Tag Archives: Italian migrant history

‘The Proxy Bride’ book coming soon…

Just under a month until, The Proxy Bride arrives on 7 September. With it being on the way for a little while now and drawing nearer, the time feels somewhat like the time it took for the ship journey from Italy to Australia. Such a journey of anticipation, fear and excitement for so many migrants but perhaps even more so for the women, the proxy brides, destined to meet husbands, many of them, for the first time. It makes me feel even more admiration for these courageous women who took that journey on what were called ‘bride ships’.

I must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation myself as the book date approaches while at the same time looking forward to sharing it with you. Thank you to so many of you who have been steadfast in the years of my researching and writing to share these stories, it is truly wonderful to have you here in this little corner of the world and I love how you share your own sentiments and stories here too.

You may notice here that the book also includes a dozen recipes. I didn’t plan this but then, considering there is a fair but of cooking and eating along the way in this story (and it’s such a part of Italian life!) it seemed right to include them. I think the names of just a few might start to reveal a little more of the book… ‘Angry Spaghetti’, ‘Mixed Grill’ and ‘Crostoli in Cioccolato’, recipes passed down, connecting different generations, countries and stories, sometimes with a bit of an unexpected twist too… Zoe x

More about The Proxy Bride

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Inklings of the past…

Bisnonna Francesca… a companion post to the previous on Bisnonno Domenico. Likewise, I didn’t get to meet her yet each photo has a little to reveal and brings the past somewhat closer in that moment. A rare photo, circa 1930 (bottom right) shows Francesca in Palmi, Calabria with her mother, Soccorsa, the baker and her daughter (Nanna Francesca). The three who lived together for years after Domenico was in Australia. And then (top left), just Francesca and her daughter, soon to leave to join him in 1934. She and her mother had worked hard to help raise the ship fares, determined as she was to be reunited.

I long for a photo of Francesca in her Applethorpe kitchen, cooking at the wood-fired stove, but sadly there are none. Often, I find her standing a little way behind in photos or to the side so it’s nice to see her front and centre (top right) with family and friends happy at harvest time.

For, by the photo of her and Domenico, it wasn’t long before he died, she becoming a widow at only forty-six. Sadly, their orchards were sold and she moved to her own house in the city – Teneriffe, Brisbane (bottom centre) but missed the farm and her life in Stanthorpe. At a picnic day with friends and family (top centre), still wearing her dark, mourning clothes, again Francesca stands to the back, as in many photos. Dad told me she remained heartbroken at losing Domenico and it truly must have affected her heart for she died just over a couple of years later, aged only 50.

My truly favourite photo of her is one of happiness (centre). She stands in her orchards and it seems light is falling upon her. To me, what’s most beautiful is her bare feet. My great-uncle, Vincenzo tells me his mum was always walking barefoot in the orchards and I love this so much. Her feet on the ground, feeling the earth. For someone who worked her entire life from a very young age and with no holidays, thankfully it seems there were these small moments of beauty in the everyday. 💛

Companion post –
Clues in black and white… Domenico

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Clues in black and white…

When writing of the past, two of the most valuable things I can hope for are handed-down spoken stories and photographs. I never knew my bisnonno, Domenico yet each photo can say so much…

In his work clothes (top left), one knee patched, behind him his Applethorpe orchards on land he’d hand-cleared, long before he could afford the horse.

Below, just a teenager in his navy uniform, this studio portrait in Palmi at the time of WWI. (For most of his life a cigarette never far from his hand – he smoked Capstans).

Other photos reveal the camaraderie of the migrant men in Australia. Their evident love of music and dance in those rare times they weren’t working and could get together, Domenico often asked to play his guitar. Bonds built up in the years they’d been compelled to be apart from family in Italy, and now reunited with wives and children, WW2 over, the future promising.

In the centre photo, Domenico stands between two fellows, well-dressed, behind them the truck he’d bought – that sign of success for many. By this time he owned the farm, had his wife and three children near, a first grandchild. It must be one of the last photos of him. Domenico only lived to be fifty-three but by then, the risk he’d taken in emigrating to Australia with so little, knowing he could never again see his parents and relatives back in Italy, had set up a future for ongoing generations of his descendants. It never fails to impress me what these first generations of migrants accomplished.

Companion post –
Inklings of the past… Francesca

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