A child discovering Italy

In this blog, guest writer, Aida Innocente recalls a visit to Italy with her parents in 1964 when she was nearly nine years of age. Aida has a very strong, detailed memory of the time spent with her relatives in Caselle di Altivole and travel in Italy.

In February 1964 I took a memorable trip with my mother and father. After months of planning and preparing we set sail on the ‘Galileo Galilei’ for Italy. I was almost nine.

In the centre, Elsa, Angelo and Aida Innocente, holding streamers on board the ‘Galileo Galilei’, leaving Outer Harbour, February 1964.

I had not really thought about what the trip would be like. My imagination could never have matched my real-life experiences!

Everything about the boat trip was colourful, exotic and to my child’s eye, wondrous. The gardens in Singapore with screeching monkeys; the bazaar in Bombay (now Mumbai) and its low display platforms of vivid bolts of fabric; the perfectly square buildings in Aden; the oh so narrow Suez Canal. And finally, the rows of big, boxed bambole (dolls) on the dock in Messina – my first glimpse of Italy.

The day we docked in Genova we had lunch in the port cafeteria. It was in a big, glassed thirties-style portside building. We ate cotoletta alla Milanese and insalata (schnitzel and salad). Dad bought me an aranciata (orangeade) in the sweetest, smallest bottle I had ever seen. It was a San Pellegrino aranciata.

Map – Agrital-trade.com

We took the train to Castelfranco Veneto where my grandfather was waiting for us. He had organised a car and driver as he rode a bike for day-to-day transport.

We arrived at Via Canesella in Caselle towards dusk. My father’s home was an old, run-down eighteenth-century country house. The courtyard was full of people. I could see a little Madonna above one of the wooden doors that opened to the courtyard. The Madonna was lit by a tiny, dim light – the only glow in the courtyard.

I stood alone. My parents were joyfully welcomed by this sea of people. A woman approached me and asked me if I knew who she was.  She was my grandmother, Teresa.

Children on Via Casenella. Aida is second from right. 1964.


Amedeo Fogal, Fernanda Fogal, Aida Innocente, Caselle di Altivole, 1964.






Via Canesella was full of young children. Behind my grandmother’s house lived Fernanda Fogal who became my best friend. I spent afternoons with the Canesella children roaming the fields filled with violets. Via Canesella was a dirt road and a stream ran alongside it. My grandmother still washed her clothes in the fosso (stream/drain), like so many other women. I jumped across the fosso incessantly. Behind the fosso I remember tall cherry trees.

My grandparents’ house had a granary, wooden stairs and inter-connecting bedrooms. Only the ground floor was occupied in 1964.  All the rural houses had a stable. Ours had one cow and a donkey – a prized possession. One evening he escaped and I can still see my grandmother chasing after him waving a pitchfork! She eventually caught up with him on the main road. At night we would sometimes sit in the stable with neighbours who had come in fiò (visiting). Sometimes we played tombola (bingo). The stable was the centre of socialising in contadini (farmers’) homes. We also bathed in the stable in a big round wooden bowl, like a half-barrel. There was no bathroom. The toilet was outside, next to the pigsty.

We visited families with gifts from Australia. We visited my godmother (santola) Maria Rizzardo’s family in Monfumo. (Santola Maria’s sister was an ex-girlfriend of my dad’s! She had migrated to Venezuela.) Santola’s house in Monfumo was in the idyllic Montello hills about 15 kms from Caselle. They even had a small private chapel. I was entranced.

One afternoon we attended a religious ceremony in a church near Caselle. Supposedly a young girl was exorcised. My grandmother said the girl had spat out forks! I was terrified.

Feltrin sisters, Milena & Gina, Via Canesella, Caselle, 1964.

Before Easter I went with my grandmother to make focacce (traditional sweet bread for Easter) in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Caselle. The farmhouse had a wood-fired oven.  Women gathered with their ingredients to make a batch. We took home about 12 focacce that we stored in the larder.

My grandparents would breed silkworms each year as a source of income. The year we went to Italy my dad gave them the equivalent of their expected income so they did not have to do this work.   My grandparents secured a small number of silkworms for me to look after. I fed them with mulberry leaves and then one day we took the silk cocoons to the silk merchant who paid me for my crop.

