Immacolata Cirocco (nee Gentilcore)
My memories of Italy are of my grandparents, aunties and friends, feasts, processions and flowers and snow, and ladies dressed in black.
I migrated in 1956 with my mother and younger sister. My father had come 4 years before.
After returning from the war, Australia was the country for a better future.
My first impressions were of huge and clean open spaces and very blue skies.
Attending school was fraught with difficulties. There were problems with language, friends, food, and cultural issues. After three months the headmaster would ask me to interpret for new arrivals.
We lived in Rostrevor, but later moved to Smithfield. We enjoyed visiting other migrant families
When I first returned to Molinara in 1967 I was shocked to discover it was not the paradise I had etched in my mind as a child. In my later visits I was able to truly appreciate Italy’s beauty and culture.
Australia was and is the country where with a lot of hard work you can make your dreams a reality.
When in Italy I miss the blue skies and wide open spaces of Australia, when in Australia I miss the traditions, the piazzas the essence of what it means to be Italian.
San Rocco in Molinara in my childhood was brass bands, ice-cream, watermelon and torrone.
As an adult it is one of the things that ties me to Molinara and my ancestors. In Adelaide it’s about continuing with the traditions that meant so much to the early migrants.
COSIMO CIROCCO Memories of Youth & Migration
I was born during the war. My earliest memories are of enemy soldiers taking our calves and food. We rose early to attend to the animals and then went to school. Afternoons were spent looking after our livestock while the animals grazed in the fields, sewing crops and helping with the harvest.
My older brother migrated in 1952. In 1954 only minors could migrate to Australia.
I arrived on 22 October 1954. My first impression was of wide-open spaces and lots of land, and millions of rabbits. I lived in Norwood with my brother and cousins. My brother and I went job-hunting. At SA Water at Kent Town, I was told that I was too young and that I should go to school. My first job was with a building firm, pushing wheelbarrows full of bricks and concrete, earning (four pound p/wk). The Australian people were always kind and considerate.
For the first three years I always wanted to return to Molinara. My father died in 1956 and I remained in Australia. I worked in the building industry till the early sixties, and then I went to Coober Pedy, set up a bakery and general store and manufactured soft drinks and mined for opal. I later returned to Adelaide and the building industry.
I returned to Italy in 1969 with my wife and child to visit my mother. Molinara had changed but life was still difficult. This made me realise that my future was in Australia.
Every year the family donated a cart full of wheat, which preceded San Rocco in the annual procession. One-year fireworks startled the bullocks pulling the cart and grandfather was caught underneath the wheels and miraculously was not injured.
My earliest memories of my family and my village have always included San Rocco and so we continue the tradition in Adelaide.
Recollecting stories of migration, integration, and culture with Immacolata and Cosimo Cirocco
As the Molinara Club reaches its 50th-anniversary milestone, it is fitting to pay tribute to two of its indispensable contributors throughout its history.
Immaculata and Cosimo Cirocco had been involved in the club since its inception back in 1971.
Cosimo was one of the club’s founding members, and he is proud of how far it has come.
The founding group had to overcome many obstacles to start the club in the first place.
“All the work that’s been done down there (since 1971), it’s unbelievable. I don’t how many clubs were before us, but we were [one of] the first ones,” Cosimo said.
Despite the club being one of the first Italian community clubs established in Adelaide, Cosimo described how it wasn’t straightforward to form it.
Financial issues and finding the right location made it difficult.
“We started to get a few people together. It was Joe Baldino, Cosimo Greco, myself, Ralph Girolamo,” he said.
“We had [meetings] at Provident Avenue (in Glynde). Also, we had a meeting at a little hall which is next to the Reservoir Hotel, and that little hall is still there.
“We said, ‘we’re going to get a keg of beer and bring people in’, so we [could] get the people together.
“When we were looking for land for the club, Don Dunstan (the South Australian Premier at the time) offered us land at Para Hills, Pooraka.
“But we didn’t want to take it because it was too far away from Campbelltown, because the majority of people were [there] and Findon.
“Giuseppe Spagnoletti, he’d been here before the war, had a little place [at] George Street [in] Paradise which they didn’t use anymore.
