A courageous wife and mother: the life of Rosina Grandoni Cinaglia
It was a grey autumnal day of October 1955, when the Neptunia ship with Rosina Grandoni and her two children, Bruna aged 7 and Alberto aged 5, left Italy for the distant Australia.
“I didn’t leave behing many regrets, on the contrary, I left with many hopes for a better life even if I was ripped away from the affection of my loved ones.”
Rosina left 2 years after her husband, Giuseppe Cinaglia, who, faced with great sacrifices due to the crises facing Australia in that period, had managed to put aside money for the voyage for his family.
Rosina was born in Appignano del Tronto (AP) on 24 February 1927, the daughter of Enrichetta Monti and Giovanni Grandoni who,aside from Rosina, had another four children: Alfredo, Gina, Paolo and Silvio. They were one of the many families who through sacrifice and minimal satisfaction worked the land for its owner (a mezzadria).
Rosina went to school at Campolungo, a small town of Appignano, only until the third year of primary school because when her brothers were called to war, she too had to go and work the land even though she was very young. She spent her youth working and so never really understood what the thoughtlessness of youth was about. In fact at just 19 years old, the 28 October 1947, she married Giuseppe Cinaglia, a farmer of the same town.
“I was lucky to have found him – Rosina says with a malicious smile – many men did not return from the war and I certainly wasn’t beauty incarnate.”
She has many dear memories, but very few photographs serve as distant reminders of times past. She doesn’t even have many photos of her wedding because her cousin-photographer went to the party to eat and arrived without a film! The evening of the wedding Rosina didn’t want to change out of her wedding dress, preferring to enjoy it for as long as possible, but her husband quickly reminded of the harsh reality of life on the fields by saying: “What are you doing, aren’t you getting changed? The pigs are noisy because they’re hungry!”
As soon as they were married they lived with her in-laws and, unfortunately, Rosina, a young bride, was embarassed to live with other men and have to cook for six people. Apart from home duties she also had to collect acorns for the pigs’ food.
As a result of their marriage, they had two children: Bruna, born in 1948 and Alberto, born in 1949. Life was difficult and full of sacrifices and this put the family to the test and after having tried to make some changes in Colli del Tronto that didn’t give the desired results, they decided to migrate to Australia.
That trip didn’t mirror in any way the stories written in the letters to her relatives in that those 32 days on board the ship were spent for the most part in the sick bay with her son who was always ill. A strange illness that struck Alberto down for the whole journey.
Arrived in Adelaide they went to live for about a year at the home of a sister-in-law where Giuseppe was. Just a week after her arrival, Rosina began to work even though she didn’t understand or speak a word of English. She worked for “Inverarity”, a company that made rags into stuffing for car seats. She did this job for 13 years and lived happily with her husband. She felt as if finally life had become the great and pleasurable adventure it should be, without suspecting at all that in that factory she was breathing in the poisons that would one day make her sick. She adapted quickly to the Australian way of life and she was very happy with the choice the family had made.
Giuseppe worked for the South Australian Railways as a mechanic in charge of maintenance and he did three shifts. When he worked at night he would return home at 7 in the morning and get ready for his job as a gardener in the Botanic Gardens in the Adelaide Hills. In 1955 there was a bushfire at Marble Hill and Giuseppe escaped by a stroke of good luck. He was surrounded by flames and to save his skin he covered himself in sacks and prayed that God would let him see his wife and children once more.
In exchange for lodgings, there also lived with them a couple who looked after the children when Rosina e Giuseppe went out to work.
Rosina left work to look after her son who, two years after they arrived in Adelaide, had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. After many tests and treatments, at times quite unorthodox, Alberto ended up in a wheelchair at the age of 15. Rosina, through her sense of duty and sacrifice, chose to leave work to look after her son. She cried and cried after leaving all her friends and the chance of fulfilment through work and economic independence, but her love for her son came before anything else.
With the help of a social worker, at the age of 16 Alberto found a job with “Bedford Industries”. He chose to leave school partly because of access difficulties (Adelaide High School didn’t have elevators on the upper levels and his father or friends had to carry him up and down the stairs on their shoulders). Through work Alberto felt fulfiled, he had his salary and his independence. With his first savings he bought a small van in which his cousins would take him to the beach.
When her son began to work, so did Rosina, this time cleaning in the hospitals, but she was always home by the time her son returned so that she could assist him in anything he needed.
“I slept with my eyes open – recounts Rosina – because at night I had to get up and turn him around in his bed as he wasn’t able to do this himself .”
Alberto worked until 1980, when he was struck down by pneumonia that proved to be fatal for him, dying at the age of’ 31. In the same year, as a source of comfort the loss of their son, Rosina and her retired husband returned to Italy and remained there for six years.
Like so many other people from the Marche region, Giuseppe too assisted in the construction of the Marche Club and he often prepared “morning tea” for the workers with the help of Rosina who prepared excellent sweets.
And just when life seemed benign, Giuseppe became ill with Alzheimer’s after having learnt of the death of two brother who died in the space of two months. So Rosina, after having looked after her son, began the same sacrifice, looking after her husband with the help of her daughter Bruna, who had been left a widow in the meantime. After three years, Giuseppe health deteriorated drastically and they had to take him to a nursing home, where he has been living for 10 years. Rosina was forced to reorganise her life again so that she could assist Giuseppe by visiting him every day and keeping him company and feeding him at mealtimes.
Notwithstanding the moments of sadness Rosina tries to remain positive, supported by her daughter. She continues to display great courage and resignation regarding what life reserves for human beings.
She carries with her many memories: the distant Italy, the voyage, her son, all her hopes, so many sacrifices and that factory – where I worked without wearing a mask and inhaled toxic chemicals that were used – that caused the asthma that is slowing taking away her breath, the joy of breathing in fresh air in the morning that enters cheekily from the window into her home and the joy of a deep breath that captures the fragrance of the flowers of her garden. So many years later that factory has been recognised as the cause of respiratory illnesses that afflicted almost all its workers, but Rosina, deeply struck by the affection of the place, did not seek financial damages and hopes that today those poisons are no longer breathed in by those who are forced to do any kind of work, such as she and hundreds of other migrants like her, were compelled to do.
by Vincenzo Papandrea and Caterina Andreacchio
From “Il Picchio”, Periodico del Marche Club Adelaide. Anno IV, No. 1 aprile 2003