Tag Archives: Italian Australian stories

Handed-down stories…

Paperback copies of, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar have currently sold out but there is another reprint underway so they should be available again by early December. Thank you to all of you who’ve embraced, Joe’s over many years and to those who’ve recently sent me messages wanting to read it but unable to get a copy. If you’re after a copy, please order one through your local bookshop or online as they’ll definitely be coming in 3-4 weeks (and in time for Christmas too!) 😉 If you’ve been following my website here for years or even just a short time, you’ll know I never ‘sell’ my books and I hate even sounding so. I just wanted to let you know if you’re interested in Joe’s that it’s definitely coming back. For me the main thing is sharing the story of Nonno Anni’s life and those around him, because so many elements are all of our stories really and precious and my one hope is to preserve them.

It was actually Nonno Anni who originally gave me the idea for, The Proxy Bride. When I was talking to him about his life for Joe’s, he mentioned by chance that during WW2 when he and other Italian men were taken from farms around Stanthorpe and sent to internment camps, the women and children suddenly left alone did it very tough. He later heard they were given no assistance and with curfews and restrictions weren’t allowed to drive, many didn’t know how to use the farm equipment or ride a horse and faced poverty and starvation. He mentioned this group of women who banded together to keep their farms going. That really struck me and I felt I’d come back and write about it. When I learnt that some of these women were also proxy brides, it opened up more to the story.

It seems all my life Nonno Anni was telling me different stories, usually at a table after a meal together. Perhaps when I was young, he saw in me that I might write them down one day, even before I saw that in myself. I chose this photo as it’s such a lovely one of him, though I feel unsure at sharing this one of myself in pigtails but trying to look sophisticated, haha! 😄 It was the ‘80s and I was about 13 and my favourite things were roller-skating, dancing and writing stories (yes, even then!) Nanna Francesca took this photo of us after a stop at Lake Jindabyne during a summer road trip. I spent some time with my grandparents every school holiday and while at times I took it for granted or wished I was doing stuff with my friends (yes, just like Sofie in Proxy Bride), I really appreciate those times now and the precious stories they both gave me. Zoë ❤️ xx

Zoë Boccabella books…

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Extract in the Australian Women’s Weekly…

The Australian Women’s Weekly has chosen, The Proxy Bride to feature in their latest issue – out today! I just picked up a copy and still can’t quite believe it. I thought it only fitting to share with you it sitting on Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s pink-marble Laminex 1950s kitchen table. (The table from their very first house in Wyandra Street – yes, I’m so fortunate to be its current custodian!)

In almost 30 years of writing for all different organisations and publications from academic journals to tv ads, I didn’t expect to have something I’d written featured in such a long-loved institution as the Women’s Weekly. I have to smile as I think this is the one that definitely would’ve resonated for Nanna Francesca compared to all the others. And considering all those years ago her birthplace of Palmi in Calabria was unheard of in Australia – who’d have thought it would ever appear in the Women’s Weekly let alone my writing along with it! Deepest thanks to the AWW for choosing an extract of The Proxy Bride for their December issue. (Nanna Francesca especially would’ve been so happy too!) Zoë xx

The Proxy Bride

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Return to the secret internment camp for the first time – and two new discoveries…

It’s been almost a decade since I headed to Millmerran and Western Creek with Roger to try and find the internment camp where ‘Joe’, Nonno Anni and many other Italian men were held in 1942. Back then, hardly anyone knew of the camp, either authorities or locals, and to find its location I was relying on my grandfather’s memories from decades before and scant information I’d been able to garner. For those who’ve read, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, you may recall I stopped at a spot out at Western Creek largely on a ‘feeling’. It seems absurd, I know, and hardly scientific. However, since then, more research and investigating has been done by others to locate the camp site and I can hardly believe it but the spot I had a feeling about ended up being the exact right location. So wonderful to discover this (and a bit spooky too perhaps!)

Clockwise from top left: Location of the internment camp Western Creek, the memorial stone, internees in 1942 (Nonno Anni standing on right), with Cec at the crossroads near the camp, Nonno Anni there in 1964 and the possible spot now, Western Creek, at the memorial stone, red dot marks the spot. And centre: Roger at the galley cook area find, and how it would’ve looked based on a similar one from the era still standing.