“We [went] down there one weekend, reorganized everything. Put a wall here, put a wall there. The council came along and said, ‘what are you going to use this place for?’ [We said], ‘we’re going to use it for the club’, [but they said], ‘no clubs here’, so we thought ‘what are we [going] to do?’
“So we said to the council, ‘is [there] any place we can go for the club?’ [They said], ‘yes, just by the Reservoir Hotel’, but you couldn’t buy the land because of the money.
“In the meantime, this place at Holden Hill [came] along, [it] was [up for] auction. It was an old church, and [a] kindergarten was in there at that time. We [went] to the auction to see how we’d go.
“But we said, ‘look, we can only spend up to [a certain amount of] money’. That day they started the auction, and it [had] gone up, gone up, and we said between ourselves, ‘look, we’re going to get this place today’ so we were bidding up to $44,000, and the bloke stopped, and the bloke said, ‘sold!’
“The [other] people turned around, and I could see Joe Baldino went red on his face, and Tony Addabbo.
“We didn’t have even [a] ten per cent deposit to put on the property.
“We said, ‘if the club doesn’t want it, we’ll buy it ourselves’ because you could develop it down there, no problem. We started putting pressure on the vendor because he was a friend [of] Joe Emmanuel.
“I think he took about $2000 off the price. We asked him if we could have a meeting before settlement, so we did. Then we called a lot of people in there, and we raised, I think it was about thirteen or sixteen thousand dollars donation. So we said, ‘right, [we’ll] take it’, [and] that’s how we took it.”
By the rigorous process that the founding members went through, you can see that they were very keen on forming the club.
As Italian migrants, they had to adapt quickly to several cultural differences compared to when they were back home in Italy.
The idea was to have a club where Italian migrant families could relax and feel comfortable amongst people from their own culture.
The club would, in turn, help families adjust to life in Australia, which was very appealing.
“You [have] to understand you’re in a different country, as far as the culture [was] concerned, before the fifties, there wasn’t any,” Cosimo said.
“I’ll have to admit it; we did go through a hard time. Language, food. They tell you to work on Saturday, [and] you didn’t understand why [that was the case].
“For the first three years (in Australia), I always wanted to return to Molinara.”
Immaculata admitted that she faced the same problems, but she was a little younger than Cosimo.
She attended school in Australia, which made it even harder to integrate into Australian society.
“The challenges were innumerable. School definitely for me was a real challenge because there was no one that could teach you or that could communicate with you in the language that you knew,” she said.
“It was usually sign language.”
Immaculata was referred to as ‘Mary’ by her primary school teachers.
She acted as an interpreter for the new migrant arrivals who came to her school and wanted to enrol their children.
As someone who still wasn’t proficient in the language herself, the challenge was daunting.
However, she was very grateful to her headmaster at the time.
He understood the challenges Italian migrant families faced, particularly with the language.
One experience she had as an interpreter highlighted the struggles migrant families faced and illustrated the kindness that most Australians showed.
“One of my memories is something that even now brings tears to my eyes. I was put in grade three, I’d been at school three months, and I always remember this beautiful man who was the headmaster, Mr Ward,” she said.
“He’d knock on the window in my classroom, and he’d go, ‘Mary’ with his finger, and I knew that he wanted to talk to me, so I would go.
“He would take me to the office, and there’d be someone in his office that couldn’t speak English.
“This particular day, there was a little lady with three children, and she was Calabrian, and he said to me ‘we have to fill out a form, you’ve got to help me’.
“So I ask her, ‘what is your name?’, and the children, and we went through the whole form, and we filled it out. Then we got to the end, and Mr Ward said to me, ‘Mary, can you tell her she has to sign’, so I looked at the lady. I said, ‘Signora, tu devi firma’, and she looked at me and said, ‘Figli mia io sono alphabeto’. I knew what she said, ‘I’m illiterate’.
“I thought, ‘how do you say that in English?’ I looked at Mr Ward, and [he] said to me, ‘What did she say, dear?’ I said, ‘oh, Mr Ward, she’s an alphabet’, and Mr Ward looked at me and said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ Then I looked, and I said, ‘she doesn’t know how to read or write’.
“This man, who would’ve been in his fifties, said to me, ‘tell her to put a cross, tell her a cross will do’.
