I was born on the 18th of November 1935, in San Giorgio La Molara in the province of Benevento. I was the sixth child in a family of 10 children; there were six sisters and four brothers. One sister and one brother died when they were young. Another brother died young, at the age of 33, from heart disease, he used to get drunk all the time. My mother took him to the doctor who said he had a vein that was not working well; he could, however, have had a long life if he took care of himself but my brother liked the good life; drinking, women and entertainment. He was a first class tailor, taught at zio Luigi Santillo’s tailoring shop.
At home, I would work night and day; I would cook for the restaurant and knead a 100 kilos of flour every night to make bread and then sell it. I would finish at 8 o’clock in the morning and then I would get ready to open the restaurant. Sometimes I would sleep for three or four hours after I had kneaded the bread. Then I would do other work like cleaning, washing the dishes etc., etc.
My mother commanded me with a stick; all the others were married and I had to look after the house and the restaurant. Only my youngest sister, Maria Lucia, who was born after the Second World War in 1947, was at home. But she was little and I had to take her to school. I sewed her first dress when she went to kindergarten.
My father fought in World War I (1914-1918) and when World War II (1939-1945) broke out, he volunteered under Mussolini. They were called “the Black Shirts” and they were sent to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. During this time, he was taken as prisoner of war by the English because he was a Fascist. They took him to Oxford in England and he was there for seven years. He had to renounce Fascism. My father would say “I cooperated to get back to my family; but I was a fascist, I am a fascist and I will remain a fascist”.
When my father returned to San Giorgio, the older people would get up early every morning and talk about politics. There was, my father, Vincenzo Vella, Angelo Rossito, Orazio Vella and Michele Paradiso, I don’t remember all the names but there were seven or eight of them. My mother would get angry because in the early morning when you could sleep in a bit, they would meet under the lamp post right next to our window. She would say “go away!” but my father continued to meet there, and I had to get up early to prepare coffee, a glass of liqueur and even some sweets for them.
My mother was always sick; she had biliary colic and was very ill. At that time I didn’t believe her but now I do. She would beat me if I didn’t do all the things she wanted. My father would say “leave her alone, can’t you see she is tired?” all to no avail, my mother did not want to understand, she only wanted me to do everything, in order and in time.
There was also my brother who was studying in Naples and I would have to wash his things and send them to him. Another brother, Imperio, was a cooper, he made wine barrels with my father but he did not continue because he did not like this job. Imperio came to Australia in 1955. He worked at Brompton making soap. It was a good job, he liked it and he became the boss. Modern detergents meant that soap was made redundant, so he left the job and went to work with the Gas Company as a boiler attendant. He married a wonderful lady and they had two children. They went to Italy for two years but they did not like it there and returned to Australia. He then worked at Rio Coffee for 35 years.
Angelina, my sister, came to Australia in 1956 to be with her husband Vittorio De Ionno. She is two years older than me, but she married when she was sixteen years old. My sister and her husband welcomed me when I arrived in Adelaide, and we have always been there for each other. They have 3 children: Maria, Angelo, and Giuseppe.
In 1957, a regulation was introduced in San Giorgio that dough needed to be kneaded and cooked in the home. For hygiene reasons, it was forbidden to transport raw dough. Previously, I would knead the dough at home, put it in baskets and carry them on my head to the bakery. When the bread was baked, the baker would call me and we needed to go and get it.
I don’t know how we did it all; (looking back) it seems impossible to have done so much work. In those times, cholesterol did not seem to exist, it did not matter if one was fat or thin, only whether they could work and would work.
There was no room for an oven in our house so we could no longer make bread to sell.
I had suitors who wanted to marry me but my mother and father always said “that one is not for you, that other one is no good for you”, they created obstacles. So I fled to Australia.
I decided to come to Australia in 1957 and stayed with my sister Giorgina who had been here since 1952. She had married Antonio Trotta and they had a daughter named Pellegrina who is now in Rome teaching English to the children of diplomats from the United Nations.
At first, I couldn’t find work and I was ashamed to get the unemployment benefit but didn’t say anything because I had wanted to come to Australia. I sewed for people to earn some money. I learnt from my brother, the tailor and also from my sister Anna and her husband Mario Fazzini.
