The gift of water


In this blog I use quotes from some people interviewed for the Veneto market gardeners’ oral history project to explore the significance of water. The River Torrens provided a reliable source of water for some, while others whose land was further away, used bores for watering their vegetable crops. Those who lived close to the river grew vegetables like celery that need  abundant water. After the flood mitigation scheme was complete in the late 1930s, flooding reduced, and market gardeners could grow tomatoes and beans in glasshouses and ‘outside’ vegetables like onions, carrots, beetroot, trombones and potatoes. As well as being essential for growing vegetables, the river also became a playground for children of market gardeners

Ballantyne celery market garden, Findon Road, c 1950s. Photo by Rae Ballantyne.

Irrigation from the river
… no restrictions at all in those days.
The only thing it was that there was so many market
gardeners on the river that the water went down and especially in the summer time and you only had holes here and there where your pump was … the river would get that low they used to ring up E&WS [Engineering and Water Supply] in those days and let down two inches of water out of the lake and that would fill up all the holes down the river because it was all full of holes especially on the big bends on the river that washed out the river and there would be a big hole there. … some holes would be about ten feet or more.

Rae Ballantyne OH 87221, 25 August 2012, pp 10-11.

Digging bores
Lino Tonellato arrived as a child in 1935 and remembered that his father and Mr Angelo Piovesan dug a bore on the land at Frogmore Road in the 1930s:

We had, they had put a bore in, they did it themselves, they dug out a hole and put a bore in and they found the water and therefore we were using beautiful water, even better than the tap water it was in them days, until the casing went broke, it was rusty, and then it was a bit salty, but before that it was beautiful water. We used to drink that water instead of the tap water.

Lino Tonellato OH 872/10 16 July 2010, pp 5-6.

The depth of bores
Mel Recchi, whose parents had a market garden on Findon Road, explained the ways that market gardeners depended on different sources of water:

Giovanni Recchi, Findon Road, 1966. Photo courtesy of the Recchi family.

Most of them had bore water … I think the water table is only down about 15 or 20 feet … But you might put a pump down, might go down to 40, 50 feet, maybe 60 feet, at the most. [Our] bore was here when we came. And the pump was virtually, approximately 20 feet underground so we dug down, well when they put it down, they would have dug down and shored it up with timber and the pump was about 20 feet below ground level with a pipe going in another 25, 30 feet to get to the water, to get to the water basin.

Mel Recchi OH 872/31, 18 June 2014, p 16.


Salt in the water
Anna Santin nee Mattiazzo, who worked with her sisters-in-law on the Santin brothers market garden on Frogmore Road, raised an interesting point about the quality of the bore water:

Vito and Anna Santin nee Mattiazzo, Frogmore Road, c 1960s. Photo courtesy Anna Santin.



… you used to have to keep an eye on it then. If it got too salty you couldn’t use it and so, we had to bore another one after a few years, a new one, and they used to have to keep an eye on it. Otherwise, it would be too salty and burn all the plants.

Anna Santin nee Mattiazzo  OH 872/24 3 April 2013, p 26.



The bore as protection from the heat
Johnny Marchioro explained the necessity for market gardeners, like his parents, to have a bore and remembered that they used the bore for another purpose in the Adelaide summer heat:

Angelina & Vittorio Marchioro & Romano & Johnny, Frogmore Road, c 1943. Photo courtesy Marchioro family.

They had to have a bore because your tap, mains water – would have been dear at the time, too – but you wouldn’t have got enough water to water these acres of your glasshouses and outside vegetables … when it was real hot they used to go and cool down in this well. The well was about a four-foot hole, about twenty foot deep and it was padded up with timber that went down there, …  I don’t know how they got that done back in the ’30s.

Johnny Marchioro OH 872/1, 21 July 2008, p 23.


The river as play space

Marchioro family: Angelina, Vittorio, Romano, Johnny, Frogmore Road c 1947. Photo, Lina Marchioro.

Romano Marchioro remembered the River Torrens as a place of play and adventure:

I spent half of my younger years in the river, River Torrens. And some of the bigger boys used to come there and we used to go fishing. and we used to … In those days it used to run dry in a lot of places and there’d be big pools of water and we’d all get there with buckets and throw all the water out and all the fish would be down in the bottom and all the yabbies would crawl out the sides of the banks. And we’d end up with heaps of yabbies and fish … There used to be perch. And congollis, long skinny fish. They were edible fish … I used to go always go yabbying and bring them home … we used to have fun.

Romano Marchioro, OH 872/20, 11 June 2012, p 8.


The full transcripts of the interviews can be found on the respective family pages of the website.

