In conversation with women of Fogolar Furlan

Preamble by Lorenzo Savio, President of the Fogolar Furlan of Adelaide

Every woman in her home is mother, wife and custodian who provides for her family a harmonious place to live and enjoy their meals. However, for many of the women who have frequented the Fogolar Furlan with their husbands during the last fifty years, the Club became their second home.

In the first years, men were the ones that met at the Fogolar to play cards, mora, bocce, and to drink “un tai di vin” (a spot of wine). Gradually, women began to frequent the Club with their husbands and would prepare food, initially for picnics, BBQs and Sunday lunches, and then for the various celebrations we organised, until they perfected an authentic Friulan cuisine. Today you can eat very well at the Osteria del Fogolar.

As the years went by, the club expanded with new settings, such as well-appointed kitchens and bar. The women took the responsibility of preparing the meals, setting the tables, and doing the cleaning. There was a roster for the women who came to help on Sundays and, in the first few years, there was also a women’s committee that took charge of the tasks that the men were not prepared to do. As the Club grew, so did the women’s work, but, unfortunately, so did their age.

Without these women the Fogolar would not have survived and be what it is today. We need to congratulate all the women who have worked in the past and those that are still here today, for their marvellous support, their original ideas, their untiring work and formidable commitment. They truly are the “pillars” of the Fogolar.

These recollections of some of the women of the Fogolar Furlan tell their story.

For many the club was a real lifesaver

Meeting with the women of the Fogolar Furlan

In 2007, Vincenza Ferraro, Flavia Coassin, Renata Bertozzi and Marta Vezzosi, together with Fabrizia Calabresi, student of Italian at the Flinders University, have met with a group of women from Fogolar Furlan. 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…


What were your reasons for joining the Club?

Rita Venuti: I was the last one to come to the Club fourteen years ago. The thing that motivated me was the big emptiness that I had in my life after the death of my husband. I felt that I wanted to fill this emptiness by helping the community and the Club itself. The club helped me to keep going. The women of the Club have helped me a lot. I was the first and only lady Vice President of the Club and the early days were really hard. I was in charge of organising functions without having had any previous experience.

Luciana Francardi: I am from Vicenza. We used to frequent the Italian Club but when my daughter was five she wanted to go where there were other children of her age and we knew that here (the Friuli Club) other families used to come whereas at the Italian Club there weren’t many families. Therefore, we started to come here and we had friends that came here as well. My sister had married a Friulan and used to come with her daughters therefore we started coming and stayed. At the very beginning only men used to frequent the Club and used to play bocce and cards. Later on when they decided to formalise the Club ladies and families joined.

Petris Olimpia: I was the last one to arrive at the Club because it’s been eleven years since I arrived. Before that I was in Friuli and I was widowed. My brother-in-law, who was widowed as well because my sister and my husband died in the same period of time, came to get me because his daughter was due to marry in Australia. Therefore, I stayed a little and then I went back to Italy. After six months he decided to join me in Italy with the intention of taking me back to Australia. Therefore, I stayed here and I joined the Club where I found comfort. It’s been eleven years that I have been living in Australia and it’s been also eleven years that I’ve been in the Club. My brother-in-law took me to the Club on the first Sunday that I arrived in Australia. I helped a little in the bar and then the ladies called me into the kitchen and I went to help there. The most beautiful memories I have, are the most beautiful days spent at Club. Now I don’t come as often as I used to. I come on Sundays and I help as much as I can, sometimes also on Fridays.

Assunta Zorzi: Somebody called me here in 1981 to help clean the room and they took me straight to the kitchen. It was all voluntary work and we used to have so many parties back in those days. We were always here first to prepare, then to have the actual party and finally to clean up. Therefore, for four days straight we were here at the Club.

I had to leave everyone at home; husband and children had to take care of themselves. I came here for the company and felt comfortable. My husband would come and help as well. We even used to bring the children until they grew older. I have two children, and up until they were sixteen they used to come here and help serving tables and washing glasses. The parties are my most beautiful memories…after working for so many days, our only satisfaction was that the parties turned out well. I have been not coming here the last year, but if I start walking a bit better I will return.

Angela Toffoli: I arrived in Australia in 1959 and I have been in the Club for twenty years. The first time I came to the Club the ladies invited me in the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to help. I started by peeling a sack of potatoes. Afterwards you find yourself cooking for three hundred people without any qualifications because I’m not a cook. The typical dishes that we used to prepare were polenta, costine, trippa, minestrone. The Club helped me make some sincere and firm friends that in difficult moments in life you find always close and ready to help and give you a hand. For many it was a real lifesaver.

