories of her WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 166
childhood in Thessaloniki. I also noticed the unspoken fresh wound passed from one generation to the other; from my great-grandmother to my grandmother, to my mother and then to me, my sister and brother. If untold and unhealed, this intergenerational trauma grows each time it is passed on to the next generation. Strangely enough, I seemed to be voluntarily carrying the mission in my family, to break this cycle by transmuting unresolved fragmented narratives and memories through my work. As an extension of those told and untold stories in my ancestral history, where do I stand? A Turkish Australian? How do I identify myself? Who am I and where do I belong? These are openended questions, and maybe will never be answered. I would like to conclude this narrative with my poem/manifesto, ‘The Dual Citizen’. The Dual Citizen ‘When we are asleep, we become equal, no passion, no pride, no hope.’ –Melih Cevdet Anday You were not welcome here – missed your heaven’s call damp walls of the city closing inwardly crumbling like fireballs over its citizens
But you entered, You … ‘the little Turkish girl’ as they’d put it carrying a damaged mother, a notebook and an intersection of two countries’ solitude in your luggage
In this realm where the victims become monsters you, still pure illuminated by a distant star and secretly protected
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When they are asleep, you pray and draw and write of secret doors within hearths of gardens hiding the ultramarine of shrinking intellectuals of resentful ghosts of children orbiting absent images of their parents
With your leaking pen, you cut the metallic cords of unspoken words attached to the earth
Like an unspecified plant, you are releasing your roots, endlessly, while you whirl around yourself in the blind spot of history
You are entering this territory, once again this time, you are welcoming yourself and thus you are being called.
References Sangharakshita, U 2006, The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Audio book, CD 2. Sezen, E 2013, ‘Night Watch: Reconceptualising Memory through Poetry and Visual Images’, Thesis (PhD), Monash University, Melbourne.
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WHAT AT THE PIER â€¢ RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 170 ImageHAPPENED 25. 1 Nefeli Manja, 2018. Credit: Alta Truden
What If I Pee in This? Nefeli Manja
his is episodic, stream of consciousness writing, sharing some of the thoughts of a 12–18 year old. I’ve deliberately used the phrasing ‘Roll forward’ to accentuate the incomplete, episodic nature of the writing and of the memory jumps and twitches whenever I enter this realm of reminiscing about the pain and power of a resilient life. Picture this: A country neither in the East nor in the West. A country that during the 80s and early 90s still tentatively calls itself a socialist federation, yet booms with Western tourists on its Adriatic beaches each summer, and with keen ‘snow and hearty food enthusiasts’ each winter. A Socialist Federation of the Yugoslav Republics. And all over that country (no different to any other country) there are millions of little children with grazed knees and big dreams. And in the middle of the country, bang-smack middle of that country, there is a kid who definitely has crazy-grazed knees, mixed ancestors of Christians and non-Christians and some very big dreams; a kid that loves playing the piano, singing, acting and dancing, and who loves cats and her grandma more than the Incas love the Sun. That kid, that mop of hair, that screaming mouth, those matchstick-sized fingers running up and down the piano keys … that kid is me. ‘When I grow up I’m going to be a singer and an actress, a theatre and a film director and, occasionally, a translator mixed with being an air hostess. I’m going to live in Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain and USA and, amongst other things, I’m going to play the piano for my Marshal Tito. Somehow, even from New York City and even though he has been dead since 1980, I’m going to play the piano for my Marshal Tito.’ And I go on … singing, dancing, piano playing and bike riding … Roll forward Early in 1992 things are funny at the schoolyard. We tend to go and play basketball at the school court on the weekends. I hear a few kids say: ‘Don’t pass the ball to her, don’t pass it to her, she is a mixed bitch!’ I am not entirely sure what they mean. I sort of know. I know there are Christians and non-Christians in my family, there is a lot of them: Croats and Serbs, Muslims, Jews, who knows who … all of them. Not to mention if you start including our in-laws, who are, by the way, also now our family and are not to be separated from the biological family, according to my grandma.
