Comme Facette Mammeta, Roland Rocchiccioli?
Midsumma in association with ArciLesbica presents well-known actor, broadcaster and entertainer Roland Rocchiccioli at the Italian Cultural Institute this Wednesday night. Roland reveals the story behind the documentary- “The Italian Girls from Gwalia”. Paul Andrew chats with Cinzia from ArciLesbica and Roland about the legacy of their Italian ‘sisters’.
Cinzia tell me about ArciLesbica and Roland’s lecture this week?
ArciLesbica Australia is a social support group for Italian Aust. lesbian, bi, gay, Trans*, intersex or queer women. Given our Italian heritage we aptly named our organisation after our sister organisation in Italy. Despite the distance our ties remain strong with Italy both from a familial perspective. As non-heterosexual women we may have to (& do) face similar challenges to those of our Italian sisters. Moreover and importantly our sexual orientation & gender identity 'heritage' gives us the opportunity to celebrate our existence all over the world!
Roland is a well known Italian Australian TV, radio & theatrical personality. Roland's father, Nello or Ginger in English -given the color of his hair- migrated from Lucca, (Italy) to Western Australia and went to work in the mines around Gwalia. Growing up in Gwalia, surrounded by an 80% European background community, Roland was able to 'visit' - mainly through the town's Italian women folk - many countries despite being so isolated. The childhood 'visits' provided Roland with a rich upbringing which he would later draw upon in his career as an extraordinary entertainer.
Roland what is your earliest memory of Gwalia being a Goldfield in WA?
From wherever you were in Gwalia you could see the tall black chimney stack from the Sons of Gwalia goldmine, belching black, sometimes white, smoke into the cloudless blue sky. For the ten years before I was sent away to boarding school it was the epicentre of my childhood universe. The regular roar of the gold bearing ore spilling into the crusher was as comforting as the heartbeat of a mother.
The memories are myriad. Gwalia was a time and place the like of which this world will never know again. With a population of 60% Italian, 20% other Europeans and 20% British, it was, to all intents and purposes, an Italian village on the edge of the Great Victoria desert, 147-miles North-east of Kalgoorlie. The town, which nestled into the outcrops of Mount Leonora – which was name by Sir John Forrest as they passed through on the search for the lost Leichhardt expedition – had a magical quality. The tempo of the town was regulated by the rising and setting of the sun, and the sound of the steam whistle on the Sons of Gwalia goldmine which sounded at regular intervals and marked the end and the beginning of shifts on the mine. The 360-degree uninterrupted view from the top of Mt. Leonora stretch to the beyond – and further. The sunsets in the summer were magnificent – turning the sky a hot magenta which always reminded me of the fires of hell and the souls in purgatory.
Tell me about the "Little Italy" of Gwalia; the people, the places, the aromas, the music?
At one time there were 28 nationalities working on the Sons of Gwalia mine. I grew-up with sound of other languages ringing in my ears. With such a large European population the food and music played an important part. The Italians took every opportunity for a celebration – whether it was name-day, a wedding, a christening, a birthday, or Christmas. Tables groaned under the weight of the food which included lasagne, risotto, gnocchi, and roasted chickens and legs of pork and lamb.
Mazza’s store sold the best and charged accordingly. The fruit and vegetables arrived twice-weekly by train from one of the leading Chinese market gardener, Ah Sam, Wellington Street, Perth. The peaches, plums and apricots were hand-packed in slat jarrah boxes lined with white butcher’s paper; pears and apples were hand-wrapped in a square of pale-green tissue paper. The one-pound bags of Watery Hall grapes from the Sandalford vineyard in the Swan Valley were packed in airflow plastic bags. The single Italian men bought and ate them sitting on the benches outside the shop. We only had cherries on Christmas Day; big dark and juicy; they were a taste explosion in your mouth.
What enchanted you as the woman of Gwalia set about their business?
Mrs Patroni’s boarding house was in the centre of Tower Street and home for between twenty and thirty single European men working on the mine. The standard of Mrs Patroni’s food made up for the lack of facilities. The dining room served three meals a day and and some of the surface workers came back for a hot midday meal. Full board included a crib or a cut lunch for the underground workers.
I often saw Mrs Patroni standing in the doorway on the front verandah watching the passing parade. With one hand on her hip, and the other resting high on the door frame it was an alluring sight. Whenever she saw me she waved, and invited me in to eat: ‘Ciao bello, vene qua. Vene qua per mangare.’ She took a shine to me and I was one of the few kids allowed inside her boarding house. I found her irresistible and her spaghetti with pork chops was delicious.
For a while Mrs Robinson, our next-door neighbour and Ollie Garbellini’s mother, was the cook at Mrs Patroni’s. Mrs Robinson was formidable, standing six feet two inches and weighing about eighteen stone. She was married to Pop Robinson, her second husband, who was more than a foot shorter and about half her weight.
Mrs Scolari was the waitress. When we lived opposite I would see every afternoon setting off on her bike to the boarding house. There was something alluring – almost scandalous - about Mrs Scolari. She was a slim, attractive woman with dark hair. ‘What are you talking about? Of course she dies it,’ Beria scoffed.
It is so important that these oral histories- about 'sisters' and relatedness- are not lost, is this what prompted - Comme Facette Mammeta, Roland Rocchiccioli?
The documentary - THE ITALIAN GIRLS FROM GWALIA – is an opportunity to couple the anecdotal history of Gwalia with the stories of the Italian mothers as told by their daughters, many of whom are now themselves, “of an age”; to record how the mothers survived and made for themselves a new life in the sometimes living hell; how they eagerly embraced the new, while holding onto the past. They were women of remarkable courage; a courage borne out of necessity, desperation, and determination. And, eventually, a love for their new country. The Italians – the new Australians - came from the north and south of the old country, bringing with them a lifetime of memories, traditional food, and a culture which helped change the face of society. Their contribution to the shape of modern Australia cannot be over-estimated.
Comme Facette Mammeta, Roland Rocchiccioli?
ArciLesbica Australia in association with Melbourne’s Italian Cultural Institute
ArciLesbica Australia, together with the Italian Cultural Institute (Melbourne) presents an evening up close & very personal with Roland Rocchiccioli, well-known actor, broadcaster and entertainer.
Venue: Italian Cultural Institute (Elm Tree House), 233 Domain Rd, South Yarra
Date: 20 January
Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0408 137 037
Presented in English. Light refreshments available.
Websites:www.arcilesbicaaustralia.org / www.iicmelbourne.esteri.it/IIC_Melbourne