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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Sociology »

Maria Tence on her parents' migration to Australia and the first years of settlement

Mara Moustafine and Maria Tence.

Museum curator Maria Tence describes her parents' migration to Australia.



Date Added:

06 April 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

14.7 MB






My mother and two brothers and I arrived in 1961. My father had been here already a year. He came as an assisted migrant, on an assisted passage as a skilled migrant. And we joined him a year later. We – it was very hard in the early days. Even though I was a small child, I do recall seeing my mother crying herself to sleep on many nights. Dad worked two shifts and drove a taxi as well. To the point where he collapsed from exhaustion, from just, you know, just work and Mum had three children under five and was pregnant again. And so I do remember the early years being extremely difficult.


I suppose the desperation, not only in my family, but I saw as a child, but in the groups of friends that my parents had, the desperation in that it occurred to them that they were in a country that was so distant. And that they were so left to their own devices, there was no assistance whatsoever. And factory work was, you know, hard, a lot of these people had come from rural settings. My family came from the centre of Sicily, quite a large town but still in a rural Sicily. You know, people who came from that time, had had their education interrupted by World War 2, so Mum and Dad weren’t highly educated.


I think Dad was Grade 5, he’d got and Mum was Grade 4, then the war came and that was the end of their education. Fortunately they were literate, they could read and write, but many others could not. But the idea of coming to a city and they’d never experienced a city in their own country, was a very challenging for them. And then dealing of course, with the barriers that were there simply because Australia was, you know at the stage in its development where there were a lot of – there was a lot of discrimination.


Dad had gone to Bonegilla, realised that it was out in the middle of nowhere and he was a skilled migrant and he was told that there was a lot of work but he wasn’t getting any out in Bonegilla. So he just decided to make his way to Melbourne and left the camp. And he was told that if he left he wouldn’t be able to come back if he were to fall on hard times. So he decided that he just couldn’t stay out in the middle of the country knowing that he had a family back in Italy with some debts.


He made his way to Melbourne and fortunately he found a job immediately and found accommodation that would take a family because in those days of course, you couldn’t get accommodation for family members. Hence all the big boarding houses that were around, the industrial areas of Melbourne like Richmond and North Melbourne, but for families they wouldn’t let families come in. They were terrified – Australian families were terrified of letting out accommodation to, you know, “wog” families, so to speak.


But he found accommodation in Oakleigh. An Italian man who’d been here from before World War 1, haddone well and had houses and he was letting his houses out to Italian families. Because he understood that. And we lived in a beautiful Federation house shared with two other families, all Italian. So – as a child, it was really exciting because there were children running all over the place and you know, we had a lot of company and we kept busy and there was a lot of playtimes and –


I know the photographs that my parents have of the time and photographs were rare, but I do know the few that they have of the time, it seemed like a happy time as well. That they were settling into the routine of a new country, and had formed this little community of Italians and basically they were just busy working and busy keeping themselves healthy I suppose because there were stories that I remember of a lot of people who had – couldn’t cope with the emotional side of immigration. And I do remember many people returning because it was just too difficult being away from extended family etcetera.


But the sad thing about my migration story is that none of our relatives came out here. So neither on my mother’s side or my father’s side, do I have any relatives and we were just coming from a culture where an extended family is the norm and is the way you live, we were stuck in Australia as a unit without an extended family. So I think that’s the sadness that I think my mother has always felt. The fact that she came from a family of eight an no one was here, so we don’t have any cousins or aunts. And I think my mother felt that loneliness quite strongly, she still does I think.


End transcript