Return visits to Italy – 1950s, 1960s

This blog focuses on the stories of some of the first-generation market gardeners and relatives who returned to Italy for visits in the 1950s and 1960s. The sons and daughters gave details of return visits in their oral history interviews. The following stories begin in 1953 and finish in 1969.

Tormena family
Johnny Tormena was 11 years old when he arrived in Adelaide with his parents, Severina and Galliano in 1940. Severina was a member of the large Rossetto family and eight of her siblings who had migrated to Adelaide before the war. Gelindo and Giovanna had become market gardeners.

Rossetto family, Bigolino, 1927. Back: Gelindo, Adeodato, Angelo, Eugenio, Giuseppe. Front: Giovanna, Severina, Antonietta, Bigolino c1927. (Domenico had already migrated to Adelaide).

Johnny’s mother made a visit to her home village of Bigolino for practical reasons in 1953:

It was in 1953, Mum went back to Italy in 1953 because we had left the house in Italy rented and we had no intention of going back to live and it was just a problem anyway. So, Mum went over there to sell the house.

Johnny had a deep love of Italy and describes the circumstances that led him to visit  in 1955:

I had never seen Venice and I wanted to go back and see Venice, and I took on extra jobs, I was doing dressing windows for different boutiques around down at Glenelg. I was dressing the windows once a month, the Gas Company, once a month. I was doing ushering at the Piccadilly Cinema three nights a week, all to get money first of all to pay off the mortgage on the house and then saving to go overseas which I did in — January 8th 1956, I got on the ‘Orion’ and off to Italy, got off in Naples.

Aerial view of Bigolino, date unknown. Photo, courtesy Johnny Tormena.

It was fantastic [to go back to Bigolino] because I met … three or four that I became good friends with, that I used to go to school together when, you know Grade 3, 4 and 5 over there. And we became good friends. And while I was there — the three friends that we were very thick with each other there, one migrated to Peru, one migrated and he was working in Frankfurt Germany, the other one became a chauffeur for a countess that lived in Milan. And they were, they had their holidays like Ferragosto,[1] as they call it over there. And I was there from Australia so there was Australian, German, a Peruvian [laughs] and a Milanese. [laughs] They used to call us the four musketeers.

(Johnny Tormena, OH 872/18, 25  May, 2012, pp 58 46, 47).

Vittorio and Angelina Marchioro
Vittorio and Angelina Marchioro were interviewed for a project on migration in South Australia 1984. In their interview they reflected on their visits to Italy. They returned for the first time in 1961 and stayed six months. They returned three more times and stayed with their relatives in Malo and Monte di Malo in the province of Vicenza.

(Vittorio Marchioro, (OH 12, 13 March, 1984, p 16).

Silvano & Amelia Zampin, Angelina & Vittorio Marchioro, Adelaide c 1950.

Silvano and Amelia nee Shaw Zampin
Silvano and Amelia Zampin went to Italy in 1961. It was the first time Silvano had returned since he migrated to Adelaide in 1928. Silvano and Amelia were the parents of nine children. Six daughters have been interviewed for this project and recalled the wonderful experience that their parents had while they were in Italy. They stayed in Riese Pio X and also travelled as tourists. Christine Zampin remembered details of the trip her parents made:

Silvano’s mother and Amelia, Riese Pio X, 1961. Photo, courtesy, Zampin family.

I remember they went on the boat over there … Yeah, six months they went. They went everywhere. First of all, they went to London. They’d already organised to buy a car there, and bought a Simca. And then they travelled in London and England and then they went across the Channel over into Europe and they travelled through Europe to Italy and all through Italy with that little Simca.

In the end they brought it back home … I think they stayed with her mother-in-law, my nonna. They stayed in that house for quite some time. I think she got on quite well with them.

(Christine Zampin, OH 872/42, 26 February, 20117, p 27).

Secondo Tonellato and niece, Assunta, visit Caselle di Altivole, 1962

Angelina Tonellato and Secondo Tonellato, in front of the Tonellato home, Caselle di Altivole, 1962. Photo, courtesy, Assunta Giovannini nee Tonellato.


