Maria Caruso

I see everything beautiful in my life, I am a Catholic and I go to church; since I started suffering from ‘panic attacks’ [1] I no longer go by myself. Panic attacks are a disease, but I do not believe in drugs, I have to control them naturally. My son is a nurse; he helps me to control them. I like going to see people but I don’t go by myself, I go with ECH community. I go and visit my aunt at the North Eastern Community Nursing Home and I bring food for her and her friends.  By myself I don’t go anywhere, I only go when my husband or a companion are there.

I am a very happy person; I read books, I like cooking. This Christmas I gave away four trays of lasagne. I keep very busy.

My daughter lives in Melbourne with her husband Marco and their daughter Claudia Maria. My son Enrico and his wife Antonella, have a little boy two and a half years of age and a little girl seven years old.

I like looking after children. Children do not need a lot of toys. I teach the children natural things. The kids need to be involved; Alessia likes cutting out pictures from magazines, I make some glue with flour and she pastes them. We play Bingo and she wins sometimes. She likes to cook, so I let her make coconut biscuits. I have a problem when she asks me to spell words, you see, I believe in the Befana, so I put some chocolates and money in a bag and left it for Alessia. When she opened her gift bag, she asked me “where is the letter from the Befana”? I told her the Befana is Italian, she cannot write in English.

I was the first born of 15 children, 5 died in infancy as there were no incubators in those days (there was no opportunity) and one drowned when she was two and a half years old. I still remember it! Mum had gone to make bread and my little sister Carmelina fell in a bucket of water and drowned. We all have the names of our grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles and aunties. Now they do not name children after saints anymore; they are all strange names. My son’s name is Raffaeale, after my grandfather, my daughter’s name is Rosalia Giulia, like my husband’s sister and Enrico, after ‘Enrico Caruso’, I have named him also Gabriele though, like Saint Gabriel.

Raffaele is a midwife and a nurse practitioner and he is not married. Giulia is a beautician my daughter has my character; she like to be in charge, just like me. Enrico is a sale representative …detailer.

I do not push my children, I let them do what they want to do and nobody bosses anybody around! You have to respect each other.

For our 50th anniversary we organised a little house party. There were 40 people. It was really a lovely party. I invited my friends just by phone, I said come overMy daughter wanted to invite her friends but I said ‘I want to invite my friends and their children’. I won, I always do, don’t worry!

My daughter paid for the party, she is very elegant. My children ordered food and cake and they gave us a pizza oven as a present. The following day we went to the restaurant, family only.

Once we had the new oven, we wanted to check out who made the best pizza. My daughter prepared her own dough, my son bought some fresh dough, my brother (he is a baker) prepared his own dough and I made my own. Once all cooked, my pizza was the winner. It was the best, the tastiest, my pizza would melt in your mouth. My brother was devastated.

In my living room I have a gallery of photographs of my children, my grandchildren and my relatives, dead or alive. I listen to the Holy Mass every Sunday broadcast live on TV from Melbourne. When the priest says ‘Peace be with you’ I get up and say ‘Peace be with you’ to each photo. This picture is Saint Giro, my mum used to say that he was a Neapolitan doctor; I am very devoted to Saint Giro, because when my son was sick I would pray to Saint Giro.

I really like dancing… is in my blood and I dance ……pains and aches do not matter…!

My mother comes from Villa Literno, province of Caserta, and my dad is from Palme, Reggio Calabria. I was born in Villa Literno. When mum got married however she went to live in Calabria but she did not like it there and so she told my dad “either you come with me or I am leaving you”.

At school I finished my first and second year and then I always worked on a casual basis; we would pick up green beans from others’ fields because we had very little land.

I came to Australia on the ship ‘Oceania’ in 1962. My uncle sponsored me. My father was a ‘brazen communist’ (openly declared). My uncle sponsored all our family but my father was rejected because he was a communist.  So I came here by myself and then sponsored my brother. My sister-in-law introduced me to my husband Cosimo Caruso; he is from Benevento, the city.

At 20 I got married to Cosimo in St Peters Catholic Church. I was the first bride in this Church. We had a beautiful reception in a Lebanese Hall nearby. We have always lived here in Janet Avenue. My husband built this house himself bit by bit; it is a very solid house.

I have always worked. At first at Car Fasteners, until I was five months pregnant and later, a few months after my son’s birth, I used to clean offices. After that, I worked at Godfrey’s   Industrial for four years, while a friend would look after my son. I worked at Glover Gibbs Bakery and once my daughter was born I worked in another bakery ’Oven Door’ and there I stayed also after the birth of my third child.  I would start at 4 o clock in the morning and work for 4 hours. My son and my daughter would look after the little one once their father left for work. I would get back at 8 o clock and I would take them to school.

I worked until I injured my back; in 1980 the specialist referred me for some particular X rays but I was allergic to the injection of contrast dye so I was almost paralysed for approximately two years. They do not give contrast injections anymore nowadays.  My father came from Italy to visit me.  I was very unwell and I could not do anything but my relatives took him around and they helped me.

I then qualified for the invalidity pension because I suffered from chronic back pain- scoliosis; I was 3 years on the invalid pension, until 1984. I then went on an orientation programme and I qualified as a child care worker and here my English improved.

So I refused the pension and I started working as a child care worker at Stradbroke Primary School in the after school care programmeI still remember my first students Sonia and Damien. I really liked this job very much because I love children and we had a special relationship.

I was employed by the Family Day Care; I would go to school to get the children and I would take them home where I had a room just for this. The government at that time would encourage us to install air conditioning, child-proof glass windows and other things and it would then allow us to claim tax deductions. It would send a woman every three months to ensure that everything was ok. I had to learn to apply First Aid. My brother would help me take the children from the school to my home. The children would be here from 3.30 to 6.00, or until 9.00 or 11 pm or they would sleep here (sleep over) if their parents could not collect them for work reasons.

I never tired, I was really happy and well organised. The children were growing up and they would almost look after themselves; they would do their homework and all I had to do was be near them and watch. In the last 13 years I had seven children from two families, one Chinese and the other Lebanese. I could look after 3 children under 5 and 4 children between 6 to 9 years of age.  I also looked after children with ‘special needs’. I love children; we even had a theatre performance (“Little Red Riding Hood”); I had a red scarf that the girl would wear.

I was really fond of these children, I loved them as I loved my own. If you do a job you have to love doing it.  I used to take them out   for ice creams and on special occasions I took them to Plate & Platter Restaurant. We went for walks.

I stopped working because it was time to retire.  My back was always sore and I wore a corset.

I have always been happy: in Italy when I was young, with my family with everybody. I have an open character, I like to be with all people, I make friends very easily and my friends are friends for life.  The saying goes ‘a woman who talks is worth more than a labourer’ which means that a woman who talks is better than one who works.

Now I look after elderly women, we go to church and I dance with them at the San Giorgio La Molara Club. I like to play the pokies but only if my husband or my brother come with me.

Since I got married my husband and my children have been my life; then the students gave me lots and lots of joy. Now I have my little old ladies.


Recorded 14 January 2014. Transcribed by Vincenza Ferraro

[1] All words in italics are Maria’s own words in English. They have not been edited.