Together with other families from Australia – Luigi, Italia and Luciana Tonellato, Frank, Ina and Michael Marin, Nico Zampin, Adelaide and Amedeo Valentini, and new lifelong friends we had met on the ship, Giorgio and Norma Smania and their two little boys (Giorgio was from Ciano) – we toured Italy in a car convoy. We went to Lake Como, Trieste, Milano, Rimini. In Rome we attended Palm Sunday Mass in St Peters celebrated by Pope Paul VI.  We were lucky to be standing near the Baldacchino, under the dome of the basilica. At one stage rose petals fell profusely from the dome. Petals blessed by the Pope!  A petal landed on the shoulder of the man next to me. He gave it to me.

From rear of boat: Luigi, Luciana & Italia Tonellato, Adelaide Valentini, Ina Marin, Angelo Innocente, Nico Zampin, Frank & Michael Marin, Amadeo Valentini.  Lake Como, 1964.

One Sunday, it was time to leave Caselle. The courtyard was again filled with family and friends. I shook hands with my new friends. And kissed them goodbye.

This time my father had organised a car and driver and together with another family we drove to Genova. I cried almost the entire way. Nothing could abate my great distress and sorrow. Until the driver taught me a popular song. He managed to distract me.

L-R: Elsa, Aida, Angelo Innocente, ‘Gigetta’ Olivierio, Leo Conci, on board the Marconi, returning to Adelaide, May 1964.





At night, on the ship from my top bunk I looked out over the endless ocean that was distancing me more and more from Italy. On these nights distress and sadness overwhelmed me again. I had fallen in love.

Aida Innocente
May 22, 2022

Giovanni Balestrin’s story

In this blog guest writer, Rosa Parletta, writes about the origins of her family in the province of Treviso in the Veneto region. Her story begins with her grandparents.

My name is Rosa Parletta. My maiden name was Rosa Balestrin and I was born in 1947. My father was Giovanni Battista Pacifico Balestrin (Ballestrin). Giovanni or Chico was born in Amparo, Sao Paolo, Brazil of Italian parents, 11th August 1898.

Paola ‘Rosa’ Elisa Spessato & Federico Balestrin, 21 March 1898.

As the story goes Giovanni’s parents were betrothed to other partners, however they were in love with each other and eloped together to Brazil, were married, and Giovanni was born. Giovanni and his parents and his sister Elena returned to Italy once their extended family accepted his parents’ marriage.

Giovanni grew up around Spineda di Riese Pio X, Treviso, Veneto, Italy. Giovanni served in the Italian military infantry from 1914 to 1918. He never spoke much about the war and was very reluctant to answer any questions about the war other than to say that it was a horrific time.

Giovanni married Anna Maria Zanon in 1924 and they had three children, Elisa, Bruno, and Anna Maria. Giovanni’s wife Anna Maria died a couple of days after giving birth to baby Anna Maria, probably due to birth complications. My mother Romilda “Orlinda” Pierina Zanon was born on 8th July 1909 in Spineda. In 1932 Giovanni married Orlinda, and together they had 11 children, Rina, Ada, Tony, Rita, Nora, Mary, Fred, Jean, Bruna, Rosa and John. The last 7 children were born in Australia because in 1935 Giovanni, Orlinda and their children emigrated to Australia on board the ship “Esquilino”. The family, including Giovanni’s first three children, arrived in Fremantle, and then travelled to Port Pirie and from there they travelled to Adelaide by bus. The bus trip was bumpy and rough and all they could see out the window was desolate outback bushland. When Giovanni arrived in Australia he said, “he had a wife, seven children and 4 pounds in his pocket”.

Giovanni’s father and siblings had already emigrated to Australia [interestingly in Australia the family spelt BaLestrin with one “L” instead of two “LL” BaLLestrin]. So, on arrival in Adelaide, Giovanni and Orlinda and their family were met by Giovanni’s brothers and sisters who lived in Currie Street. Giovanni’s father also lived in Australia, however he passed away while Giovanni was on the boat journey from Italy to Australia.

Giovanni’s sisters had a boarding house in the city, mainly for Italian immigrant men who mainly came to Australia first and once settled, were followed by their family a few years later once the men acquired enough money to pay their family’s voyage and to buy a house.

Giovanni Balestrin, Rostervor c 1950.

After a while, Giovanni moved to Campbelltown and lived on Stradbroke Road in an old house owned by a Greek man called Lazarus. I don’t remember his surname but his son or daughter, I think, still live on the same property although it has all been subdivided now.