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Roll forward I hear a friend from school say: ‘Who cares if she is mixed, look how tall she is, and I’ve seen her play, she plays well, pass it to her …’ I smile as she passes the ball … I am momentarily at ease, but not completely … After the game, a troubled boy who I know from school comes up to me, holding a little pocket knife and says: ‘I could cut you up right here right now, now that I know you’re a mixed bitch, I could cut you up completely, I could cut off your finger so you don’t play again, I could …’ I don’t intend to say this, but somehow it comes out of me: ‘Što me onda ne izrežeš (Why don’t you cut me then)?’ I don’t know why I said it, but I did. I don’t know why I’m standing here like this, completely open, sweaty palms facing his way and only one tear rolling from my right eye … if anyone looks at my palms you could think that my palms are crying more than my eyes, but I stand, I continue to stand (the truth is I can’t exactly move right now). He is frazzled by my reaction. He blushes, screams, ‘You’re crazy, you’re totally crazy …’ in a husky, pubescent-breaking voice and he runs off, runs away from me … I stand still for a while. My palms dry, eventually. Later on in life, I will learn that one of the things that disarm people, even more than courage and honesty do, is vulnerability revealed in combination with courage and honesty. We will never truly know if it was my triple-threat of ‘vulnerability, courage and honesty’, his cowardice or something else that saved my life that day, but I’m definitely not telling anyone about this at home tonight. Roll forward Mum is in Belgrade, even though we live in Bosnia. She has been there for almost 3 years, studying her PhD. She comes home on the weekends, studies hard and still, somehow, we manage to have the merriest time of all. We go for long walks or bike rides, she helps with my homework and sometimes I play or sing for her. A few people have said a few rude things lately about my mum’s non-Christian Bosnian background … a few in our hometown in Bosnia … a few people we would have called friends. Strange. Even stranger, a few of her landlord’s friends in Belgrade have made some comments along the lines of, ‘You’re a good woman. Hope things go OK for you in North-Eastern Bosnia. There won’t be many of you non-Christians staying there.’ One weekend, at home, mum tells us about the conversation she had in Belgrade, but she doesn’t care much for it. We don’t care much for it. We are Yugoslav. And academic. And just, generally, human. And humanitarian. And we live in one of the fastest progressing non-Western countries in Europe. What could possibly go wrong here? WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 172
Roll forward I’m back in the schoolyard for a game of basketball. I’m really cutting it fine, playing basketball and playing the piano. The piano teacher keeps saying I’m promising and, if only I’d focus on it, amazing things would come out of me … I love the piano but I don’t like her. She yells when she’s happy and she yells when she’s mad. You can’t really tell what’s going on or when you’re in the green or red light zone. I love singing. But I love singing ‘old people’s music’ from all parts of former Yugoslavia. I’m odd like that … in some ways a kid, 12 going on 6 and in some ways a grandma, 12 going on 72 … I love jamming with traditional music and improvising for hours. I sing folk songs and compose my own and am good at singing harmonies; even at 11 and 12 years of age, I’m good at making them up and ‘catching that third, fourth or sixth’ as we say in Serbo-Croatian. My voice is a strong and dark alto voice, ‘cos I’m very tall like a double bass, but I don’t like singing just drones, that’s boring … Roll forward Late March 1992: Ramazan (Ramadan) is about to start. It’s Wednesday night and I have a lot of work to do for home economics, a subject that we have to take for 1 year and I find it so boring, it’s like my brain cells systematically die during those 45-minute sessions, twice a week. I’m home working away that evening trying to make this little pseudo-tapestry from different colour paper, demonstrating that I understand certain tapestry patterns … funny I’m good with my fingers when it comes to playing instruments but I’m not necessarily all that great with this stuff, it’s taking me a while … I’ve spoken to Mum already, each night I ring her in Belgrade to tell her how school was, how my music school was, how the dance school was … how Grandma’s blood pressure and general health is, how we are, how the cats are, how the neighbours are. I hear several gunshots and hear Grandma scream, ‘Get on the floor!’ from the kitchen. She is clearly OK, she is not shot or anything, but what immediately crosses my mind is her bloodpressure problem … ‘I’m coming for you,’ I answer back, ‘stay where you are.’ I grab the phone from the table and hold it close to me under the table, dialling Mum’s number in Belgrade … ‘Mama, there’s gunfire here, I don’t know what’s going, but we are alive and I will call you soon again.’ I blurt that out and hang up, only being able to catch my mother’s voice as she says: ‘What?!’ Roll forward We spend about a week in a neighbour’s basement. Everyone from the neighbouring 4–5 houses is here. This war doesn’t work for me. This war doesn’t make sense as we are all good neighbours and always have been. On top of it all, this war breaks out on a Wednesday and guess what was meant to happen on that Saturday?! A friend’s birthday, and a boy was apparently going to ask me out … a boy I’ve liked for a while, a boy I thought would never go for me ‘cos I am taller than WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 173
