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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 5...

Today I went to the funeral of a former colleague, George. He was the teaching deputy at the school that was my first posting and seemed quite old! lol Of course he was younger then, than I am now and I'm certainly not! He was 91 when he died on the last day of 2011 and had obviously enjoyed his retirement years. I have many memories of George but one particular one I shared with his widow today. Dot used to pack the most magnificent lunches for him...all of us in the staff room were quite envious of those lunches!

January 5 has particular meaning for me; it is the anniversary of my father's death. He died in 1967 which is a while ago now. I always felt that I didn't really know my father that well because up to the age of 15 (when he died) I had never really talked to him at great length about his early life. Those missed opportunities over those 15 years to talk about him, have occasionally plagued me over the years. I wrote about my dad's final illness in this post.  (Sorry I always seem to be linking back to that same post, but I guess so much happened in that decade )   Let's fast forward to January 2008...

DH had had to go to Canberra (the national capital) for work and because I was working .8 again that year, I joined him on the Thursday night. DH suggested that on the Friday, while he worked, that I should go to the National Archives and see if I could find some records of my dad's migration to Australia. I was a bit hesitant as I felt that I had little detail to give them to start the search. However on Friday morning I fronted up to the enquiry desk at the NAA building. The lady behind the desk was so helpful and encouraging...she said I would probably be surprised at how much I did know. I said that I think he was 16 when he arrived so I thought he may have arrived in 1925 but I had no idea of the ship or which port.

Her fingers seemed to fly over the keyboard and within a matter of minutes she had found my dad and told me he had disembarked in Brisbane in March 1925 and the ship was the Regina D'Italia. I just stared at her in amazement...and then burst into tears because of the emotion of the moment! The archivist then took me to the microfiche 'room' and hepled me load the machine and then find my dad's name on the ship's manifest. She then said that the details on the other file showed there was another document available which I could order as it wasn't scanned and put into the public domain at that time. I organised for that document to be sent to me, not having a clue what it would be.

My dad and his brother

The cane has been cut! Dad is third from the left

The boys have got the knives ready to cut; dad is third from the right
It arrived 3 weeks later and boy! wasn't it worth the wait! It was a scanned copy of my dad's temporary passport. I'd had some lessons in Italian but I needed my SIL Mary, to help me read some of it. She was able to decipher that dad, as a minor, was travelling with a married couple. He boarded the ship in Genoa, so he would have had to get to that northern city from his home in Catania province in Sicily...and then travelled to the other end of the world. What an adventure for one so young and without any English!

My dad came to join his older brother who was already in Australia cutting cane in the Innisfail district of Queensland. My dad used to tell the story that when he arrived he was too young to join the canecutting gangs so my uncle and his mates 'hid' him in their barracks' accomodation and he did the cleaning etc to earn his keep. Then when he was 17 he started cutting cane. His stories used to make it sound such fun...but as I got older and read about those days, I realised that it was a hard life and immigrants also ran the gauntlet of racial intolerance as well. But I guess my dad wasn't afraid of hard work and he did seem to enjoy his years in the cane districts.

Dad on the right; note the swimsuits! The building in the background is the 'castle' in Paronella park in Nth Qld circa 1930s

Dad and his first wife Vera

Dad in his early 40s when I was born


Lea White said...

How lovely to find all these things! What special photos! I have very little of my dad and unfortunately can't remember much. He died when I was 8.

Anonymous said...

That's amazing Maria! I'm so glad that your courageous attempt at finding more about your dad paid off so well. The photos are great! Thanks for sharing them. Big hug, Claud

Becky said...

WOW! those are real treasures! And the pictures are wonderful as well.

Paul said...

What treasured photos. It is wonderful that you managed to track down your dad's early years! Thanks for sharing them with us!