Giovanni worked in a quarry breaking rocks with a big mallet all day and on weekends he would work anywhere he could get extra money. A gentleman name Mr Fox owned a property with orange orchards opposite Maryvale Road Athelstone and dad often worked for him. Giovanni would pick up the fruit that had dropped off the trees on the ground and take them home to the family. Giovanni used to say that if Mr Fox saw him take fruit home that had dropped on the floor, he would make him throw it away because he wanted Giovanni to buy the fruit. Giovanni said that times were very tough for Italian immigrants with a lot of racism at that time.

Orlinda and Rosa Balestrin, Callana Ave, 1948.

Years later Giovanni and family moved to Gilbert Street, Newton, off Montacute Road, and worked as a market gardener on land owned by the Spezzano family. Giovanni kept working and eventually had enough money to buy 5 acres of land on Callana Avenue Rostrevor, or it may have been called Rostrevor Park at that time. Giovanni worked the market garden on Callana Avenue and built a timber framed house on the land and he worked and lived and raised his family there until his death in 1974.

Giovanni did not have any glasshouses on his land. The most common vegetables he grew were spring onions, radishes, parsley, spinach. He also grew smaller amounts of carrots, onions, watermelon, rockmelons, and beans. Giovanni had a Clydesdale horse called Duchess who would plough the ground with him, until eventually, Giovanni could afford to buy a tractor which made market gardening a bit easier. Most of the produce Giovanni grew were sold at the East End market in the city. He also purchased a Bedford truck to transport the vegetables to the city. Sometimes he would sell his vegetables to people known as commission agents and they would take the produce, sell it, and keep a percentage of the money for their work.

Orlinda nee Zanon and Giovanni Balestrin, Adelaide, 1958.

My mother Orlinda worked very hard, both in the garden and at home. To supplement their income, Giovanni would sponsor young men from Italy to come to Australia. These gentlemen would live with our family at Callana avenue until they found their own accommodation. So, mum had lots of cooking and washing to do as well as garden work.

Dad had lots of daughters and I think he had the idea that when one of his daughters was of marrying age, he would sponsor some young men from his village in Italy for the purpose and hope that they would be suitable for his daughters and it worked as few of my sisters married these ‘boarders’ from Italy that lived with them.

Giovanni and Orlinda Balestrin and family at Tony’s wedding, Adelaide 1958.             Back row: Ada, Mary, Elisa, Rina, Bruno, Giovanni, Tony, Orlinda and Fred.   Front row:  Nora, Jean, Rita, Bruna, Rosa and John.

My mother died in 1960 and that was a big blow to all of us. In 1964 dad subdivided the land at Callana avenue and used the money to buy 10 acres at Waterloo Corner, Salisbury. Giovanni built a house and sheds at Waterloo Corner and one of my sisters and her family lived there until she passed away. It was exhausting for Giovanni and the children travelling every day from Callana Avenue to Waterloo Corner to work but eventually we got accustomed to it.

In 1967 or 1969 Giovanni returned to Italy to visit one of his daughters who married in Australia, only to then immigrate to Italy to live with her in-laws – Jean is still there in Spineda to this day.

My brothers John and Fred continued to work the land at Waterloo Corner. Giovanni died in 1974 aged 75 years old. John retired at the end of 2021. Today, John, Rosa, Bruna, and Mary are living in Australia and Jean lives in Italy.

Balestrin family reunion, Adelaide, 1985. Back row: Mary Piotto, Fred,     Rosa Parletta, John, Rita Vial, Tony. Front row: Nora Marchioro, Ada Pilla,       Elisa Armitage, Rina Centofanti, Bruna Balestrin.

Our family home at Callana Avenue was eventually demolished around 2001. My son recycled some of the jarrah wooden floor joists and floorboards and made a table and coffee table as family keepsakes.

Rosa Balestrin and Diodoro Parletta, Rostrevor, c 1966.


Rosa Parletta (nee Balestrin)
8 May 2022


My unforgettable school years – Part 2


In Part 2 of her blog, Irene Zampin writes about her experience of school, training and working life in Italy after she went to live in Italy with her parents and brother in 1967.

As I already mentioned in Part 1, it was rather hard for me to get used to the new way of living in Italy. We arrived in Riese Pio X in June 1967 and immediately went to live in our uncle’s house. My uncle owned a bakery and

Riese Pio X and environs. ViaMichelin.

fortunately was well off and that meant that he had a toilet in the house.
Certainly, it was a shock for me since I had never seen a Turkish toilet and did not know how to deal with it but the choice was that or the stable! What I really enjoyed during my stay there was those hot bread rolls with Nutella that my aunt would prepare for me.