him, a boy that is born on the same date as me but a year earlier, a boy I wanted to have my first kiss with … So while worried grown-ups talk about what is going on I am sitting here monitoring my grandma’s blood pressure and fantasising about my first kiss. If I ever get out of this basement I am going to kiss so many people; there is a big list, including the boy I’ve just mentioned, one of my grandma’s neighbours, two other guys from my school and maybe even the handsome new chamber music teacher who rides an awesome motorbike to the music school. I’ll kiss him last when I have kissed everyone else and am a bit experienced at kissing. Sounds like a plan. Now I just need to get out of here alive. What happens after this week and for the next year and a half of my life is blurry, but everincreasingly intense. As the gunfire stops after about 7–8 days, our world becomes a festering right-wing twilight zone. ‘The region is liberated, liberated!’ we hear on the radio. ‘We are free!’ scream the soldiers from the trucks that drive through the cities. ‘ Free? Liberated?’ I’m confused. ‘Grandma, were we occupied?’ I ask in evident confusion. ‘Shhhhh … my clever, curious child … shhhhh. You’re asking too much, these are not the times for curious truth search,’ answers grandma in a worried voice, a few tears rolling down her face. I am not happy or in any way clearer about the situation with her answer but, intuitively, I leave it alone. It’s not often that my grandmother looks like this. This not good, not to be poked further. Roll forward From here on, we are rolling forward dozens by dozens of storytelling frames … over the next year, year and a half, life changes drastically … we no longer speak the Serbo-Croatian language, no longer write in both Cyrillic and Roman script, we no longer say or are allowed to be or even think in a number of ways we used to in Yugoslavia. This is the twilight zone of our existence. We are given these pieces of information and supposed to reprogram ourselves overnight, so it seems … Mum is back in town but has had a really hard time crossing back from Serbia into her own native Bosnia. She calls on old schoolfriends who are now a part of the new local government to help her. They do help her, but she has to pay them handsomely. She does anything to finish her studies. But I don’t understand; how can friends make you pay, and how’s this then so-called ‘help’ if you’ve made a lot of money from your schoolfriend’s bad situation? A year goes by and things continue to change. Mum gets fired from work. I watch through the keyhole of my bedroom as she speaks on the phone with the director of the local medical centre. He must speak so loudly when even I can hear what he says: ‘We have been advised to give all of people of your nationality/nationalities a temporary suspension. You will not be required back in the hospital this year.’ Mum doesn’t cry. She goes bright red on her neck and chest. She cries quietly after she hangs up. Later in life I realise that I go bright red on my neck and chest when I fight with people … I can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of high blood pressure and we will all have the same problems as Grandma later on …
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Roll forward September 1993. We will go on a bus part of the way back to Belgrade, with false documents, of course. Then there is an arrangement with the human smuggler, actually just with a local guy, to take us in vegetable trucks across the river border. I’m going in a capsicum truck, I think. Am I scared? Am I nervous? I don’t know what I am. I am actually quite numb. I don’t have time or space to think. Or question. I do what we all do. The driver, the trafficker, is a portly gentleman with a husky voice and disgusting fingers that are yellow from tobacco rolling. I can’t stop staring at his fingers and imagining how vile they would look on the piano … I’m a weirdo I know, weirdness is kind of providing me with some relief right now. ‘Get in here, girl, and stay still and quiet. As still and quiet as you can. And when we get there I’ll knock on the side of the truck. Three knocks means you’re all through, two means the two of you and … you get it.’ ‘What? Nobody told me we were getting separated like this …’ but before I have a chance to even breathe in, let alone say anything, my mother kisses my forehead and whispers, ‘Čuvaj se (Take care of yourself ),’ deftly walking away towards the other truck. Roll forward Those couple of hours might have been the longest in my life. I tried being perfectly still, whatever that means. I’m sure I practised my first ever yoga and meditation in the back of that truck. My mantra is ‘knock three times, knock three times, three times, three times …’ I’m in a vegetable bag, surrounded by capsicums. I’m a little scared; even through all this numbness, yes, I am a bit scared. ‘What if I pee in this? Will I have to buy all this capsicum? Will my mum have to?’ Just please knock three times … The truck stops and he knocks. And knocks. And knocks again! We are all here. And just before they pull me out as my mother is reaching for me and I’m reaching out of the bag, gasping for air, I wet my pants … ‘Mama, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to …’ I don’t get to finish my sentence before we are all hugging, kissing and crying. Nobody is exactly going to look at my pants, given the situation. Thank Capsicum for that. Roll forward This is Belgrade. We barely exist here. I go to a performing arts high school. We live in a friend’s apartment; we are renting. Mum managed to get some money out and Grandma some old jewellery, which she now sells at the markets. I am going well at school and have a lot of friends, though many also mock me for my Bosnian accent and just generally. If you’ve ever hung out WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 175
with Yugoslavs you’ll know many jokey and even cynical stereotypes in which people from different states are described. Croats are cold, but elegant; Serbs are raucous and a bit hardheaded; Macedonians are great at all things to do with folkloric arts, both singing and dancing, kind of happy but poor; Montenegrins are a bit ‘Mafioso’ and take over all the positions of leadership when they move to another state, they are highlanders, kind of like Balkan version of Scots; Slovenians are a bit hipster, they sort of see themselves as Slav-speaking sort of Austrians. Bosnians and Herzegovinians, we are a warm-hearted, fun-loving subject of anybody else’s joke and in their jokes we are mainly pejoratively described as ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’, but we have a sense of humour about this … we’re kind of like the Afro-Caribbeans of Yugoslavia, even though we aren’t on an island. After two semesters I’m doing really well. I’m somewhere in the top 10 of the school’s piano players. I practise all the time, I stay late at school, we don’t have a piano at home. I practise on the weekends, practise in the school basement if none of the practice rooms are available, on welltuned and out of tune pianos. I go at it really hard and the school culture changes. I started as the ‘probably dumb Bosnian chick, with that sing-songy accent of theirs’, and now I am ‘Nefeli from Bosnia, the really interesting chick, she plays really well and she is amazing at English and foreign languages, in general’. You can almost say I graduate into the club of the local Belgrade children as I get several party invitations and that is a big deal. Sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t, sometimes it’s all about the practise. In the little flat, in a suburb that is actually near Tito’s grave (I am near my Marshal Tito), Mum and Grandma are literally glued to the television. Mum keeps saying that it’s better to stay here, close to where we are from, not to disrupt my education too much. She says that it will all finish soon, that the world could not keep watching this and watching the slaughter and murder of innocent people and that surely the world will intervene. Actually the world participates very reluctantly and about three years have already passed. One day in the autumn of 1995, I’m not entirely sure what’s on TV, but I hear my grandmother say to Mum: ‘I’ve been through a war once before. This will not get better. This is not going to change enough in our lifetime and Nefeli’s life. We need to go somewhere. You just need to accept this now.’ It’s 1995! Some countries are even pushing Bosnians and Herzegovinians to go back, although I’m not sure if they have anywhere to go back to. Mum does some research and finds out that you can still apply for the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. And so we apply to all of them. And, within six weeks, Australia answers first. It’s a yes from the Refugee Support Group in Perth. What? Perth?! Where or what is Perth? Roll forward I’m given money and I get on a tram. I go more than 12 stops to the city for the main bookshop to buy an atlas to look up Perth. I don’t dare open it and look before I get home to look with everyone. We’ve never heard of Perth. We look at it and on one side of the map we see the cities dotted in relative closeness: Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra … and on the other side we see Perth. ‘Yay, Perth!’ exclaims Grandma. Mum and I look at her in confusion and curiosity. What is it that she knows about Perth? All of us just about discovered Perth as a concept when WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 176
