He would say, “When we have made a bit of money, we’ll return to Italy”. This was my husband’s dream. We did things without knowing what lay ahead of us. We were young and we dreamed…Besides, when you have a person who you love, it doesn’t matter what happens, you know.
Date and place of birth
Born 1921, Gallesano, Istria
Date and place of arrival in Australia
February 1950, Sydney aboard the Gen. Blatchford ship
Type of migration
Displaced Persons’ Resettlement Scheme
Life in Italy
Angelina Martini (née Moscarda) was born on 24 August 1921 in Gallesano, a small village near Pola (now Pula) on the Istrian Peninsula. Pola had become part of Italy after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. Angelina’s parents were farmers. After five years of primary school, which was the most Italian children were required to do by law at that time, Angelina went to work as a maid at age 14.
My Dad was a farmer and he had cows. You lived off the farm produce but we had to be very frugal because there were seven of us children…I had just finished primary school and I started working as a maid…I remember I didn’t even know how to do the washing because there weren’t washing machines like today and so my mistress taught me. My Dad would come and collect the 30 lire they gave me each month.
During World War Two, Angelina and her sister worked as kitchenhands in a hotel in Pola which became the British and American Allied Headquarters. It was here that she met her husband, Radoslavo Martini, who was working as a chef. Radoslavo was from Castelnuovo d’Arsa, another town in Istria.
Despite the occupation of Pola by British and American Allied forces in May 1945, instability continued until 1947 when Istria was handed over to Yugoslavia (now Croatia) under the terms of the post-war peace treaty. Many Italians chose not to stay and fled to refugee camps in Italy as exiles or esuli. Some left for patriotic or ethnic motives as they considered themselves of ‘Italian’ nationality not Slavic. Fighting between communist partisans supportive of Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito (titini) and Italian fascists and Allied sympathisers had created a climate of fear among Italians in the area. In September 1947 Angelina and her sister fled Pola.
After being evacuated to an Italian refugee camp in Grado, Angelina married Radoslavo in October 1947. Their first child Hermes was born in June 1949. In Grado, Angelina took a job in a sardine factory but Radoslavo had great difficulty finding work. Discouraged by the high level of unemployment in Italy and fearful that another war could break out in Europe, Angelina and Radoslavo saw emigration overseas as a way to secure a better future. Through the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), ‘displaced persons’ (DPs) in refugee camps across Europe were offered the opportunity to resettle in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia.
Life in Australia
In 1950, Angelina and her husband were selected to come to Australia. They were among the 170,000 DPs from Europe who resettled in Australia between 1947 and 19531. Angelina, Radoslavo and son Hermes disembarked in Sydney in February 1950 and were taken to the Bathurst Migrant Camp.
I never imagined that Australia might be so far away...However, what I did like when we arrived in February, which I will never forget, was the heat because I left Italy where it was cold...We were also happier because we didn’t have the fear we had in Yugoslavia. We felt free.
In return for paying the cost of their voyage and settlement, DPs had to sign a contract with the Australian Government to work for two years wherever their labour was needed. Radoslavo was sent to work on construction of the Warragamba Dam in New South Wales. Radoslavo could only visit his family once a week, so he and Angelina wrote letters to each other.
On 31 October 1950, eight months after arriving in Australia, Radoslavo was killed in a rockslide at Warragamba Dam. His death was reported in the local press. Two months pregnant, Angelina was left to care for her young son Hermes with no family support and no steady source of income. As a newly arrived migrant, she was not eligible for the Widow’s Pension and it was several years before she received any insurance payment from her husband’s employer. The editor of Sydney’s Italian-language newspaper La Fiamma published an appeal to raise funds to help send Angelina to Perth to join her sister who had settled with her husband in Western Australia.
I remember that I wanted to die, I did not even want to live and then I said, “but I have two little ones. For the love of my children, I want to live.”
Heavily pregnant, Angelina and son Hermes flew from Sydney to Perth arriving on 11 May 1951. Her second child, Claudio, was born on 29 May. With help from her sister, the Catholic Church and kind strangers, Angelina raised her two sons in Perth. With the money she eventually received from the insurance payment from Radoslavo’s accident, she was able to buy a home in North Perth where she lived alongside many other Italians. To make ends meet, she took in boarders and later worked as a cleaner and a cook.
In addition to raising two children on her own, another challenge Angelina faced in Australia was understanding and speaking English.
I remember when…I wanted some garlic and I went to the shops...which was not like it is today with everything on display and even if you don’t know how to speak, at least you can see what you want, get it and pay. Back then they had all the stuff behind the counter...The lady said to me, “Can you spell it?”. I didn’t even know what ‘spelling’ meant. She gave me a pencil and paper and I drew her some garlic and she gave it to me straight away.
In the 1970s, Angelina began classes to improve her English. Angelina reflected on her experiences of living in Australia as an assignment for this class:
“…To tell you the truth I found Australia to be an ugly place and very different to how I see it today. I suppose this is because I now understand the language and feel at home. I like this country better than my own…It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s very important to learn English…With a little goodwill you can enjoy beautiful Australia because now I can say that my past has just been a dream.”
Now a retired aged pensioner, Angelina keeps active cooking delicious gnocchi, lasagne and crostoli for her family and friends.
1 Appleyard RT 1955, 'Displaced persons in Western Australia: Their industrial location and geographical distribution: 1948-1954', University Studies in History and Economics, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 64.