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Collage of Migration

15.11.16

Gess' Migration story

"Good Morning and welcome,

It is a pleasure to share with you my migration story, it is deeply personal and told through the lens of a second generation Italian / Australian.

So who am I and where do I come from?  My name is Giuseppina Carbone nee Del Giacco.  I am the first born of Raffaele Del Giacco and Antonietta Ciardiello. My birth place is San Martino Valle Caudina Provincia di Avellino, in a village called Casa Pietra. 

My family migration story began with my father, a driven, determined man with a pioneering spirit. He was a young boy during the Second World War and grew up in the post war era. He recounts stories of being frightened by air raids, army tanks driving through the village and going to the mill under the cover of darkness to exchange wheat for flour.

Whilst times were hard my parents told us that they wanted for nothing. They both attended school and were educated to a high level.  My father served in the National Services and describes it as being a most fulfilling experience that rounded his education and enabled him to travel to places that may not otherwise have been possible.

Notwithstanding, he yearned for a different life and his attention was drawn to Australia where some of his friends and extended family had already settled.  He left Italy on his own in 1955 to secure a future for us in this foreign far away land. I was just one year old.

As the story unfolds he worked hard, paved the way, and my mother and I followed 4 years later.  We travelled via sea on a liner called Roma.

During the long journey I remember looking through the port hole, crying at night because I missed my grandparents. Being the first grandchild on both sides of the family I was totally indulged.  The sea was rough, my appetite was poor, and my mother would ask the kitchen to prepare “pastina” for me – when I think about it I can still taste the flavor. My mother tells the story of when we crossed the Suez Canal and I lost my white handbag overboard with money in it. ‘Cinque lira’, a gift from my grandfather. I was very distressed.

We finally disembarked at Port Melbourne on the 6 February 1960 and travelled by rail to Adelaide.

My father greeted us with great joy and excitement embracing his beautiful wife only to be met with a hostile child who vehemently protested his presence. Of course I knew my father through photos and stories but I had no real experience of his warmth and love, it was a bitter sweet reunion, it was a hard time.

Through my father’s meticulous preplanning, work and sacrifice we quickly settled into our own home at Payneham which is still the family home today, where we gather every Sunday for lunch.

Our life came together; my brother was born in February 1961.  We enjoyed a close family bond, as children we were much protected and had a conservative upbringing.  There was a strong sense of community amongst other Italian immigrants, most of our social activities focused on our heritage, family, food, music, faith and community. There was a comradery, all bound by common struggles with language, prejudice that were both overt and covert, and there were the inevitable integration challenges.

As a child growing up I always felt safe and loved, our home was our sanctuary.  During my school years I felt different, I spoke a different language, I ate different food, my name was hard to say and I always felt embarrassed.  This hurt.  As I grew older I started to question my identity.  I am not Australian nor am I Italian.  These struggles helped build resilience and character, as times changed and tolerances improved and diversity and difference were less feared, things became better.

I felt that I grew up before my time, I was often required to interpret for my parents and or fill out forms, they were competent but my English was more developed. 

As the first born and a girl I needed to do more, learn more. Does this resonate girls?... Know more Do more Be more. Those seeds were sown for me way back then. During the School holidays I was sent to the local hairdressers to help and learn new skills. I was also sent to the dressmakers to help and learn. Luckily for me I did not resent this. I absorbed it like a sponge and in return I now have skills that have served me well. I am wearing one of my creations today.  My parents drummed into us “education is everything” and supported us to succeed academically.  My father would say “go and make a difference, but don’t rock the boat”. Mixed message, perhaps reflecting his own settlement experiences.

A significant milestone for me was returning to Italy as an adult with my own family in 1990. I was very apprehensive and fearful that I would not belong.  I had an image of scarcity, but what I experienced was the exact opposite.

As soon as my Aunt embraced me I felt at home, as though I had been there all my life. My cousins were well educated, liberated and progressive. They lived in beautiful homes and had good lives.  I found that my upbringing was far more closed and conservative.  My reflection is that despite this and in spite of the immigration challenges my life was richer, deeper and more expansive.  I also learned that your culture defines you and is in your DNA.

When I think about it connection to birth place was always there. My grandparents would send gold, trinkets, bracelets etc.  whenever someone visited. I have had those melted and made into cuffs that I wear on my wrist every day. That keeps them close.
I am extremely grateful for the courage, perseverance and tenacity shown by my parents.  I am proud to say that I am no longer embarrassed about declaring my Italian heritage. I feel fortunate to have the ability to appreciate, express and live it to its fullest extent in a free multicultural society.

My heritage is so much more important to me now that I am a grandmother.  The tradition, the ritual, the story is passed on to future generations. I feel it is my responsibility to keep it alive.

I was recently challenged by a question “What is the difference that makes the difference?” and reflecting this question on the migration story, I would say that it is the enduring human spirit that makes the difference.

A tutti I nostri nonni e genitori voglio riconoscere con profonda stima, iI corragio, i sacrifici e la tenacita, che rende possibile il benessere della nostra e future generazioni."

Gess Carbone
Chair of Mary MacKillop College Board