In the last three weeks two respected and loved members of the Veneto market gardener families, Johnny Marchioro and Lena Moscheni nee Rossetto, have died.
This blog pays tribute to Johnny and Lena and their contribution to the Veneto market gardeners’ oral history project.
The image above shows representatives of Veneto market gardener families. L-R: Frankie Ballestrin, Silvano Ballestrin, Alan Santin, Johnny Marchioro, Jimmy Ballestrin, Lean Moscheni nee Rossetto, Seaton, October 2022. Photo by Alex Bennett.
Before I met Johnny Marchioro in 2007, I had thought that most Italians in South Australia had arrived after World War II. But between 1927 and 1940, about 2,5000 Italians had arrived in South Australia and the largest group was from the Veneto region – 550 men and 178 women.
The Veneto market gardeners arrived between 1926 and 1928 and through interviews with descendants of those people, I have discovered strong and lasting connections between families that helped to make up for the separation from relatives in Italy.
Johnny was born on 17 August 1940 at Torrensville. At that time, Italians in Australia were known as “enemy aliens” because Italy had joined Germany against the allies in the war.
Johnny’s parents came from the province of Vicenza in the Veneto region. Johnny’s father, Vittorio, arrived in 1927 as a 21-year-old. Vittorio married Angelina in 1937 by proxy and they began their married life on Frogmore Road in 1938. Johnny’s brother, Romano was born in 1942.
The family was part of the close community or the paese of Veneto market gardeners at St James Park, the area they used to call ‘Lockleys.’
I interviewed Johnny in 2008. He was the first person to give an interview for the Veneto market gardeners oral history project. Because of Johnny and Eleonora who welcomed me into their home and shared information about market gardening and the Veneto community of market gardeners I was able to start the oral history project and they have been part of it ever since.
In his interview, I learned about Johnny’s family and his childhood on the market garden first on Frogmore Road. In 1948, Vittorio and Angelina bought five acres with zia Margherita, and established market gardens on the river at White Avenue, Lockleys. They were one of the first in the Veneto group to buy land after the war.
Johnny’s first three years of school were at Flinders Park Primary and when the family moved, he began at Marist Brothers on George Street, Thebarton where he made lifelong friends. At school Johnny was a natural sportsman and acknowledged as a leader when he was made captain of both football and cricket teams. Outside school and sports, there was work on the market garden from a young age – he was about eight when he began milking the family cow.
When he was 15, Johnny left school. He was employed in a couple of jobs including working for Crotti’s grocery shop and for a local market gardener. In his interview, Johnny said:
I was about fifteen and I started working the land. When the time came that Dad said to work at home, I jumped at the idea and I know it probably it wasn’t the best idea but after that and since Eleonora and I got married, we’ve had a pretty good time working in the garden. It would have been a lot easier to have an office job or [laughs] other jobs. We worked hard on the land but in the long run, it paid off for us. (OH 872/1, 21 July, 2008, p 9)
Johnny worked with his parents on the market gardens for about ten years. He kept meticulous records of the sales of each market day and documented the cycle of planting, pruning and picking. Earlier this year, Johnny donated some of those record books to the State Library.
Although Johnny worked long days with his parents, they gave him time off to play football and build a promising career with the Eagles.
In 1963, Johnny met Eleonora Ottanelli at a dance at Norwood Town Hall. Love flourished and two years later, Johnny and Eleonora married. In 1966 they moved to their new house at Bolivar and Johnny worked with his Dad and Eleonora to erect 14 glasshouses on the five acres – this took about six months. The land hadn’t been used before and Johnny imported topsoil to improve it and he dug the earth by hand. The day that Lisa was born in 1966, Johnny planted the first tomatoes. Four years later, Robert was born. Johnny recalled that the first five or six years at Bolivar were challenging and it took that long to get a really good crop of tomatoes. Johnny’s parents helped Johnny and Eleonora with their 21 glasshouses at Bolivar twice a week for about 20 years.
In 1975, Johnny and Eleonora made their first visit to Italy with Lisa and Robert. Johnny loved meeting his relatives in Malo and Monte di Malo and for Eleonora, it was the first time in 18 years since she had seen her family on Isola d’Elba. They continued to keep close connections with relatives in Adelaide and in Italy.
