Soldier settler market gardeners

In 2011 I discovered several Anglo Australian market gardeners had been allocated land near the River Torrens in the western suburbs through the Soldier Settlement Scheme after World War I. At an exhibition about the Veneto market gardeners’ community, I met two families whose fathers were market gardeners who had applied to buy land as soldier settlers after the First World War in the St James Park area which we now know as Kidman Park. From 1915 the South Australian Government had identified areas of land and provided assistance to members of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) who had been honourably discharged from overseas service.

River Torrens in flood near Ballantyne market garden c 1930. Courtesy, Rae Ballantyne.

When I met Rae Ballantyne and his sister Barbara Haynes, and Barrie West, I learned that their respective fathers had served in World War I and had acquired their properties under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Richard Reginald West acquired his property of 11.5 acres in 1920 and James Ballantyne took up his seven acres in 1923. I interviewed their children Barrie, Rae and Barbara in 2012 and each of them recorded memories of growing up on the market gardens.

There are similarities with the accounts given by the sons and daughters of the Veneto market gardener pioneers. For example, Barrie, Rae and Barbara recall the hard work required to cultivate vegetables for market and the long days in all kinds of weather. Like the veneti, they remembered that their mothers worked double shifts – in the gardens and managing the household. Both Barrie and Rae worked into their adult years on the family market gardens. Rae notes in his interview that:
Even the Italians, they had to work Saturday and Sundays, all their children … so that was the thing in those days.

Barrie West
Barrie was born on 22 August 1937 and grew up on the family market garden on Valetta Road, St James Park. His parents, Myrtle Helen Terrell and Richard Reginald West married in 1924 and had four children. In his interview Barrie speaks about his family, the range of vegetables his father first grew including cauliflowers and cabbages and beans and tomatoes in glasshouses.

From the 1930s the Wests grew celery because it was more lucrative than other vegetables. Barrie worked in the market garden from when he was 14 years. His older brother Reg managed the property after their father died in 1955 and Barrie worked in the market garden until about 1976 when the property was sold although Reg and his family continued to grow celery into the 1980s. Barrie’s mother lived until she was 95 years old.

West family cutting celery, Valetta Road. Berno house in the background c 1964. Courtesy, Rae Ballantyne.

Barrie recalls that the Italian and Bulgarian market gardeners in the area had come to Australia with different traditions in agriculture and they were not as interested in the association of celery growers. The West family were neighbours to the Berno families on Valetta Road and he remembers them:

Oh we had a bit to do with them, we didn’t live in one another’s pockets but we did … like as I say, I was talking about the boxthorn and bushes, they wanted to get rid of the boxthorn and bushes and we just talked, you know, about who was going to pay for what and where and we were quite happy to share the cost of the bulldozer and just pushed it all down and burnt it.

Rae Ballantyne and Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne
Rae and Barbara’s father, James, was born in Scotland and arrived in Australia as a 19-year old in 1907. James signed up with the AIF and served in France and Egypt during World War I. He signed papers and acquired his land through the Solder Settlement Scheme in 1923 and six years later, married Muriel Langsford Brown from McLaren Vale. Rae was born in 1933 and Barbara, in 1935..

Ballantyne family, Muriel, James, Barbara, Rae, on the market garden, c 1936. Courtesy, Rae Ballantyne.

Rae and Barbara’s parents grew a range of vegetables including tomatoes; cauliflowers; cabbages, turnips; spinach; radishes and lettuces which they sold at the East End Market. They focused more on potatoes and celery from the 1940s. Rae attended Urrbrae High School for a year and worked full-time in the garden with his father for ten years until he was 25 years.

The Ballantyne siblings knew three other returned soldiers and their families in the area: George Delicate, Walter Satterley and Archie Smith. They were in the local Returned Soldiers League with their Dad and Reginald West. Although they knew of some of the Italian market gardeners along Valetta and Findon Roads, the families did not really mix.

During the War Rae remembers  that there was a fear of Italian market gardeners who lived in the area:
… those days, you knew there was Italians there but you didn’t mix with them much no we were not allowed, I don’t think because during the war years, you know I think there was a bit … I suppose … they were against us and that’s what upset things, I think.

His parents sold their land in 1958/59. They kept half an acre and grew flowers. His mother died in 1973, and his father, in 1977. Both Rae and his wife, and Barbara and her husband bought houses at Kidman Park, staying close to the area where they grew up and saw many changes in the use of land over their lifetime. The market gardens were swallowed up in urban development and the history of the area lives on in the oral history of family members.

You can listen to the interviews with Rae and Barbara and Barrie:

Rae Ballantyne, 2012.
Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne, 2014.

Click here to go to the Ballantyne page.

Barrie West, 2012. 

