Maria Assunta Sernia
|First name||Maria Assunta|
|Country of Origin||Italy|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1957|
|Submitted by||Maria Sofo|
I remember it was a cold winter’s day when the ‘Neptune’ docked at Port Melbourne. It was about 5am, July 21st 1957. We had spent a month at sea, leaving the port of Napoli on a hot June the 25th day. It was still dark but Mama got us up so that we could wash and get dressed in our ‘Sunday best’ ready to meet ‘babbo’ who we hadn’t seen in 18 months, what excitement, what trepidation.
Dad had arrived before us, the 2nd of February 1956 to be exact, to pave the way. He had already found a full time job and a place for us to rent in Coburg, Melbourne. Mama, a young woman of 32, born in the town of San Severo, province of Foggia in Puglia, had travelled alone with four of us children, me being the youngest. This woman until then had never been out of her hometown except for that time in 1955 when we travelled to Rome, to the Australian Embassy.
How did this young couple get the inclination and find the strength to leave their family, homeland, culture, language, traditions, values and customs that imbedded their very being, to travel thousands of miles to a foreign land they really knew very little about ? Cercavamo una vita migliore. We were seeking a better life, babbo said.
Post war Italy in the early fifties saw a scarcity of commodities, food (the ancient market places still had not re-opened after the war) and basic necessities. My father who was a professional musician as well as running a small Bottega di Scarpe (shoe shop) found his customers could not pay. How was he supposed to feed his family? In rage and frustration making an impetuous decision he inquired about Australia. That was the 15th August 1954. Two years laer, as part of the ‘Personal Nomination Scheme’ he found himself reporting to the Immigration Department in Brisbane, then to Melbourne where paesani, fellow countrymen offered him a place to stay and helped him find a job.
The dawn descended on a grey day, we were all now on deck, looking out onto the dock. There was a sea of people waiting, but where was babbo ? The journey was harrowing for my mother, housed in the bowel of the ship with her four children chronically seasick. My earliest recollections of that trip was being below deck, with no portholes, bunk beds, an electric light and sharing our abode with a pregnant woman, her husband and small child. We have remained life long friends. I also remember attending an evacuation drill on top deck with porpoises and dolphins swimming alongside and my eldest brother who had quickly found his sea legs taking me for a promenade in the cool sea breeze. Sometimes there was entertainment, clowns to make children laugh. Those that could eat attended the ‘mess hall’. There were tables with wooden edges so that in rough seas, plates wouldn’t slip off. I also vaguely recall going through the Suez Canal-were we going to fit? There was the hustle and bustle of people in strange clothes. They seemed so close to the vessel.
My mind is blank, how did I get off that ship? I was now a small child surrounded by a forest of adults in dark heavy coats. Suddenly babbo picks me up, a hug, a kiss and a chocolate-the first time I taste Cadburys. What sweetness, what promise of things to come.