Nancy Sortini

I was born at the hospital in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills on the 3rd of March 1942.

My parents lived at Upper Sturt, which is in on the fringes of the Belair National Park.

I was one of 3 girls. I had 2 elder brothers who were a lot older than me.

So really I spent my time with my two other sisters. We went to school at Stirling to the Dominican Sisters convent.  We walked a long way to school, a good 4-5 kilometres to school and back home. It was a long way but we did not think anything of it.

My father worked on a farm and my mother stayed at home.

We had a wonderful life.  We were not very rich in terms of money, but we had a wonderful life in terms of food.  We had a rich kitchen with all sorts of food that a lot of other people were struggling to buy.  We had chicken all year around whereas most people were lucky if they had it at Christmas time.   And of course at Christmas we had wonderful home big fat meat balls which was a tradition with our mother to make and which we have carried on the tradition.  Today I still make the meatballs and I bring my grand children around a week before Christmas and I involve them in the making of the meatballs.  Meat balls are made of pork mince and all sorts of ingredients, we generally make 250 meatballs.  Although they may seem a lot, I have three children and 7 grand children and believe me those meat balls do not last very long! I am lucky if I am left with a dozen or more!

We had wonderful life growing up in the Adelaide Hills.  But we became teenagers and we found that we really wanted to live in the city.  We wanted to go dancing, to the movies. It was too far away.

My parents came from a little village, Fossacesia, which is 150 Km north east of Rome on the Adriatic coast.  It was a little village. It had two churches; a lot of fishing and tobacco was grown.

My mother came from a family of landowners.  In those times they were rich people.

My father came from a family where they had to go out and get a day works here and there. They were poor people.  My mother’s family was happy. My grandfather played the piano accordion and my mother told me that he would play and the neighbours would come and they were dancing and having a wonderful time.

When my mother was 24 she was washing clothes at the communal well, when my father, who had recently come home from military service, was wondering around and at 24 he was looking for a wife. He saw my mother and he liked what he saw. So he said to his parents “ I have found a girl I would like to marry”.

So they found where her parents lived. Lucia was asked if she consented to marry Giuseppe and my mother told us  “I was 24 and in the village 24 is old.  I decided that I would marry him”.

Fossacesia was a very poor little village and my father, who was quite ambitious, heard in the village that there was a place called Australia where you could get work.   He borrowed money and he decided to leave Italy and his wife who had one child, 2 yrs old, and was pregnant with another one.

In 1927 he came to Australia. He was 27, very young and very courageous. He did not know where he was going and what he would find.  There was no work in 1927. He survived by living in a tent in the hills and shooting rabbits to eat.

When he found work he first paid back the person in Fossacesia and slowly slowly he started saving up to bring my mother and the children. He was doing any work he could get on the land.

My mother came in 1935.  She loved Australia from the minute she set foot here because they could buy what they needed and she was no longer poverty stricken.  They were farming people. When they came to Australia they bought a pig, a cow, they made their own butter and cheese. They killed the pig once a year. They made prosciutto and salami.

They were very kind people.  They had such an abundance of food that when people came to visit, particularly our friends from the city, they put lots of food in their arms and send them off with fruits, vegetables and eggs.

They have passed their generosity on to me. I like to thing that I am a kind person

My mother said to me that she never wanted to go back to Italy. Life there had been so hard.

We spoke the Abruzzese dialect at home.

After the war, my father became a sponsor of a lot an o people from our village. He had to provide with a job and a bed.  He made money for lodging these people.

As teenagers we felt the difference between our parents and the Australian way of life. We did not like it very much. We were Australians and we wanted to do the things that Australians did. We became a bit rebellious.

My parents bought a radiogram and few records. They liked music and I remember waking up on a Sunday morning to all the beautiful “Napolitano” songs being played on the radiogram.  That stays with me to this day to the point that I have bought CD’s of people like Claudio Villa and few others.  My mother loved opera and adored Mario Lanza and she went to see the movie “ The grand Caruso” over and over again.

We went to Fossacesia. We stayed with our cousin for 10 days. On a Sunday morning we went for a walk. I remember I thought to myself “ This was my parents’ land”. It was a wonderful feeling!

When I married I had three children. We had a good life

I stayed at home for 10 years when the children went to school. Then I got a job in a restaurant for 20 yrs. We built a house, which was our dream. So happy to have our own home finally!

I like reading. I own quite a large number of books. I like going to the theatres, the movies. I love operas, people.

We went back to Italy in 1987 for 4 months and we bought a little Fiat and we went to Austria and Switzerland and travelled all over Italy, down to Sicily.

I always wanted to write, but having 3 children and working, I never had the time. Few years ago I found out there were a writers group in Norwood.  I started to join and to do my writing.  At the same time my sister said that she liked to do a biography of our mother.  So we started doing a bit of it.  My mother was born in 1900 and died in 2000. So she lived for virtually one hundred years.  In that time the world changed. We had TV, ’computers. Medicines. aircrafts, radio.  We felt that we wanted to put down on paper this incredible world that she was born in and then she died in.

I have quite a few friends Italians.  I consider myself Australian because I was born here. I have a great sense of connection with Italian people.

My Italian improved when I lived in Italy…I was speaking very well Italian by the time we came home, but now I have forgotten because I do not use it. I got to La Mensa with a group. We speak English.

I am close to my sister. We go on holiday together.  Last year we took the Ghan to Alice Spring.  We saw Ayers Rock and the Olgas and then we went to Darwin.

I cannot travel overseas. I have arthritis in my lower back and I suffer from very bad depression.  I have all my life.  One time I hid this and tried not to tell people about it because I felt ashamed and thought that people would not understand, which they did not of course. Depression is a very hard illness to understand because is a mental one and you cannot see it. My mother nurtured me as a child when I had the attacks. Not knowing what they were, I remember that she put me to bed and fed me chicken broth. That was the standard thing they gave me when I was sick.  And gradually gradually I would get out of bed and go on my way.

My husband came on his own from Lombardia when he was 17. He had an uncle here who treated him very badly. He was a carpenter and a joiner and he worked very very hard all his life, 7 days a week all for his family.

I like my grand children in particular to know about their grand parents.


Recorded February 2014. Transcribed by Daniela Costa.