That was after my mother and my sisters got blown up

socialenterprise history Fremantle

‘Mum, you were born in Fremantle weren’t you?’

My parents are from Molfetta, Italy.  I lost my mum when I was really very young so I don’t have many memories of her.  We were all born at home in Collie Street, Fremantle.  Then my mum had a couple of miscarriages, she was pregnant again, about 45, and was due to be induced.  That was the first birth she was going to have in hospital.  So we all sort of said goodbye to her, and gave her a kiss, and sent her off to hospital and unfortunately the next day (we don’t really know what happened) she passed away and the baby did as well. Yea, pretty traumatic.  It’s really strange because I don’t remember a lot of things about it.

My dad was a seaman.  He was interned when the war broke out. Italy was at war against Australia, with the Germans.  The government was frightened that [Italians living in Australia] would somehow get information out, just because they were Italian.  I think my dad did have the chance to denounce his fascism or Italian identity.  My dad wasn’t a fascist or anything but he was someone that stuck to their morals – ‘no, I’m Italian’.  But he said he was always treated very well, he had no complaints.   

‘What about you dad, what’s your earliest memory of Fremantle?’

When we first got to Australia by ship, it took 24 days.  As we approached the port it looked beautiful. At about five minutes to seven, we approached Fremantle.  Oh my god!  All that corrugated iron. Cos that’s all it was, in those days.  I thought ‘Oh my god, where are we?’ When all of the other places looked nice, this was absolutely rubbish.  But, after that, I liked the place, and I would never change Fremantle with anything.  Fremantle reminds me of where I come from – north of Naples; it’s just about the same.

‘Dad, I just want to touch briefly on your life in Italy so that the whole story makes sense.’

My dad was a taxi man but with a horse. That’s what he was when he was younger. Then he was in exporting fruit and stuff like that.  That was after my mother and my sisters got blown up.

‘Do you want to tell us that story?’

Not really.

All I can remember is that I walked into this bus and I see my two sisters, my mother and my grandmother, and a friend from next door.  My mother was intact but my grandmother and my sisters were in pieces.  Just limbs everywhere.  It was an English landmine.  The war had just about finished.  There were bombs everywhere.  Every day I saw people get blown up.  My brother and I learned English.  Every day my brother will say ‘one more person finished’.  We had all been on the patio at our place, I’ll never forget, my mother was frying sardines.  We just moved from there, went about 200 yards.  And we heard this loud bang, and my brother said ‘one more person finished’.

It wasn’t one person it was five persons. 

So we came back and we saw a bus stopped in front of our place. It was there to collect the bodies.  My mother had just one piece [of shrapnel] in her heart.  But my grandmother and my sisters were in pieces.  We just missed out.   My sisters were 16 and 14.  I was nine.

‘And finally, if you could plan the last thing you’d ever say to me, what would it be? Mum?’

Speak about me often to my grandchildren.

‘Mmm. I like that.’


I thought 'he's a vegetable' and realised I probably was too

socialenterprise history Fremantle

Incredibly brave, incredibly compelling.

I was born in 1959 in South Australia and grew up here there and everywhere.  Did a bit of an apprenticeship in Adelaide as a plumber.  Half way through that I got transferred to Darwin and was there from 1977 to 1981.  There I met a girl from Scarborough so I moved there to be with her when I was about 22 years old.  I ended up marrying her and was married to her for 20 odd years.  I’m not any more though. 

In Scarborough I carried on as a plumber.  We rented a place near the beach.  It was an old house, I think it was made from asbestos. 

On Australia Day in 1997 I was driving from Perth to Adelaide when I had an accident.  I was in the van, a Ford Spectrum it’s called, and I was driving away from Mandurah, just on the other side of the water.  I was tired and it was about 5.30pm.  I decided to have a sleep before it got dark and the roos came out.  So my wife sat in the driver’s seat at the front of the van and she started driving.  Tyson was 2, and was safely in his car seat.  I lay out along the back.  Tyson must have released the strap of his car seat because he could reach forward and then started grabbing his mum’s hair.  She yelled ‘wake up, wake up, grab Tyson, grab Tyson!’

At that stage she managed to roll the van.  The Ford Spectrum had a sun roof.  It was shut, but in the moment it opened and me and Tyson fell out of it and Darren, my other son, fell out of the side window. 

