Forty years ago today, the Brisbane ANFE Italian Club opened its premises in Wyandra Street, Teneriffe, built on the same spot Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca bought their first house in 1947 (pictured top left and on Mezza Italiana). Yesterday, ANFE celebrated the occasion and as I gazed around the club building it felt poignant, for I couldn’t help thinking of how my grandparents put so much of their time, finances and their hearts into this place and that this time next year, the building would be demolished.
I recalled Nanna Francesca in the kitchen cooking with the other lovely volunteers, Nonno Anni running fund-raising dinner dances for several hundred people, working the bar and waiting tables with others and, when no one else was around, vacuuming the huge floor area or cleaning toilets among the myriad humble jobs he did for the club, despite being its president. He was a driving force in getting this building for ANFE built with both steadfast support from many and at times in the face of indifference from some.
The Brisbane part of the organisation had verged on closing when he took over in 1972 as president, (a position he’d be annually re-elected into every year until his death in 2006). He strongly believed local Italian migrants needed ANFE to continue and found the block of land where he’d once lived in Wyandra Street and even helped build the actual building, along with his brother and other volunteers. (The photo Nanna Francesca took of him unloading bricks from his ute alone on a Sunday perhaps says it all!)
I love how proud he looks among the other ANFE members when the building was officially opened by Brisbane’s mayor, Frank Sleeman 40 years ago (Nonno Anni holding plaque, standing tall, centre) and decades later, the happiness on his face when he (kneeling front) and other members gathered for another photo – it’s almost like, “we did it”. All those decades of voluntary work, events and fundraisers had kept the club going.
For forty years the building has stood, solid, strong, however, it’s been sold and while ANFE will move, like the timber houses that once made way for it and other commercial premises, this building so hard-won and built by volunteers will be demolished, to be built over by a high-rise apartment building, another among dozens now dominating the area. I admit it’s with sadness I write this, as again, another small part of Brisbane’s history will be razed.
I didn’t always understand my grandparents’ connection and drive for ANFE – it was mostly a different part of their lives when I was off busy in my own. Yet I’ve come to be so proud of what they and other like-minded ANFE volunteers achieved. Just recently, I learned about a group of migrants from Afghanistan, some of whom run a modest café with a kitchen garden out the back. While they are now Australian citizens, as they learn English and adjust to a new culture, this back garden offers a place to meet, share food and stories of their struggles and triumphs, keeping some of their birth culture while embracing a new life in Australia. In way, just like ANFE was for Italians all those decades ago.