10 August, 2023
Life stories tell rich migrant history
NEARLY 40 years ago, Alberto Avolio began collecting the stories of several Italian migrants who travelled to the Mareeba area to start a new life.
Now, those stories have been recognised in his book titled “Emerald Creek: From Fagnano Castello to the Meeting of the Waters / Da Fagnano Castello all'Incontro delle Acque”, paying homage to the farm that bought his community in Southern Italy to their new home.
The book delves into the captivating tale of migration, recounting the hopes and dreams of early migrants from the quaint town of Fagnano Castello, nestled in the province of Cosenza, Calabria in the post war era – 1928 to 1986.
Painting a rich tapestry of experiences, the narratives in the book revolve around the lives of more than 400 first and second-generation migrants who left behind their roots in the small Calabrian community to work in the tobacco fields of Far North Queensland, with Emerald Creek serving as the gateway for many of these intrepid explorers.
Mr Avolio collected their stories for almost four decades and during Covid, he began to write his book, with an English version, an Italian version and a dialect hybrid version he calls “Italiese”.
He believes these stories echo the stark realism commonly found in southern Italian communities, reminiscent of Carlo Levi's classic “Christ Stopped at Eboli”.
“What motivated me to write this book was the migration during the 80s had essentially stopped and as I mention in the prologue of my book, there was a sensation people were getting old,” he said.
“There was a sense of nostalgia, not quite depression, where we were asking ‘what have we done over all these years’, so I thought, what a good idea to interview the early migrants and write their stories.”
Residing in Sydney at the time, Mr Avolio traced back to the first migrants from Fagnano Castello and their descendants.
The story begins with Salvatore Salamone (Malvito), who arrived to Australia in 1926, Francesco Posterivo (Fagnano) who arrived in 1927 and Natale Tobiano (Fagnano) who arrived to Mareeba in 1928.
Mr Avolio said the story of migration to Australia was the same, yet the individual stories of each family and why they came to Australia was unique and he believed those stories were the ones that needed to be shared.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, he interviewed migrants who moved to Mareeba.
Those migrants were Ermando Bellomusto, Luigi Avolio, Aldo Tobiano, Michele Tobiano, Elisetta Salerno, Maria Arena, Pasquale and Rosina Rogato, Immacolata Salerno, Adia Aloia, Sebastiano Aolia, Maria Battiato, Peppino Trotta, Giggino Formoso, Concetta Tobiano and Remo De Rose.
They told stories that made Mr Avolio laugh, cry and smile. He felt their love, their pain, and their liveliness through each interview, so much so he put the interviews together in a question and answer format on the page, letting their raw words tell the story.
Through his own experiences as a migrant, he was able to put together a book that showed the raw experiences an Italian migrant faced.
“When I started collecting this material I thought, ‘what am I going to do with it all’ so I started to translate the dialect but then life took over with an academic career,” Mr Avolio said.
“By the time I had retired, we were in Covid lockdown. I looked at the material I had and said, ‘now I know what to do with it’ and began to write an English version.”
Although daunted by the idea of transcribing from Italian to English, Mr Avolio spent hours upon hours working through all the interviews until eventually, he had completed “Emeral Creek” – an English, Italian and dialect version.
At first, he thought of releasing separate books for each translation, however he felt the stories belonged in the same book.
Now the book has finally been released, Mr Avolio feels a great feeling of satisfaction and hopes his readers enjoy immersing themselves in the memories shared within the Italian community, particularly the upcoming generation.
“We were enriched (as children) by the stories of our family because we heard them because people talked about their lives and I found this quite a powerful concept – ‘The past is the story we tell ourselves’,” he said.
“The reactions I have received already are incredible and one lady even said she couldn’t stop crying reading it.”
To purchase a copy of “Emerald Creek”, search Alberto Avolio on Amazon.com or call his sister Gina on 0407 169 418.