Tyson, the young guy, he was alright because I was holding him.  Darren had skin off everywhere. 

After that I was in a coma for about 5 months and remained in a range of different hospitals for a couple of years.  I had to learn to walk and talk again. 

When I first came to, I was in a room on the top floor of a hospital in Adelaide (that I had previously worked on during my time as a plumber).  I was sharing a room with two other blokes.  One of them couldn’t talk and couldn’t move. I thought, ‘he’s a vegetable’.  The other guy was the same, also a vegetable.   I realised that I probably was too. 

There was one nurse who paid me particular care.  She used to take me out of the bed and put me in a wheel chair.  She’d take me down to the gymnasium in the basement.  She used to sit about 20 feet away from me and throw kids toys – ducks, balls, cars, all sorts of things – at me.  I used to think she hated me or had it in for me, I don’t know, I didn’t know why she kept doing that.  But then one day, I remember that when she threw something at me my hands moved up instinctively to protect my face.  That was the first time I had moved since my coma.  And then I realised why she had been throwing things at me, to get an automatic reaction. 

After that she used to take me out to night games before the season started at Adelaide oval. 

It was so strange being held down, wanting to do things but not able to move.  You just couldn’t do anything.  The worst part of it was that you had the constant nightmare of your thoughts 24 hours a day.

After that I had to learn how to talk again.  It was ‘how now brown cow’, all that sort of stuff.  Really terrible.  I still hate the sound of my voice today. 

When I first started eating again it was real bad.  I choked all the time.

I brought an insurance claim as I needed 24 hour care and had no money.  I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident but because I was carrying my son, the insurers accepted it.  Though they did try to argue that because I have used drugs in the past, I deserved less of a pay out.

He wasn't good looking by any means

socialenterprise history fremantle

We had the most lovely time with this lady during the Fremantle sessions.  So honest and so kind.  A really refreshing hour!

I met my husband at a wonderful badminton club at the church hall. 

Do you know what it’s like when there’s eyes following you around?  This went on for several weeks. 

Me and a friend of mine were both Sunday school teachers. So we’d often go over to the cupboard to get things ready for that week’s lesson.  He came around to the cupboard one time and said ‘Can I do something’.  I thought ‘Oh what’s going on here!’.  He was a very shy boy. And then the next week he asked me to go out with him.

He wasn’t good looking by any means, but I also had been told for many, many years that you don’t marry a good looking man. 

On our first date we drove to one of the beaches and just talked. We quickly realised we could talk to each other.  My mother had always said that you have to marry someone you can talk to.  I realised that night that I really liked him.

He started buying me a present every week. When he was in Fremantle on a Saturday morning with his mates, he would go into one shop or another and buy something for me.  The first time was a lipstick holder, then a powder compact, a lovely butterfly broach, I think there was a scarf.  I’ve still got them. And then I just made a comment, I didn’t really mean anything by it, but we had started talking about our future and I must have said ‘oh you’ll do me’ – so he said ‘Really? Really?’ - and the engagement ring was the next present I got.  I was thrilled.

It would have been my wedding anniversary yesterday.  I say that because it would have been, we would have still been together.  It wasn’t to be; he died 18 years ago.  The big C.  We battled for 14 years.  I was carer for a long, long time.  I did have help.  My husband was in and out of hospital, back and forth all the time.  It was a long, hard battle.  At the end he refused treatment, said I can’t take any more.  I’ll never forget that day.  We had an appointment actually to reassess the whole situation.  I dressed him, he was ready to go.  Waiting for the taxi.  And he said to me ‘I’m not going. I’ve thought it all through.’  I said ‘OK just sit there for a few minutes until you really, really know for sure.’  So he did that and he said ‘No I can’t take it anymore, I’m not going.’

When he actually died it was a very big break. We had had our wedding anniversary – 45 years – in the September then he died the following May.  The strange thing about it, the day he died, we had no warning that it was going to happen. It was his heart that gave out.  They left us in the room for about an hour and it was a mixture of feelings; a lot of regret, a lot of peace, a lot of thanks, relief. 

But then you just have to get on with your life.  Even our parish priest – in his little talk - he said ‘You never heard of either one of [them] by themselves, they were always together.’