The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 1

24 Jan


This is the story about a man named Elio. While his demeanour these days may be a little quieter for someone in his eighties, despite his ageing years, Elio is as active as ever. His previous life was as a farmer, which left his hands worn and weary. Yet that will never be enough to change his characteristic tenacity. For him, life continues to be grand. Despite the hardships that may occasionally come his way, he has so much to be grateful for.

Elio is my grandfather, my Nonno. For someone who is known around his hometown as the man with a perpetual smile on his face, I can only hope to be as content as he is one day. These are simply the stories that he has recounted to me and that I hope to keep alive by writing them down.


From left: Elio and his brother photographed in Italy



My earliest memory was of foolishly locking myself in my room and screaming for 4-5 hours before somebody at last returned home and opened the door. Most would call that sort of behaviour a classic ‘mini tantrum’. It is possibly not the best recollection to have foremost in ones memory, but I like to think that it was a precursor to instilling that persistent disposition in my character.

I was born on April 19th 1925 in a small town in the north of Italy called Fontaniva, part of the Veneto region. It was indeed a simpler time, where the most basic of tasks would take that little bit longer. My family had a water pump in our kitchen with a large wooden handle that would draw water from deep down in the well. Come the winter season and being so far north, we would have to pour boiling water down the hole so that our water would not freeze. One morning after lots of snow had fallen, my grandfather came home with some snow cupped in his hands. I watched eagerly as he placed the snow in a glass and poured some homemade wine over it. He then did the most wonderful thing and placed it before his grandson, permitting me to eat it. Strangely, or not strangely enough, I liked the taste straight away.

At three years of age I was already interested in machines and would often watch the fields from my bedroom window. One day I heard a noise from far off in the distance. Without my mother’s permission, I crossed the road to find the source. As I came closer, I heard the distinct sound of a large tractor. I clapped my hands together with excitement as it came into sight. It had one big chimney and piston, with a large attachment at the front to make the bales of hay. Once I had found these machines I was hooked. I wandered over to peer at them all the time. My mother used to wonder where I had disappeared.

Our neighbour had young boys herself. She thought she had seen me head out purposefully and warned my mother, “I bet he’s followed the noises.” My mother solved the mystery soon enough.

During that time, my father had already left the country to find work in Australia. Two years later, he would call for my mother to make the journey too with her sons.

Passengers boarding the Osterley. Sourced from the State Library of Queensland.

It was March of 1929. My mother had gathered her two sons and our belongings and we gradually made the journey from home to Naples in the south where we were to embark our ship, the Osterley. The journey was to take one month. I was the little four-year-old boy with whooping cough whose mother had to cover him up in wide blankets. In this way, she snuck me on board so that the staff would not cause alarm and prevent the ship from setting sail. Her initial plan worked and we were not forced to disembark. Once the boat began its journey however, the staff eventually discovered the actuality of my sickness and isolated us. We were placed in the highest room on the ship so that I would not affect the other passengers. Not being able to mix with the other guests made for a very lonely journey for my mother who was already anxious about it. Every lunch and every dinner, we were only granted access to the communal kitchen once everybody else on board had finished eating.

The ship passed along the Red Sea and would stop at several ports along the way. The main port we paused at was Colombo on the coast of Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. I remember being fascinated by all the dark people waiting patiently at the bottom of the dock with goods to sell. They would hoist them up to the passengers with string who would throw the money down.

I recall the first excitement my brother and I had once the ship had officially sided up to the Australian shores. My brother pointed excitedly at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I think the sight of that even calmed my mother. She knew we were getting closer to our father, who was waiting for us in Brisbane, where the ship was to finally dock.

We travelled happily reunited with our father from Brisbane to Oakenden where our new home was based. He had been working hard and had purchased a sugar cane farm with three other individuals from Italy. One of them left the lease after a year, while the others stayed on the farm with him until 1937. For the migrants coming over, work was much easier to come by up in the rural areas. My father was accustomed to the difficulties of life on the land and did not find the change in environment too unnerving. Fortunately, this is a trait he passed onto his children.

The property in Oakenden, Queensland


10 Responses to “The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 1”

  1. Marisa Raniolo Wilkins January 24, 2012 at 8:23 AM #

    Che brava Ms Del Vino. MI piace la tua storia. And while i was reading it it brought back memories of my dad, granfather and my trip to Australia…from Trieste on the Toscana, and it took 40 days.
    I can picture it now- some memories do not fade.
    Allora…chapter 2?

    • La Donna del Vino January 24, 2012 at 12:05 PM #

      Grazie, Marisa. Chapter 2 is currently a work in progress.
      I’m glad I brought some happy memories flooding back for you.
      By the way, we have your book at my work now. It’s fabulous xx

  2. matt paul January 24, 2012 at 11:04 PM #

    simply beautiful, and now I want more of this story please

    • La Donna del Vino January 24, 2012 at 11:15 PM #

      Hai bisogno di avere la pazienza, caro :). Grazie comunque

  3. Mariangela Caligiuri January 25, 2012 at 9:12 AM #

    Bel racconto Krystina!

  4. Grant Scicluna January 25, 2012 at 9:13 AM #

    Krystina. You know that voice I always thought you’d find? It has found you, Scrittore.

  5. Jennifer Zulian January 25, 2012 at 10:29 PM #

    Beautifully written krystina we can’t wait for chapter 2. 🙂 Lynette Rosso and Jennifer Zulian(Elio’s God daughter)xxxxx

    • La Donna del Vino January 25, 2012 at 10:37 PM #

      Thank you, gorgeous ladies. I look forward to writing it too! xxx


  1. The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 3 « La Donna del Vino - April 3, 2012

    […] To read ‘Chapter One – The Journey Over’ click here. […]

  2. The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 4 « La Donna del Vino - May 29, 2012

    […] To read ‘Chapter One – The Journey Over’ click here. […]

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