In conversation with the women of the Tuscan Club, South Australia

The Tuscan Club: the place where you feel at home, with family

The Tuscan Club was born in a rather casual manner when a group of keen and eager Tuscans, including Paolo Citti, organized a few dance nights in order to involve and urge other Tuscans to unite and form a “Tuscan Recreational Circle”. On the 12 October 1980, on the second of these dance nights, Mario Olla, president of the Tuscan Regional Consulta, and Valerio Cecchetti, vice-president of the Consulta and president of the Association of Lucchesi in the World (l’Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo), came from Melbourne to lend support and organize this Tuscan Circle in Adelaide. After much discussion and persuasion from Mario Olla, at the end of the night he announced a list of nominations to form the provisional committee. The next day saw the elections of the provisional committee, including Sandra Lazzaris as secretary.

In 1981, the Tuscan Association of South Australia Inc became a legal organization. Even though the majority of members were Lucchesi, the name Tuscan Association was agreed upon so that all Tuscans in South Australia would feel welcome and an integral part of the Association.

Finally in 1992, their dream of having their own head quarters was realized, even if the premises required a dramatic reconstruction. After much discussion and hard work, on the 24 June 1995, the headquarters of the Tuscan Association of South Australia was officially inaugurated. [1]

 On 29 August 2005 Melanie Smans, Flavia Coassin, Daniela Costa and Renata Bertozzi met with a group of women from the Tuscan Club. We talked about the women’s experiences and involvement in the club, the history of the club and their hopes for the future. Here are their testimonies:


The early days of the club

Renata – “In the beginning, when we had functions, we went to a few clubs or halls but we had lots of picnics or that type of thing. We would cook in the church’s hall, but the space and commodities were inadequate. We had to bring all the things that we needed, and later, we thought, why don’t we create a club? So when we began here, do you remember what we would do? The men would work and we would come here, cook for the men that came and helped and washed the plates in the containers”.

Annamaria – “The men started, and then we began to participate with their encouragement.”

Lina – “In the beginning, we were like sheep but maybe because, at that time, this was what was done; there was no freedom for us. But now we have changed, the tables have turned; we boss the men and they have to do what they are told!”

Pina – “When we came here, slowly, slowly we bought something, then something else, and what was missing, we brought from home”.

Lina – “In the kitchen, we would cook something different, home-style cooking to attract people. In this way, we could get some money to put something more in the hall and buy the plates, and the next time, something else. But slowly, slowly, it went on and when we had some extra money we would buy something else. Everyone works a bit more and then we buy the dish washer. We work more and the next time, it’s the air conditioning. And it continues”.


“The committee was born in the kitchen”: The formation of the women’s committee

Renata – “The women’s committee was formed in 1982/1983, as it states in the records. The women are in the sub-committee, then there’s the directive committee, in which Francesca Donati is the secretary. Practically, in the directive committee, Francesca and I have been involved. In the committee, Nunzia is the expert and is responsible for the kitchen.”

Lina “Before Francesca, we never did anything outside of what the men in the committee programmed to do. They prepared the program and we followed that. However, we did have our own opinions and this caused a problem at a time”.


“We work; however there is the sense of enjoyment at the same time” – Their experiences

Nunzia – “Many Tuscans do not come from the same city or area and being in a club like this, you meet different people: who is from here, who is from there. I am from Garfagnana. And who there would know people from different parts? But here, there are different people that come from different parts”.

Renata – “I have always wanted to meet Tuscans in Australia. I thought that I would return to Italy and marry a Tuscan, and I found him here in Australia! I really like what we have done for our traditions. We are a small club, however, we have something in particular: we are a family, it’s difficult to find many committees like ours; a women’s committee where we all agree, there has never been an argument, always with good manners and respect. There was a period that we women put away $2 and then we went out to eat”.

Alice – “When my husband began to come to the club, after many years here, I also became more involved”.

Caterina – “I’m from the province of Avellino, my husband is Tuscan.”

Lina – “My husband is Tuscan and was in the committee, so I came with him. I would work and do whatever there was to do but I never wanted to take part in the decisions. I did not want to be in that position. But slowly, slowly, I began to come and meet the other women, and also I learnt how to cook many things that I did not know and now, I feel more relaxed. But all of these experiences have been good and we are friends. It’s been a great help for me. I would always feel nervous, you know, that I could not do it and many times I would get a headache!”