Instead of finding work, I met Donato Vella. We had the same surname but we weren’t related and I didn’t know him in Italy. We met through my friend Immacolata Cardillo. It was our destiny to meet in Adelaide.
He already had a house in Rosewater, but his father was sick, he had cancer of the stomach. When they operated, the tumour was too advanced and there was nothing they could do. Three months later in April, he passed away. We met at the end of April and we married ten months later, in February 1958 at the church of St. Francis of Assisi in Campbelltown. I chose my sister Giorgina and her husband to be our best man and matron of honour.
We had a small party at my husband’s house and for our honeymoon we went to Sydney. It was a wonderful honeymoon for ten days. We toured a lot and met with friends. We stayed at a hotel on George Street and on the way back we stayed three days in Melbourne with my husband’s uncle, Domenico De lonno. We then came back because Donato had to go back to work at Holden where he was a metal finisher.
After nine months and two weeks, our daughter Graziella was on born on the 16th of December 1958. Silvana was born 18 months later on the 24th of September 1960 and Maurizio was born on the 3rd of May 1962.
I sewed at home for people and also sewed several wedding dresses. I did this because I could sew them at night: the fabric was white and I could see it better. I didn’t sew a lot because the children were little and I needed to take them to school; it was a bit difficult.
In 1965, we went to Italy and stayed for four months. I visited my mother, my mother-in-law, my brother Amerigo and my sister Anna and her family. We went to Capri, Milano, Switzerland, Rome, Florence and Pisa. Italy was truly beautiful and I have always liked it, but the people were very demanding.
My mother-in-law was really good, she did not order me about, on the contrary she would tell me “sit down for a minute, have a rest”. It was lovely and I would do the housework; whatever I could.
I also got along well with my sister-in-law, Dorina and her family, who lived with my mother-in-law. She would work in the fields and I worked in the house. I also enjoyed the company of my other sister-in-law, Marianna, who lived nearby. She came to Australia for four months with her daughter.
When we returned to Adelaide, we purchased a business, the Fodder Store, and I worked at Balfours for three years. At Balfours, I worked long hours. I would start at 3 o’clock in the morning or even at 2 o’clock sometimes and finish about 3-4 in the afternoon. There was plenty of work and they paid well. After this, I had a delicatessen on Tapleys Hill Road for five years.
I wanted to learn English. I went to night school but I was pregnant and at night I was tired and I would feel sleepy. However, I learnt enough and had no need for interpreters. For example, I wanted the title for the house and went to the city, to Flinders Street. I asked them for the ‘paper from the house’, they stared at me in the face, and said “oh..the title?”, and I said yes.
I worked on my own and I got by. It was hard work and it paid well but it wasn’t enough to hire another person. After five years, I sold the delicatessen and worked with my husband for 19 years. Then we sold everything. (My sister-in-law, my husband’s sister, Biagina, said that I was lazy and that I didn’t want to work but my brother-in-law, Peppino, my husband’ s brother, said that I was fond of earning money, and he wanted me to leave my work and look after the family).
I had a neighbour Maria, she was Polish and she would mind the children for me and take them to school while I worked. She really helped me a lot and if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have been able to work. I would pay her because she needed money; she deserved it, and I did it with all my heart. We were very fond of each other. When she passed away, I placed a notice in the newspaper acknowledging everything she had done for us; I will never forget her.
When we sold everything, we went to live in the new house we had built six years earlier at Tennyson. It’s a beautiful house near the sea and everyone said it was a beautiful spot. My husband’s brother, Giovanni came to visit us from Italy and when he went back, he said “Donato has his house in a luxurious place with a lake at the front and the sea at the back;
We are happy that our children grew up in this house. We would often take them to the beach. Lots of times in the evening, I would prepare dinner and then we would take it to the beach and eat it there. We would meet with friends in the evening, in particular Lina Fabretto and Antonietta Bartemucci.
I have three grandchildren; Graziella’s children, Oliver and Leia and Maurizio’s daughter, Giulietta.
We sold our block of land at Noarlunga and my husband donated the proceeds to the San Giorgio Club. We are founding members and were a part of the committee for 15 years. We would do anything; I cooked, made pizza, sauce and everything required to carry the club forward.
My husband was also president of the committee of San Giorgio Martire, our patron saint.
It has been a pleasure to be in the company of everyone.
Recorded 27/2/2014. Transcribed by Vincenza Ferraro.