The story of the Recchi family who were market gardeners and lived in Lockleys from 1946 begins in Italy in villages in two different regions more than 300 kilometres apart.
Giovanni Recchi was born on 1 September 1902 in Montedinove in the Province of Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region. Antonia De Ionno was born on 15 September 1911 in San Giorgio La Molara in the province of Benevento in the region of Campania. The following information comes from interviews I recorded with the two children of Giovanni and Antonia – Adelaide Valentini nee Recchi and Mel Recchi.
Antonia De Ionno came from a family of nine children. The parents were poor farmers and worked the land with their children. Antonia was not permitted to attend school. Six members of the De Ionno family migrated to Australia and three brothers were already in Adelaide before Antonia arrived. Aida recalls in her interview that her mother lived and worked with the family in San Giorgio La Molara before she married Giovanni Recchi by proxy in 1937.
Giovanni was one of five children in a poor family, especially disadvantaged because their father had died young. It was difficult to survive on the small plot of land that they farmed and there was no opportunity to go to school.
Giovanni migrated in 1927, the same year that many of the Veneto market gardeners arrived in Adelaide, having been sponsored by a man who had lived near the Recchi family. Giovanni’s sister-in-law was able to lend him the equivalent of £100 to pay for his passage to Australia. After his father died Mel discovered that Giovanni had repaid the loan within nine months. He was the only member of his family to migrate to Australia.
The following document from the National Archives of Australia is the arrival paper for Giovanni that shows he disembarked in Australia on 29 November 1927.
At first Giovanni worked on the Adelaide to Alice Springs railway line and then worked in a market garden on the River Torrens at Athelstone owned by Mr Ey. He worked there for 18 years and built his own home in Ramsey Avenue, Paradise.
Giovanni and Antonia marry
Although from different parts of Italy Giovanni knew Antonia’s three brothers in Adelaide and he asked one of their relatives, Rita De Ionno, whether she knew of a girl in the village who would like to marry him and live in Australia. Asking friends or relatives for a recommendation was often the way that young men who had migrated alone could marry because not many Italian single young women lived in Australia in the 1930s. After a period of correspondence, letters dictated by others, Antonia and Giovanni decided to marry by proxy in 1937. One of Giovanni’s brothers travelled to San Giorgio La Molara and stood in for him at the marriage before Antonia sailed to Adelaide.
Birth of Adelaide and Melbourne Recchi
Adelaide and Melbourne were born in September 1938. In their interviews, Aida and Mel explain how they were given their names. Their parents did not want to follow the tradition of naming children after grandparents. As Mel recalls in his interview,
He said that Australia had been very kind to him and he decided to give us Australian names and they called us Melbourne and Adelaide.
Giovanni and Antonia’s third child, Domenico, died a month after his birth in 1944.
The family moves to Lockleys 1946
The twins were just over seven years old when the family moved to Lockleys. (At the time, people identified the market gardens area of Kidman Park and Flinders Park as Lockleys.)
It was a big change to move across the city away from the relatives and the life Giovanni and Antonia had built at Paradise. But it was an opportunity to work for themselves in what Mel calls the food bowl of Adelaide. At first, they leased the nine acres on River Road (now Findon Road) and then they bought it from the Britton Jones family in 1953.
The Recchi family’s land bordered the River Torrens and they cultivated celery and potatoes, cauliflowers and watermelons, and grew tomatoes and beans in five glasshouses. Aida and Mel recall their parents working hard together in the garden. They also employed single men who had migrated after the war from Italy. Giovanni worked long days and could be out watering until late at night. Aida recalls that her father also helped out in the house.
The Recchi family and the Veneto community
When the Recchi family moved into the area in 1946 Maria and Narciso Ballestrin lived across the road on the corner of River Road and Valetta Road. They became the closest of friends. Antonia and Maria shared recipes and both women had reputations for being very good cooks. The Recchi family was also close to Nico and Delia Zampin and their children who lived on Valetta Road until they returned to Riese Pio X in 1967.
Both Aida and Mel recall that most market gardeners in the area were from the Veneto region and they got to know many families. Aida says:
We got on as one family with all the neighbours that we had around. We used to know everybody and when there was a party going on, we were always together.
Mel remembers his friendships with sons of Veneto market gardeners: Egidio Ballestrin, Guido Rebuli, Bruno Piovesan, Frankie Ballestrin, Johnny Marchioro, as well as Tony Panuccio and Frank Condo:
As we got older older, about the age of 17 or 18, the dances were in vogue and we all loved dancing and I think there were about 12 of us in that gang.
After their respective marriages, Aida and Mel raised their families within steps of their parents’ home. Aida and her husband, Amadio, travelled to Italy in 1964 with a group of veneti from the Lockleys area.
Giovanni died 5 Dec 1991 aged 89 and Antonia died 16 May 2002 aged 90 years.
Both Aida and Mel continue to live close to where their parents worked their market garden from 1946 and enjoy their friendships with veneti and other people in the area.
8 August 2021.
One thought on “The Recchi family & the Veneto community”
Great family. Always friendly. Yes Antonia and our mother, Maria Ballestrin, shared recipes or worked on recipes together and came up with some amazing meals and sweets. Their melt in the mouth crostoli were scrumptious. We still make them from time to time.
They were the first family in our known circle of friends and relatives to get a TV. We got invited over on the first night of transmission in Adelaide. Antonia and Jack (Giovanni) had set up their family room like a mini picture theatre with four or five rows of chairs. An exciting evening. They also provided goodies for us to drink and eat. On subsequent Friday nights we would visit to watch those initial TV shows.
Norina remembers that the dresser/sideboard had a slice of watermelon painted on it. It looked so real that it would almost make her salivate.
She also recalls that Antonia’s pizza was something else. It was thick like focacia bread with a crispy base and a simple topping like sliced tomatoes and cheese with the occasional anchovy. I remember the expression “con il pommodoro en coppa” which meant with tomato on top. Delicious.
The Recchi’s had a very strong work ethic and were regarded very highly by all but especially by their relatives who looked up to them like a patriarch and matriarch.