Click here to read more about Barrie West

Madeleine Regan
19 September 2021

 

 

What remains of the market gardens

If you drive along Findon Road, Valetta Road, Frogmore Road or Grange Road in Flinders Park and Kidman Park today, you won’t see any market gardens. Although you will not see market gardens, I know there are plenty of vegetable gardens in backyards and even the occasional front yard. It’s difficult to believe that these two suburbs once contained great expanses of land that were intensively cultivated for market gardening. There were plentiful glasshouses, sheds and equipment which were clues to the occupation of many families as commercial market gardeners.

The River Torrens has been a source of abundance for food since the time when the Kaurna people occupied and owned the land before colonial settlement in the 1830s. It became an area well known for broad-acre farms and dairies and because the river was liable to flood, there were losses for farmers and later, the Anglo Australian market gardeners who settled along the banks.

I’ve seen records from the 1890s when owners began to subdivide their land and leased it to smaller growers including Chinese market gardeners who leased land from the late 1890s near the River Torrens.

Glasshouse, Lockleys [B 48539]. Courtesy State Library of SA.
The Veneto group who migrated between 1926 and 1928 had faced problems making a living when they first arrived and after working in labouring jobs in country areas in South Australia and Victoria and even Queensland, they discovered that it was possible to lease land north of the River Torrens. The veneti (and other market gardeners) called the area, ‘Lockleys’ even though the suburb of Lockleys was on the southern side of the River. The Veneto group leased land of different sizes – two acres to ten acres – and began growing vegetables that they had not cultivated in the provinces of Treviso and Vicenza.  They had not used glasshouses so there was much to learn as they entered the commercial market in Adelaide.

Angelina Marchioro & Margherita Marchioro picking onions, Frogmore Road, late 1940s. Photo by Lina Marchioro.

The Veneto community endured many challenges. They persevered and raised families – and men, women and children worked very hard on the land. During the Second World War they were able to tolerate racism and hostility and in the 1950s, they began to see the success of their work with the contribution of family members. At this time, they also welcomed new Veneto migrants who arrived after the war.

Today it is difficult to imagine that there was so much open land used for cultivation in the area. An aerial photo taken in January 1949 and held by the City of Charles Sturt shows the large numbers of landholdings used for growing vegetables. In fact, in the area that is now Flinders Park and Kidman Park, the small number of houses indicates that this was really a large rural area although it was only eight kilometres from the city of Adelaide.

What remains today? There are very few signs of market gardens or earlier use of the land for agriculture. The area is densely populated and these are inner suburbs of Adelaide.

However, there are street names that identify some of the families who settled in the area from the late 19th century. For example, Edward John Keele who owned the land holding of 134 acres that was subdivided from the 1890s, is recognised in the name, Keele Place.

Veneto families and street names

Several pioneer families or those who arrived between 1926 and 1928 are acknowledged by street names in the area. In Flinders Park, Ballestrin Court refers to Isidoro and Maria Gina Ballestrin and family who owned the land where the subdivision was made in the 1980s. There were several Ballestrin families who lived and worked land in the Flinders Park area.

In Kidman Park, various Veneto pioneer families are identified by street names located in the place where they owned market gardens. For example, Rosalia and Angelo Piovesan and their sons are acknowledged in Piovesan Court and Rosalia Court.

Giovanni and Costantina Santin and their sons and wives who worked land on Frogmore Road until the 1980s are identified by Santin Avenue.

Tonellato Place was named for Secondo and Elisabetta Tonellato and their family who had land off Frogmore Road.

 

Other Italian families and street names
Pellegrino and Concetta nee Faraonio Mercurio were from Benevento and their family members grew celery on 11 acres of land on the River Torrens and their name endures in Mercurio Drive, Flinders Park. Click on the following link for an article about Concetta written by her son, Antonio, for the ABC in 2019: Click here to read the article.

The Canino family who were originally from Calabria had extensive market gardens on Valetta Road and Canino Drive refers to their ownership of land there.

Carlo Avenue represents Carlo Zoanetti who bought land on Frogmore Road in 1951 for market gardens. Carlo was the uncle of Mary Tonellato who with her husband, grew vegetables on Findon Road.

The history of food growing in the Flinders Park and Kidman Park area lives on in the memories of people and in oral history interviews recorded with sons and daughters of the Veneto market gardeners. Some street names recall the families who worked the land until it was subdivided beginning in the 1960s.

Madeleine Regan
5 September 2021

 

The Recchi family & the Veneto community

 

The story of the Recchi family who were market gardeners and lived in Lockleys from 1946 begins in Italy in villages in two different regions more than 300 kilometres apart.

Giovanni Recchi was born on 1 September 1902 in Montedinove in the Province of Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region. Antonia De Ionno was born on 15 September 1911 in San Giorgio La Molara in the province of Benevento in the region of Campania. The following information comes from interviews I recorded with the two children of Giovanni and Antonia – Adelaide Valentini nee Recchi and Mel Recchi.

Antonia De Ionno came from a family of nine children. The parents were poor farmers and worked the land with their children. Antonia was not permitted to attend school. Six members of the De Ionno family migrated to Australia and three brothers were already in Adelaide before Antonia arrived. Aida recalls in her interview that her mother lived and worked with the family in San Giorgio La Molara before she married Giovanni Recchi by proxy in 1937.

