Tag Archives: Vincenzo Tigani

For the Family

Life in the small villages of Calabria was one of hard work with limited opportunities. Vincenzo Tigani was a farmer, who faced with limited opportunities in an economically depressed 1930’s Italy, made decisions in the interest of his family. These decisions would see him journey from Italy to Eritrea, India and Australia.


The Tigani Family: Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica and Vincenzo

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan(nee Tigani))

Farmers from Vazzano and Santo Onorfrio had been part of the first wave of migrants away from Italy. This Push-Pull migration resulted from farmers experiencing difficulty in making a reasonable living from small plots of land which were mainly rented.  Sons worked with fathers on these plots without a wage. A roof to sleep under and food to eat was the currency.  This offered little opportunity for families to grow their wealth, build their own homes and increase the acreage under cultivation.  Combined with disease, underemployment, high taxes and the degradation and erosion of the soil, men looked for opportunities offered through a system termed chain migration.

Labour agents in USA assisted the Italians to find employment and accommodation and the period from 1870’s to 1910’s saw an influx of young Italians arrive to seize opportunities.  Bruno Tigani from Vazzano (Vincenzo’s father) found his way to Braddock Pennsylvania, likely working in the steel industry and like many made the journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Domenico Lipari (Vincenzo’s future father-in-law) found his way to the “Little Italy” of New York living on Hester Street and working at N.Y. Steam Company. He would also travel between Italy and New York before becoming naturalised in 1937.

Against this background, Vincenzo Tigani enlisted in the Italian Army. In 1936, Mussolini combined Italian Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Ethipoia into the Italian territory of Africa Orientale Italiana. Government employees, workers and soldiers were needed and Vincenzo became a soldier in the 1st Battalion Speciale Genio dell Eritrea. It would have been a difficult decision to leave behind his wife Domenica and two young sons: Bruno aged 3 and Domenico an infant with this decision resulting in a 10 year separation from his family.

Captured in Massaua, Eritrea 8 April 1941, Vincenzo as a prisoner of war was sent to Australia via India. In less than three years, he was working on a banana plantation owned by Mr AJ Schulz at Poona/Palmwoods in the Nambour district. His time there offered him an insight into the opportunities that Australia offered and the seed would have been sown as to the future direction of his and his family’s life. His hard work earned the respect of the Schulz family, with family members over 70 years later, speaking kindly and fondly of Vince.  Vince told his family how he climbed the middle Glass House Mountain and carved his initials on a rock and how they, the POWs would walk everywhere including Nambour to Brisbane.

The return journey from Australia to Italy was long and protracted for Italian prisoners of war. But while waiting at N33 Prisoner of War Camp at South Head Sydney, Vince was allowed to visit family and/or Calabrian Italians in Liverpool.  He would have weekend release from Friday night to Sunday evening and during this time he would have made the acquaintance of Salvatore Raffaele from Dee Why. Much discussion would have transpired over immigration to Australia, work opportunities in Sydney and the process of returning to Australia.

Vincenzo returned to Italy and to a stagnant and economically depressed Vazzano.  Little had changed during his ten year absence.  It was a village that was not directly impacted upon by the war, although planes often flew over the village and black outs and curfews were imposed. Only 100 kilometres away, Reggio Calabria was bombed heavily by the Allies.  It was however a time of uncertainty and hardship.

The Tigani family survived with the support of Domenica’s family. Domenica’s father sent money from USA to fund the building of a home.  With two sons to provide for, Domenica worked hard in the fields.  Her fortitude ensured she survived the ten year separation from her husband. Vincenzo returned somewhat as a stranger to his family. His wife Domenica had, out of necessity, lived an independent life. His sons had grown up without the presence of a father and his youngest son Domenico had difficulty in accepting this stranger as his father. Their reunion was bitter sweet.

The Tigani family welcomed a daughter and sister, Maria Rosa in 1948. Little had changed in the region, and like his parents and parents-in-law, Vincenzo planned for a brighter future for his family.

The family was separated again when Vincenzo returned to Sydney in 1950. Within two months he was working as a labourer at Crown Crystal Glass Company in Bourke Street Waterloo and living at 72 Riley Street Surry Hills. In all likelihood, living in a city and working in a factory might not have been the ideal situation. Another complication was that the employees were strongly unionised and union action was being reported in the newspapers during May to June 1950.

Vincenzo returned to a familiar life and to the employment of his former POW employer, Mr Schulz.  Within three months, he moved to Brisbane.  Alexander Filia, also from Vazzano was an ice cream manufacturer and offered Vincenzo a place to stay at 10 Ernest Street South Brisbane. Vincenzo worked as  an Ice Cream Vendor selling Filia’s Popular Ice Cream. His daughter Maria Rosa remembers a story from her father about those days:  “He had a line-up of customers, when a cockroach raised its feelers above the metal frame of the cart.  Children began to scream and Dad, nonchalantly, rang his bell repeatedly and called out loudly, ‘Ice-creams for Sale’.”

Within 18 months of his arrival in Australia, Vincenzo was reunited with his son Domenico who arrived as a 15 year old in November 1951.  Priority became saving the passage for Domenica and Maria Rosa to travel to Australia and a new home in Brisbane.  Domenico’s actions of hiding saved money under the stump caps of the house, reflected his intention to bring his mother and sister out to Australia and set them up with a new life.  His sister, Maria Rosa reflects that Domenico took on a quasi-role of protector and provider for his mother and sister.  He had spent more years with them, than his father had, and so he felt an obligation and responsibility for them.