In 1962, Secondo Tonellato made his return visit to his home village and reunited with his sister, Angelina, for the first time in 35 years. He travelled to Italy with his niece, Assunta, whose mother had died shortly after her birth. Assunta was raised by her uncle Secondo and auntie, Elisabetta. Assunta met her aunt, Angelina, the only member of her mother’s generation who remained in Caselle di Altivole. Two uncles and an aunt had migrated to Canada and Secondo and Assunta’s mother had left for Australia in 1927 and 1935 respectively.



Albert and Mary Tonellato nee Zoanetti
When they were in Italy in 1968 for six months, Albert and Mary Tonellato visited their home villages. Albert, the son of Secondo  and Elisabetta had lived in Caselle di Altivole with his family until he was 10 years when he travelled with his mother and four siblings to Adelaide, joining his father there.

Mary’s father had migrated to Adelaide in 1927, and Mary and her mother followed in 1931 when Mary was seven years old. Mary had relatives in Zuclo in the province of Trento in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol in the far north of Italy.

They bought a car , and in addition to seeing relatives, they travelled extensively in Italy and Europe. Albert remembered that they covered 29,000 kilometres.

Mary, Giosue & Metilde Zoanetti, Zuclo, c 1927. Photo, courtesy, Mary Tonellato nee Zoanetti.

Mary described a poignant scene when she and Albert went to Zuclo. Mary said that she felt very moved to return to her origins and the relatives that she had known as a young child:

I can remember the piazza, because I remember when we left all the women got together, I remember that, all the women got together in the little piazza to say goodbye to us and they were all crying and saying, “Where are you going?  Where there is all animals.”  [laughs)
(Mary Tonellato nee Zoanetti, OH 872/3, 3 October, p 26). 2008,


Maria Ballestrin nee Andreazzo returns to Vallà after 34 years
Frankie Ballestrin made his first visit to Italy with his mother, Maria,  and nephew in 1969.  Frankie’s mother whose husband, Isidoro, had died in in 1965, had not returned for 34 years. Frankie remembered the visit vividly:

When we went to Italy the first time I was excited about going … But when we got off at Venice I said to Mum, “Gee, what made you leave a place like this?”  And she said, “Well, in those days there was no food, there was no nothing.”  Because in Italy they got bombed out, they really got bombed out, like hell.  It was real terrible.

View of Venice from a plane. 20220116161429venice-airports.jpg

And yes, well, Mum hadn’t seen her younger sister – she was only seven or eight when she left …  and when she met her at the airport it was a sight to behold, you know.  I’d never seen anything like that before … My auntie jumped the barrier.  [laughter]

(Frankie Ballestrin, OH 8727, 12 December 2008, p 35).

There are more stories of the first visits to Italy made by people in the first generation described in the oral history interviews with their sons and daughters for this project. The common theme is the excitement of the return to home villages and the significance of spending time with relatives from whom they had been separated for decades.

[1] Ferragosto, a feast day celebrated in Italy, marks the summer holiday period in mid-August across Italy.

Madeleine Regan
23 April 2023

Preserving family customs

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter from Adelaide!

Following Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato’s lovely blog about her family’s tradition of cooking baccalà and polenta at Easter time, this one is about preserving family customs in the Veneto market gardener community at Lockleys.

Members of the Narciso and Maria Ballestrin family, Compostella, Marchioro and Zampin families, Morialta Falls, Adelaide, early 1950s. Photo supplied by the Zampin family.

The first-generation women and men continued to prepare food and make wine that had been customs in their family households in the Veneto region. Most of the Veneto families grew much of the food they consumed at the table and made their own wine. In the early years women used produce from their market gardens and domestic vegetable plots and orchards, milked cows to make cheese and butter, and they raised chickens.

Veneto men with pig carcasses. Santin shed, Frogmore Road, mid 1960s. Photo courtesy of Santin family.


Later, other customs were introduced that signified that the market gardeners had a stronger financial base and could afford to buy a pig to make salami every year. Some families made arrangements with other households for more expensive annual activities such as killing a pig to make salami or buying (and sometimes picking) grapes in bulk to make and bottle wine.