Madeleine Regan
20 March 2020



Once upon a time …

In this blog, I continue to look at the early days of the market gardeners who lived and worked in what they called the Lockleys area, north of the River Torrens. In the last blog, I wrote about James Ballantyne who had been allocated a soldier settler block on the River Torrens in 1923 which he and his family worked until the late 1970s.

This time the focus is the first Veneto market gardeners who began establishing their gardens from the early 1930s. In 1986 a journalist wrote an article about ‘Italian pioneers in Adelaide’ for the Italian Australian religious magazine, Il Messaggero or “The Messenger.” Thanks to Assunta Giovannini nee Tonellato who first showed me the article ten years ago, we have an account of the early days of Secondo Tonellato. He was one of the first Veneto market gardeners to lease land and called his wife Elisabetta and children, Luigi, Rosina, Albert, Lino and Orlando to join him in 1935. In 1937, Secondo brought his three-month old niece, Assunta, into the family.

Tonellato family, Adelaide, c1945/1946: Back- Luigi, Orlando, Rosina, Lino, Albert.
Front: Secondo, Assunta, Elisabetta. Photo provided by Assunta Giovannini nee Tonellato.

The journalist, whose name is not provided, had evidently talked with the family of Secondo and Elisabetta to document the story of Secondo Tonellato from 1927 and the vision he had to accommodate his wife and children. The Tonellato parents had died in the early 1970s. The journalist gives an overview of the first decades at Kidman Park and the changes that have occurred in the area: the land and the river, work of market gardeners, the loss of the market gardens and the transformation in the population. In 1986 when the journalist published the article there were still some glasshouses and market gardeners in the area. Thank you to Graziella Ledda for assisting with the English translation.


Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a railway carriage …
Once upon a time … it always begins like that, doesn’t it? There was once a large expanse of grasslands, fields and sandhills, bushes that went almost down to the sea, a lazy river, the Torrens, which lost its way in a salty marsh, full of mosquitoes. It was in a south-west suburb, a few kilometres from the famous green belt of the city of Adelaide.

The first migrants whose names people still remember were Piovesan, Berno, Tonellato, Ballestrin, Laio etc. Unlike the Australian rural regions with cattle and sheep farms, this land was dedicated to horticulture. There were a series of glasshouse of which you can still see some examples today. One pioneer, to take an example, began their life in the following way …

Secondo Tonellato came to Adelaide in 1927 from the Province of Treviso. He worked for a boss and when he felt he could stand on his own feet in 1935, he bought a train carriage which had accommodated King George VI when he visited Australia [The Duke of York who later became George VI had visited Adelaide with his wife in 1927].

onellato family, Lockleys 1935. L-R: Nano, Elisabetta, Albert, Lui, Rosina, Secondo, Lino.
Tonellato family, Lockleys 1935.
L-R: Nano, Elisabetta, Albert, Lui, Rosina, Secondo, Lino.

Our Secondo had to provide decent accommodation for his family who came to join him. He paid for transporting the carriage which was placed at the end of the existing Fergusson Avenue, Kidman Park. The carriage was beautiful, as his sons recall today.

Inside it was upholstered with leather and there were etched scenes on the glass windows. The compartments were used as bedrooms and a dining room. There was even a shower! The family cooked outside in a shed.

River Torrens, 1937. Ballantyne family house and market garden in left background. Photo provided by Rae Ballantyne.

In those years, the land was not as it is today. The unpredictable River Torrens, which in dry times, was like a creek painted on canvas, played up when it freely flooded the land destroying the harvest of the farms there. In 1937-1938 an enormous embankment was built in the Kidman Park while the land near the mouth of the river remained marshy, bushy and full of snakes for some years.

As the years passed, Tonellato built a new home for his family. From 1954 and for some years, the famous carriage served as lodgings, a place of safety and welcome for many new migrants who, in increasing numbers, looked for stable accommodation in the area. It was a great shame that it was not preserved as a precious memorial or monument. In the end it was completely destroyed by fire.


The Tonellato vagòn was a significant landmark – and story -for the Veneto market gardener community. Many people have referred to it in their oral history interviews. In 1997, another journalist, Ennio Tessari, wrote an article about the Tonellato vagòn in a report on the Fourth Convention of the Trevisani d’Australia which was held in Adelaide in October that year.

The Tonellato vagòn was also the subject of two blogs by Alex Bennett in April 2021. See: Part 1:

Part 2:

Madeleine Regan
6 March 2022

Neighbours on Findon and Valetta Roads

In this blog I focus on the history of the settlement of the market garden area on Findon Road, Valetta Road, on the northern side of the River Torrens using Lands Titles records,
oral history interviews, photos and research from my thesis.

