New patterns of ownership

Adapting contadino traditions of land ownership
By the mid 1950s all the Veneto families had bought their market gardens after many years of being leaseholders at Lockleys. They became property owners which made them very different from their parents and siblings in the Veneto region who had lived and worked by the traditions of inheritance. Or they had worked for a padrone or boss who kept half of the annual produce each year in the mezzadria system.

At Lockleys, the market gardeners used the South Australian lands title system which allowed individuals to buy property. It was also possible to own land in partnership with others through a certificate of title. In a new model, some of the veneti bought land together. They owned market gardens as ‘tenants in common’ which meant that two or more people could co-own a property in defined shares which could be equal or unequal.

New partnerships
The first generation of Veneto market gardeners adapted the Veneto traditions and became landowners in different partnerships. For example, brothers, Alberto and Pietro Berno bought their property on Valetta Road as ‘tenants in common’ in 1948. Isidoro Ballestrin bought nine acres in 1953 on ‘River Road’ (now Findon Road) with his brother, Narcisio, and a friend as ‘tenants in common’ in three different shares.

Certificate of Title, Volume 1986, Folio 84, 2 July 1948.

Vittorio Marchioro and his brother and sister-in-law, Francesco and Margherita Marchioro, had first formed a partnership to lease and work land together at Lockleys in the mid-1930s. Margherita’s husband, Francesco, had not been able to work in glasshouses because of health problems and had other employment. In 1937 when Vittorio married and brought his wife, Angelina, from Italy into the market garden, the three worked the garden on Frogmore Road until Francesco and Margherita moved to the other side of the River Torrens. In 1948, after being widowed, Margherita bought a property with her brother-in-law, Vittorio Marchioro as ‘tenants in common,’ as shown in the two images (which you can enlarge by clicking on them).

Certificate of Title, Volume 1986, Folio 84, 2 July 1948.

The possibility of a woman signing a contract on her own behalf with a brother-in-law, was a radical shift for people from a contadino or peasant farmer background. In the Veneto region, women were not involved in property or financial arrangements. At that time in the 1950s, it was not common for women in Anglo Australian households to be  considered as business partners.  To have a contract drawn up between a sister-in-law and brother-in-law to co-own land would have been unimaginable in the Veneto tradition.

The partnership between Margherita and Vittorio allowed Margherita to achieve her goal to work as a contadina, earn an income and support three daughters after her husband died and it placed her in a more comfortable economic position to build her own home. Her daughter, Lina recalled her mother’s pride:

She built a lovely house and I suppose she had that satisfaction that she’d got what she wanted, a lovely house, furnished it nicely, so … after living all those years in a wooden/iron place, you can imagine. A joy to have it!

(Lina Rismondo nee Marchioro OH 872/9, 15 November 2010, 50).

The market gardens provided opportunities to change the traditional roles of both men and women and to increase their hopes for a better life.

Sandra Santin in her Tonellato grandparents’ market garden, Frogmore Road, c1950. Photo, courtesy of the family.

Partnership – father and sons
In the Tonellato family, Secondo and his four sons had worked together on leased land for several years. The two older Tonellato sons, Lui and Albert, had bought land in the Lockleys area after each of them married. In 1949 the two youngest brothers, Lino and Nano, joined their father on the land as ‘tenants in common’ and signed the South Australian legal documentation for land ownership as equal partners. In an unusual arrangement for the Veneto group at Lockleys, the Tonellato family had created a business partnership between generations.

Tenants in common – husbands and wives
In 1953, cousins Giuseppe Ballestrin and Ermenegildo Ballestrin bought 20 acres of land on the River Torrens. They leased and worked the glasshouses and land for celery from the early 1940s and they owned the landholding as ‘tenants in common.’

Ballestrin truck, loaded to take tomatoes to Melbourne in a train strike. c 1950s. Clipping, courtesy Frankie Ballestrin.

In 1954, Ermenegildo returned to Italy to marry and he brought his wife Norina, back to Adelaide. At that time, Giuseppe had been married for 20 years to Cesira and they had three children. Both women worked with their husbands cultivating large crops of celery and glasshouse tomatoes. In 1955, Giuseppe and Ermenegildo changed the documentation and included the names of their respective wives on the land title certificate. In my research, I discovered that they were the only couples among the Veneto market gardeners who formally included the names of wives on the land title certificate as joint legal owners of property.

The first generation of the veneti worked hard on their market gardens at Lockleys from the 1930s. They were able to settle and become landowners in Australia. They used legal contracts and developed partnerships that would not have been possible in the old traditions in the rural areas of the Veneto region.

Cover of the book by Rina Huber.


For more information about the traditional ways of the contadino families and arrangements about the ownership of land in the Veneto region, see the book by Rina Huber, “From Pasta to Pavlova: A Comparative Study of Italian Settlers in Sydney and Griffith,” (University of Queensland Press, 1977).

Madeleine Regan
3 July 2022




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