Links between the Piovesan and Tonellato families

Guest blogger, Angelo Piovesan, writes about the close connections between three generations of the Piovesan and Tonellato families.

The long relationship between the pioneering Piovesan and Tonellato families had its origins back in Italy, before they departed for Australia.

The Tonellato family were from Caselle di Altivole.  My nonna’s family also had lived in Altivole for a long time (her first two children were born in Altivole) before moving to Ponzano Veneto, so she knew the Tonellato family.  It no doubt explains how her son / my zio Angelo Piovesan (then 22 years old) decided to accompany, and was looked after, by Secondo Tonellato (later affectionately known to me as nonno della pipa) on the voyage to Australia in 1927.

Tonellato family in front of the vagon, 1935:
Nano, Elisabetta, Alberto, Luigi, Rosina, Secondo, Lino

Secondo was 20 years younger than our nonna and must have been around 35 years old at that time, when leaving behind his wife and 5 children – the youngest, “Nano”/Orlando was born after his father migrated. As part of my young adult life, I remember Mum telling me that my nonna Fortunata Virginia Merlo’s family had later sponsored or was guarantor for the Tonellato family to migrate to Australia in 1935.

Zio Angelo lived alongside Secondo Tonellato in a galvanised iron shed next to where the famed vagon/ railway carriage was later located and occupied by Elisabetta and her young Tonellato family, on their arrival on 14/06/35.  Zio Angelo lived there until he died in 1949, whilst zia Rosalia and his own young Piovesan family continued to live there until they moved into their new house on Frogmore Road in late 1951.  Based on my memories as a youngster, the railway carriage and shed were located just off a bamboo lined, dirt laneway running between Frogmore Rd and River / Findon Rd, located about where the bend is now in Fergusson Ave (off Frogmore Rd.)

Rosalia Piovesan and Dino, Bruno and Nillo, in front of the vagon c1940/1941

It is easy to imagine how a 30 year old Angelo would therefore repay the kindness of Secondo by helping to look out for his recently arrived young family aged between 13 years to 8 years old, forming a close friendship with the children. The two wives would also have been very grateful for the company, becoming close friends. Zia Rosalia herself had arrived only months earlier on 8/09/34 and was just about to become a mother at the time of arrival of the Tonellato family, delivering her first child Nillo only days later in June 1935. The growth of the Piovesan family quickly followed, with the births of Dino in late 1936 and Bruno at the end of 1937.

Nino, Lui, Rosina, Rosalia, Albert, and Nano with baby Nillo, late 1935

Similarly, it is easy to see how the Tonellato children would have helped look after the young Piovesan children as they grew up alongside them for 16 years, developing their own close friendships – which lasted over their lifetimes. Over the latter years, this was particularly evident with the close ties between Albert Tonellato and Bruno Piovesan, then between Bruno and Albert’s son Ray, and now with Ray mentoring Bruno’s own children – following Bruno’s death in 2014.

Whilst our branch of the Piovesan family did not arrive until late January 1950, we received the same level of friendship and support from the Tonellato clan and developed our own close ties with Albert, Mary and their young family. Ray and I were born only months apart and were fellow classmates right through our schooling, together with Silvano Ballestrin and Robert Berno – both of whom lived close to Ray and his family. I spent quite a bit of time during school holidays with Ray at their home, either helping out in their market garden picking vegetables in the glasshouses, occasionally getting up very early and attending the East End Produce Market on East Terrace, or helping collect chicken manure at several poultry farms for the glasshouses – the closest being the poultry farm formerly located on the current Findon Shopping Centre site on the corner of Grange and Findon Roads.

Ray’s parents, Albert and Mary, became my Confirmation godparents, as did my parents for Ray’s younger sister Janet. Later on, both Ray and I were in each other’s bridal parties, with the close friendship between the two of us continuing to this day.

