My father, Pietro Berno, migrated to Adelaide in 1927 at the age of 18. At that time, he was underage. He followed his two elder brothers, Fedele, who arrived in 1925 and Alberto, in 1926.
I often wonder what it was like for a young lad that left a small country town in Italy, Riese Pio X, where he was born and had lived all his youth. Travelling in 1927 was an adventure. The ship, ‘Palermo,’ that took him to Port Adelaide offered very little luxury, if any.
My mother Antonietta Pastro, married Pietro in 1948 in their hometown, Riese Pio X and then she followed Dad back to Adelaide. Her voyage was a little more comfortable, and she could count on her husband to provide for necessities, guidance, and help. Bearing this in mind, I would like to compare my experience as an immigrant many years later, to theirs.
All our family migrated to Italy in March 1969, after my parents’ decision to return to their homeland and retire. This trip on the ship ‘Marconi,’ was very comfortable and as a 15-year-old, I had a ball. It wasn’t like Dad’s trip in 1927 in third class that lasted almost 6 weeks. He was on his own, whilst I was surrounded by family comfort.
The voyage in 1969 from Adelaide to Genova (Italy) took 27 days, and it was a one-month family holiday. We enjoyed the wonderful services that you receive on modern day cruises. When the ship docked in the intermediate ports, we would take the excursions for sightseeing. In Durban, we were taken to a Zulu village.
In Naples (Italy) we visited the famous Pompei ruins. All for me was extremely exciting. In Naples we also received a surprise visit from my brother Robert, who then was already living in Italy, attending University in Venice. He came with six relatives from Veneto, and they travelled with us on the “Marconi” from Naples to the final destination Genova.
Once in Riese Pio X, everything was very new to me. Suddenly, I could spend time with many relatives I barely knew and had never met. I was quite happy to settle down in this small country town and I got acquainted to my new life. When Dad first arrived in Adelaide, he did not speak English and had very few friends. Most of his time in those early years was spent working. Shortly after their arrival in Adelaide, Dad and his brother Alberto, worked on market gardens in and around Lockleys. First, they were employees under the farmer and later, as market gardeners on their property.
Due to circumstances such as World War 2, Dad and Uncle lived together from 1927 to 1947 without any family except for themselves. Finally, after 20 years of hard work, first Dad, and then Uncle Alberto, returned to their small town, Riese Pio X, to marry a local girl.
In my new life in Italy, I had it much easier. I was on holidays until October 1969 when school started. In a car accident my mother suffered severe spinal damage. Life was no longer as pleasant. Because of my poor Italian language and literature, I was relegated to 2nd year high school even though I had been promoted to Year 11 in Adelaide. It was a family decision to send me back to Adelaide to finish the last two years of secondary school, after which I enrolled at University in Padova (Italy). In this manner I gained two years.
In January 1970, I flew back to Adelaide on my own, to begin Year 11 at St Michael’s College, Henley Beach. I stayed with very good family friends, Antonietta and Aldo Baldan in Flinders Park. They were my santoli (or godparents) and so once again my life was very comfortable. I was back in my birthplace with people I knew, going to my school and with all my schoolmates. However, there was a similarity to my parents’ experience as migrants.
At a young age, I was separated from the rest of my family for 2 years. As it was for them, I had to communicate with my family via letters. Telephone calls were a costly luxury, rarely used. I wrote a letter almost every week to Mum, Dad, my brother, and my sister, sharing with them my thoughts and my feelings, my joys and my sorrows. In the same way, my parents would send letters to their families in Italy during their years of life in Adelaide. This fact made me appreciate more fully the meaning of being an immigrant on your own. Even though I lived my time away from my family in a much more comfortable way as compared to Mum and Dad’s years, I still experienced being homesick, as often as it probably was for them.
I am very grateful for those years because they taught me many things about my father and my mother. I understood how it was for them in Adelaide their new home. They had to adapt to a completely different environment and make it as comfortable as possible for the family they were bringing up. I could see why they were so close to the other Veneto families that lived in the Lockleys area. It was like creating their small hometowns in the new country. I will never thank my parents enough for all the good they did for us their children.
9 October 2022
Photos supplied by the Berno family.