Rita Minervini née Valente

I was born on 19th August 1934 in Molfetta Italy, a Province of Bari.

My father Nicola Valente had been fishing in Australia a few times and decided that my mother Giuseppina De Pinto, my sister Rosa (1928) and I should join him. There was not enough work or money in the fishing business in Italy. We came by boat in 1938 and went to live at Streaky Bay, South Australia. Dad had been told it was a very good fishing spot.

My mother Giuseppina De Pinto was a dress maker, very proud, and very fastidious about her work and her home. In Molfetta she had a lovely home with beautiful furniture. In Streaky Bay there was hardly anything. My father had built a new home before we arrived to make her happy. It was made with cement Besser blocks, had a nice bathroom and indoor toilet. Most people only had tin homes and their toilets were out in the backyard. Still, Mum was most unhappy leaving behind her mother and her home.  She cried a lot and used to say “What I have left behind and what have I come to find here.”

Dad had a big boat and he would fish with his three brothers who had also migrated from Italy. We were known as the Valente families. They fished with lines and hooks; there were no nets in those days. They placed the fish in a well within the boat and would bring in the fish alive.

They fished two or three days at a time. We sold “snapper and whiting”. The rest of the catch Dad would throw out, as Safcol (the fish wholesalers), would not buy any other fish. It was a lot of work, they worked very hard, poor Dad, but that was what he knew and what he did!

We ate fish all the time: all sorts of fish even raw fish. As for Italian food such as olive oil, pasta, legumes, wine and other essentials, my mother would write an order to Patriti Brothers Wholesalers in Adelaide. The bus from Adelaide delivered the order; Dad would make a few trips on his bike to collect it from the bus stop.

In town there used to be; a bakery, butcher shop, post office, bank, hospital, doctors surgery, two hotels, haberdashery and grocery store which all closed at 6:00pm. There was a Catholic and Anglican church, and the Institute, where films were shown on Saturday nights, and other functions such as wedding receptions were held.

Mum got on well with our Australian neighbours; they loved the clothes she sewed for them. They treated her well and with respect. She had an old Singer pedal sewing machine, and she would sew all day. I still have three dresses that mum made for me and hold on to them as a keepsake. Today you cannot get beautiful tailor made clothes of that quality. Everything had to be perfect, the hems she would sew by hand. Mum never needed sewing patterns, and even made wedding dresses. My sister Vincenza was born in 1942.

When the weather was bad for fishing, Dad worked in our garden tending his vegetables, grape vines and fruit trees. Dad loved football and he would go in a buck-board with his Australian friends to nearby towns when they did not play at home.

When the war came, fishing was not permitted. We had to close our house and come to live in Adelaide. We were given food coupons.

On arrival we could not find a house to rent, and had to live with some Molfettesi people that Mum and Dad knew. We went from house to house because people could only let us stay a short time. I went to school at the Dominican Convent at Semaphore. Rosa stayed at home and looked after my little sister and Mum continued to sew. Dad worked at the Marines and Harbours, and at the South Australian Water Supply. It was very hard for him.

After the war we went back to our home, I continued my schooling.

Mum was surprised to find herself pregnant and upset because she was over 40 years old. My brother Joe was born in 1948. Mum noticed he was not developing well. The doctor said that it was possibly because she was upset, that her milk may have harmed the baby. She stopped breastfeeding straight away; still there was no improvement. Rosa and Mum took Joe to Adelaide to see many children’s specialists who said he may have suffered a stroke at some time, but in those days there was not anything they could do. Joe was in Minda Home from age eleven until he passed away five years ago. My mother cried for him all the time. She would say “God should have given me all girls instead of a son with a disability”.

When I was 18 or 19 years old we moved to Adelaide mainly because my parents worried that I was meeting with Australian boys. Mum did not want me to have an Australian boyfriend as she could not communicate fluently in English, and said your sister married an Italian and so should you.

Dad built a new home for us in Ethelton. I did not go to school or work. Mum said that girls did not need to go to high school, so I looked after my brother and she continued sewing.

