Home away from home

Their first home in Australia, and how it still lives on today.

Like in any city around the world, arriving migrants chose areas to live and work together, like they never left home. For Italians arriving in Melbourne, the inner north mostly Jewish suburb of Carlton became that place for many, and in time was named Melbourne’s Little Italy.

At the beginning of the year I took Nonna and Nonno back to Carlton to see how their old homes stand today.

Life in Carlton back then

When my Nonna and Nonno arrived in Melbourne in 1954 and 1951 respectively, Carlton was their first home.

Nonno began his life in Australia on the corner of Palmerston and Canning Streets, in a boarding house. On the second floor he stayed in a small room with three other paesani, Ettore Travaglini (Nonna’s dad), Roberto Maffei, and Dante Bastiani. On the bottom floor was the kitchen and the other rooms had other men living there.

Nonno outside the boarding house he lived at in the early 50s

In the house next door lived Nonna’s aunt Miglietta (Luigia) Bastiani, who with her husband Gisberto Boschetti came to Australia in 1927 at the age of 24. They built their new lives in the Victorian country town of Shepparton, and later moved down to Melbourne. When Nonna and her family arrived in Melbourne this was the first time she met her aunt, and her mother Ines hadn’t seen her sister for around 27 years. It was a joyous time.

Nonna in front of her Zia Miglietta’s house

Mr Brigg, a kind old Australian man who owned the three other buildings on the intersection, including the house opposite Miglietta’s, the butcher shop as well as the other boarding house, was asked by Ettore if he could rent the house for his family coming over from Italy. Mr Brigg accepted and moved across above the butcher shop, lending the house out to Ettore.

Ettore’s eldest son Guerino (Nonna’s older brother), joined him in Melbourne to help build the foundations for the rest of the family. Nonno moved in with them across the road and together they renovated the home and in 1954 after the arrival of Nonna, her mother Ines and two younger brothers Remo and Eugenio, they all moved in together. This is where Nonna and Nonno first met and fell in love.

Nonnina Ines and Nonna in front of their Canning Street home

On the corner diagonal the boarding house was a popular butcher shop they often visited and on the other corner diagonally opposite Nonna’s house was another boarding house.

Nonna (right) with her cousin Frances Maffei on Palmerston Street, circa 1950s.

Nonna used to take the tram to her first job at a factory in Brunswick where she made men’s overalls and earned 3 pounds 50 shillings a week. She later found a job in Elgin Street just a street up from their home, where she made shirts and pyjamas. Here she earned 4 pounds 50 shillings and she only had to walk there, so it was pretty good.

Nonna relives her factory working days

Today, three out of the five buildings mentioned still stand. Nonno’s boarding house, Zia Miglietta’s home, and the former butcher shop. The other boarding house made way for a corner park, and unfortunately the family’s first home made way for a giant new apartment block.

Life in Carlton today

Carlton is something very different today then what it was back in the 50s. Over time many Italians moved out into larger homes in the suburbs and the 1st generation Italian population decreased, with the influx of different cultures and boom in the city’s population. For a long time Carlton lost it’s Italian vibe. In general Lygon Street is the only real street that still holds its Italianess, but fortunately with the modern Italian migration of today and urge to create and grow groovy, authentic Italian food places, Melbourne’s Little Italy is still strong and popular – now one of the best places to visit for good Italian food and wine. King & Godfree, Enoteca Sileno, Brunettis, and University Café are some of those shining stars.

Nonna and Nonno further talk of their experiences in arriving in Australia in the podcast episode Coming to Australia.

My Nonna Lisetta and Nonno Ilario Bastiani for the fab photo poses, and Frances Maffei for the 4th photo featured.

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