“That’s how hard it was. We had people coming over; not only the culture, they didn’t know how to read and write, they had young children, it was difficult.”
It was undoubtedly difficult for Immaculata and Cosimo when they first arrived.
However, over time they have come to realize how unique Australia is too.
They have integrated so much more into Australian society now.
In previous trips back to Italy, they did not miss it as much as you would expect.
“The first time we went back (in 1969), I said ‘no, I [would] like to come to Italy for a holiday but I could not stay’,” Cosimo said.
“One day, my brother (who was living in Italy) said ‘go into the little village and get a piece of pipe’, which they need[ed] to connect some water, and I said ‘yeah ok’.
“My mother saw me, that I was going to get in the car and go and get this part, and she said, ‘where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to the paese’. [She said], ‘you can’t do that!’ I said, ‘why?’ [She said], ‘you’ve got to get changed!’
“I looked at her, and I said, ‘mum, we go see the bank manager [in Australia] at lunchtime with our boots [and] overalls dirty of cement, and they don’t say anything, and you’re [trying] to tell me that [I’ve] got to go to Molinara and [I’ve] got to get changed? No way’.
“That’s the things [that] I couldn’t stand. Here, you could go anywhere you like; they understand [that] you’re working.”
One of the lessons Italian migrants may have learnt from the Australian culture at the time was to not worry about being judged for their circumstances.
Immaculata understood that there were prejudices at times, but neither generally had a problem with the traditional Australian people at that time.
“I think that when we first came, a lot of people, and certainly when I was at primary school and a little kid, found a lot of prejudice,” she said.
“I didn’t have many friends at all at school because I was different; we were different.
“[But] I think that was just ignorance. I didn’t find too many people that were unkind to me because of being different.”
Cosimo also admitted that Australia was not as accepting of different cultures back in the fifties as it is now.
But even back then, he was very grateful for how Australian people welcomed him here with open arms.
“I can’t remember anything bad with the Australians themselves. You didn’t understand what they were talking about; you couldn’t have a discussion with them,” he said.
“But they all try to help you. That’s what I found.
“The Australian people were always kind and considerate.
“I always said in the past, and I say it again, Italy is our mother but the mother that gave us the food is Australia.”
Immaculata and Cosimo see themselves as more Australian than when they first arrived.
However, there are times when they cannot deny certain things they miss from Italy.
“On the last trip we went to Europe, I got asked this by a lady from New Zealand, and she asked me the same thing (if she misses Italy),” Immaculata said.
“She said, ‘what do you miss?’ We were in a piazza somewhere in Italy, and there was a Fair on, and I looked at her, and I said, ‘I miss this’, and I certainly have one foot here and one foot there (in Italy).
“I love Italy; I love its music. It’s a walking Encyclopaedia, its history, ages and ages. But then I love Australia; I love the open spaces, I love the freedom.”
That freedom is something that both have thrived on since migrating.
Together they have made a life for themselves and have been able to provide for their three children.
When they look back on their time here, they cannot hide the sense of pride of accomplishment in what they have achieved.
“Yes (he’s proud of what he’s achieved). The first two years, after 1954, I’d [thought I would] never stay in Australia, never, I always wanted to go back [to Italy],” Cosimo said.
“But then, all of a sudden, it just changed completely. I’m proud [because] if we were back in our country, I doubt we would achieve as much as we did here in Australia. That’s for sure.”
Immaculata admitted that it was not always easy to get to where they are now, but she shared the same sentiment.
“I think that we’ve probably exceeded what we thought we’d achieve,” she said.
“I had to be an interpreter for my parents, a mentor for my parents.
“Then as I learned the language, I learned the customs, take them to doctors’ appointments, hospitals, to explain all of that stuff.
“My life was pretty difficult, and we had fun as well, but we worked so hard that [we felt], ‘where was the childhood?’
“I played netball at the Molinara Club when we joined, but there was no opportunity to do things for enjoyment.
“[We were] so focused on buying our first house, and perhaps once you got that, we want[ed] to have something for our children or our grandchildren, so [we] work[ed] a bit harder for that.
“Certainly, the emphasis was definitely on providing a better future for our children and grandchildren.
