Growing through
the brick floor


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The author goes into some detail about World War 2 as it was the catalyst that changed a way of life that had gone on for four generations of the Ruzzene family. They immigrated to Australia.

The migration to Australia was not the promised land that it was made out to be.  The worst problem was the language barrier.  I could not understand or speak English and there was no one around to help the migrant child enter the education system.  This language barrier was an ever greater obstacle for me because I was sensitive and timid.

On the first morning of my first day I mimicked what the other children did in class until lunch break when everybody went out into the yard to eat.  In Italy we had always had our main meal at lunch time and here because our house was nearby, I was expected to go home for lunch.  Unknown to me, Rita and Dino had already left school and I had no idea how to get home.  I was in a state of panic.  Children came to speak to me but I could not understand them.  In retrospect, I felt like an Alien in the film E.T. who cried, screamed and ran through the woods in fear.  I could only stand petrified and crying behind the toilet block. No adult came to help.  I suppose, if my mother had not come looking for me, I would probably still be there.  E.T. had it easy - he had super powers.  I cried all the way home, begging mamma to allow me to stay home.  I returned to school the next day and followed what the other children did.  I was left very much to myself.  I was in "a sink or swim" situation.  I swallowed lots and lots of water.

After a month at the state school our parents sent us to a catholic school where one teacher taught several combined classes with 84 children. I have no idea what I learnt in such chaos.

I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, wishing that we would return home to our parenti, our dog and the open green fields that we had left behind.  Unbeknown to me, we were hopelessly marooned on this huge alien island.

The author describes the ongoing struggles of her school days.

Besides the language barrier there were cultural barriers.  Racism was ever present through taunting and name calling 'daigo' and 'wog' were reference to Italians.  Italians spoke in whispers for fear of offending some Australians. Perhaps they compensated with more hand movements.  Another barrier was financial.  Migrants were employed in low wage manual labour even if they were qualified professionals, plus they had to resettle and often repay loans taken out to migrate.

In La Miseria in Australia, the author describe the impoverishment and economic drop she experienced worse than in Italy.

In the late sixties the government found that the assimilation policy was not working, that migrant children were poorly educated, and that large numbers of migrants were living in poverty.  This was true of the Ruzzene family.

In Australia my family experienced impoverishment way below the poverty line.  We did not have enough money, food or clothes for the entire period that we lived as a family.  Even after we children became employed and moved out, our parents had no financial assets other than father's weekly wage, which remained low due to technical innovations in his industry.

One winter I had the correct colour shoes (uniform) but they had enormous holes in the soles so that the rain water entered cold and exited warm.  My father mended them, but as the nails used were too long ,they protruded through the sole.  They felt like spiked running shoes and with every step they would scratch or get caught in the floor. After a day of embarrassment and ridicule from the other children, I decided to mend them myself with a hammer.

Even most of the ribbons for my hair came from the tip. These were found with the wreaths of flowers that were discarded after funerals, especially if the person was cremated.  Once mamma found several bathing costumes that had small faults and had been discarded by the factory.  I did not have bathers, so I claimed one pair as mine.  At this stage I was about 14 years old, blossoming into womanhood. Friends invited my sister and me to the beach.  I was excited about this outing as we rarely had an opportunity to go anywhere.  All went well, until I went into the water, when the seams of the bathers began to come undone. I was so humiliated and desperately tried to keep myself modest with safety pins. I was ready to walk into the water and keep on walking until I drowned.  Our companions were a little more mature than I and were very sympathetic and understanding.

The author describes her work in the factory and her life in the 1960s.

It was not the free love, carefree days and drugs that are depicted by the media.  Australia was involved in a war and young men were being conscripted.

My parents thought they had got away from wars by emigrating to Australia, but here was another war. Mamma was afraid.  She continued to attend mass daily and prayed to God to intervene so that her youngest son would not be conscripted.  Too often in her life she had seen her men go off to war: her uncle Giuseppe who went to war in 1914 did not return; her brothers went to Ethiopia in 1935 -7 and returned broken men; her husband had gone to Russia and came back a different man; and her nephew in the United States had fought in Korea in 1952, was badly wounded.  After an agonizing wait of several months a letter arrived from the Ministry of Defence .

In my late teens I became involved with the parish youth group, the Young Christian Workers. We had social gatherings, dances, discussion groups and sporting activities.  I played softball for our club and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was elected captain of the team for two years.  Rino Grollo also attended this club.  We had known each other since my arrival in Australia and had attended the same primary school, spending most of our childhood playing and fighting together.  Through the youth club we began to see more of each other and began dating.  We married in 1970.  Married life was not all bliss as I became sick soon after.  I recovered and later had four children, but mamma died of cancer in 1973.

I returned to study, I did some correspondence courses and later some evening high school subjects. Finally, I was accepted at university where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.  Between my siblings and I, we have a profusion of trades, certificates, diplomas, degrees , masters and Doctorate. Unfortunately, mamma was able to see only Fosco graduate from university.  On that day she was very proud.  Perhaps we still uphold the old adage that we so often heard from her - Impara un arte e metolo da parte.

The descendant of Giovanni and Maria Ruzzene all live in Australia.  Of the seven grandchildren the three younger are undergraduates at university, of the others one has graduated from university as a nurse, one graduated with a bachelor in Social Science and works in the company, another graduated in Aerospace Engineering and is also a pilot, and the other one is doing postgraduate studies in physics.

Divine providence has smiled on me.  My life has changed from my impoverished childhood to a life of affluence, with theatres, operas, dinners, luxury hotels and travel.  My favourite place is camping in central Australia in the flat red wilderness.  The soil is really red and it penetrates everything.

I have visited the Veneto region many times and each time I am overcome with emotions all those pain and hurts.  San Dominico the patron saint of Mure is still there as he has been for three hundred years.  The villagers have prayed to him for protection throughout all those turbulent times.  Increasingly, I go to the cemetery to visit my relatives as we are all moving on.  Italy has changed but, so has Australia. We are moving towards a Multicultural society so that immigrants have better services available to them.

Growing Through the Brick Floor has 238 pages, with over twenty pages of photographs.  It has a geology, several maps and a long list of Venetian proverbs.  Many proverbs and passages written in Veneto or Italian are scattered throughout the book with translation in English.


Diana Ruzzene Grollo
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This page was last modified October 2009 AEST.