I left Italy the 1 December and I arrived on the 28 December 1963 on the ship Sydney. The voyage was good; three girls were sharing the cabin with me. In Melbourne, I went through custom all by myself and after that I went out. I had no picture of my brother in law but I saw someone roaming around and I asked him “Are you Salvatore Di Stasio?” He replied “I have been looking around but I can’t find anyone!” That’s when I first met my brother in law.
I had four suitcases with me because my sister had asked for many things including a cradle and baby blankets. So very many things! On the train to Adelaide my brother in law bought a quarter pound of cherries and that was “lunch”; also on the train there was a lady who had difficulties with the zip of her dress so I told her “Signora, wait I will help you”. I asked her “who do you have in Australia?” and she replied “all my family”. Sometimes fate! She turned out to be the mother of my future husband. I met him at a Christening where he fell in love with me. Three months later in 1964 we were married.
Who would have thought that that woman on the train was going to become my mother in law? Destiny! It’s funny where you end up! They were a big family and we all got on well with each other. She had 10 children and all of them In Australia with her. When I went to meet the family for the first time, the mother offered ham, cheese and many other things – I thought it was a deli there!
I thank God that my husband comes from a good family and we all respect each other. When we got married we had nothing. We were as poor as church mice, just a pair of shoes and an outfit. I worked up to the very last day before our wedding. On Sunday we went grape picking with our best man and that was our honeymoon. Not like nowadays!
The two of us worked well together. We have this house. When we were renting a house in Unley, the landlady would say to me “Filomena you must wear slippers that make no noise, you should not cook every night, go and eat at your parent’s, don’t have too many visitors, do not go out too much” I said to her “I need to buy a shack, ‘a shed’ so that we are on our own” and so we bought this house.
Our children have all grown up and they are all very good. They are all married and they all live nearby. One lives near the church in Campbelltown, one at Dernancourt, two at Goodwood and another at Mitcham. The first son is married to an Italian, the second also to an Italian, the third has married an Australian, the fourth married an Italian and the last one a German. I have nine grandchildren. One of my granddaughters had to have a big operation last year, she had three lumps. She is better now but she needs to have check-ups. One of my grandsons is 14 and he does not talk. He was well when he was born but he has never spoken since he was little. He is not deaf. He has had some tests, even in America. Occasionally he gets agitated, he is a boy who does not like commotion.
When I arrived in Adelaide I went to stay with my sister. I was happy to see my sister but I was so distressed; many days I would cry because I wanted to go back to Italy to my parents.
It is really painful when you get to a foreign land and you do not understand the language. My sister was kind but my brother in law was another story. I could not wear lipstick, I could not laugh or be happy, I could not get a glass of water from the fridge, I could do nothing. I wanted to die. I wrote to my mother that I wanted to go back and she said she would pay for my return fare. But my sister said “you are not going anywhere!”
I later wrote to an aunt of mine in America and she wanted me to be with her in America but my sister would say “no, you must stay here, you are going nowhere!” My brother in law used to curse the day I arrived in Australia. He was happy here, but he did not want the responsibility of looking after me. My sister wanted to but he didn’t. I couldn’t even look out of the window in the back yard, it was worse than being a prisoner.
In Italy I used to work on the land. We could not get ahead. My sister was sponsored by our cousin and she then sponsored me. I was happy to stay in Italy, I was fine there but, as you know, when one is young, one wants to change; then it was sad here. Had I had a flight ready, I would have fled straight away. I felt confused, I did not know the language I did not know where I was going and it was really so bad.
Then eventually I went with my cousin to work in Virginia on a “farm”. From five o’clock in the morning until ten at night. I drank the dew off the top of the “cabbage”, the dew of the night. At night my cousin made us steal spinach which we cooked the following day.
I have always lived in Adelaide, in this house and it was “very, very bad!” My husband had an operation and I had to go and work at the Julia Farr centre. The children were small. At night I would do the washing and prepare the meals. It was really very bad for me; I lost a stone within a few days.
I learnt English here and there. I am not ashamed of how I speak. I went to work at Julia Farr because my husband was sick and he hadn’t been working for the previous six months. The “boss” asked me how many children I had and when I said five, she said, “tomorrow you start work straight away”. I had a tall hat which I liked very much and I was very happy and the “boss” would say “Filomena is the happiest lady”. I worked there for 22 years. After 22 years they gave me a “package” and I stopped working because my husband was not well. It is good to work, I like it. You have contacts with many people.
My life in Australia has been full of sacrifices, sadness and illnesses.
Still we thank the Lord, I have five children and nine grandchildren. We all respect and love one another very much. We have to face many things in life; you must be strong and brave as life is not easy. My husband is full of pain. Every year he goes to hospital as he is unwell. This year on 7 March we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. My husband was in hospital but they allowed him to leave for the day because he felt that I was upset and wanted us to be together.
I am happy with my life in Australia because I am a strong person. An acquaintance from my husband’s village said to me “Filomena you are very lucky because you have a very strong character”. I had to be strong because my husband was not well. My mother would say “with misfortune you have to stay strong”. Life is a struggle. You cannot be sad. You must have courage.
Recorded December 2013. Transcribed by Angie Morony.