“I don’t know whether we’d [have to] work that hard now.”
Immaculata, as she mentioned, played netball at the club and regularly enjoyed catching up with other Italian migrants at social events.
Although not as involved as Cosimo, she put her hand up for fundraising events and found that everything the club did was fun for all involved.
“I think in all of it (the fun), we were able to perhaps show the Australian community, politicians, that we’re pretty good,” she said.
“Some of the stuff we do is pretty good, it should be a fixture, and of course, it is now a fixture.
“We used to run fundraising [for our kids at school], and [Cosimo] and I were on the committee. They had Italian stores and Australian stores. The Italian store decided to have a little plate of ravioli, and to make it a bit more interesting, we [gave] them a glass of wine.
“So we had wine and ravioli, and needless to say, there was plenty of meat leftover for the barbecues.”
Meanwhile, Cosimo, a tireless worker, was constantly busy in his role on the club’s committee.
However, the club needed someone to take over the reins in organizing the feast of San Rocco, which was eventually done as a separate event from the Molinara Club.
Cosimo stepped in, and he still runs it today.
San Rocco was a significant event on the calendar for Italian migrants before they came to Australia, so it was essential to keep that tradition going.
But again, with the challenges of arriving in a new country came a different way of celebrating it here compared to Italy.
“Back in your own country (Italy), that (San Rocco) started at five o’clock in the morning and [it] goes all night. Whether you’re sick or not sick, no one cares; that’s what we do for that day,” he said.
“Here is different. We had the mayor one year from Molinara that came here for San Rocco back in the early days, and at ten o’clock, we had to shut, we had to close everything. The fireworks had to be finished by ten past ten; otherwise, you’d get fined.
“They laughed (the people from Molinara), they said, ‘we just started!’ This is where you say, ‘well, we’re in a different country here, and you’ve got to respect the law’.”
Although most traditions had to be done very differently, multiculturalism continues to evolve in Australia, and the times are changing.
“Today, you get more (leniency) because the culture’s a lot bigger. You got the clubs; you got all sorts of things today, so they can’t really [fine you],” Cosimo said.
Immaculata agreed with how much Australian culture has changed from fifty years ago.
But she also thinks that the traditional Australian mentality is a testament to this change as well.
“Most Australians that I’ve encountered have this feeling of ‘show us what you’re about’ and ‘you’re alright mate’, which I think is something to be proud of,” she said.
“The fact that there’s not that class structure as such, which is so evident in some countries. There’s not that class structure where if you’re a son of a labourer, you can’t be a doctor, or you can’t be a professor in [a] university.”
Although still with its problems, Australia’s lack of a class structure has allowed new cultures to feel more accepted.
Immaculata added that she feels the original migrants and clubs like the Molinara Club have served their purpose by facilitating the integration of Italian culture.
Children and grandchildren who descend from Italian migrant families can now integrate into Australian society far quicker than the original migrants did.
“[It] is the best achievement you could have. Now they (descendants of migrants) play soccer with different clubs, they’re at universities, they marry Australians, Germans, whatever,” she added.
“I think the club has served a purpose in the seventies, right up until two thousand and something because there was a gap.”
But they both admitted that the role of clubs like the Molinara Club might need to change in the future if they are to attract the next generations coming through to keep the traditions alive.
“I could not see that [the next] generation [will] go out there, on Saturday night, work in the bar, work in the kitchen, clean up. No, that wouldn’t happen,” Cosimo said.
“You’ve got to treat the club as a business, and you employ people to do the job. If the job is not done the way you want, [there’s] always someone next door. That’s the only way you can bring your clubs forward.”
Immaculata also concurred that changes would need to be made to entice younger people to get involved.
“It’s not what we used to do all those years ago. It’s got to be different to attract [young] people, because [they’ve] got other interests. New ideas have to come forward,” she said.
Immaculata and Cosimo will slowly pass down the reins to their children and grandchildren.
But for now, they can sit back and be proud of the lives they have made for themselves in Australia.
The Molinara Club was a big part of that success.
That input says a lot about its role in helping Italian migrants feel comfortable within Australian society.
The club has been fulfilling its role for fifty years, and there’s no reason why it will not continue to do so in the future.