Born: 12 November 1941 (Molinara)
Childhood memories of Molinara
Donato was born in the village of Molinara, via Recinto, in a house rented by his parents. When he was one or two, the family moved to a farmhouse, inherited from his grandparents, near the Petrara hamlet, on the outskirts of Molinara, with his parents and two sisters. Their land holdings were small and scattered i.e. three acres in one place, one acre in another, and half and a quarter acres in others.
When Donato was around six years old, his mother was very ill so she remained in a rented house in the village, along with his older sister for help, to enable the doctor to visit her easily. Donato remained at their farmhouse with his middle sister, and their father would journey daily to the village and back to visit her. Donato remembers waiting for his father to return from the village and counting to one hundred each time before checking to see if he could see him.
Donato went to early primary school (Years 1, 2 and 3) in Petrara. There were only four children in the combined Year 1 and 2 class. For a few days until his school bag arrived, he shared a school bag with Cosimo (Jim) Cirocco and they would take turns carrying it.
Donato remembers participating in a masquerade play during Carnevale in Year 1 or 2 with other school children.
In Year 4, he attended school at the municipio (town hall) with over 20 other children and his teacher was Mr Marcello Imperlini. For Year 5, his class was in a room next to the municipio and his teacher was Mr De Cecio.
He had many friends at school, including Donato Sebastiano, Antonio (Tony) Callisto, Rocco Cirocco, Biagio Cirocco, Silvestro Borrillo, and Cosimo (Jim) Callisto.
School was held from 9am until 1pm Mondays to Saturdays. After school, ‘reflexione’ was provided, a light lunch, for some children who couldn’t afford much. It was run by Ferninando Iannicelli’s mother and sometimes he attended if there was a spare spot.
In the afternoons, he would help his parents with odd jobs including attending to their farm animals (pigs, sheep, donkey) and go for lone walks in the bush.
There was no work or school on Sundays other than feeding the farm animals.
On Sundays, as a youngster, he would attend early morning mass in the town (Chiesa ‘a monte’, near Portaranna) with his father. This mass was also attended by other young families and the elderly. As a young teenager, he started attending the later mass at 10.30am with his friends and then go for a walk in the piazza.
Growing up, Donato would regularly attend the various feasts in his home town and popular ones in other towns. The celebrations at night often included musical bands, and singers if the feast committees had more money. They would then offer free films in the piazza if there was any money left over at the end of the feast.
In Molinara, they celebrated the main San Rocco feast in August while the lesser San Rocco ‘poverello’ feast was held on the last Sunday in May, San Biagio on 3 February, La Sannita in early May, Madonna delle Grazie on 2 July, and San Carmine on 15 July. Donato also attended the San Lucia and San Cristina feasts with family and friends. It would take a day to walk to one of these feasts and at night, they would either sleep in a boarding-style house or in church rooms such as a confessional space or preparation room. Older relatives, like his mother, often managed to get to one of these feasts by truck or a type of pulling carriage.
After completing his schooling, he would help his parents with regular farm jobs – tending to their animals, cultivating the land etc.
The family cultivated just enough produce to fill their stomachs, but not enough to get ahead. They would sell any excess produce, such as wheat, cheese, pigeons, lambs, calves, at nearby markets (San Giorgio on Thursday, Molinara on Saturday, San Marco on Sunday) to buy other products (e.g. 1kg of pasta every weekend), pay bills (like land tax) or build slim money reserves for other essentials (e.g. clothing).
There were very little paid jobs in the early years. If you needed shoes, you would go to work with the shoeman for a while to pay for your shoes or with the metalsmith to pay for donkey shoes, etc.
He would regularly catch up with friends who lived nearby.
For many years, when the children were young, the family would recite the rosary every night, taking it in turns. They would do some reading near the fire and then go to bed when the gas candle finished.
Aged around 12/13 years, he would go to the village every night with his friends. They would walk together because it was dark. In the village, they would walk along the piazza, play games, play cards at the bar. When older, they would sometimes steal some wood and light fires in or near the village for special occasions.
Around 14/15 years old, he would start going to places in Molinara, including in the hills, where there was music playing and dance with his friends.
The first television in Molinara arrived in 1956/57 by the Santoro family. It sat in one room and he and his friends would sneak into the room to watch when the family servant wasn’t looking. Slowly, more televisions arrived, first through the Democratic party, who offered free viewing but standing only because of the large number of people, and then, years later, via the other political parties. After the mid ‘50s, the town hall installed a television and charged 10 lire to hire a chair to watch.
Nearby, San Marco had a cinema, but he rarely went as he needed transport and money, which were scarce.
Once or twice, as a teenager, he went to Benevento on the bus. The trip cost 500 lire and it took about two days’ work with someone to make that money.
Journey to Australia
When his sister, Concetta, left for Australia in July 1959 to join her husband, married by proxy, she took Donato’s Australian entry paperwork with her. The family had been discussing Donato going somewhere to seek a better life and get ahead. His parents were supportive of him going and Donato was happy to go. They had heard positive stories about Australia from other families in Molinara with family connections in Australia.
While he waited for his Australian application to be processed, Donato accepted work in Switzerland, arranged through a Molinarese friend, however he only lasted about two months as he didn’t enjoy it – namely, the food, the cold and the lack of friends.
