My unforgettable school years – Part 1

In this blog, and the next one, Irene Zampin writes about her memories of school years in Adelaide and in Italy after her parents returned to live in Riese Pio X in 1967. Irene’s parents had a market garden on Valetta Road. Today Irene lives in Caselle di Altivole with her husband, Giuliano Berdusco. Their children and families live close to them.

Even if sixty years have quickly passed by, I still remember some events that occurred at St. Joseph’s Primary, Captain Cook Avenue, Flinders Park where most of the Italian market gardeners’ children attended school.

I often used to get up early in the morning so I could participate at Mass celebrated in Flinders Park parish church. My intention was to save African babies. This meant that our teacher would put a small black coloured baby doll on a board where my name was aligned with the names of other students. The more baby dolls we could put on the board the better we would be. Unfortunately, I often used to faint during Mass since I never had breakfast before attending Mass which was either at 7:00 or 7:30 am.

I remember walking to school, and on the way, I used to pass by Tony Mercurio’s home where his mother would sometimes call me in and invite me to have breakfast with her children. What a nice fragrance of heaps of toasted bread. Delicious with butter and then dipped in a cup of milk with coffee. On our way to school, besides Tony and his sister Grace, the Girolamo kids joined us.

Irene Zampin, Year 7 student, 1964.

I still haven’t forgotten that disgusting milk that we had to drink during recess time. It was in a triangular cardboard container that certainly had gone bad since it was in the sun all morning. I still don’t drink milk (if not in a cup of cappuccino) since that time in my childhood.

Certainly, lunch time for the Italian children was either salami, tuna, egg or fritz sandwiches. Rarely did we buy those delicious vegetable pasties or meat pies from the tuck shop.  During recess I remember playing Pigeon Toe, All Over, Red Rover, Telephone, Blind Man’s Bluff etc.

Beside our school lessons we also had to clean our classrooms and rather well or else, Sister Perpetua (who doesn’t remember her?) would test her bamboo duster on our knuckles.

I think that my school mates also remember sweet Sister Luke, ready to encourage us. Our Saturday basketball games were also most enjoyable especially when we used to win against the other teams that came from the other part of the town and that we considered “snobs”.

On our way back home from school, it was a pleasure to pick up some of those huge carrots from the heaps that Mr. Zerrella would line up near the road ready for the market. Certainly, he wasn’t that happy. A stop at Adami’s delicatessen was usual. Those delicious kitchen buns and cream buns are still in my mind. (Unfortunately, they were hard to find on my trip back to Australia in 1999/2000).

Irene Zampin, secondary school student, 1965.

The trip by bus to St. Joseph’s High School at Hindmarsh sometimes wasn’t so pleasant for some of us Italians since other Australian students used to make fun of us. Besides this, we all had to be on alert if we saw a prefect nearby whose task was to supervise the student’s behavior and if their uniform was not complete with hat/beret and gloves, she would refer them to the school principal. Our school principal was Sister Anne, most severe. I still remember the music she used to put on the disc player when we had to march into the classrooms. First whistle: get ready, second whistle: in line, third whistle: march in.

What I enjoyed at High School was Sports Day under Mrs. Walker’s leadership, which wasn’t that easy. At those events our mothers used to sell bright red toffee apples, slices of marshmallow and chocolate crackles. What surprises we would find in those small packages during the raffle!

Unforgettable were the concerts. Days and days of singing rehearsals and finally the concert where we were all dressed up like princesses with white gowns and glittery crowns on our heads. Unforgettable and wonderful years.

Third year students at St Joseph’s Hindmarsh, 1967. Irene, second row, first on the right. Diana Santin, front row, first on right.

1967 was my last year of school and I was rather melancholic since I knew that I had to leave for Italy. It would have been hard for me to forget the girls with whom I had laughed and enjoyed my school days.  I would certainly have missed them all.

My father had taken the decision to return to Italy in 1966, after he was hospitalized and realized then that he couldn’t get along with his English.  Even if his heart was always tied to Italy, it was tough for both my parents since my sister Teresa had in the meantime got married to Louie Mazzarolo.

In May 1967, my parents, Nico and Delia Zampin, my brother Dennis and I left for Italy leaving my sister Teresa in Australia.  During my trip I had a good time on the “Achille Lauro” and didn’t have the time to think of what I was going forward to.

Friends’ farewell party for Irene, 1967. Irene is in the middle of second row.

It didn’t take me long to understand how much I missed my sister and my friends and what a hard time I was going forward to in Italy. At that stage I felt very unhappy and lonely and realized that my school years were not yet over due to the difficulties I met with the language and with the new environment. Therefore, I had to deal with more years of school studies in Italy and I longed for the years I passed in Australia.


All photos provided by Irene.

Irene Zampin
3 April 2022


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

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