Making Australia Home

The following is a transcript from an interview conducted in 1997-98 by Prof. Raffaele Cocchi (1942-2004) from the “Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere”, University of Bologna and the then President of the Emilia-Romagna region, Italy, with my dad.

Interviewing Amedeo Dall’Ara, born in Roncofreddo in the Province of Cesena on the 22nd December 1924.

Family left behind in Italy: father, mother, 6 sisters and 4 brothers, 12 in all – some of them have now passed away.

 

dads family 1941

Before leaving for Australia I worked with a group of about 40 labourers. We ploughed vineyards and threshed wheat but there was very little work, we had to divide the days between who had the needier family. We had turns, 4 or 5 days, then sometimes we had to wait up to a month before our turn came up again. The squad leader always worked more days than the others. Having a very large family I could not improve my position remaining in Italy. They were the early years of the post-war period, the destroyed factories needed to be rebuilt, there were no jobs and the little employment one might find was poorly paid . My father was mutilated during the war of 1915, I, being the eldest of the family realized I would never succeed to make a life for myself here in Italy.
The morning of the 2nd of June 1952 I left my home and my family at age 29 and I started my voyage for Australia with a dream in my pocket of making a new life for myself. I did not have a minuscule idea where Australia was and I could never have imagined the conditions that were going to meet us.

I arrived in Genoa at 9pm of the same day. The morning of the 5th of June I left the Port of Genoa with the motor-ship “Napoli”, a cargo ship. There were 300 of us, all in the deepest hold of the ship, in a place without windows or light that contained a cargo of potatoes. The only time we would see light was when they would remove the tarp that was covering the hold. I survived that voyage of 40 days by living only on water and lemon juice.

On the 15th of July we arrived in the port of Melbourne in Australia. The local authorities made us stay on the ship, in the bay, for disinfection.

rebellion bonegilla

When we arrived in Melbourne they didn’t want to let us disembark from the ship. There was a big demonstration and the demonstrators were shouting…. “go back to where you came from, we have been without work for 3-4 months and there are no jobs here!”, ….. but we got off the ship just the same and I thought “what will be will be”.

The local authorities took us to Bonegilla Camp with army trucks.
I can’t really complain about how we were treated at Bonegilla Camp. The only thing that was annoying was the food, they had all the soups and food cooked English style which was very different to our way of cooking.
There were many fights and incidents in the camp, on one occasion I remember they overturned the boilers and wasted all the food that they contained.

I stayed two and a half months at Bonegilla Camp, after approximately one month that I was there, in the month of August of 1952, there was a bad riot.
In the period in which I arrived we were approximately 9000 people. We were transferred from block 7 to block 9 because of those riots and brawls: it ended up being very serious with machine-guns and soldiers, fortunately no one died.
Many were not accustomed to this type of life and had hoped to find a job quickly. Unfortunately, because of their desperation, some committed suicide.

We came to Australia with the assistance of ICLE (Istituto per il Credito ai Lavoratori all’Estero – Institute for the Credit of Workers Overseas), but in order to come we had to pay back a quota for the travel. Here we were all unemployed so I went to a Bank and asked for a loan. The bank granted me the loan and told me not to worry that I could repay the loan once I found employment.

The assistance of the immigration that we had was conditioned to an agreement that we had with the authorities: we were ordered not to leave the Camp or we would lose the assistance. Some of those who had arrived with us actually ran away from the camp.

One day they called two people, work was found for them cutting sugar cane in Queensland. My friend and I knew that the two persons whom they called had run away from camp so we asked if we could replace them. They told me that I was registered as and agriculturalist and that I had to wait until there was suitable employment in my field of work. I made them understand that I did not want to wait for work any longer and that I wanted to go and cut the sugar cane. They told me that if I could pay for the travel I could go. The Italian Consulate of Melbourne lent me the money. So I finally got my first job!

I stayed in Bundaberg Queensland to cut sugar cane for 6 months and with the wage I managed to pay off my debt to the Italian Consulate.

At this stage I went to an employment agency and explained that I had to pay debits in Italy and help my parents and I also wanted to know if I could help my wife come here.