Annamaria – “I am like Lina. My husband was involved in the association and then I began to participate. Slowly, slowly the other women arrived, 1, 2, 3. We discuss how to prepare the meals, the picnics and so we organized a group of women and we were put on the kitchen (good heavens!) but I have always liked the kitchen. Then we have the children’s costumes for Carnevale, and we have arrived at this point and we are still together, and participate, laugh and joke, but also we can be serious when we need to be. What we’ve done, we’ve done willingly.”

Franca – “I began here in 1982. I have been here in Australia for many, many years, since 1957. I was happy, I would work. I would make the dinners, the sweets, the biscuits, they were then sold to collect money for the club”.

Anna – “My husband is Calabrese but grew up in Tuscany, and so he knew of the club. At the end, with a friend, we came here, I think to an AGM. I though, well, it’s good that we go on like this. Initially I thought: my husband will participate, and then I can get the house to myself! But the other women straight away got me involved in the committee.”

Francesca – “I am very proud to be Italian. I was born here [in Australia], to Sicilian parents but my husband is Tuscan. However, I feel more Tuscan than Sicilian! In the early days on the directive committee, it would get very heated and I would even argue with my husband. Some nights we would not talk going home, but we made up in the morning. We decided to talk English in the meetings because I couldn’t understand Italian well. If it were not for these women, my Italian would be … [poor]. Having been in other committees, I brought the experience and a lot of new ideas to the directive committee – fashion parades, netball and soccer teams, sponsoring a child through Compassion Australia. It was hard to try to get the men to agree with a lot of things … they had tunnel vision so I had to fight for myself”

All the women – “We work, we work, we work”.

Anna – “One would want to be more independent and have more decisional power.”

Pina – “We work; however there is the sense of enjoyment at the same time”.


Carnevale, La Befana and Women’s Day: The events and traditions

Renata –“We have participated many times in Carnevale. I remember that the first thing that we cooked at Carnevale was the fettuccine alla papalina, and no one knew what it was, not even tortellini alla crema. We have made le cialde, and then one year we made minestrone, pasta and beans, many things.”

Annamaria – “Then we had the Easter picnic at Maglieri. The Tuscan club was one of the first to do the picnic and now the others [clubs] participate.”

Francesca – “The Befana is purely a day for the children. We get someone to entertain the children, a magician or a clown and they get lollies and ice-cream. One of the ladies dresses up as the Befana and brings the toys in a wheelbarrow. Usually Renata and I buy the toys (for the children under 10 – normally about 30 children) … it’s a real headache! We try not to give the same toy to the same child so we keep a list of the toys we bought for the previous 3 years. We spend a whole night wrapping up all the gifts … we deserve a scotch! (adds Renata)

La pentolaccia is our one and only dinner dance. It started as a fancy dress but then no one dressed up so it’s no longer fancy dress. I make papier-machè balls, Renata decorates them and buys stuff to put in it: little gifts, lollies, sausages, socks, bras, face washers, shower caps. Then we hang them up and blindfolded people dance around and try to hit them with long sticks. When they break, every body makes a great rush to pick up the gifts.

Il tiro della forma [Cheese throwing competition] is a day where only members can throw a cheese down a lane and the one that stays in the lane and goes the farthest wins. There is a male and a female cup. It’s good because the young people come.”

Renata – “We have the real traditions from the country. The day of la Befana, wegive toys to the children. They are usually really hot days. The children would recite poems; they would learn Italian and we would do rehearsals. We have Easter where someone comes and plays music, and we dance under the trees and give eggs to the children free. Our celebrations of Women’s Day started with Australia Donna. On Women’s Day, the men cook and serve, they do everything.”

Anna – “The meaning of Women’s Day is to stay in bed and relax, but it never happens!”


Charity and Fundraising

Renata – “Practically as a group initially, we sponsored a child. After that, we began to collect money for the festival of Santa Croce and we received a reproduction of the Volto Santo. The first that we donated to was Camp Quality. We have also donated money to RAH research (Royal Adelaide Hospital). And now for many years we have always given money to Childhood Cancer.”

