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Maria Tence, Italian Migrant, 1961

Doll - Vinyl Face & Cloth Body, circa 1963

Image: Doll - Vinyl Face & Cloth Body, circa 1963

Source: Museum Victoria

Maria's father, Michael Attardi, was a qualified industrial mechanic but couldn't find a job after the war. He was working as a garbage truck driver, when he heard from friends that Australia needed factory workers and was told his skills would be in demand. He applied to immigrate and was given assisted passage, arriving in Australia on the 'Roma' in 1960. He was sent to Bonegilla where he stayed for three weeks. He was allocated employment but he heard he was being paid less than he could get if he went to Melbourne. So he hitched a drive into Melbourne with relatives of a man who was sharing his cabin. He found a job the next day paying 2 pounds more than he was offered under government contract. In Melbourne he boarded at first and then later secured a house in Clayton.

In August 1961, Maria, her mother, Philippa, and two younger brothers, Agostino and Vincent, arrived in Australia on the 'Neptunia' from Valguarnera in central Sicily, Italy. Maria was 4 and half years old at the time and remembers little of the journey, except that her mum was constantly bed ridden due to sea sickness and was also terrified and wouldn't leave the cabin which they shared with a woman coming here as a proxy bride. Consequently Maria and her brother's didn't experience much during the voyage although Maria does remember being taken to the children's play room and playing games on deck. Both Philippa and the proxy bride kept their own company because it wasn't culturally acceptable for women to enjoy themselves without a male guardian.

In 1963 Maria broke her arm and was hospitalized for three weeks at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. During her stay she was given a doll she called rabbit by a relative who came to visit. When Maria broke her arm they were sharing a house with two other families, and her father was driving taxis as a night job, trying to save more money so they could buy their own home. When she broke her arm she remembers having no cars or phones and her arm being wrapped up in many towels, she was bleeding profusely, and then being carried into the streets wrapped in blankets until a passing taxi was hailed which took them to the hospital.

In 1967 Maria, her mother and two brothers returned to Italy on the 'Angelina Lauro' with the aim of remaining. On the voyage to doll was used by Maria's mother to transport Australian plant seeds to give to relatives, in particular Maria's grandmother who loved collecting plants. During this second voyage Maria recalls her mother again being confined to her bunk because of sea sickness and the running riot all over the ship with her brothers. She remembers they were often collected by cabin crew and taken back to the cabin where they again attempted to escape. They sailed through the Suez, seeing the desert on both flanks; and also saw 'black' people for the first time when they came onboard to sell items when the ship docked. Maria recalls 'mum was terrified of the 'blacks' and even though she ventured out to deck to buy gifts she kept such a tight clench on our wrists that they were white when we returned to our cabin'. She also remembers going to one of the big entertainment areas, where she played with a toddler on board, she then asked to carry the child down the flight of stairs, when the ship came to a grinding halt and they all flew down the flight of stairs. Fortunately she only got bruised but the child lost some teeth.

After 11 months in Italy, Maria's mother decided to return to Australia as she didn't see a strong future for her children in Italy. They travelled back to Australia on the 'Achille Lauro' in 1968, via Cape Town as the Suez was closed. This added an additional 3 or 4 days to the voyage. Once again Maria and her brother's ran riot all over the ship as their mother was confined to the cabin. Maria remembers sneaking on board on a hot day and watching people in the swimming pool. She couldn't swim but notes 'everyone made it look so easy so I jumped in and had to be pulled out because I sank to the bottom and my brother raised an alarm'. She remembers the most frustrating thing was having forgotten how to speak English after 11 months in Italy and crying a lot because she thought the kids at school would tease her about it. However the ship journey allowed Maria and her brothers to regain their English skills before going back to school when they arrived in Melbourne.

Again the doll was used to smuggle plant seeds; this time Italian vegetable seeds, in particular different types of beans, tomatoes, lettuces and other beneficial greens. When they arrived in Melbourne Maria's mother instructed her never to put the doll down and to always have it clutched. Maria's mother also smuggled seeds in her bra and girdle too, with Maria remembering 'she looked far more curvaceous that she was!'

In Australia they settled in Clayton and Maria's mother always allowed a few plants to seed so she had a continuous supply. She also swapped seeds with compatriots, with the seeds of a particular leafy green vegetable with a bitterish taste being given out widely.

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  • Doll - Vinyl Face & Cloth Body, circa 1963 Object

    Doll - Vinyl Face & Cloth Body, circa 1963

    Doll purchased in Melbourne in 1963 as a gift for Maria by a relative. Maria was hospitalized, at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, for three weeks with a broken arm at age seven. Sh ...

    Images: 2
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