this letter came. ‘Look,’ she says. ‘Look, look, there can never be a war there. There’s absolutely nothing around it!’ She is right and my life crumbles. I’m almost 16, you see, and as was mentioned before, I’m going to live in places like New York and Rome and not in Perth only now yes in Perth! Still I’m excited about ‘living in English’ – this is a phrase we use in Serbo-Croatian to describe somebody being fluent in a language. Roll forward It’s January 1996 and three generations (i.e. us three) get on a plane. When we get off in Perth it’s 1 am and it still twenty-something degrees. Of course, we left European winter and are wearing multiple coats each, bringing them with us this way. Nobody faints. I’m super thrilled to be able to understand everything and to be able to translate for my family. As we pass empty streets of Perth, EMPTY STREETS AT 1 AM ON A WEEKEND, Grandma asks me to ask the driver something in English. ‘I am not asking that!’ I protest. ‘C’mon! Don’t be rude! Ask!’ she demands. Eventually I ask dryly: ‘Were you instructed to stay indoors, is there a curfew?’ The driver laughs for a moment and says with a broad Aussie accent: ‘Nah, mate, ‘tis how we roll here, we are kind of country-people.’ OK I AM DEFINITELY DEAD NOW. I SURVIVED THE CAPSICUM BAG, BUT I MIGHT NOT SURVIVE THIS. IF ONLY MARSHAL TITO WAS ALIVE AND A PRESIDENT. Roll forward I go to high school for a few weeks but I don’t like it. I came from a school of performing arts in the heart of Europe, where 16-year-olds are already fluent or almost fluent in one or two foreign languages, play instruments, discuss arts culture and philosophy, and, generally, seek knowledge and chase passions … My school friends are cute. They mostly struggle to say my name or the name of my country. ‘Not Yugoslovakia, Yugoslavia …’ I’m explaining to a friend, trying to understand how she made it to Year 10 without being able to at least name countries around the world. I kick arse at remembering capital cities of countries – bookmark that for when you’re playing trivia with me. ‘No we are not inside the former Soviet Union, no we were never in the Soviet Union. Yes we speak a Slavic language, but we are actually not in Eastern Europe, we are on the Balkan Peninsula, we are actually largely in the East Mediterranean.’ I find out that there is a course at WAAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts) to study without completing high school. I go and audition, and get in. Roll forward, much forward Eight years later I am 24 years old and have just submitted my master’s thesis and portfolio. I’ve studied piano, singing, composition and performance making. Master’s was fun. Writing a folio WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PIER • RECALLING THE JOURNEY II | 177
of music was fun and hard and all at once. The head of department in the master’s course was fun and supportive, as was the composition teacher. This day they remain dear friends of mine. They both encourage me to do something with my heritage through my art. I want to. But I’m still kind of trying to piece together what my heritage is. It seems to me that we went through some severe process of regression: people were mixing Image 25. 1 Nefeli Manja 2018. Courtesy Alta Truden in now ex-Yugoslavia and becoming richer and more intricate. Then at some boiling point, there was a moment when we could have a beautiful alchemical reaction, but instead we fell short of flying over the abyss and we fell in, instead. It became too complex for some to explain what Yugoslav is, so it was easier to be of separatist mentality, focusing on the differences and explaining what isn’t Yugoslav and why we can no longer be and have Yugoslavia. Roll more forward I am in my 30s now and I live in Melbourne. I’m an artist constantly imagining and reimagining my heritage. My friends are awesome people of all nationalities and races. There are some who don’t like the immigrants, and refugees are, in fact, going through quite dark times with humanitarian policies. I keep myself informed as this was a huge part of what shaped my destiny. What have we learned from it all? What is our propensity to truly learn, forgive and embrace? What have I learned sitting in that basement, being harassed in the schoolyard, in that vegetable truck or at the many art schools I went to and cities I briefly lived in and made art in? What have I learned from my favourite artists? Those of us that survive always have a possibility of rising up and somehow, to some degree, thriving. As one of my much-loved artists, Regina Spektor, said: ‘You can’t break that which isn’t yours.’ And so the nationalist tendencies and the war have left me with some scars but not broken me. And even where they have made scars something new comes. It’s not just who is explicitly destroyed or exiled. It’s also who or what comes after us or as a result of us. It’s neither that pee in the truck nor the tears that I shed, but something far greater and ever growing that I’m currently propelling and that will outlive me. Once again, as Regina says: ‘Aprés moi, l’deluge. After me comes the flood.’