John, Angelo, Renzo, Mario and Vittoria Piovesan, Adelaide, 2004

This was typical of the close relationships developed between families from the Veneto region who were close or near neighbours back in Italy before migrating to Adelaide.  It was certainly true of the Piovesan, Santin and Tonellato families, whose origins had started with the heads of those families migrating together in 1927 and then living alongside each other and purchasing farming land along Frogmore Road. All these migrating Veneto families shared and were united by very similar stories of struggles post WW1 and during WW2, which led to them developing strong family bonds and support networks – enabling them to grow their families and flourish in their adopted home. They all became part of one larger extended family in Adelaide.

Angelo Piovesan
29 November 2020


The Tormena family

Johnny Tormena was born on 29th November 1927 at Bigolino in the province of Treviso. His sister, Maria Rosa was also born at Bigolino on 5th June 1937. Bigolino is five kilometres from Valdobbiadene, a town about 50 minutes by bus from Venice. Many families in the area worked the land growing wheat, corn, potatoes and grapes.

Their father, Galliano, had two horses and he used to pick up goods from the main railway stations and deliver them to people running business around the comune. Their mother, Severina Rossetto, worked in a silk cocoon factory, they used to call it la filanda. And she walked the five kilometres to Valdobbiadene.

Rossetto family, Bigolino, early 1920s
Back: Angelo, Domenico, Giovanna, Adeodato, Gelindo, Severina, Antonietta (Nina)
Front: Eugenio, Elena (mother), Giuseppe & Modesto (father)

There were six brothers and three sisters in their mother’s family. The Rossetto’s were against Mussolini and some of them got beaten up for voicing their opinion to the local Fascists. This was the reason that eight out of the nine Rossetto siblings migrated to Australia between 1926 and 1939. It was difficult to leave Italy in 1939 but after a few false starts, the Tormena family managed to emigrate to Australia. They arrived in Adelaide on 14th February 1940.

In June 1940 Italy entered the war against the allies and life for Italians living in Australia became difficult because they were considered “enemy aliens.” There were many restrictions; some Italians lost their jobs and some were interned. Galliano worked in a mica mine with his brother-in-law, Gelindo Rossetto. It was 1,7000 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Northern Territory. Severina worked in the city delivering milk and washing bed linen for several of the city boarding houses.

Rossetto families, Liverpool Street, Adelaide, 1948

Johnny and Maria went to school at St Mary’s Franklin Street. There were many cousins to spend time with and their first visit to the beach was a memorable experience.


Johnny Tormena, 2014

When Johnny was 16 years he began work as a cleaner in a cinema at night. Johnny working life was mainly in the area of retail and window dressing. He was employed at John Martin’s, a large Adelaide department store, for 28 years. He managed the window design in five different stores and had a staff of more than 70 people. He was respected for his knowledge and skills and part of his role was to study the design and promotion of fashion for new seasons in other countries. For example, he visited large stores and fashion exhibitions in Japan, Korea, USA, Israel, Denmark, Italy, France, Spain and London. On one business trip he was away for 11 weeks.

Maria-Rosa Tormena, 2014

From childhood, Maria loved all sports. She liked sport more than her schoolwork. She was an excellent softball player and played for the state team in South Australia for several years. She coached the Sturt junior softball team for many years and later travelled to world championships in different countries. She travelled to play softball and always found it easy to find jobs when she returned from competitions. Maria co-founded the Sturt Softball Club which is now the largest in Australia and she is a life member. She was involved with softball for more 30 years. Maria travelled widely in Australia and other parts of the world.

Both Johnny and Maria have maintained strong ties with relatives and friends in Italy, Melbourne and Adelaide. They have travelled to Italy many times but agree that they love living in Adelaide.

You can listen to the interviews with Johnny and Maria or read the transcripts of their interviews on the website. Click here.

Madeleine Regan

15 November 2020

La famiglia Tormena

 Johnny Tormena è nato il 29 novembre 1927 a Bigolino nella provincia di Treviso. Sua sorella, Maria Rosa è nata il 5 giugno 1933 anche a Bigolino. Bigolino è a 5 chilometri da Valdobbiadene, un paese che è a 50 minuti a Venezia prendendo l’autobus. A Bigolino molte famiglie lavoravano il terreno e coltivavano grano, mais, patate e uva.

