When we sailed to Australia from England our migrant ship was the Castel Felice, you can see a picture of it in our blog header. At that time it was owned by the Sitmar line and leased to carry predominantly British migrants to Australia. The crew, including waiters and cabin stewards were all Italians, the first I can ever recall meeting. Elizabeth, where we went to live, was very British though so I didn’t come into contact with any European culture until I was much older
I discovered the east end of Rundle Street in Adelaide, they had cafes with outdoor seating and served various types of coffee, gelato and other things I hadn’t seen before. I found them fascinating.
Later still I went to work for the State Transport Authority as it was known in the eighties. My co workers at the Rail Car Depot were Italians, Greeks, Maltese,Poles and many other nationalities. I had met a few of them as David had worked with some of them before Naomi and I went there but during the years we worked there I got to know them better.
Most of them had come to Australia in the fifties and sixties looking for a better life. Sometimes when we were on night shift and not so busy we would ask them about where they were from and about what they did when they came to Australia. Some had come from Naples, others from Sicily and a couple from northern Italy. Most had come from rural areas and knew what it was like to be hungry when they were young. When they arrived in Australia they worked in factories or laying tiles and cement, some were long time railway employees. One man we knew had worked at Maralinga in the South Australian outback when the British were doing atomic testing there. He was not a well man.
Our work mates could laugh at the mishaps they had when they first arrived and were still learning English as spoken by Australians. We laughed at the story of one who accidentally bought a cage full of pigeons at an auction.
After thirty years in Australia the men spoke good English but they often said their wives did not speak the language so well, probably because they had not mixed with other nationalities as much as their husbands. They had adult children who were married to Australians and grandchildren that did not speak Italian which must have been hard for grandma especially.
They grew vegetables in their gardens and made their own pasta sauce and sometimes wine. I think those men were much more interested in food and cooking than Australian men were at that time.
The Italians we knew considered Australia their home. Too much had changed in Italy since they left. Even the language was different and they would not feel at home there any more they said.
That was more than twenty five years ago and I imagine that most of them are gone now but I always remember them for their insights into a different way of life.