Luciana Francardi: I have been frequenting the Club for thirty-five years. I have been living in Australia for fifty-seven years. My sister had married a Friulan and had three daughters that were more or less the same age as mine and therefore to give them company we used to bring them here on Sundays. We met other couples that had children of the same age and therefore we started coming more or less regularly for our daughter to have some company. That was one of the reasons that brought me to the Club. In reality we don’t have anything to do with Friuli because I’m from Vicenza and my husband is Tuscan from Grossetto. Sunday evenings were like family reunions. I started helping a little bit in the kitchen, a little bit preparing tables; there was always something to do. I have been on the committee for six years. My daughter came back to the Club I don’t even remember when or how, and as soon as she did, they appointed her a member of the committee and at the first election they made her secretary.

Emilia Cassin: The first time I stepped foot at the Fogolar it was still in the old house. We used to organise some dances in the car park. There was a harmonium player and a violinist too and we used to dance to their music. We used to dance a waltz or a tango as well as we could because the pavement was made of cement and wasn’t very smooth and in addition there were also cracks in which the heels of our shoes would get stuck; however, we were happy. Later on I started helping in the kitchen with the other ladies. In the kitchen we used to work a lot because there wasn’t a dishwasher and we had to do everything by hand. My daughters then grew up and even they were involved with the Club especially the oldest, Cosetta. Also my husband used to come to the Club to play cards and discuss soccer with his friends. Then I was widowed but I continued to contribute in the kitchen. The Club gave us the opportunity to have fun amongst us Italians who shared the same language and traditions. In a way we were always trying to bring a little bit of Furlania amongst us.

Vanda Savio: I was born in Italy and I came here when I was three years old. I was sixteen when I first came to the Club with my brother-in-law who was one of the Presidents for many years; that way I met other young people. When I was a little girl I lost my father and my brother-in-law assumed his role. He migrated to Australia when he was young and married my sister who was only seventeen and a half. We used to live very close and as my brother-in-law used to frequent the Club, so naturally I joined too. The Club for me has been very important because I have made a lot of friends that up to this very day are still very close. Through the ballet we met our respective boyfriends that later became our husbands. My husband is also Italian he was born in Trieste like his mother, but his dad is Friulan. All the ladies here are the pillars of this Club.

Edda SpizzoI was born in Treppo Grande, in the Udine province. In 1952, I came to Australia to join my husband Giovanni. This land gave us the opportunity to strive to have a prosperous future, but it surely could not take away my strong yearning for my dear relatives far away.

In 1964, together with our children Miriam and Denis, we took a trip to Italy. When we returned, that same year, I decided to join the small group of women who were already working alongside the Men’s Committee of the Fogolar Furlan. It was there that I found what, for many years, I had been searching: friendship, a great sense of humour, and laughter. All this was a great help to me.

In 1969, we formed for the first time the Women’s Committee and I was elected the first President. I held the role of President for three years. The loyalty and the help given to me by all gave me great satisfaction. In particular, I must mention Gina Beltrame, a hard working woman who was always willing to help, to offer good suggestions and propose new initiatives.

From about 1972 onwards I needed to take leave for many reasons, but most of the time for my family. Now I continue to help as much as I can, and my name is still in the roster to work in the kitchen and on Sunday nights.

My husband and I will always consider the Fogolar Furlan our second home.


Which activities take place at the Club?

Irma Campagnuolo: At first [at the Club] we used to play bingo and bocce. In the early days there were many other activities. I used to play bocce and still do sometimes.

Luciana Francardi: Everything started with playing bocce. They also had a basketball team. There was also someone who taught the typical Friulan dances and women would perform when there were parties. There was also the Fogolar folkloristic group.

Emilia Cassin: We decided to put together a small choir accompanied by a pianist. We also made a recording. Usually we would sing at parties and we also had a Friulan party called mercato vecchio and we were dressed in the traditional Friulan costumes; we also have some photos of that night. That evening we were a beautiful choir and we sang Friulan songs. There was a group of men and one of women. There were Friulan songs that we had brought with us from Italy and through them we wanted to express ourselves joyfully to the public. For many years there were also masses on Mother’s Day and the children, dressed in Friulan costumes, would give a flower to all the mothers.

