The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 4

29 May

Recap: 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 with a twinkle in his eye and that I hope to keep alive by writing them down.


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

To read ‘Chapter Two – School & The Depression Era‘ click here.

To read ‘Chapter Three – The War Years’ click here



I have such a mixture of memories from the forties and fifties. My family and I had settled down on a farm in Werribee South and were renting a property that belonged to our relations. Having finished school back in 1939, my brother and I were often looking for work, as there was not much else to do at our age. After working on our cousins’ farm for a while, my brother and I eventually found other people from around the area who would hire us. We continued in this manner until Dad bought the thirty-acre stud farm in 1949. The stud farm was used to breed horses and there were two large sheds on the property for that purpose. When we moved in the horses were sold along with the other equipment, as we were not accustomed to working these animals. Along with our father, we spent the next year preparing the land to forge it into a market garden like we were used to working. Some farm horses worked the ground and I planted lettuce and cauliflowers, which were popular vegetables at the time.

From left: Elio, Virgie, John and Lino

In the meantime, my mother continued to suffer from the issues the disease had plagued her with in the past. Eventually in 1949, my wonderful mother, Angelina, passed away from what the doctor referred to as ‘a thickening of the blood’, leaving her whole family behind. I was 24 years old at the time.

I was very close to my mother, the closest out of all her children. We were very similar in nature and got along well together. I used to help her do all the chores around the house and the gardening. She had worked so hard her entire life and sadly did not get to see any of her children marry. She was very religious and went to church every Sunday without fail, something I have continued to do, even now in my old years. When my mother fell ill, I took her to all of her doctor and specialist appointments. The last time we saw the specialist together he took me quietly aside and told me that he thought she only had another three months to live. She was a fighter though, that tenacious character holding strong in her, just as it does with me. It ended up taking another six months before we had to say our goodbyes. She was the loveliest person to us all and I missed her every day. I felt more sorry for the pain and loss my father must have felt losing his wife. Also prior to my mother passing, we had begun work on a new house we were building on the farm. Alas, she only got to see the beginning of its progress. After she had passed, my sister Virgie looked after us at home, taking over the cooking duties and looking after all us boys while we worked on the farm. Eventually I was going to get married and my wife would take over the home duties while Virgie would go in search of work.

The farm forced us to get back to reality, where I was somehow chosen out of all my brothers to attend the all-important fruit and vegetable market. We would harvest all the vegetables and transport them using the truck that we travelled down in from Queensland. Each week I would arise at 2 o’clock in the morning as the markets commenced at 5 o’clock. I would drive the truck on my own in the pitch black darkness to the Queen Victoria Market. I recall my first time there. If you can imagine, I was very nervous, but gradually I came to enjoy the atmosphere and mixing with all the other farmers and buyers. I was now 25 and once people got to know me they could tell I was honest and trusted our produce. Our mainstay vegetables were carrots, onions and cabbages. I even used to grow and sell beautiful gladiola flowers specifically for the market. They were really popular and became another opportunity to earn some extra money.

In 1951 my father purchased what was one of only three Ferguson tractors in Werribee South. It was a deep steely gray colour. We used it for ploughing and followed up with the horses for scuffling.We even eventually bought a couple of cows in order to have our own milk.

Elio and the new Ford

In the early fifties we pooled our money together and purchased a second-hand four-year old Ford. It was shiny navy blue in colour and was seen when we ventured together to picnics, dances and for the shopping. On the social side of things, I used to organise dances with a group of local friends. We were pretty proactive so there would be about four or five throughout the year. They made for good opportunities to mix with people and make new friends and of course, meet women. On top of that, we would do the same when it was someone’s birthday and request a permit from town in order to buy a keg of beer for the party. In those days, everybody was well behaved and nobody caused trouble. We were all locals and it acted as the perfect excuse to maintain a fun, carefree and friendly atmosphere. During that time I had only dated one girl for three months, but I knew my heart was not in it. The truth was, my heart was in Queensland. It was 1953 when I decided that it was about time I settled down.

A young Vera

In Queensland there had been a family who made the papers for my father to come to Australia. He had known them from Italy. They lived 40km from where we would end up living but our two families always remained in touch with the parents and their three daughters and one son. Since I was 8 or 10 years of age, I had been keen on their second eldest daughter, Vera. She had the most beautiful blonde hair. I did not get to see her that much but as we were family friends I at least got to catch up with them all once or twice a year. Before I left Queensland, I remember riding my motorbike to her place to bid her farewell. To my disgust, I parked my motorbike in their shed and when I went back it was tipped over and had a dent in it. Did it tip over itself?

