Marzia Bonacina Zochil & The Bonacina Family
Balgownie Migrant Hostel, 1961
We left Italy in 1961 arriving in Australia in March. My parents, Giulia and Efrem Bonacina decided to migrate to Australia because my father, when renewing his contract to sell expensive machinery for a baking firm, was unable to secure the 10% payment his previous contract allowed as the payment under the new contract was reduced to 1%. My mother worked as a secretary and had asked for a pay rise because she was about to lose the child allowance for myself as I was turning 18. She was told that as a woman she was paid too much anyway. My father learnt that with little money all the family could go to Australia with promises of good work in your trade and a house. So my parents Giulia and Efrem Bonacina chose to come to Australia with my two brothers Urio and Ilio and me.
When we arrived in Australia by sea, we disembarked in Melbourne and then stayed in Bonegilla. My mother, brothers and I then spent 2 weeks in Skyville Migrant Hostel while my father got a job at Port Kembla AIS then we joined him and lived at the Balgownie Hostel in Fairy Meadow in 1961 around the middle of May.
I did love the spectacular sunset and the wide open spaces. I wrote a few funny poems in Bonegilla but of course they were in Italian. But I also felt a great loneliness that stayed with me for many years.
The huts at the Fairy Meadow hostel where we lived had a funny shape, years later my youngest brother Kimo would call them ‘houses made of petrol drums’. I don’t remember the number of the hut, but we were close to the dining hall. The toilet and shower facility were not too far either. The food was terrible, but thank goodness we had the Italian food shop not too far away and my mother bought a kerosene primus to cook our own meals. I had to have a special diet as I was too sick on the ship.
My mother felt at first they had been betrayed, in Trieste Italy, where we went for our health checks, they gave us a lot of pamphlets where they assured us that in Australia we were going to have a house and the qualification for my father, Efrem, who did the exams. His trade was electrician. The teachers where my brothers went to school did give corporal punishment to the children; that practice had been abolished in Italy many years before. My parents we were horrified by it, but there were no interpreters and nobody from the Italian community who came to explain things to them, it was really very hard, if it wasn’t because my parents had signed a contract to stay for two years and they would have to pay not only our return fare, but also our tickets to come to Australia, we would have gone immediately back to Italy. My father couldn’t get his trade qualifications recognised for the lack of an interpreter at the exams commissions. When we left Italy we were told that it wasn’t necessary to know English.
Now it’s only a recollection, a memory, we have come a long way since then. Thanks to my parents working with the ‘Good Neighbour Council’ and a group of wonderful and dedicated people with whom they worked together, there are today interpreters everywhere one needs them. My mother, Giulia, as soon as she learned English was an interpreter at the Childrens Court, and in the Hospital. She would go and meet all the new migrant families from Italy and those that were from Spanish speaking countries. Together with my father, they became voluntary workers in the Italian community. My father retired as a labourer at the Tallawarra Power Station. Giulia Bonacina passed away in 2013 and Efrem Bonacina passed away in 2005.
My youngest brother, Kimo, was born while we were at the Fairy Meadow Hostel. To me and my brothers, Urio (13), Ilio (11) it was an adventure, although I couldn’t find a job not knowing the language. I spoke Italian, Spanish, a bit of French and a little English, but not enough to get a job. I was very shy. I did find a lot of racial prejudice towards us Italians and never made any friends of my age, so I felt quite lonely most of the time. One day an inspector came to where we lived to make inquiries. I didn’t know what he wanted, my parents were out shopping and my brothers were at school. He came in uninvited into the garage my parents were renting for us and looked everywhere. I didn’t like his attitude and he reminded me of a Gestapo investigator. I was afraid but luckily my fiancée came. I found out after why he came, because I was getting unemployment benefits, he thought I was living with my fiancée, which horrified me even more for it was unthinkable to do so in those days for a well-brought up girl. But he came with no interpreters and it was hard to understand the behavior of the Australian authorities. It didn’t seem like a free country at all.
I was 18 at the time we came out to Australia and on the ship I met a wonderful boy named Marino and we fell in love. He had gone to Adelaide because he had a friend there, but for my 19th birthday after he asked my father, he sent me an engagement ring.
Marino left Adelaide and came to Fairy Meadow where he found bed and board and a job. In the evenings we went for walks on the beach but often we had to run back to the hostel because the mosquitoes were eating me alive.
My life has been so full of the experiences that I made that I remember those early years as part of the memories. The sixties started with my family coming to Australia, me getting married and living in a small flat in Cringila with my husband until we built our house in Kanahooka Heights and ended with the birth of our first daughter. Whatever we got and achieved it was through hard work. But what made things worse were the splitting headaches that I suffered after the difficult birth of my first child. What really made me mad was when consulting a doctor for my terrible pain, because I was a housewife living in the suburbs, the only thing the doctor told me was not to drink alcohol. I was a person who worked hard and enjoyed being a housewife and mother. I learnt English thanks to the commercials on TV but also through correspondence courses. I did crochet, knitting, embroidery, making our clothes, but I also painted, wrote poetry, made furniture with timber. I also painted all the rooms in our house when necessary and I loved doing all that. I made a lot of craft things to make our house into a home. But I hardly drank any alcohol, wine or beer.
After Fairy Meadow Hostel my family moved to a garage flat in Lake Heights, from there to Kanahooka Point. When I got married my husband and I moved to Cringila, then to Kanahooka Heights to our house that I designed. It was one of the first houses that had the inside stairs to go to the garage. But after ten years we moved to Italy with our two daughter Laurana (9) and Marina (5 months) because of my terrible headaches. We didn’t trust the doctors in Australia but I almost lost my life in Italy because of being given the wrong medicine. We trusted doctors too much.
After 26 years in Italy we came back to Australia. Our daughters came back before us and both settled here in Australia. They married and I have two great sons-in-law and five wonderful grandchildren, three boys and two girls, ranging in age from 2 to 15. My husband and I are involved in the Italian community, continuing the legacy of my parents, and we are always very, very busy. We have grandchildren here now. As for my headaches, 60% of it stopped owing to natural causes as well as my husband hearing on the radio not to eat fruits with meals. Now my headaches are 90% gone.
Our heart is where our family is, so we always love Australia for the wonderful beaches, stunning sunsets and the wide open spaces.
Marzia Bonacina Zochil
24 September 2019
Footnote: Giulia & Effrem Bonacina were founding members of the Migration Heritage Project. Giulia also served on the MHP committee. Marzia was a previous member of the MHP committee and continues to be a member of the MHP. The MHP thanks Marzia for sharing her story and memories.