It was a complicated matter. They told me that I was better off to remain unemployed until the next cutting of the cane, relying on the 3 pounds they gave as a subsidy for unemployment and free living arrangements.

I understood that I could not just stay and wait so I immediately returned to Melbourne and went to work picking fruit with an agriculturist in Murchison and once the harvest of the fruit ended I went to work at an irrigation channel. I worked there until the next sugar cane cutting, for which I returned to Queensland.

After the end of the sugar cane cutting season I returned to Sydney and I asked again for a job at the employment agency. They told me that I could have worked on a small farm driving a tractor but I would only be paid when I drove..

Unfortunately, knowing my situation I said that I could not accept. They put me up in a motel (which I had to pay out of my own pocket), waiting for a job to come up.

1956 cringila

After one week they called me saying, if I wanted to go, there was job at the Steel Works of Port Kembla which, if I accepted, I would be working shiftwork. I had no idea what the job entailed but I accepted it because they assured me that it was a secure and continuous job.

I worked there cleaning the furnace: you would go down into the furnace with a bucket and shovel but after a little bit you had to get out of there because the handle of the shovel would catch fire from the heat! The job was………

I lived at Unanderra Hostel but it was difficult to get any sleep during the day because there was so much noise and when finally everything calmed down at night I started to get sleepy but that was the time I had to get up and start my shift. I lost a few night shifts because I was unable to get up at night. I remained at the Hostel for about a year, made sacrifices and put up with it.

Later on, my friend and myself, went to live with a family in Wollongong called Raffaelli . We were 6-7 young men without women and had to manage the cooking and cleaning as best we could.

After approximately 3-4 months we went to live with the family Arcioni in Warrawong. I remained there waiting for my wife Eugenia’s arrival from Italy.

I met and married my wife Eugenia via proxy. We began to write to each other approximately a year before she arrived in Australia.

Just before my wife arrived, in 1956, I rented a room with the Spada family at Cringila, but I was already building my own house on a block of land I had bought in Cringila. The house was finished and handed over to us on the 22nd of December 1956, the same year that my wife arrived in Australia.

In the following years I continued to work in the Steel Works while my wife stayed at home.

In 1957 our daughter Lorenza was born and in the 1962 our son, Antonio..

I had promised my parents that I would return to Italy after 3 years, but after all the misfortunes that had come my way 12 years had passed and finally in 1964, borrowing some money, we managed to go. Unfortunately, it was with great sadness that I did not get to see my father ever again. He died just a few months before I went to Italy.

The voyage to Italy for 4 people was very expensive, (we had the two children, Antonio was 2 years old and Lorenza was 7), but with the help of some friends who lent us a little money we made the trip with the Galileo ship. I feared that the voyage would be like the one that brought me to Australia, but it was very different and beautiful..

When we returned from Italy my wife also started working in the same Steel Mill where I worked. She worked there about 30 years.
In the 1987 we both retired together..

With the both of us working we were able to pay off our debts, then later on we decided to sell the first house because it was too close to the Steel Works, the smoke and pollution was terrible and we wanted our children to live in a healthier environment.
We then bought a house at Dapto and lived there for 10 years.

Later on we also sold the house in Dapto, and bought the house which, after 20 years, we still live in now happy and content..

It took several years before we could get used to this life in Australia, but with the passing of the years everything came in our favour.

The majority of my free time I spend in my flower and vegetable gardens, it is my passion. Often we go on trips and festivities with the many Italian associations that we have here. The company of friends and compatriots is always nice, and it’s always nice to be able to speak the language of our native land together.

In all, we have returned to Italy 4 times, the first time in 1964 with our children. For us to return to Italy was like a ritual, we considered it the honeymoon that we were never able to have. Moreover, I wanted to introduce my children to the country of my birth and show them what it was like. It has been an enormous expense for us, a true economic sacrifice, but my dear ones were all happy.

In our future there is no intention to return and live in Italy. We have passed a lifetime here in Australia, the children were born here and they settled here with their families, we have our house here. Even if we still have and always will have Italy in our  hearts, Australia is our home now and ….. the time that we have left to live ….. we will live it here ………

floatiebirds2

minirose

22.12.1924 – 22.1.2001