Once we were settled in Werribee, my younger sister Virgie used to keep in contact with Vera as they were of similar age. Only a couple of years after we had left Queensland, I found out through my sister that Vera was dating some other guy. The news upset me and I remember thinking, “I think I’ve lost her”. Only a few months after that my sister received correspondence that Vera had ended it with this boy. I was ecstatic as it was about the same time that I had ended my brief relationship with the other local girl. The next step was pretty clear. I was going to test my luck and decided to fly up to Mackay that following Friday and stay up in town for the weekend. I hired a car knowing roughly what time they had their church service on Sunday. I drove the car there and waited patiently outside while the mass was in progress. When Vera’s family came down the church steps they saw me basking in the bright Queensland sun and invited me over to their place for lunch. I think they were surprised, but after a beautiful lunch together they asked me to stay in their home for a week. I graciously accepted.

Elio and Vera at her house in Queensland

I drove back to Mackay to return the rented car and by Monday I had arrived back to their town by train. I asked Vera to go steady with me in the middle of the week. After three days she had made up her mind and said yes. I was high as a kite.

During our engagement, Vera remained with her family up in Mackay and I was busy working on the farm and markets in Werribee South. We would write letters to one another to make up for the time apart. The only problem was that it would take me three days to write one letter. Six months clearly flew by and I decided to fly up there again and ask for her hand in marriage. I was the happiest man alive when she accepted.

We were supposed to get married after one year, however Vera’s younger brother became sick with a kidney disease in the meantime and not too long after passed away. We decided together to postpone the wedding until the following Spring of 1954.

Elio and Vera on their wedding day

Our wedding day was on Saturday the 25th of September 1954. It turned out to be a very holy affair with four priests in attendance, as they were all friendly with Vera’s family. To commemorate the occasion, Vera’s family killed forty chickens and a young calf with the reception running all afternoon from 3 o’clock onwards. Afterwards we boarded a train to Proserpine where we were to stay overnight, which was a town about 125km north of Mackay. In the morning we went to church then got on the ferry to head to South Molle Island for our honeymoon. We holidayed in the sun for four days before returning to Proserpine in order to board another boat to Hayman Island. Coincidentally, it was on this island that we ran into our good friends from Werribee South, Jack and Vilma. Even more serendipitous was that they had also gotten married on the same day as us and were on their honeymoon too. Together we spent the next five days playing tennis, enjoying the scenery, basking in the sunshine, cruising around the mountains, enjoying one another’s company and simply having a gay old time.

Too quickly the honeymoon was over and Vera and I arrived back in Werribee South where she officially joined our family household and helping around the property. I suppose thinking back on the whole honeymoon, what has to be the most interesting outcome from running into our newlywed friends was that the son of Jack ended up marrying my daughter, Christine. It must have been written in the stars.

Vilma and Vera. Little did they know their children would one day marry.

10 Responses to “The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 4”

  1. Chris Cross May 29, 2012 at 11:37 AM #

    Really enjoyed this and again a lovely story beautifully told.
    thanks xx

  2. daniela May 29, 2012 at 5:32 PM #

    I really enjoyed reading this beautiful love story….

  3. Susanna May 29, 2012 at 5:44 PM #

    I never cry but this bought me close to it! What a great snapshot of eras past!

    • La Donna del Vino May 30, 2012 at 11:00 PM #

      Thank you, Bonkers. Was a very sweet tale to be told.

  4. Lisa Maree May 29, 2012 at 7:35 PM #

    I can’t wait to start Nonna’s story once this one has been told…especially her side of things once her and Nonno started dating. These stories will make a great book to pass on to generations to come one day sis xxx

  5. Jennifer May 29, 2012 at 7:38 PM #

    Once again beautiful storytelling krystina,saw my dad in your nonnos bridal partyxx

    • La Donna del Vino May 30, 2012 at 10:59 PM #

      We can thank the mother for obtaining the beautiful photos. She’s all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. Very Augustus Gloop-like.

  6. Chris Cross May 29, 2012 at 9:33 PM #

    Yes its Barney!! just realised which photo went in Jennifer. How wonderful. Also Krystina your grandmother Alvira (Vera) made the bridesmaids dresses!!

  7. petit4chocolatier August 14, 2012 at 8:19 AM #

    Beautiful story and lovely pictures!

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