Vanda Savio: From my experience, in those years we decided to form a group of young people. We used to dance and we used to organise disco nights exclusively for the young people and after that we started the ‘danzerini’, the Friulan Dancers group. The group was formed in 1973, I think. Some time later, a group came from Italy, Gruppo Focloristico di Lucinico. That week for us was a joy because the dances we knew we had learnt from books in the city’s library, typical dances such as La Saltarina and La Vinca. This group opened our eyes and in only one weekend they taught us seven of their dances and we didn’t sleep all weekend, we really took our learning to heart. We also used to organise car rallies. We used to organise dances, movie nights and bowling.


Which are the celebrations organised by the Club?

Assunta Zorzi: The party for the children with Father Christmas…that is a nice party! All the families with their children come.

Luciana Francardi: Yes, it’s true… children and grandchildren come to this party! We used to make floats for the Carnevale but this year we did not celebrate it. But for the Christmas party we organise a pantomime and we also have a live nativity scene.

Emilia Cassin: New Year, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day. I must say the biggest celebration we have is on New Year’s Eve. Usually there is a full course meal accompanied by an Italian orchestra. On occasions, during the parties we would light the fogolar, the central fireplace that is the symbol of the Club. It is the main characteristic of Friuli and it represents family unity.

Vanda Savio: Last year in July we decided to do something different to raise funds for the Red Cross. To attract and involve the younger generation, my husband asked our children to suggest an idea and they decided to organise a “Quiz Night”, where you answer questions and receive prizes. Therefore, my son and his girlfriend decided to take over the event and did everything. It was a beautiful evening and the majority of the people that attended were young. Twice a year we used to organise an event called assaggini and we used to prepare small dishes typical of Friuli. We used to prepare ten different things and it used to take us days to prepare them but it was very popular.

Rita Venuti: On Sundays we try and maintain the tradition by preparing typical dishes of our region.

Edda Spizzo: The success of the many functions was due to the indispensable women’s group, especially in the kitchen.


Thoughts for the future of the Club?

Petris Olimpia: I hope for the best but I am not too optimistic because we are a very small number of women.

Assunta Zorzi: The young people used to come here until they were fifteen or sixteen years old and then we never saw them again. They would go off and do their own thing, they would go out, they wanted to go into the city and all these things… No I don’t know what it will be like. We had a passion for coming to the Club.

Angela Toffoli: I see the future change but of course the Club will live on, but it will never be like it used to because the ladies are the pillars of the kitchen. The younger generation doesn’t need this club, in fact, we don’t have any younger people in the Club they only come when there are celebrations.

Irma Campagnuolo: I wouldn’t have a clue. I think that at the pace it’s going these days it could continue going quite well, because they have these activities with the older people on Mondays and Fridays. I think there is hope to keep the Club alive.

Rita Venuti: In my opinion, the Club will become more commercial.

Luciana Francardi: It will survive. Maybe it will be used for private functions and it will be financed by non-members.

Emilia Cassin: The young people don’t feel the need that we used to feel of giving; of coming and of doing everything we could to make it become what it has today. We would have done anything in order to help and at the same time enjoy it. My husband, for example, used to come here and play cards and I used to come also with my daughters. I remember that we used come and dance and my daughters, who were little, and also the children of my friends used to fall asleep at a certain point in the evening. You could see all these little children sleeping next to the curtains. At first they used to fall asleep in their mothers’ arms and then the mothers would complain because they could not even have a dance and I used to complain as well. Therefore we used to put them all next to each other asleep. I hope that the Club will go on, but I would not know how. Surely not with the same warmth as before because we really had a need for each other. We needed this club; it was our life.

Vanda Savio: Today’s youth don’t have the interest we used to have when we were young. I have four children and they also, when they were little, used to dance and did so for many years. Now it’s been three years since we have left the dance group because there are not enough numbers and if there are not enough young people then they don’t feel like it’s worth it. It is a bit different now because there are more places to go to in the city, bars, cafes, pizzerias. When I was twenty there was only La Trattoria in Hindley Street. There were only a few places to go to eat pizza or drink coffee and meet. In addition our parents were a bit stricter, we had to always follow them. I see my children…that yes…do come to the Club but don’t have that same desire. The young people come only when their families come, for example on Mother’s Day or the gnocchi night, Christmas; in other words on special occasions. Unfortunately, nowadays young people have other commitments. I see my daughter who is seventeen and studies, she used to dance and work here, but now she has soccer training three times a week and on Sundays they play. She is always busy.

I am certain that in the future, when our young people will have their own families, they will want to rediscover their roots so that they will be able to teach Friulan customs to their children.