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

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