Rosa Caon née Bonin

I was born in the province of Treviso and I left for Australia by myself in 1952 to join my fiancé who had left two years earlier.  In Italy I worked in a silk weaving factory.  My friends came with me on the train from Castelfranco Vento to the Port of Genoa. My village is in the province of Treviso near Bassano Del Grappa. From the village you can see the mountains covered in snow. We would bike up the hills, it was hard in winter, but everything is easy when you are young.

I met my husband when I was eighteen. He had returned from military service and had already prepared the papers to come to Australia. I was a bit smitten by him, he seemed to know a lot more than I did. I had other suitors but I wanted to come to Australia, to go far away from those poverty stricken villages; there was a lot of poverty after the war.  I had already heard about Australia because years earlier my father wanted to emigrate to Argentina; he was told that Australia was a better place but he did not want to go that far.   I kept on thinking about Australia and when I met my future husband just about ready to leave, I was quickly very interested.

I was happy to go and join my fiancé. I had met his family and I found them a bit old fashioned. My future father in law remarked immediately that the sleeves of my blouse were too short and my neckline far too revealing. But Sempliciano, my fiancé was a good young man and he loved me. He was handsome even with his country manners which was the way he was raised by his father and mother. I thought I would change him, but I didn’t, he remained always the same.  The ship journey was a lovely holiday in the company of other young people. There were dances, parties, movie nights and some land excursions. My mother in law instructed one of my fiancée’s cousins to take care of me and he followed me everywhere on the ship. He was like a policeman. The trip took approximately one and a half months and when we docked in Melbourne Sempliciano was there waiting for me.

In Adelaide I lived in the home of one of my husband’s cousins. Adelaide struck me as a lovely town, even if just outside the city centre I could see horses and cows in the parklands.  The cousin’s wife had been in Australia for four years and I thought that she would speak English by now but sadly she knew only a few words. She was one of those people who did not take to Australia. She was a lovely person.  She used go and collect the meat her husband had ordered in advance from a nearby butcher. One day the meat left a lot to be desired but she did not want to take it back because she could not speak English. I told her that I had been here for two months now and I would give it a go.  I went back to the butcher, I showed him the meat and told him “This no good”. He understood immediately and changed it for the right piece.   This experience gave me confidence and I started slowly to speak English. It was hard not knowing the language; especially when you are young it is horrible not to be able to express yourself. I did not attend English language classes because we started our family straightaway. I can speak well now but if I am in a group I still find it hard to join in the discussion. When my son started school he used to complain that he could not understand the teacher or the other children. I told him:

“You’ll see, soon enough you will be able to talk like them and you will teach me to speak”.

An old English gentleman, who lived nearby, used to come and visit every day to speak English with me. Quite often it was inconvenient because I was busy with the children. But he would come every day and he taught me the language.  He would say that I was good but it was he who was good, a dear neighbour.

There is something good, there is something sad, there is a little bit of everything when you first come here.  There were tears because when you are young you wish life was easier, more cheerful.

I stayed with my husband’s cousin and his wife for a long time. They kept me company.  Once a week we would go to the city centre. We would look at shops and fashion and have “lunch”.  It was a cheerful day because it was always lovely to go to the city. We would spend some money and on our return, the husband would ask  “What did you buy today?” “Almost nothing, almost nothing!” we would reply. But we would always buy something.

I would write home to my mum and tell her how we had plenty of food here and how I lived in a house where I had to polish the floor boards. I made my mum happy with my news.

After a while I met two brothers who were living in Hilton. They asked me if I could go and cook for them. So my husband and I went to live there. There were seven men plus myself. I already had my little first born daughter and whilst there I had my second child, a son. After expenses and rent, they would pay me two pounds a week. It was good money at that time. We were there for a year and a half. We then started looking for a house and after looking and looking we eventually found one in Unley. I really like it and I insisted that we buy it.  It cost a bit more but there were less expenses in having to fix it up. It only had four rooms but slowly we built on at the back as was the custom sixty years ago. And that is where I stayed.  I never moved house again. I like my place, relatively central with shops nearby. For me it is a most comfortable house. Why change? This is where my children grew up.

When he first came to Australia, my husband started working for the Electricity Trust and then found work in cementing. He would get eight pounds a week. It was rough work, very hard. In those years you would have to carry everything by hand. So it was that my husband retired early, he was only sixty when he stayed home with an injured back. You pay dearly for hard, heavy work. He has been in a residential facility for two years now; he has dementia. When I go and visit him it is always hard to believe that he must be there while I am here at home. I could no longer look after him, I had health problems of my own just at the time he deteriorated. It is always painful when I visit him. He is almost 86 years old now. My children tell me “Mum that’s his home now, do not think about it; he is ok there and you are ok at home”. They are right but I miss him.

The first time I went back to Italy was after twenty-two years. My parents had passed away in that time and I never saw them again. I could not take all my five children, so I brought along the two youngest ones. They loved Italy and they even learnt some Italian.

They wanted to go back straightaway but I told them “Wait until you finish your studies and have a job”.  So the first money they earnt was spent on going back to Italy. My youngest daughter has already been six times, more than my four trips.

When I go to Italy I love it, but after one or two weeks I want to come back here. I still have three sisters and two brothers and I want to see them again one last time.  I think I will join my son when he is going this year if my health allows it. I do not trust going by myself.  I had a beautiful cruise with my daughter in New Zealand.  I would like to have a few more trips, go on a holiday! I like my home, I do all my house work willingly but I also like to go out to travel around a bit.

I cannot complain about Australia. It is a beautiful country and you live well. We have not made a fortune here but we managed.  My children have all studied without any help from me – I couldn’t because of the language and the very few years of schooling I had during the war.  But there was no television at that time and all my five children did quite well in their studies.  I cannot complain, I am happy with what I’ve achieved. I have had a large family and they are all settled. Five children, all good, all clever, all educated – we have had a lot of satisfaction from them. One son is a University professor in medical physics, one is a building engineer and the other an electronic engineer. One daughter works in a bank and the other one in an office. They are all married with children. I have eleven grandchildren. When they visit they give me lots of love.


Recorded 13 February 2014. Transcribed by Giuliana Otmarich.