I worked very hard to raise my children because I came here on my own. We left on assisted passages and we did not fare well. However, little by little we made our life.
I come from Arienzo in the province of Caserta. My husband was from the same village. We lived near each other. We were married in ’47.
I grew up without a dad. I lost my father when he was 50. He left us all alone with my mum who raised 5 children without a husband.
I was 12 years old. My brothers, would not allow me to go out. I wasn’t even allowed to cut my hair! I cut my hair 8 days after I was married! One brother was a little ‘spoil[t]’, he always wanted to be the one in charge. And he would always hit us.
I helped my mum on the land with my sister. I have always worked! We would go up the hill to work. We would collect the grass for the animals which we then sold. We would go into the woods to collect chestnuts, walnuts and then went to collect the ones we missed. When there was no work at our own “farma” [farm] we would go and work elsewhere for the day. We would collect potatoes and beans or harvest the grain. You would be paid.
One brother died young at 18 years of age. Then another one passed away, the one younger than me. An awful story that one, because it was very hard for me. My brother had gone to visit his mother-in-law in the other village, and he returned by bicycle. I had gone to get the milk and I met up with him. Then, when I arrived in my street I heard a bang. I was saying “Our Lady… Christmas is almost here”. Then someone said “they ran away, 7 or 8 boys” and they said “Nicolina, Nicolina look down there, your brother!” I went there and my brother died in my arms. They got him here, in the heart…blood everywhere. The youths were playing with a pistol. He was 20 years old and his wife had a baby 3 weeks later. I always remember! I have never been able to forget it, it happened right in my arms! I had lost my baby girl, 5 months old, just a month before him…I had a hard time.
I remember the war. They would shoot at us and we had to sleep in the haystacks. We could not stay at home. If the Germans came there they would have ruined us, us kids. We had a tough hard life! Later we were able to improve things a little. My husband began to sell wares door to door. We were good then because we had money. But my husband wanted to come to Australia. So we started all over again, back to the beginning. Worse than before!
When we arrived in Australia my children were aged 11, 8 and 3 years. We stayed at the Bonegilla Camp for 4 weeks and there I had a very hard time! The children wanted to eat but they did not like the food. They would not even taste it! Like they say back in my village “from the stars to the stalls”! One night they said they would be cooking spaghetti. We waited for the spaghetti. They put this red stuff there with sugar in it! No-one ate it…we all fasted.
We would go and to get “cardili”. At the canteen we would get oil and would cook the greens because I wasn’t eating anything at all. I got to the point of having a blood pressure of 90! If I had stayed another four days they would have had to put me in hospital. My stomach got so bad because on the ship I could not get up. I was very ill on the ship! Then we got off at Melbourne and then we ended up there [Bonegilla]…worse still!
My sister-in-law had a friend who had lived in Rome and she got us a letter of ‘release’. My husband had written her a letter when we arrived at Fremantle but it took her a long time. When we arrived in Melbourne the friend had gone to the port but she didn’t find us because we had already left for Bonegilla. When we got back from Bonegilla she came to get us at the station and we stayed at her place for two weeks. Just like a sister! Then when we moved here she cried and said “never again have a friend” She was really devastated!
My husband wanted to come to Adelaide in ’59. We made many changes. Gradually I got work. I worked at “Pastadore” a pasta factory. I worked there for 7 years and then I ended up at Balfours, a cake factory. I would always work at night and the children were growing up and my husband many times would get angry that I was never there in the evening. So then I said “I’ll go there early in the morning then return here early”. I then went back to Pastadore and I did another seven years there.
He had an operation on his back, my husband. He was for almost 2 years without work. At weekends, I would go and work on the land, collecting onions. “Nu’track [A truck] would come to get us on Saturday and Sunday. I worked at Pastadore at that time. I worked until 51 years of age. Then my husband went on the pension and we managed on the pension.
I always have Melbourne on my mind. “You like wherever you stop”. I had stopped at Melbourne. When I came here (Adelaide) it was all fields and land and I wondered “what have we done!” Adelaide did not have shops like Melbourne, all along the mall. There was a shop “one for polenta and another for…polenta as well!” Slowly, slowly, slowly I got used to it.
I did not know how to speak English at all when I came here. I was well and truly in deep trouble. I did not bother to learn English because my husband wanted to return to Italy. But who would give us the money? So we stayed here. I had a married daughter who did not want to go to Italy and I did not want to leave my daughter here. The daughter, the oldest, became a bride at 18. I have nine grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
My back is stuffed. I had an operation on my “hip”. I had a pacemaker in my heart. I had operations on my knee. At home I have no-one. I do everything myself. When I was unwell my daughter came.
I have been going to exercise classes on Mondays for 25 years when Vincenza started. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I play bocce; I have being doing it for 15 years. I love company.
I sing with the choral group “Le Rondinelle”. We go a-singing to give pleasure to the elderly in hospital at Campbelltown and at the Italian Village, and “nursing homes”. My favourite song is “Tazza di Caffe” [“Cup of Coffee”].
There’s no-one left in Italy. Some have passed away here, some have passed away there. I have many nieces and nephews, my brother’s and sister’s children. But it does not feel like family.
If I go to Italy, I would like to go to my village. If not, I won’t go there at all!
My brother kept me informed about my village. But now there is no longer anyone dear to me; I don’t even know any more who’s alive and who’s dead. Who is there to tell you!
Recorded March 2014. Transcribed by Daniela Costa.