Armida Minicozzi (Carbone) was born on the 16th May, 1923 at Apice Province of Benevento Italy. She is the second daughter of Giuseppe Carbone and Carolina Pepe with five sisters and one brother. She had very little formal education. As a young woman she taught catechism in her village to young children. Her father Giuseppe, a veteran of the first war and a Bersigliere was made a Cavaliere di Vittorio Veneto.
Like many young people of her era, she worked and lived in an agricultural community surviving from the fruits of their labour. Her father, at the turn of the 20th Century went to America where he stayed for a very short time and then returned to Italy.
In 1949, she was introduced to and later married Alessandro Minicozzi from Paduli a neighbouring town some kilometres away from Apice.In 1950 their first child, Nicola, was born. In 1952, Alessandro migrated to Australia.
In 1954, at the young age of 31, she embarked upon the journey of her lifetime. She left the port of Naples with her son and traversed the seas for approximately one month to the new land, Australia. In September, 1954, Armida arrived in Adelaide. There she was met by her husband whom she had not seen for several years and resided for some time at James Street, Campbelltown.
In 1954 Campbelltown was undeveloped and primarily used as a market garden area. Upon arriving in Australia, Armida immediately sought employment. Her first job was at 23 Hackney Road, Hackney, as a seamstress in an oppressive small attic style room. These premises had a low lying ceiling, no air conditioning and were a long way from James Street. In 1984, some thirty years later, Armida purchased these premises and these are the premises now known as the Alessandro Minicozzi Reception Centre and marketed as “The Observatory”.
From James Street, Armida and her family moved to 305 Payneham Road, Royston Park. This property was purchased from a Dr Brian McCarthy who had his surgery next door at 303. Armida and Alessandro paid £5 per week to pay the debt to Dr McCarthy for the purchase of the property.
Armida then continued working; was wife and mother; and also hosted a countless number of relatives and friends who had migrated to Australia from Italy and who boarded at her home. In 1956, her daughter Margaret was born.
In 1958, the Minicozzi Shopping Centre began with the construction of 2 shops on 305 Payneham Road, Royston Park. Alessandro worked at various jobs. Armida was placed in one of the shops. She had no English and no education. Her drive and ambition however, were her greatest assets. She worked countless hours and slowly developed a huge clientele within the Italian Community that was developing and growing at a rapid rate in Adelaide. Soon, Alessandro and Armida worked in the shop together and together they developed perhaps one of the best known small businesses in Adelaide in modern times.
Within a few short years, the properties at 307 and 309 Payneham Road were acquired and the Shopping Centre now on those premises was fully developed. Within a short time, they expanded their business into catering and became Intercontinental Caterers Pty Ltd. Today that business is still continuing at 23 Hackney Road, Hackney, and is catering for third generation clients.
Armida¹s life since her birth has been one of work, sacrifice and commitment to her family. She has rarely had a holiday.
Her first return to Italy after 1954 lasted for seven days. She has from time to time returned to Italy and has always maintained with pride her Italian Citizenship. However, she calls Australia her home.
In 1984, Alessandro died. For some years before that life had been difficult as Alessandro had been ill for some time. Notwithstanding Armida continued and maintained the business and the family. On the day of Alessandro¹s funeral the 21st January, 1984, the business was catering for five weddings. The funeral was perhaps the biggest ever witnessed in Adelaide due to the respect that had been generated over many years within the community by Alessandro and Armida.
Later that year, the premises at 23 Hackney Road, Hackney were purchased and the business flourished from there. Between 1995 and 2003, in her late seventies, Armida sustained further hardships consequent upon the separation and divorce of both her children. Armida was subjected to attack within the Court system in those processes. This added even greater suffering for Armida. Ultimately these issues were resolved at great personal cost to Armida, not just in monetary terms, but in personal suffering, loss of relationships in particular, with one of her grandchildren and many other factors, which for any other woman would have resulted in disastrous consequences. Armida however continued to fight and ultimately overcame with dignity.
Armida is a woman dedicated to her God, her family and her community. She has had no formal education, has severe hearing impediments, lost a husband at an early age, lost part of her family, worked tirelessly all her life, never sought recognition nor glory but only the love of her children and her grandchildren. Armida is a warrior and a remarkable woman and an example of the women who pioneered this country through migration.
Mum arrived in Australia in 1955 from Reggio Calabria, age 12. A very short stint at school saw her off to work. A wedding dress followed at the age of 18 and then the fun began. I sometimes wonder if an Immigration Induction program would add any value, even after Mum has been here for 48 years!!! There is so much heritage, history & baggage that gets sent down the ancestral line, that one almost gains martyrdom or sainthood to follow his/her own path. The brave decision made by the immigrants to leave their beloved Italy and start a new life has been a rewarding but difficult one. The immigrants have two lives to juggle – a little of the old and a lot of the new. Our lives seem to be cruising on a freeway, in top gear, and occasionally we pullover for a culture stop! It has been a lifetime struggle to convince mum that it is ok to get on the freeway of life, certainly time to drop the horse and cart (or at least enjoy the view from wherever she is!) The immigrants were mostly followers: where is the leader? Once settled here, they continued to follow. Life became more complex once they formed “community” be it at church or in the factories or just the good old “marketta”. This “community” benchmark or standard has been impossible to surpass. I certainly had my share of community values, being the eldest in the family, juggling school and home, caring for the younger siblings whilst mum and dad worked. The power of one Italian woman can never be underestimated, but put them together and watchout.
The title of my story basically sums up my pre-married life: pantaloni, panettone e peccati… Mum worked in the textile industry sewing men’s industrial trousers and workwear. Mum and her “amici’ had an awful lot of time to curse the root of all evil – men! It was a time where the festivities of Christmas and Easter brought countless boxes of panettone into our homes and so whilst the Aussies next door were having Christmas pudding and custard, we had stale, boring panettone!!! (I still haven’t confessed to my mum that I buy myself a box of panettone every Christmas, in case one of my comare doesn’t surprise me with one.) Finally, the peccati come in.
The factories were an industrialised concentration camp. There was image to uphold and piecework and overtime, best recipes, best vendetta’s against mother in laws, first one to marry off their daughter, best glory box for the impending nuptials – all this and more. These were not just women, they were superwomen. But, there had to be a scapegoat and it was usually the eldest child (me), because most husbands had inner wisdom and stayed out of their wives’ ways. A full time job, juggling home, husband and children, my mother didn’t have time for herself. Now, she is so busy caring for her elderly mother (our beautiful nonna), and taking care of the home, husband, children and grandchildren that there is definitely no time for herself !! At age 60, she has never taken the time to find herself…
The harder we try and change our mothers, the less successful we are, because really, are we too scared to admit we are just like them? Although two decades have passed, the merry go round keeps going. Mum and I spent from the age of 18 doing what we loved best. Mum was working and I was at school. By eighteen we were in wedding dresses, walking down the aisle to our “arranged” eternal soul mates. By twenty-one, we were carrying our first child. By thirty, mum felt like a woman of sixty. By thirty, I was ready to take on the world. A minestrone of selfishness, stupidity and intelligence, not right, but certainly real.
I wouldn’t change my life for the world, what I would change is the twenty years it has taken me to think out aloud!