I was born in Tufara, in the council of Ceppalone, in the province of Benevento. I went to school up to year 3. I had six brothers and two sisters; I was the second last.
That good soul that was my father, when he went out in the morning, used to take us along or we would take him lunch. I used to cook lunch at home and then we would bring it to him in the fields, everything in a basket: we would then sit on a blanket, lay the tablecloth and eat.
I can’t remember much about the war. When the Germans came, we use to hide the animal inside the house. My father cut a tree and put at the front to hide the fact there was an animal inside – they would have killed it otherwise. That cannot be forgotten!
My husband died when he was 35; we were the same age and we had been together for 14 years. At that time Vince, my son, was 9 and my daughter was 11.
My husband had a heart condition. Even at night time I could hear his heart beat very loud. He used to sit up in bed and I would sit next to him, holding my hand on his chest, next to his heart and slowly the pain would pass.
My husband did not do his military service for his heart condition. I became aware of this only after we were married. My father in law lost his wife when he was young and in the evening he would drink without thinking about his son’s health.
God took him. A year later I came to Australia. The most important thing for me is education, respect for other people and the main thing for me was to help my children. Everybody would tell me “you are young, why don’t you marry again?” I have never thought about my life.
In my village we had fields which we had to work on; my mother was old.
When I got married I was working in a tobacco farm in Cervinara. We would sow the tobacco and then harvest it, take it inside where we would hang it to dry and to cure. There were lots of women, we would sow and harvest. It was hard work!
I could not stay in my house. I had to rent a place in the village, closer to my work; the landlady would help me with the children as my husband had already died.
We had some small fields as well and my husband had to go and work them. Early in the morning he would wake the children up and would get them to walk in front of him, they were half asleep – they were children! He too made sacrifices.
I had two brothers in Australia. They had been in Australia since 1951. They thought that as my husband had died I had better come to Australia. The decision was made by my brother “Australia is better for the children’s future”.
I arrived in Australia in 1964 and I came to Adelaide straight away. I came with my children.
I have never spoken badly about Australia, never! I came by ship to Melbourne. From the first day I liked Australia “that’s it”. I know that some people do not like it. I have never cursed the day I came to Australia, never.
At the beginning I lived with my brother at Sefton Park, and then slowly I bought my own house. My children really liked school.
I found work in a factory, a bakery. I started work immediately after I arrived in Australia. I would go to work by bike; there were many Italian people. The owner was Mr Morelli.
Everybody would speak Italian. I would cook the meat in a big pot, to make pies and pasties.
It was all new to me, but I got busy!
I then worked in the city, in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in the city centre. I would cook everything and everybody would eat from the smorgasbord. As it was an Italian restaurant everybody was Italian; I never found myself in trouble. It might have been better if I had practised my English but unfortunately – I get by anyway.
I was at that restaurant for ten years. I was trusted. I would work on Friday and Saturdays, on Sundays the restaurant was closed. I would start at 8 o’clock in the morning until 2 o’clock early the next morning on Friday and Saturday. When I returned home my children with their friends – they had grown up by then – would ask me “mum cook some spaghetti”.
I do not know how I am still alive. When people see me and know how old I am they cannot believe it!
I have never been work-shy, never! Even when I did not know how to do something I would try my best. You learn from your mistakes!
My life has been very hard! I had to do everything by myself; I did not have a husband to advise me. I never wanted to marry after my husband died. If God wanted me to share my life with a man, he should have kept well the one he had chosen for me. That’s it!
I have always lived with my son. When he got married he and his wife came to live with me for two years as their house was not built yet “we get married, we come to stay with you so that we have more time” [they told Ines]. When they got back from their holidays my son’s wife was expecting a child and she wanted to have her baby in the new house. “You go first and I will follow later” [was Ines response].
I have good health. Jesus took away my husband but gave me lots of strength. Every morning I walk for an hour around here, near my home, every single morning. I have been doing this for 35 years. I used to walk even when I was working. I am a fast walker, I learnt how to in Australia. I have no pains and people envy me. They say I look like a gendarme (carabiniere). I set off at 5 o’clock in the morning, I wake up without the alarm clock and I just close my door and go.
I play bowls twice a week at the Magill Club. I have been singing in the “Rondinelle” choir for 20 years. We did the Christmas concert. It’s lovely to be in the countryside.
I do not like sitting in front of the TV, occasionally I like to watch the Italian news and follow what is happening in Italy.
As for English slowly and little by little I manage to speak it but I prefer Italian. I made sacrifices, inevitably. I managed the best I could and I got by. I still get by.
At home we speak dialect, more familiar to us but we also speak Italian. My grandchildren speak Italian. They always speak Italian to me at the dinner table when we are all together.
My granddaughter has a two- month old baby boy. She is married to an Englishman but she told her husband “you must speak Italian to him when he starts to understand”.
When I turned 70 and 80 I went to visit my brother in Verona. I stayed one month or a month and a half on each occasion. My last trip was when I turned 80. I went back to the village. There is no one anymore, only nieces and nephews.
I do not wish to go anymore. My nephews and nieces are fond of me, they want to drive me around; once we went to the seaside for a celebration, it was beautiful. We ate all together on a terrace. That was beautiful.
Recorded January 2014. Transcribed by Daniela Costa