Loro padre, Galliano, era un carrettiere. Aveva due cavalli e andava a prendere roba dalla stazione ferroviaria e la consegnava alle persone che avevano bottega nella zona vicino al comune. Loro madre, Severina Rossetto, lavorava in una fabbrica di bachi da seta, si chiama la filanda, e andava a piedi a Valdobbiadene per 5 chilometri.

La famiglia Rossetto, Bigolino, all’inizio degli anni ’20

Tutti quanti nella famiglia della madre i Rossetto c’erano sei fratelli e tre sorelle erano tutti quanti anti Fascisti. Per questo, usualmente venivano aggrediti quando esprimevano la loro opinione ai fascisti del luogo. Questa è stata la ragione perchè otto dei nove figli Rossetto emigrarono in Australia dal 1926 fino al 1939. Non era molto facile emigrare in Australia nel 1939 e dopo parecchi tentativi ci sono riusciti e arrivarono in Adelaide il 14 febbraio 1940.

Nel giugno 1940 l’Italia è entrata in guerra contro gli alleati e per gli Italiani in Australia era un tempo troppo difficile. C’erano molte restrizioni e alcune persone persero il lavoro e alcune sono state internate. Galliano ha lavorato in una miniera di mica con suo cognato, Gelindo Rossetto, nel Northern Territory, 1,700 chilometri nord di Adelaide. Severina ha lavorato nella città consegnando latte e lavando la biancheria da letto in parecchie pensioni.

Le famiglie Rossetto, Liverpool Street, Adelaide, 1948

Johnny e Maria hanno frequentato la scuola a St Mary’s Franklin Street. Avevano molti cugini con cui trascorrere il tempo e andare in spiaggia per la prima volta è stata un’ottima esperienza.

Galliano morì nel 1950 e Severina morì nel 1999.

Johnny Tormena, 2014

Quando aveva 16 anni, Johnny lavorava nel cinema facendo pulizie. Johnny ha lavorato maggiormente nella vendita al dettaglio e per 28 anni è stato da John Martin, un grande negozio in Adelaide come vetrinista. Dopo un po’ stato promosso a un ruolo senior ed è stato responsabile per cinque negozi e oltre 70 membri di personale. Johnny ha viaggiato in vari paesi per il suo lavoro per conoscere il disegno e la promozione della moda per le stagioni. È andato per esempio in Giappone, USA, Israele, Danimarca, Italia, Francia e Spagna. Per un viaggio di lavoro è stato via per 11 settimane.

Fin dall’infanzia Maria amava molto lo sport. Le piaceva lo sport più dello studio.

Maria-Rosa Tormena, 2014

Era un’ottima giocatrice di softball e giocava per la squadra di stato nel South Australia per diversi anni. Ha trovato facile cambiare lavoro che le ha permesso di viaggiare per il suo amore dello sport. Dopo essersi allenata per molti anni la squadra junior per Sturt Club. Maria è stata co-fondatrice del Sturt Softball Club che adesso è il più grande in Australia. Lei un membro a vita. Era coinvolta in quello sport per almeno 30 anni. Le piaceva viaggiare per i campionati mondiali di softball in diversi paesi. Maria anche viaggiato molto in Australia.

Entrambi Johnny e Maria hanno mantenuto forti legami con i loro parenti ed amici in Italia, Melbourne ed Adelaide. Hanno viaggiato in Italia molte volte ma sono d’accordo sul fatto che amano vivere in Adelaide.

Potete ascoltare le interviste con Johnny e Maria o leggere i trascritti sul website. Clica qui.

Madeleine Regan
15 November 2020


Gino Piovesan’s long life

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Family background
When Gino Piovesan was born on 9 January 1928, his parents lived in a large farm household near Treviso with two uncles and aunts and their families. He remembers that 27 family members including 17 children -13 boys and four girls – lived in the household. Gino was the eldest of seven children.

