Parties and festivals

This is the second part of guest, Silvano Ballestrin’s blog. He recalls the festivals that were part of the life of the Veneto market gardener community and the memorable Cucagna held at Saint Joseph’s Church at Flinders Park in 1952.

There were many feste (parties or festivals) held at the Catholic Church on Captain Cook Ave. One particular festa was La Cucagna, where men, dressed in old clothes, organised themselves in teams and mounted a horse-drawn dray decorated with streamers, balloons and other colourful ornaments. There were 3 teams. (1) River Road team. (2) Frogmore Road team. (3) Campbelltown team, also veneti. The carts were a sight to behold. The River Road men gathered at Doro’s old house, hopped on the dray and picked up others as they drove to church. Frankie played the accordion and everyone was singing. Bruno Piovesan played the accordion for Frogmore Road. The Campbelltown team came in clean clothes but changed into work clothes at the venue.

Bruno Piovesan and Gino Piovesan c 1948-49*

Three tall, round, wooden poles, approximately 8-10 metres high were planted on the church grounds; on top of them were various prizes such as bottles of wine, a plucked chicken or some other edible delicacies. To get the prizes the men had to climb their pole and retrieve the reward. The problem: the poles were smooth and completely coated with clear industrial grease, making them virtually impossible to climb. Howls of laughter were heard as men tried to climb and then slid back down the poles. Ultimately the solution was for the strongest man to stand at the foot of the pole hugging it while the next one climbed onto his shoulders and so on until the lightest one reached the top. It was tough going.

Women and children were totally absorbed in watching the event. Once the climb was complete, everyone socialised and mingled over shared food and beverages provided by themselves, with the children running around the yard playing simple games.

Veneta women, Frogmore Road, c 1946

The church-going veneti interacted well with the Anglo Australian clergy who were happy for this unique event to take place. The veneti formed a significant part of the congregation they were industrious and eager to become citizens of this great country. Some of those priests even learnt Italian.

The Cucagna with the decorated floats in procession was a never to be forgotten, one-off event held at Captain Cook Avenue, Flinders Park. In later years, the Cucagna was held at Mater Christi, Seaton.

While having painted a picture of continual get togethers, Fiò and lots of fun times, we all worked very hard, as did all the Italian families living in the Findon, Flinders Park, Kidman Park and Lockleys areas. Every man, woman and child laboured to help their families.


Veneto paesani, St Kilda c 1950

When writing to Madeleine some time ago it was mentioned the Italians did not have a great need to learn English as they mixed and socialised among themselves helping each other out, as in a community. She expressed it best by saying it was like living in a  paese (village).

This paese in the western suburbs was, and is, alive and well and the Fiòs promulgated these events.  In a way the various feste showed how much the Australian version of the Fiò informally helped them to bond and form a new paese, comfortably surrounded by friends and relatives. Only a few returned permanently to Italy.

Farewell to Narcisio, Maria; Norina Ballestrin on their trip to Italy, Outer Harbour – view from boat: April 1965

Silvano Ballestrin
12 July 2020





With help from Egidio Ballestrin (brother), Frank Ballestrin (cousin), Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin (sister), Norina Savio nee Ballestrin (sister), Isabella Ballestrin (granddaughter) , Kelli Ballestrin (daughter), Dolfina Leonardi nee Ballestrin (cousin), Noemi Campagnolo nee Zalunardo (cousin), Severino Dotto (cousin in Italy), Madeleine Regan, Christine Rebellato (nee Mattiazzo), Angelo Ballestrin (cousin), Angelo Piovesan (friend), Aurora Ballestrin (my wife for being so patient).

*Thanks to Angelo Piovesan and his contacts, we can now confirm the identity of Gino Piovesan who is in the photo with Bruno Piovesan.

Non è stato possibile tradurre il blog in italiano.


3 thoughts on “Parties and festivals”

  1. Thanks for sharing this story, Dad. I can imagine why they didn’t continue La Cucagna it sounds like an extreme sporting event! Would have been a great sight to see though.

    1. They did continue the the cucagna event some years later at the Mater Christi church but the teams riding around on their decorated, horse drawn carts was no longer a feature.
      At the new venue Narciso was then in charge of the “Wheel of Fortune”. He would spin the wheel and if it landed on your ticket number he would hand you a prize.

      1. Hi Silvano, Nice story and memories. I vaguely recall the pole-climbing competition and it always seemed so difficult to me. I noticed a photo of such a pole on the Salvarosa facebook page back in 2018 but have never seen it at other feste, so maybe it was a Trevisan tradition?

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