His application was finally accepted, sponsored by his brother-in-law in Adelaide, and he completed a medical in Naples on 16 April 1960. Once approved, the local agent organised his passport (via Rome) and his trip was booked. The voyage cost 302 thousand lire, the equivalent of 250 Australian pounds, and the majority was borrowed from various people in Molinara and Adelaide.
Donato left Naples on 9 January 1961 on the ship, Roma, and arrived in Melbourne 26 days later on 4 February 1961 via Messina, Suez Canal, Port Eden and Fremantle.
After disembarking in Port Melbourne in the morning, where he was met by his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law’s brother, they boarded an evening train and arrived in Adelaide Sunday morning, 5 February 1961.
Donato made many friends on the ship with other Italian migrants, including a fellow Molinarese, Pellegrino Gentilcore. He had five roommates in his room. They spent their time chatting, playing cards, watching films and washing their clothes.
Expectations and first impressions of Australia
Donato expected a big city with big buildings and lots of people, similar to Benevento and Naples. And, lots of good jobs. He was surprised to see Australia was very open with wide streets.
While in Fremantle, using some basic English he’d learnt from an Australian teacher on the ship, he ordered a milkshake and he thought it was disgusting!
After being collected by his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law’s brother in Melbourne, they took him to a pub where he had his first beer. He hated the beer and the experience – the pub seemed very rough with people yelling; nothing like an Italian bar.
The day after arriving in Adelaide, Donato went to work placing cement lining in tubes. He found it difficult because he had to do it for eight hours and it was very hot. He was not used to working long hours straight, nor the heat.
Living in two cultures
Donato believes, as a migrant, you always live in two minds, your place of origin and your new home.
In the beginning, Donato mostly didn’t like it in Australia as the work was hard, it was hot and he had only a basic understanding of English. However, he perservered because the money was good. After two weeks, he had earnt 29 ½ pounds (14 pounds, 15 shillings a week) and after paying 3 ½ pounds board/week, he had over 10 pounds in his pocket each week.
After a few different jobs, in July 1962, Donato started working at Holden and found the work a lot better. The conditions were better and the work cleaner. He was earning 11 pounds for the first four months until he turned 21, after which time he earnt more.
It took Donato one year to pay off his migration debts. After his last debt was paid, he treated himself by buying the most expensive shoes he could find at 5 pounds. The debt was a disadvantage but also an advantage to work hard. Life also became more comfortable because his debt was paid and he was earning decent money at Holden.
From when he first arrived in Adelaide, Donato was always thinking of returning to Italy. He had originally planned to stay in Australia for five years to earn enough to return to Molinara in a better financial position and with enough money to buy some land, fix their animal stables and start buying and selling livestock on a small scale to supplement their earnings.
In August 1962, Molinara experienced a terrible earthquake which caused a lot of damage. Donato’s parents’ farmhouse and home collapsed which forced them to rent. His sister and brother-in-law were forced to build a basic transportable house on common land.
After the earthquake, Donato thought that things would settle and he would still return to Molinara. However, his plans changed completely after his uncle arrived in Adelaide from Molinara and told Donato that the rest of Donato’s family (his parents and his sister and her family) were considering migrating to Adelaide if they could be sponsored. Upon hearing this news, Donato immediately started working on bringing the rest of his family to Adelaide which eventually happened on 25 March 1965. Given Donato’s parents’ ages at the time (62 and 61), he was forced to sign paperwork stating that he would provide for them and they would not be entitled to receive the age pension in Australia. However, they did eventually receive it and his parents also became Australian citizens.
Donato didn’t really feel he had to change to fit in, here in Australia. However, in the early days, while it wasn’t bad here, he was always thinking of back home.
In farewelling Donato, his parents wanted him to do what suited him but to also keep in touch and not forget about them.
Returning to Italy
When Donato returned to Italy for the first time in 1977 for a family wedding, having been gone for 16 years, he thought not much had changed in Molinara. All of his immediate family members, including his parents and siblings were in Australian by this time. Back in his home town, he still knew all the people so he didn’t feel out of place and he still felt Italian. However, the more times he returned, the more distant it became with more people either having died or moved away and he didn’t know the new generation.
Experiences as an Italo-Australian
As an Italo-Australian working at Holden, Donato didn’t feel as though it was much harder for him there as he was one of many migrant workers and the work was more manual.
However, working as a real estate agent, it was not as easy as it would have been for a local person but he managed. English was not his first language so he often used a dictionary.
Connection to the Molinara Club
Donato’s connection to the Molinara Club started through its origins from the San Rocco feast. Donato was involved with San Rocco as a committee member.
After the committee built the stage and structure (i.e. lighting, arches) for the San Rocco statue and feast, it started looking for land to build a shed to store everything permanently. It initially purchased land on Silkes Road, Paradise but the council didn’t approve the application. Around this time, the Club idea began and eventually the Club and the San Rocco committees took separate paths. Donato stayed involved with both San Rocco and the Club.
Donato wanted to stay involved in the Club to stay connected to his paesani and his Molinaresi community. He feels very proud of his Molinaresi origins.
Children’s connection to Italian culture
Donato’s children are strongly connected to their Italian culture and embrace it in various ways including making sauce annually, participating in Molinaresi functions and festivities, staying in touch with their Italian relatives and passing on traditions to their children.
Donato hoped that his children would be good and that they would keep connected to their Italian culture. He said their connection to the Molinara Club and the community is a bonus, it was never his expectation.
Challenges and opportunities
Donato said his main challenge as a migrant was to get a reasonably good job and in Australia, there were lots of opportunities here.