Giovanni was one of five children in a poor family, especially disadvantaged because their father had died young. It was difficult to survive on the small plot of land that they farmed and there was no opportunity to go to school.

Giovanni migrated in 1927, the same year that many of the Veneto market gardeners arrived in Adelaide, having been sponsored by a man who had lived near the Recchi family.  Giovanni’s sister-in-law was able to lend him the equivalent of £100 to pay for his passage to Australia. After his father died Mel discovered that Giovanni had repaid the loan within nine months. He was the only member of his family to migrate to Australia.

The following document from the National Archives of Australia is the arrival paper for Giovanni that shows he disembarked in Australia on 29 November 1927.

NAA: D4880, ITALIAN/RECCHI G

At first Giovanni worked on the Adelaide to Alice Springs railway line and then worked in a market garden on the River Torrens at Athelstone owned by Mr Ey. He worked there for 18 years and built his own home in Ramsey Avenue, Paradise.

Giovanni and Antonia marry
Although  from different parts of Italy Giovanni knew Antonia’s three brothers in Adelaide and he asked one of their relatives, Rita De Ionno, whether she knew of a girl in the village who would like to marry him and live in Australia. Asking friends or relatives for a recommendation was often the way that young men who had migrated alone could marry because not many Italian single young women lived in Australia in the 1930s. After a period of correspondence, letters dictated by others, Antonia and Giovanni decided to marry by proxy in 1937. One of Giovanni’s brothers travelled to San Giorgio La Molara and stood in for him at the marriage before Antonia sailed to Adelaide.

Birth of Adelaide and Melbourne Recchi
Adelaide and Melbourne were born in September 1938. In their interviews, Aida and Mel explain how they were given their names. Their parents did not want to follow the tradition of naming children after grandparents. As Mel recalls in his interview,

He said that Australia had been very kind to him and he decided to give us Australian names and they called us Melbourne and Adelaide.

Giovanni and Antonia’s third child, Domenico, died a month after his birth in 1944.

The family moves to Lockleys 1946

First communion – Aida and Mel Recchi , c 1946. Photo: courtesy of Aida Valentini.

The twins were just over seven years old when the family moved to Lockleys. (At the time, people identified the market gardens area of Kidman Park and Flinders Park  as Lockleys.)

It was a big change to move across the city away from the relatives and the life Giovanni and Antonia had built at Paradise. But it was an opportunity to work for themselves in what Mel calls the food bowl of Adelaide. At first, they leased the nine acres on River Road (now Findon Road) and then they bought it from the Britton Jones family in 1953.

The Recchi family’s land bordered the River Torrens and they cultivated celery and potatoes, cauliflowers and watermelons, and grew tomatoes and beans in five glasshouses. Aida and Mel recall their parents working hard together in the garden. They also employed single men who had migrated after the war from Italy. Giovanni worked long days and could be out watering until late at night. Aida recalls that her father also helped out in the house.

The Recchi family and the Veneto community
When the Recchi family moved into the area in 1946 Maria and Narciso Ballestrin lived across the road on the corner of River Road and Valetta Road. They became the closest of friends. Antonia and Maria shared recipes and both women had reputations for being very good cooks. The Recchi family was also close to Nico and Delia Zampin and their children who lived on Valetta Road until they returned to Riese Pio X in 1967.

Giovanni Recchi, Findon Road, 1966. Photo: courtesy Aida Valentini.

Both Aida and Mel recall that most  market gardeners in the area were from the Veneto region and they got to know many families. Aida says:

We got on as one family with all the neighbours that we had around. We used to know everybody and when there was a party going on, we were always together.

Mel remembers his friendships with sons of Veneto market gardeners: Egidio Ballestrin, Guido Rebuli, Bruno Piovesan, Frankie Ballestrin, Johnny Marchioro, as well as Tony Panuccio and Frank Condo:

As we got older older, about the age of 17 or 18, the dances were in vogue and we all loved dancing and I think there were about 12 of us in that gang.

 

Touring Italy, Lake Como – 1964: Luigi, Luciana & Italia Tonellato, Adelaide Valentini, Ina Marin, Angelo Innocente, Nico Zampin, Frank & Michael Marin, Amadio Valentini. Photo: courtesy Aida Innocente.

 

After their respective marriages, Aida and Mel raised their families within steps of their parents’ home. Aida and her husband, Amadio, travelled to Italy in 1964 with a group of veneti from the Lockleys area.

 

 

Aida Valentini nee Recchi, Antonia and Mel Recchi, Adelaide 1998. Photo: courtesy Aida Valentini.

 

Giovanni died 5 Dec 1991 aged 89 and Antonia died 16 May 2002 aged 90 years.

Both Aida and Mel continue to live close to where their parents worked their market garden from 1946 and enjoy their friendships with veneti and other people in the area.

Madeleine Regan
8 August 2021.