Gino completed four years of primary school and left when he was ten years old. He began working on the farm with his father and uncles harvesting crops with a scythe. They grew corn, wheat and cultivated grapes on 20 hectares. They were a mezzadria household which meant they gave half of all produce to the landowner. While working on the farm, Gino attended night school and achieved fifth grade.

Gino Piovesan – extreme left – mine at Lyon, France, c 1949

In 1947 Gino went to France and worked in an underground coal mine at Lyon. When he returned to Italy he was required to do his military service which he completed in March 1950.



Decision to migrate
Following the war jobs were scarce and many young people were leaving to find better futures. When Gino made the decision to emigrate his father supported him. Gino was sponsored by his aunt, Rosalia Piovesan, who lived on Frogmore Road, and he travelled with a friend Leandro Bortoletto. They arrived in Melbourne on 26 November 1950.

Gino Piovesan, Frogmore Road, early 1950s

The day after Gino arrived, Attilio Piovesan helped him to find a job at General Motors Holden, Woodville. He remembers that there were plenty of jobs in Adelaide. Gino worked night shift, 4:00 pm to 1:30 am. After a night’s sleep, he worked in Rosalia’s market garden from 7:00 am to 11:00 am and in exchange, received free board for a year. Rosalia grew tomatoes and beans in 10 glasshouses and also grew potatoes outside. At first, he lived in the house with the Piovesan family, Rosalia and her sons Nillo, Dino and Bruno. Rosalia’s husband, Angelo had died suddenly in 1949.  Gino helped Dino take vegetables to market three days a week. He was part of the group of men who made bricks for Rosalia’s new house. For several years, Gino shared a small shack on the property with his brother Rino and cousin Sante who had both migrated to Australia in 1952.

Gino Piovesan, Frogmore Road, early 1950s

Marriage and family
Gino married Natalina Borghetto from Villorba in March 1956 after she arrived from Italy. Natalina started work at 14 years of age after completing primary school. At sixteen she gained employment at a woollen mill and after arriving in Adelaide, worked at Actil at Woodville for a year. They have three children, Frank born in 1957, Lina born in 1961 and Paul, born in 1967. They have four grandchildren Tom and Sarah born in 1990, Manda born in 1994 and Emma born in 1995.

Gino and Natalina have returned to Italy five times – maintaining strong connections with family there.

Working life in Adelaide
Gino worked at GMH until 1966 and then in concrete businesses for over 25 years.

Gino and Natalina bought five acres at Paralowie and established a market garden with ten glasshouses. They grew tomatoes, beans and artichokes which they sold at the East End market. They worked the garden together for nearly 43 years. For over 30 years Gino worked two jobs and Natalina worked in the garden at Paralowie whilst raising their family.

Memories of Frogmore Road
Gino recalls that in 1952 the area of Frogmore Road looked poor. There were shacks scattered on properties and large numbers of glasshouses. He noted the differences between farming in the Veneto region and in Adelaide. There were no glasshouses in Treviso because the weather was too cold. Farmers in Treviso grew vegetables to be self-sufficient whereas in Adelaide, the market gardeners grew vegetables for market and as a livelihood.

Veneto community
Gino was one of the first men to become a Foundation member of the Veneto Club in 1971 and helped lay the foundations of the building which became an important centre for the Veneto community in Adelaide. Gino also remembers helping to build the old Mater Christi church at Gleneagles

As a young migrant, Gino thought he’d stay for four years, make some money and return to Italy. However, there were plenty of job opportunities, and the reward of a weekly pay packet was a big reason to stay in Adelaide. In the 70 years since he arrived, Gino says that just about everything has changed. It seemed a quiet place when he first saw it and now, he thinks it has come alive. He also appreciates that the Australian Government looks after elderly people.

Gino loves his vegetable garden and at this time he has lettuce, spinach, tomatoes broad beans, radicchio and capsicums which he tends every day.

Madeleine Regan and Paul Piovesan
1 November 2020


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