“I used to have lots of fights at school because I didn’t like being called a wog. I’m just the same as you. Trying to explain was very hard because the language wasn’t there.”
An audio clip from this interview with Franca:
What is a typical day like for you?
I get up and have breakfast. I do a bit of house chores and my daughter calls, then my other daughter calls and then my son calls. The four of them call me nearly every day. After we go through that ritual, I go visit Mum and then I get to work. That’s on a Monday. On Tuesday I do chores with Mum. I go to the doctors or she has a podiatry appointment or something. Then in the afternoon I go to training. It’s like a little running, a little boxing and a little walking. We do this in a group at Carlton Football Club. It’s call Fit Group@Visy Park but we made our own club; we left Kouta Fit Club and made our own club but we still meet there and exercise. So we do that Monday and Wednesday. On the Wednesday I come back to work and work with lovely ladies. On Thursday I have dinner with my children. We get together. I buy 3.5 kilos of chicken, which is a lot, but there are 17 of us, and soon it will be eighteen, probably in another hour or so. So we all get together and have dinner around 6.30pm, around a big table with the grandchildren, and they all leave around 9 o’clock, then I drop off my Mum who lives in the next street and then I come home and clean-up. It never ends. On Fridays I do most of my cleaning, vaccuming, and clean the car. This Friday will be very busy. I’m going to have my nails done. My daughter is having pedicure and manicure and everything, and we are getting lip stick and a handbag. This isn’t a typical week for you though? You are having a wedding in the family this week? Yes. So tomorrow, I have to go pick up grandson and take him to Daycare – this is also not typical and it is because his mother is having a baby. And then I have to take my mother to the doctor because she had a car accident. From there my daughter drops off her two boys and I have to drive to Yarrambat and drop off one at kinder and one at day care. That doesn’t happen weekly. And then I come home and try to have a rest. So, typical days are very full for you? Thursdays, yes.
Have you always lived in Australia?
I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, South American.
What was life like there?
I really don’t remember much. I remember we were going to a Catholic school and it was very strict. I remember we used to walk because we never had a car. My father had a motor bike and he used to hook up a trailer on the back of the motorbike and put four children and my mother in the back and we used to go on outings. You couldn’t do that in Australia. We used to go on outings. We had my grandfather. He was 69, I think, and then when we left South America he just turned 70 and he died six months after we arrived. That was devastating for my Mum. Did he come with you? No.
How did you come to live in Australia?
My father’s one of 14 brothers and one brother stayed in Sicily, Italy. All the other brothers went to America. The oldest one went in 1911 and brought all the others to America. My father couldn’t go there so he said, “I’ll go to the next place where they were needing workers”. That was South America. So he went to South America. So, he was working with my mother’s father, my grandfather. My grandfather said, “I have two daughters”, and Dad thought, I’ll check them out”, and he married my mother and that’s how he came to stay in South America. But he was originally from Italy. My Mum’s Dad was from Czechoslovakia and my Mum’s Mum was from Brazil. My father was a very hardworking man. He built a house in South American. Then when he was working at the work with my grandfather, Grollo from here spoke to Palenga from South America – he was an Italian builder as well – and Palenga said, “I have a very good man here with four children and really good wife; they are a hardworking family”. At that time they were wanting people to work in Australia, so we filled in all the paperwork and got an invitation to work. That’s how we came to Australia in February 10, 1970.
So, what was it like for your family, coming here? What were those early years like?
Very frightening. Because we didn’t know anything. When we were getting ready to come here, and we were having outings with family, all they were saying was that there were kangaroos in the streets and that you could pick money off the trees.
How old were you?
Ten. That sounded great didn’t it.
When we came from South America we landed in Parramatta. We stayed in a hostel for 3 months. We were all very, very sick. I don’t think we liked the vegemite and we didn’t eat. They had vegemite and peanut butter and all those things and we never ate. My parents didn’t speak the language so they couldn’t go and buy food, so we had to queue up like prisoners to get all this food. This is the memory I have but I don’t have much because I blocked it out.
I assumed it was a hostel for migrants, but perhaps it was a general hostel. Yes, a general hostel. For locals as well? Yes. Who arranged this? The boss from there (South American) arranged it with Grollo here but he was trying to get the paperwork to come to Melbourne. It took about 3 months after my father found a house in Oakleigh. Then we attended a primary school in Oakleigh and then from there we moved to Coburg and we have been here ever since then.
How has life been for you here?
It’s been great. My father thought there was no future for us in South America. South America is a very poor country. I don’t know if you know much about other countries in South America. There is a barter system. You get a book. You go to the shop – you buy a bottle of milk, bread, apples and whatever. You put it in the book and then when my Dad was paid he paid the lady in the shop. We never dealt with money then. Now it’s even worse. My aunty doesn’t have any money. She is in Argentina because Uruguay is very bad. Unless you did really well in those days, then you could do better. That’s how it was. My mother said, “We are living day to day”. At least living here we would probably have a better future. So that’s why my Dad thought of us, having four children, and then my Mum got pregnant with my sister and we got a little Australian. We became Australian citizens in 1971. September 6th. You still remember? Yes. My father planted a tree. What sort of tree? It was one of those stupid gum trees. (Laughter)
Is there something that someone seeing you in the street would be surprised to know?
I haven’t change. I haven’t changed much. A lady who visited here just before recognised me straight away. She said, “You haven’t changed”. I haven’t seen her in 20, perhaps 23 years.
Is there something else you would like people to know about you?
In the time we came, every second person – Australian person – used to call us wogs. It was very hurtful. Now I understand because now the Asians and other new Australians get picked on. I know the pain they are feeling, because we went through it. But we’ve just blended in now. If you think about it – antipasto. I used have Mortadela crusty bread rolls. My friends at school used to laugh. But now it is a delicacy. They put it in a platter and charge you a fortune, don’t they? If I could go back I would have said, “Why don’t you taste it. It’s really nice. It’s better than peanut butter and vegemite.” I used to have lots of fights at school because I didn’t like being called a wog. I’m just the same as you. Trying to explain was very hard because the language wasn’t there. The teachers were very good. I went to Coburg Primary. Even though I was ten and they first put me into grade four, they transferred me into grade six because I was too smart. In South American they start school at seven. Here they start at four or five. We were too far ahead in maths. We just didn’t have English. We knew what they were doing on the board. It was just the language we didn’t have. So even though they started later in South America, the content was more advance, so you had passed where your classmates were? Yes. For example, we had to know all the countries in South American, where they started, where they ended.
In the end though, we adjusted really well.
This interview is part of the This Is Us Australia project. If you are interested in taking part, and would like to find out what is involved, please use our Contact page or email us at thisisusaustralia at gmail.com.