Saverio was introduced to me by a lady who owned the boarding house not far from home. She told my mother that he was a good boy, a hard worker with a good job and came from a good family in Molfetta. I was allowed to go to the pictures on Saturday nights, with Saverio, my sister and her husband. He worked at the Marine and Harbours and Macfarlane Ship Builders. He worked all the time, even on weekends, as cargo ships kept coming and going continuously. He had to do the repairs and all the timber work.

Mum liked him and felt sorry that he had to cook his own meals; she invited him to have tea at our place, every evening. She said “we eat, he eats”

Saverio said to mum “I want to marry Rita. I love her and want to have my own home, I have no family here. The sooner we get married the better”. I too, wanted for us to marry, because we could never spend any time alone together. Saverio said “I need and answer straight away. I have written to my brother in Italy (there were no telephones in those days) and he has already found a girl for me. If I cannot marry Rita, then I will go to Italy to get married”. Although Mum did not want to rush things she finally agreed.

He gave me his bank book and asked me to make all the necessary preparations for the wedding, to purchase the furniture and everything we needed.

Mum did not want me to take his bank book but he said don’t worry, just do it. I bought the engagement ring.  We invited (by letter) his auntie from Port Pirie, to come with us to purchase the furniture, out of respect for her. At the Malcolm Reid store I saw a beautiful bedroom suite. Auntie Pasqualina thought I had expensive tastes. Saverio said “You buy the one you like because you have to live with it, don’t worry about my auntie”. So I purchased the bedroom, the lounge, and the kitchen suite. I still have my bedroom suite to this day as I love it very much.

Mum and Dad bought us a wooden house and our family and friends helped to do it up. We booked the church and hall and everything. I bought a beautiful wedding dress. Mum said, she could not make one like that for that price.

I told Saverio to check the bank book, but he said “I trust you!”

We married in the Sacred Heart Church at Semaphore in 1955. The reception was at the Port Adelaide Wharfies Hall. Saverio and I invited all our relatives and friends (that is what we did in those days). We had lots of relatives!

We went by train to Sydney, for our honeymoon, for 2 weeks. Neither of us had ever been there; it was lovely, Sydney was beautiful. Saverio did not speak much English back then.

Our son Saverio James was born in July 1957.

In 1958 we bought a fish shop at Ethelton. Dad helped peel the potatoes, my younger sister served in the shop, I filleted fish with Saverio, and Mum looked after my little boy. We worked very hard and made sacrifices for two years to save money to build our home. We worked 6 days a week and closed on Sundays.

In 1960 we bought a block of land at Fletcher Road Birkenhead, and built our own home. We sold the shop.

Nicholas Joseph, our second son was born in 1962. Then we bought our first car… a valiant.

After we paid off the house and the car, my husband said now I want to take you to Italy to meet all my family; my mother, sister and brother. Saverio’s father had passed away before he was born. Sadly he never knew him.

We went with the ocean liner ‘Marconi’, and came back on the ‘Galileo’. The boys loved Italy, Sam was 11 years old and Nick was 5. When we came back, my daughterVincenza Anna was born in 1968.  We will never forget those 4 months in Italy and 2 months sailing. We toured the world:  It was our best holiday.

Saverio went back to work at Marine and Harbours until he retired.

On the 7th of January 2001 we were involved in a terrible car accident. We were passengers in our friend’s car. My husband died instantly, and I had my legs crushed. I have had many operations since then. My children held the funeral for my beloved husband as I was in a coma for ten days. Coming out of the coma I asked which hospital Saverio was in, my children told me he had passed away………….. I let out a terrible scream that went right through the hospital……………

Sam, my son works for the government. He is married with two sons; my grandsons are both are working as engineers. My son Nicholas, an accountant is the customer development Manager at RRTC. My daughter Enza worked at the Submarine Corporation and is now a pay roll officer. They have a boy and a girl.

After the accident my children and I decided to sell our family home….there were too many memories…… I came to live here, not far from my daughter’s place. I walk to Mater Christi Church every morning and go to Mass.

I am blessed to have such a loving caring family. They ring me every day to say hello and see what I am up to. My little dog keeps me company.   My sister and brother in law usually visit me about three times a week.

Transcribed by Vincenza Ferraro.