The River Torrens, its wide floodplain and alluvial soil had provided a rich source of food and water for Aboriginal people in the area we now know as Kidman Park for thousands of years. Along the river, groups hunted, lived and participated in cultural practices including burials. In the second half of the 1830s, colonial settlers took up landholdings and developed large broad acre farms. Landowners like Edward Keele who owned 158 acres from the river to Grange Road, began subdividing and leasing small parcels of land from the 1890s.

Map of western suburbs of Adelaide c 1930s. Market garden area highlighted in red. Map, City of Charles Sturt reproduced with permission.


Gradually the use of land changed as leaseholders developed market gardens, orchards and dairy farms. The earliest records of Chinese market gardeners in the Valetta Road area I’ve seen, date from 1893 when a Chinese man, Wing Soon, transferred his lease to three other Chinese market gardeners whose address was St James Park, Findon.




Soldier settler blocks were distributed in the St James area after the First World War. Rae Ballantyne and his sister Barbara Haynes, recall that their father, James Ballantyne was allocated seven and a half acres on the River Torrens in 1923 on Findon Road or River Road, as it was called then. He and his wife, Muriel, grew a range of vegetables but concentrated on celery in latter years.

River Torrens in flood, backyard of James and Muriel Ballantyne, c 1924/25.
Photo, courtesy, Rae Ballantyne.

Rae recalls his parents’ land:
The entrance point was two spots actually. There was one was up near the river where Dad had his house, and not quite to the bottom of the garden, there was another entrance into the garden itself. It was a track I suppose you call it, inside the garden within. But then there was a mound all the way around and that was to stop the water coming in. Dad told me that the first year when he moved in, he got flooded out seven times that year … I have some photos that show the river … it was very narrow and full of trees and shrubs I think that is why it got flooded all the time because it just got blocked up with rubbish …
(Rae Ballantyne OH 87221, 25 August 2012)

James Ballantyne, celery grower, 1958.

By the 1930s when the Veneto market gardeners started to lease land, the area was a mix of large land holdings of crops such as lucerne, dairy farms, small intensive vegetable gardens and orchards. The number of market gardens increased as the size of land holdings reduced. Various Veneto families lived along Valetta Road: the Ballestrin’s, Zampin’s, Berno’s and Griguol’s. When Barbara Haynes was growing up in the late 1930s and 1940s, she recalled that the mix of Italian, Chinese and Bulgarian neighbours got on well:
Oh, yes, very well accepted, yes. I know some of the Chinese, if they had like a letter, I suppose official letter … they didn’t understand they’d come over to Dad and he would sort it all out for them and help them, whatever it was … just further down the road there was Italians like, this is going towards Henley Beach. There were Bulgarians. We never had no trouble at all. You got on with everyone in those days. Well, I gather they did. (laughs) Never heard of any upsets at all.
(Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne, OH 872/23 15 September 2012)

Chinese neighbours
Barbara speaks about a Chinese neighbour:
He was married, but his family was in China, so a lot of the Chinese, they didn’t have their families out. Yick Kee who was between our dad’s property and West’s property, he lived by himself for years, and then he finally brought his wife and children out. And I taught Alan, the youngest one, to learn English. He used to come and sit down in our kitchen and I’d teach him the English and that.
Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne, OH 872/23, 15 September 2012

Yick Kee – Chinese neighbour of Santin’s and Ballestrin’s, Valetta Road, c 1949. Photo, courtesy, Santin family.


Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin remembers neighbours who were market gardeners including the Ballantyne’s, West’s, Berno’s, Recchi’s and the Mercurio’s across Findon Road.


Ballestrin family c late 1950s. Back: Narciso, Lina, Maria, Jimmy. Front: Silvano, Norina.
Photo, courtesy, the Ballestrin family.

Lina also recalls Yick Kee because she and her brother, Jimmy visited him next door: Every night, almost every night, my brother and I would have a race. And he would say: “I’ll get there  first,  Lina.” So we’d go, race down, because it was …. About 100 metres in from the road and it was like a shed converted to his kitchen to his living area — and he would invites us; my brother would eat everything but I just ate the fried rice which was, I think – soy sauce – but it was just wonderful sauce … and he’d have ducks at the back. And he had all his wonderful products out there and he would grow his own stuff, his own veggies.
(Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin, OH 872/28, 13 March 2014.)

The Veneto market gardener families were a sub-group within the larger market gardener community along Findon Road/Valetta Road from the 1930s to the late 1960s.

Madeleine Regan
20 February 2022


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