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Image 26. 1 Maryam Babaali in Melbourne, 2012. Courtesy Maryam Babaali
This Is Me Maryam Babaali
am Maryam Babaali, a 40-year-old mother. I’m Kurdish, from Ilam, a small province of the Kurdistan region, in west and north-west Iran. I’m from the Middle East. My mother, she married in a small village in Ilam at a very young age of 14. My father was 21. My mother had her first child at age 15, giving birth to my oldest sister, who only survived for a few days and then passed away. A year later, my first brother was born. He died after a year, due to illness. I was born in 1977. I survived, but 2 years later, my father departed forever. My mother says my father loved me. She always advises me, just like her mother advised her: ‘The good woman never complains about her life, and always obeys her husband.’ But as I grew older, I came to finally, fully realise: I am a human with human rights. I used to have a lot of conflict with my family and society. I was 10 to 12 when I wrote a poem for myself. I kept my writings a secret, even in a small house with limited hiding place. Moreover, due to my introverted nature, I hardly made friends, and it was very hard for me to open up to people. Unfortunately, my childhood was full of bitter and bad events! In April 1979, my father died by car accident, and my brother and I only knew the smell of baby milk bottles. Under the Islamic rules, when a father dies, all control of any unmarried girls and boys up to 18 years old falls to their uncle and grandfather from the father’s side. But my mother didn’t get married, because then she wouldn’t be able to take care of us. February 1979: the Islamic revolution and the dictatorship in Iran occurred. September 1980: a long war between Iran and Iraq began, resulting in 8 years of displacement, bullets, air strikes, mines and suffering. It was a terrible period; the south and west of Iran saw the most damage. We were forced to move to the mountains or to safe cities and areas. We took refuge in the Zagros snowy mountains. Sometimes, the wind took our tents, and our lives depended on consuming acorns. I felt and kept these moments in my memory. Was God awake or sleeping? Where were the United Nations and our human rights? Days, months, and years passed, and we resisted and grew up. Once we had resettled at home, my attention turned to the public library in our area. One of its customers was a lovely lady. I didn’t know why, but I could trust her. I ended up showing her my writing. Then, she gave me some books to guide me how to think and write the right way. From then on, I started to read books
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including all there was about the Islamic rules. It was quite heavy literature, but I enjoyed it. In 1997, after I got a diploma in Experimental Sciences, I registered in Ilam Youth Cinema Filmmaking courses. I knew that my family would oppose it, so I went secretly. I made 2 short films. But my family realised my secret and I stopped writing for a few years.
Image 26. 2 Maryam Babaali presenting her story at the ‘Migration - Women & Resilience Symposium, 2018. Courtesy Windu Kuntoro
I started to open my mind and gained a desire to go to university. But there was conflict within my family. They insisted that I study at an Ilam university, but I wanted to go away from them. After some resistance, I entered a state university in south Iran and I wrote again. In 2003, I got a Bachelor of Librarianship and I became a librarian in public libraries.
Finally, one day, it rained and I fell in love, without any resistance! I met my husband; he lived in a small village in Ilam. He was pessimistic about sharia, and in particular we knew that apostasy – the act of renouncing one’s religion – is a mass crime under its laws and the convert receives the death penalty, because accepting religion is obligatory, not optional. In 2009, I received a master’s degree in librarianship. Around that time, my husband decided to come to Australia by ship and was classified an asylum seeker by the government. In 2012, I joined him via plane, using a partner visa. My hardworking husband and I saved up so that, in 2014, we could buy a house in Melbourne, where our sweet son was born. But, I do not think that in Planet Earth, we will finally find a safe place! Because hope for us, is just one word, not the truth! In the end, I am grateful to my husband, he’s my friend and companion! Also, I thank my artist friend, Bill Mousoulis (an Australian-Greek independent filmmaker), who understands and hears all my words, and with a lot of sense of responsibility, he criticises my writings.
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Image Peter Senjovâ€™s tailoring, 1953. Courtesy Natalie Senjov-Makohon
RECALLING THE JOURNEY ll is a rich collection of micro biographies that reflect the experience of migration from 26 different beginnings. Th...
Published on Aug 2, 2018
RECALLING THE JOURNEY ll is a rich collection of micro biographies that reflect the experience of migration from 26 different beginnings. Th...