My parents grew up in the seaside Calabrese town of Roccella Ionica – both families knew each other well. Both sets of grandparents were illiterate – they rented land and grew olives and tended goats. My maternal grandfather had an explosive detonate in his hand at the end of WWII – he lost several fingers and therefore had a life-long pension, which sustained the seven children (all seven of whom eventually migrated to Australia and settled in Sydney).
My mother had three years of primary schooling, my father five. They were twelve years apart in age. They both migrated post-war (three years apart, but already engaged) and married soon after my mother arrived in 1955 (she was 22). Mum had to travel with bond money so that she could return home if the marriage did not take place!
My father found work in a car assembly factory, and my Mum first in sewing factories and then in retail (initially my Uncle’s fruit shop). My older sister was born in 1957, myself in 1960. We both learned to speak as infants in Calabrese – my sister started school without English, despite being born here. We both picked up English quickly and after a few years, abandoned Calabrese (my parents spoke Calabrese to us and we responded in English). During this time both parents learned to speak English well.
I have lost a lot of my Italian/Calabrese language. I went to Saturday morning Italian school for 2 – 3 years but I have not practiced the language, though I understand it. I am embarrassed by my Aussie/Calabrese accent when I do try to speak. Since I married an Anglo-Australian, my parents always spoke English when we visited together, so I don’t hear much Calabrese any more – though I still understand it.
Both my sister and I did well at school and, luckily, our parents encouraged us. My sister was the first in the extended family to go to university – she did an Arts degree majoring in Mathematics, and taught Mathematics until she took early retirement last year.
I studied Medicine at Sydney University from 1977 – 1982 (I got the marks for Medical School by doing well in English and French), did my internship at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and later specialized in Emergency Medicine. I have spent my specialist career in hospitals in the South West of Sydney – working-class areas with lots of migrants.
My Dad died at the age of 86 in 2008. My Mum – who is physically very healthy and active, and a very social person – has had a new lease of life with bowls (indoor and outdoor), Probus club and her family. Of her seven siblings, two have now died, one has advanced dementia (in a nursing home) and two others have mild dementia. My Mum has turned 80 but actively gardens, continues to bowl and goes to Probus outings and trips.
We plan to go to Italy during the July school holidays – my Mum, sister (who remains single), myself and my thirteen-year-old daughter. (My Anglo-Australian husband loves Italy and travel, but doesn’t think he wants to go this time).