Annamaria – “For a few years, we have donated also to Compassion Australia, a group that organizes things for children.”

Francesca – “A friend of the Club had breast cancer and suggested that we participate in the Relay for Life where a team of 10 walks continuously for 24 hours and raises money for cancer research. Our team, “Amici Toscani” was the first Italian team (and the first Tuscan!) to enter in the relay. Each team member had to raise at least $100 but together we raised $5744.46”.

Pina – “These donations that we make come from the days of the Festa di Santa Croce that Renata organized”.


“Everything originates in the kitchen”: The kitchen

‘Don’t worry, you won’t be sacked, slaves are sold’ – sign in the kitchen at the Tuscan Club.

Renata – “Pina, Lina and her husband, when we would have the picnics at Maglieri, also at Carnevale, organized a demonstration about how to prepare le cialde, Tuscan cialde. There is Nunzia, and also Annamaria, that for sweets, are spectacular.”

Annamaria – “Everything originates from the kitchen, the committee was born in the kitchen.”


The trademarks of the Tuscan Club are Lina and Pina with the cialde and Nunzia with the schiacciata.

Nunzia – “In Tuscany, for Easter, we women make the schiacciata. My grandmother used to make them. These are specialties that we have made known in South Australia.”

Anna – “We have monthly lunches, and lunches for pensioners.”


The Tuscan youth: “They are proud to be Tuscan”

Nunzia – “Our children are proud of being Tuscan, but are not interested in taking over positions at the club.”

Francesca – “In 2000, we held the first conference of the ‘giovani toscani’, when the youth from Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth attended. They are very passionate.”

Pina – “(The young people) come to the picnics. Mother’s day, Father’s Day and the day of La Befana. [The important thing is] yes, the young Tuscans do some things, however, try to put them in the kitchen … This club continues because there is someone who makes the lunches and dinners. Otherwise it would not have gone forward.”

Anna – “They are young … and they also do small things, let’s say, the Toscanini have a quiz night that is very popular, and they donate money to charity. Then they have the festival for the Palio here, they also have a bus trip to the Barossa that is very popular.”

Lina – “The young people participate in the functions, but they don’t help. Also our children are proud to be Tuscans and when they talk of being Tuscan, they do want to be “Italians” … and the grandchildren, last night I had them at home and they had the t-shirts with “I am Italian”. Really! And they are happy; they say ‘I am Italian’.”

Francesca – “The men say that no one will come [if we do not cook]. I feel that the young people will continue to come but they will do things differently … they will have barbecues, or bring a plate (full!!) to share. Given the chance, as they get older, they will take over the club. I have threatened my eldest son that he has to be President one day. He says “Yes, I will do it … but not at the moment.” His wife will support him; she is from Ukraine and is very community minded.”


The Future?

Pina – “I hope that some of the youth, one day, before, … we are no more … come and learn the traditions and other Tuscan activities. We hope, but at the moment, it does not look too good. There’s not much light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. We hope there is someone that will take our place one day.”

Anna – “I think that the Tuscan Club is not the only club that has these problems. I think that the fact is that we all came to Australia, let’s say many years ago and everyone always have, more or less, nostalgia of Italy. So we want to stay together. Even though our children think they are Italian, they were born here. Instead we, with our nostalgia that we have for Italy, always want to be Italian and feel as such.”

Lina – “It has been beautiful; we have this club, this kitchen and all that we have organized and so on. But if I had thought that after 25 years like this, we would still be here [in the club], I would have said ‘no way’.”

But in Renata’s words: “But the most important thing, I believe, is that we all work together to give to all the people that attend the club the feeling of being at home, to feel among family.”


This report has been transcribed and compiled by Melanie Smans, an Honours student in the Italian Department at Flinders University South Australia with the supervision and support of Professor Flavia Coassin, Lecturer in the Italian Department of Flinders University , South Australia.

Australia Donna thanks Melanie Smans and the Italian Department for their collaboration on this project.

[1] Taken from “In Breve: La Storia Dell’Associazione Toscana Del South Australia Inc.” In “XX Anniversario Fondazione Associazione Toscana Del South Australia Inc.” (2001).