My Nonna’s family are regarded as Australia’s first refugees. Along with fellow Italians, they were granted asylum by the Australian government in 1881, following their traumatic ocean passage on the ill-fated De Rays Expedition.
Theirs is a truly remarkable story of courage, determination and survival. Settling in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, in a place now known as New Italy, these Italians worked hard to create a flourishing community. Their legacy lives on and they’ll always be remembered through the museum at the New Italy site (on the Pacific Freeway), an interactive memorial to these brave pioneers.
As a proud Northern Italian and descendant of the Spinaze family, I truly recommend that you read the amazing account of how this group of Italians, mainly contadini, were mislead into believing in an oasis, “La Nouvelle France,” a promised paradise of hope and opportunity, thousands of kilometres from their motherland. The story tells of their frightful journey (in which one third of the passengers perished), their tenacious attitudes and the years of hardship they endured to finally find peace and prosperity.
Like all immigrants, my family brought with them their food traditions. They had to adjust and experiment with new ingredients, to improvise with what was available from their surroundings – like Parrot Pie! A true example of cucina povera; of working with what you have got and wasting nothing. This idea should be more prevalent in today’s society. We need to better understand where our food comes from, how sustainable it is and the true art of real food.
My Nonno migrated to Australia in 1926 as a young man, in search of a better life than that on offer in post war Italy. He brought with him his knowledge of winemaking learnt in his hometown of Conegliano, the Veneto (Prosecco Country).
For my Nonno, the importance of the “home-made” was paramount. Knowing exactly where your food and wine comes from, what we now call “tracebility” was of great importance. Italians have valued this for centuries.
I remember stories of my Nonno at dusk, religiously preparing the family pig on the ‘waning of the moon’, il calo di luna, an ancient belief. This was a big event on the family's calendar bringing everyone together in preparation for that season's salumi.
My obsession with food, and salami in particular, grew when I was blessed with the opportunity to represent Italy in the 2009 Rugby League European Cup. I was so fortunate to be able to spend two years living with the Di Pietro family in rural Northern Italy in a town called Este.
I watched the daily dynamic of food in a traditional family home. The art of cooking pasta 'al dente' was a serious business. I will never forget the first time Santo, the father, passed the responsibility to me like a ritual or right-of-passage. I felt the pressure of getting it just right. Cooking pasta 'al dente' may seem frivolous to some but to an Italian, it is a necessary skill.
What stayed with me the most was the gathering of the family around the dinner table and the cutting of the salame. The head of the table would closely examine the stick and peel back the natural casing. On a precise 60 degree angle, he would slice the first piece before cutting more and passing the bread board around the table, listening to stories, laughter, and me trying to learn dialect and all this with a lot of translation.
Trying to capture these emotions and memories has led me to start this exciting venture with my family. We wish to share with you, our new extended family, our passion for real food, so that you may gather with your families and make memories of laughter and joy that you can pass on for generations to come.
A big thank you to the New Italy Musuem Inc who allowed me access and use of the historical photos found on our website. Thanks also to Anne Gabrielle Thompson for your book “Turmoil-Tragedy to Triumph” and to the Richmond River Historical Society.
I'd also like to thank the Di Pietro family, Santo, Donatella, Fabio and Luca, in Este, Italy, for opening their hearts and home to me.
For anyone interested in the history of New Italy please visit their website www.newitaly.com.au New Italy is located just south of Woodburn, in the Northern Rivers District of NSW, (1 hour drive from Byron Bay), 8275 Pacific Highway, Woodburn.