The second discovery we made was while walking around and deeper into the site, this time in search for where Nonno Anni had his photo taken when he returned there in 1964. I’m not convinced we found exactly where he stood, even though there was a stump where the other tree behind him had been, but nearby, we made a new discovery, the concrete slab where the crude, galley cooking area of corrugated iron had been. Again, by chance.

To return to this location, now confirmed, on the 80th anniversary that the internment camp was there, felt very special. I’d been invited to speak at an event for this back in May but it was cancelled due to rain and I felt sad in not being able to honour the internees that day. I’d vowed to still return to the site anyway when I could, just quietly, and I picked some nearby wildflowers (and weeds – but pretty!) and left them at the memorial stone that now marks the site.

It was lovely to share this moment with both Roger and also Cecil Gibson, born and of Millmerran and Western Creek for all of his 86 years. While others later became involved, for which I’m very thankful, Cec deserves special mention because he was the first local to pick up on this hidden history after reading about it in, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, and to contact me. He remained focussed on honouring the history both at the site and the Millmerran Museum, even when much seemed against him at times.

The first internment camps in Australia were established under the Menzies government in 1940 and most of these were full by the time the war really ramped up in 1942 and the ‘overflow’ of ‘enemy aliens’ were interned in unofficial and secret camps in isolated state forest and bushland. While other countries like Canada apologised to its Italian-Canadian WW2 internees in 2021 and the U.S.A. has introduced a Bill towards doing so, Australia remains silent on this. And sadly, most Italian-Australian internees are no longer able to receive an apology. That doesn’t mean it’s not important also for their descendants though and all those others who care deeply for their local history.

To write about this internment camp and what happened to Italian-Australians in the 20th century is the most important part of what I’m fortunate to do. And I don’t think the people of Millmerran were given enough credit with the camp being kept secret from them for so long. All of those I’ve spoken to from the area have had nothing but respect, acceptance and the will to help preserve this history and for that I’ll always be grateful. Zoë x

Thank you if you read until the very end! 😊 I just couldn’t skimp on this one. 💛 xx

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Next book out in September…

HarperCollins have released the blurb about the next book! The Proxy Bride will be out on 7th September and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

“In 1939, Giacinta sets sail from Italy to Australia. Decades later, a granddaughter discovers the true story of her family… A stunningly crafted novel of family, secrets and facing adversity.

Imagine marrying someone you’ve never met …

When Sofie comes to stay with her grandmother in Stanthorpe, she knows little of Nonna Gia’s past. In the heat of that 1984 summer, the two clash over Gia’s strict Italian ways and superstitions, her chilli-laden spaghetti and the evasive silence surrounding Sofie’s father, who died before she was born. Then Sofie learns Gia had an arranged marriage. From there, the past begins to reveal why no-one will talk of her father.

As Nonna Gia cooks, furtively adding a little more chilli each time, she also begins feeding Sofie her stories. How she came to Australia on a ‘bride ship’, among many proxy brides, knowing little about the husbands they had married from afar, most arriving to find someone much different than described.

Then, as World War II takes over the nation, and in the face of the growing animosity towards Italians that sees their husbands interned, Gia and her friends are left alone. Impoverished. Desperate. To keep their farms going, their only hope is banding together, along with Edie, a reclusive artist on the neighbouring farm and two Women’s Land Army workers. But the venture is made near-impossible by the hatred towards the women held by the local publican and an illicit love between Gia and an Australian, Keith.

The summer burns on and the truth that unfolds is nothing like what Sofie expected …

The author of Mezza Italiana brings to life a unique point of migrant women’s untold experience, in a resonant novel of family, food and love.”

The Proxy Bride…

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A place to meet, share food and stories…

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.

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Sneak peek… next book

The Proxy Bride is a novel inspired by true stories and set between the 1940s and the 1980s in Italy and Australia. There will be angry spaghetti, mixed grills, mixed tapes, Dean Martin on the 1950s stereogram and plastic on the lounge suite and, above all, hopefully characters you may come to love who band together amid tough times for a new life.

To be released 7 September, 2022…

The plaited chillies hanging in the kitchen are on their way!
Buona settimana!  💛🍝 Zoe x

About The Proxy Bride…

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