Jimmy Ballestrin remembers that the customs were very important for his parents.  When he was interviewed by Eleonora Marchioro in June 2011, he recalled that he was going to make salami with his brother and sister the following week:

In those days especially, they all liked to have their glass of wine, and wine wasn’t that easy to come by here in Adelaide, the type of wine they were used to drinking, and also the type of foods that they were used to eating … weren’t readily available. I think it was very important because … you know, there’s always something of home … they liked to keep the lifestyle of their Italian lifestyle,and might I say, perhaps improved on the Italian lifestyle that they had because of the poverty over there

(Jimmy Ballestrin, OH 872/15, 6 June 2011, p5).

Ballestrin family: Narciso, LIna, Maria, Jimmy. Front: Silvano, Norina. Flinders Park, c 1959.
Photo, courtesy Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin.


Angelina and Vittorio Marchioro with baby, Romano, and Johnny, Frogmore Road, c 1943. Photo, courtesy Johnny Marchioro.

Johnny Marchioro remembered his parents’ energy for the seasonal tasks that preserved traditions from Italy:

I think they used to go to Reynella and get their grapes for the wine.  He made a cement tank and when the wine season was – back in would have been April, May – used to get it and we used to squash it, jump in the barrel and squash it by foot, and they’d make our own wine.  Yes, that was like a seasonal thing … you’d make your own tomato sauce and the wine time came you’d make your wine, and wintertime you’d make your own salami, too, for the family.

(Johnny Marchioro, OH 872/1, 21 August 2008, p24).

Families who continue annual food customs such as making tomato sauce and cooking traditional dishes at Easter and Christmas acknowledge that these rituals connect them to their parents and the traditions of their Veneto ancestors.

Peter Rebellato and father-in-law, Oscar Mattiazzo, de-boning stock fish for baccalà, West Lakes, Adelaide, 2009.
Photo by Christine Rebellato nee Mattiazzo.

Christine Rebellato nee Mattiazzo explained in the blog she wrote on the Veneto market gardeners’ website in April 2020, the significance of Easter customs for her family:

Over the years Easter time has been a time for our family to be together to enjoy each other’s company, a time to keep our traditions, a time to enjoy food with a focus on keeping our loved ones alive.


Making wine at home

Angelo Innocente, testing wine, Lockleys, 2010. Photo by Madeleine Regan.


Making wine was a usual autumn activity in many families. It was important for people like Angelo Innocente to make wine every year. Angelo continued this tradition until he was 89 years of age.



Roma Bordignon nee Zampin remembered the ritual of making the wine in her family and this tradition was something that the local policeman appreciated:

We used to get into the big bucket or whatever it was, and we’d go with our feet andwe’d dance the Tarantella. (laughter] … And [Dad would] say, “Come on girls. Hurry up! We’ve got to make this wine.” So, we’d dance faster.

And the Lockleys policeman at the time, he used to come up to see Gerry, as they called Dad. And he’d say, “How are you going Gerry? Have you made the wine yet?” And he’d say, “Yeah. Would you like a taste?” So, he’d sit down and drink it. He only come up to see him for a drink.

(Roma Bordignon nee Zampin, OH 872/41, 3 February 2017, p 17)

Amelia nee Shaw and Silvano (Gerry) Zampin and their family, Adelaide, c 1954. Photo supplied by the Zampin family.

Preserving the Veneto dialect
The preservation of dialect has been an important aspect in some families and it is particularly noticeable in the context of food customs. Many second generation, and in some cases, third-generation veneti have retained Veneto and/or Italian words and phrases to describe traditional foods and dishes. For example, interviewees described different food dishes made in their families including: polenta e baccalà (polenta and stockfish), risi e bisi (rice and peas), carciofi (artichokes) and crostoli (a sweet deep-fried pastry dusted with icing sugar). Some families continue to make these foods today.

People who were interviewed for the project spoke proudly about the ways they maintain a strong connection to the legacy of their Veneto ancestors through preserving customs.

Madeleine Regan
9 April 2023



A legacy – Albert and Mary Tonellato

I am the eldest child of 4 children (Linda, Raymond, Janet and Diana) born to Mary and Albert Tonellato. I’d like to tell you how our family started and I’ll finish with our tradition of cooking baccalà.