Johnny and Eleonora couldn’t quite put a date on their retirement because … well, they didn’t really retire! Johnny stopped going to market in about 2000 but – there has been at least one glasshouse planted with vegetables each year and, of course, they grew artichokes which many Italians in Adelaide have enjoyed over the years.
In his interview, Johnny reflected on his family, his work and love of his life:
From my parents I’ve learned – they were honest and well-respected by all the Italians at Lockleys. I don’t think that Mum and Dad had bad words with any of their friends. And I tried to do the same (and he added) and lucky to get married in 1965. I don’t find any regrets in working the land. (OH 872/1, 21 July, 2008, p 14)
You can watch four short videos of Johnny being interviewed about his life on the City of Charles Sturt website. Johnny recorded the videos in about 2011:
City of Charles Sturt website
Click here to hear Johnny’s interview and read the transcript of his interview on the Vittorio Marchioro webpage.
Lena Moscheni nee Rossetto
Lena was born on 8 December 1932 in Adelaide. Her older brother, Romeo, died when he was 7 years old. Lena had two brothers, Aldo and Silvano and there were four other children born who did not live for long.
She spoke about her father and mother in her interview and a connection to Vittorio Marchioro:
By the time Romeo and I were born, he was working down in Frogmore Road, working for somebody else, I don’t remember who actually. Mum … had boarders because there was not much money around. The vegetables weren’t selling, it was Depression time, and Mum took in boarders. Two of them were her brother-in-laws, and one was Vittorio Marchioro, and another one … but I remember Vittorio because I used to, he used to tell me that I used to sit on his lap, and Mum, Mum had all these boarders to look after, Dad, and two children by then, me and Romeo, it was a lot of work. (OH 872/32 28 August 2014, p2)
In the interview Lena spoke about the close relationship between Angelina Marchioro and her mother, they were really good mates and they used to tell each other secrets. (p21)
Lena went to school at St Marys College Franklin Street and made strong friendships which continued through her life. When she left school at 15 years, she worked in a Greek grocery store, Star, on Hindley Street and learned to speak some Greek. Lena had a large group of Rossetto relatives because seven of her father’s siblings had also migrated to Australia. She grew up among many cousins.
Lena met Claudio Moscheni in about 1955. He was from Istria and had arrived in Australia in 1950. They met at a dance that was for young Italians and Australian Italians at St Patrick’s Hall in the City of Adelaide. Lena and Claudio had three children – David born in 1957, Duane in 1961 and Adrian in 1964 and the family spent several years living in Darwin. Lena and Claudio had close relationships with their grandchildren. Claudio died in 2017. When Lena made visits to Italy, she enjoyed spending time with relatives in Bigolino and Biadene and with Claudio’s family in Florence.
In her interview Lena recalled her memories of growing up in the market garden area of Lockleys:
You know, every time I drive past River Road, which is Rowells Road now, I always glance over there to where Dad had his farm, his garden … and every time I go down Frogmore Road it reminds me that I used to live there. (p30)
Click here to listen to Lena’s interview in three parts and read the transcript on the Rossetto family webpage
The links between the Marchioro and the Rossetto families have continued since the 1920s. When Angelina Marchioro arrived in 1938 as a new bride, Lena’s mother, Lina Rossetto nee Bordin, hosted an afternoon tea to welcome her to Adelaide and their close friendship developed from that time.
Johnny and Lena shared the experience of growing up in their parents’ market gardens at Lockleys and their experience of the deep friendships in the Veneto community of market gardeners. They both loved their family history, and like the many people who have been interviewed, were proud to tell the story of their parents and their hard work and the love of working the land and the strong bonds in the community.
I am grateful for the generous contribution that Johnny and Lena made to the Veneto market gardeners’ oral history project over many years.
Johnny Marchioro features in an exhibition at the State Library of South Australia, ‘Cornucopia: Gardens & Gardening in South Australia.’ The exhibition will continue until February 2024.
8 October 2023
 Des O’Connor, No Need to be Afraid: Italian Settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World War, Wakefield Press, 1996, pp 118-120.