It didn’t take me long to make friends since I immediately got along with my cousins who were around my age and since everybody knew everyone in the village, in a short time I met other cousins and friends that lived nearby. They were all very nice to me and most curious to know how it was in America (that’s how they use to call Australia). Riese wasn’t a big town in those days and most of the old people were farmers. The children of my age would attend the compulsory schooling and then go to work since there still was poverty in some families.

A street view at Riese Pio X. visittreviso.it.

As days went by, I realized that Italy wasn’t what I imagined and that life here was absolutely different from Australia. The girls of my age were much more free and would go out by themselves without having problems with their parents whilst I had to beg them and then explain all my movements. My parents were surprised to see the rapid evolution in Italy and found it hard to adjust to the Italian way of living. This caused me lots of tears and loneliness.

I became a problem for my parents. My brother, Dennis, who was 10 years old, immediately settled in but what could Irene do?  To know English was a great advantage for me because it was needed for business in those years, 1960/1970 and not many people spoke it correctly. The problem was: my Italian. I had no real experience with the Italian language. I spoke a mixture of Veneto dialect with Italianized English words in between. What a mess!  Every town in Italy has their dialect and it could completely change in every region so you need to know Italian, especially for business with other countries.

Memorial to migrants at Riese Pio X. Photo: Giuliano Berdusco.

After we arrived I immediately started to have private Italian lessons for the few months before school. The term began in September and I was enrolled in 2nd year at Riese Secondary School for a few months and then passed into 3rd year at the end of the school year.

I used to go to school by foot whilst my brother could easily get a ride on a cart pulled by a donkey; certainly not suitable for a young teenager as I was! This year was so embarrassing for me since I was 2 years older than my classmates and I looked bigger since I was rather tall and chubby. They often made fun of me and I had to put up with their teasing. It was certainly a sad period for me and at 15 years old, life seemed to be most miserable. Certainly, this school was nothing like St. Joseph’s: no nuns, no marching, no tuck shop, no close friends, etc. But fortunately there was no milk break!

Finally, school ended in June 1968 – yet I still needed to improve my Italian and reluctantly I had to continue my studies for another three years (1968 to 1971) at Castelfranco Veneto, at the “Besta” Secretary Institute.

To reach the school I used to catch a bus with my Canadian friend who was also attending the same course. All the way along we loved chatting in English and this made us feel smarter. My classmates loved my Italian with an English accent and often would imitate me in a friendly way. It was worthwhile being my friend as I was valuable to them since I often corrected their English homework.

I was doing well with my school subjects but still my Italian wasn’t enough good. More than once I had to write my Italian tests in English because my teacher had the doubt whether it was a question of language or ignorance.  Fortunately, the problem was then resolved by our headmaster who was also our English teacher. At this point, I must say that during these three years I received a lot of help and passed my Italian tests satisfactorily.

Irene’s ID card for Simmel SpA at Castelfranco Veneto, 1983.

Even if these extra years of study were tough, at the end they helped me to find a good job as an interpreter at Simmel Spa situated in Castelfranco Veneto. The principle manufacture was track chains and other parts necessary for tractors, such as Caterpillar, John Deere, etc. These were mostly exported to the USA, Canada, Germany, and other countries.

Irene at work, 1990.

I enjoyed my job for 29 years and had the chance to meet other international people. Just a small anecdote: In 1976 I was pregnant with my first child and guess who replaced me when I was on maternity leave? Elizabeth Pastro, another Australian friend who had been born in Adelaide, and whose parents had returned to live in Riese in 1969. Elizabeth also worked in the same factory for many years and it was thanks to our English that we were both employed for a long time.

Family gathering, Riese Pio X, 1975. Front: Nadia Favaro between her two cousins. Row 2: Giuliano Berdusco, (Irene’s husband), Irene, Delia Zampin, Gilda Favaro. Back: Romeo Favaro, Peter Favaro, Nico Zampin, Gilda’s sister-in-law. The Favaro family returned from Adelaide to Riese in 1967.


The hard part of my early time in Italy was to talk about my problems and feelings. I thought none of my friends could understand since they were all Italian native-born. When writing to my sister I often had the instinct to tell her how I really felt here but then I could imagine how she also felt without her family nearby and I didn’t want to create problems for her.  I must say that I cried a lot over Australia and it took me years to go beyond this homesickness.

Still now, people understand that I’m not an Italian native because of my English accent. Well, I am proud that I still remain an Australian citizen.

Irene Zampin
17 April 2022

Easter greetings to you all! The next blog will be published on 8 May 2022.


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