My paternal grandfather, Secondo Tonellato, came to Australia from Caselle di Altivole, Treviso in 1927 to work and prepare for his family to follow him. When nonno arrived, he worked to get money and then he leased and later bought land on Frogmore Road to grow vegetables.

When his wife, Elisabetta, and five children were about to arrive in 1935, Secondo bought a train carriage to use as their home. The famous vagone which had only been used once by the Duke and Duchess of York while he was in South Australia in 1927. My Dad, Albert, was 10 years old when he arrived. He went to school at St Joseph’s Hindmarsh until he was old enough to go to work in a fish shop in Adelaide. After that he worked on his father’s land growing vegetables on Frogmore Road.

The Tonellato families, Frogmore Road, 1962. Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.

My maternal grandfather, Giosue Zoanetti, also arrived in 1927 from Zuclo, Trento. He went to work land at Basket Range until nonna, Metilde, and my mum, Mary, arrived in 1931 when she was 7 years old. She went to school at Basket Range Primary School and then to Norwood High. While at school, mum had many Australian friends and loved cooking using recipes from ‘The Green and Gold Cookery Book.’

Mary, Giosue & Metilde Zoanetti, Zuclo, c 1927. Photo, courtesy, Mary Tonellato nee Zoanetti.

Unfortunately, when Italy joined Germany in World War II, Italians in Australia were looked upon as the enemy and anxiety and fear entered the lives of Italians and Anglo Australians. After this happened, Mum recalled how some people treated her differently because she was Italian.

In 1941, the family moved to Fulham as my nonno had leased land there. Sadly, my nonno died in 1943 and nonna and Mary, my mum, moved to another leased property off Grange Road not far from Frogmore Road where Mary met Albert and in 1947 they married.

Albert Tonellato, Mary Zoanetti, Adelaide c 1946. Photo, courtesy, Mary Tonellato nee Zoanetti.



So started the Albert and Mary Tonellato family.



Raymond and Elaine Tonellato’s wedding. L-R: Linda, Janet, Diana, Elaine, Raymond, Mary, Albert, nonna Zoanetti, Adelaide,1975. Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.

Mum and Dad believed it was important for us, their children, to experience the best of both Anglo Australian and Italian cultures. Mum loved sweets and cooked the best fritelle (fried pastries like doughnuts) and lemon meringue pie. She also baked hot cross buns on Good Friday along with baccalà.

Baccala’ and polenta ready to eat. Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.

In our family we still cook these foods. As for the baccalà, it was always Mum who cooked it with Dad as her kitchen hand. When we all had our families, it was never a sit-down and eat together meal on Good Friday as Mum preferred us to go mid-morning for a coffee and pick up the baccalà and polenta to take home. About 16 years ago, we decided it was time for us to learn how to cook baccalà. My sisters and sister-in-law, Elaine, all went to Mum and Dad’s house and we watched Mum and documented what she did. The next year we worked from the recipe while Mum watched on adding extra comments if we didn’t get it right and we adjusted our recipe accordingly. The following year we got it right! I still remember that Dad was very proud of us as he quietly told us that it was as good as Mum’s, without Mum hearing.

Pieces of cod ready to prepare for baccala’.
Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.

Every year since then, Ray or my husband, Armando, cut the cod which then gets put in a large tub of water which Elaine changes two or three times a day for four days.

On the Thursday before Easter, we clean and cook the cod in Ray and Elaine’s kitchen and we work all together on their long kitchen bench top sharing a drink and some laughs. When it is cooked each of us takes our share to eat with our families.

Linda, Janet, Diana, Elaine, making baccala’, Elaine’s kitchen, 2021. Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.









Dad died on 13 April 2010 and Mum died on 16th September 2020. For now, our children are happy for us to cook but when we are unable to continue, I am sure they will learn as we did, and so the tradition will continue.

Four generations of the Mary and Albert Tonellato family. Mary is in the middle at the front. Adelaide, 2004. Photo, courtesy Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato.


Linda Zamperin nee Tonellato
26 March 2023

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