1951-1952: Domenico and Vincenzo Tigani in Brisbane

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

Domenica and Maria Rosa arrived in Fremantle in July 1957.  Domenico had made the journey to Fremantle to greet them and to assist them on the last stage of their journey to Brisbane.  The voyage to Australia had seen Domenica in bed with sea sickness for a month while Maria Rosa wandered the ship freely, exploring this ‘new’ world. It was an adventure and the staff continually reminded the nine year old to go back to her room as her mother needed her.  Upon arrival Domenico asked his sister if she spoke any English, and her curt reply was, “Shut up!  Money.”

In time, Stafford Street East Brisbane became the family’s new home. Vincenzo worked in the building industry, with a gas company and as a night watchman with Evans Deakin at Henry Point.  Those were difficult times for migrant families: the impact of war, years of separation and social isolation. As a family man, Vincenzo made decisions in the best interest of his family.  At times, these decisions had a negative impact upon the unity of the family.  Maria Rosa remembers that after her father died, she found two photos he had kept.  One was of her as a 9 month old and another as an 18 month old.  Her reflections were tinged with sadness as she thought of her father in Brisbane with his memories and photos of his family, while his wife and daughter were in Italy.  It was a case of doing something to make life better- enlistment in the Italian army and migration to Australia and at the same time, these actions caused much hardship for the family.

Daughter Maria Rosa is grateful to her father for many things.  “He gave us many opportunities which would have been unattainable in Vazzano.  Opportunities such as a good education, owning our own businesses, owning our homes, can be attributed to the difficult decisions made by my parents,” says Maria Rosa. “My father’s story is no different from that of my grandparents who had emigrated to USA.  Long periods of separation between family members, financial uncertainty, the dream being hard to find, social isolation and all those things associated with being a foreigner in a strange land.”


 Vincenzo Tigani – Icecream Vendor

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

A family man, Vincenzo’s legacy is the close family ties between members of the Tigani extended family in Australia. There are relatives who have loaned money to those struggling financially, there are those who have assisted ‘new comers’ by finding them jobs and accommodation and there are those who continue to support others through health problems.  Maria Rosa believes that at one stage her father seemed to have ‘lost faith’.  “It is hard to define what I mean. It might have been a sense of insecurity about the decisions he made and how other people interpreted them. It might have been that he didn’t realise his dreams. It might have been his sadness over the ‘lost family years’,” reflects Maria Rosa. But life is what it is. Doors open, decisions are made and legacies forged.

And Maria Rosa  now takes on the role of the head of the extended Tigani family in Brisbane. In 2017, to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Vazzano,  Maria Rosa approached her parish priest to honour Saint Francesco Di Paolo.  This special gathering of family ensues that traditions and stories from Vazzano are not forgotten: a tribute ‘for the family’.

St Francesco Di Paola Vazzano

Celebration of Saint Francesco Di Paolo in Brisbane 27th August 2017

(photo from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan)

Vince and Eugene at Image Flat


Nambour.Schulz. Itys Hut 5 (3)

Itys Hut Image Flat

(from the Collection of Martin Schulz)

The farm of my father AJ Schulz at Image Flat (Poona) in the Nambour district was home to three Italian Prisoners of War.  The three Italians were employed to work on my uncle’s farm because at the time a disease called ‘bunchy top’ had got into his crops.  The Banana Board Inspector suggested that my uncle get some help to save his crop by employing the Italians.

Our family background is German, originally settling on the Downs but then they came to Image Flat and grew bananas, pineapples, stock feed, citrus and small crops.  The land was virgin scrub and farming was hard work.  It was hard manual labour.  We didn’t have tractors and eventually had a horse and at times we borrowed horses from the neighbour who was very obliging.  Maybe our German background wasn’t a problem with us getting the Italians, because the Banana Inspector probably helped with the paperwork.  For many farmers having Italian and German heritage meant that you couldn’t employ a POW.

We had a saw mill and used to use the timber from our property to make cases for the crops to be sent to market.  Because of the saw mill, Dad was able to saw timber to build a house for the Italians.  We referred to it as the “Itys Hut” and it stood for decades but eventually fell down.

We had three Italians but one used to go visiting a local Italian family.  He would walk down to the Brisbane turn off where the family lived which is a long way on foot.  The officers from the Prisoner of War control centre would come out at night to check on the whereabouts of the POWs and this fellow was caught out and taken away.

I have a lot of memories about the other two.  Vince (Vincenzo Tigani) was well regarded by my family.  He was the older of the two and was in his late 30s.  To me, he was what you would think of as an Italian farmer dark complexion and sturdy build.  He told us how he hadn’t been home to his family for over 10 years and he had two sons.  He was a farmer from Vazzano (Catanzaro) and had been fighting in the Italian army in Abyssinia before World War 2.  The soldiers were put on a ship and sent home and had docked and were to disembark the next day.  Italy declared war and so they never got to go home and then were sent back to war.  His record states that he was in the 1st Batg, Speciale Genio dell Eritrea so he must have been fighting in the Eritrea war which started in 1935.  He was captured on 8th April 1941 at Massaua.  The Allied force took 9,590 prisoners and 127 guns at the capture of Massaua (Massawa).  After the War Vince came back to Australia with one of his sons.  He built a cart and started a business as an ice cream vendor in Brisbane.  When you think about it a good part of his working life was fighting in the Italian army and then being a Prisoner of War in India and Australia.

The other fellow, Eugene (Eugenio Mascaro) was much younger and would have been in his early twenties.  He was a farmer from Casabona Catanzaro and was much fairer and could speak better English than Vince and seemed to have been more educated. His record states that he was in the Bersoglieri Ottavo Regg (Marksmen) when he was captured 1 December 1941 at Gambut in Libya. If you think about it, he was 20 years old when he was captured.

Nambour 1Mascaro

Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Mascaro, Eugenio PWI 57359

(National Archives of Australia J3118/115)

I don’t remember too many things about the time, as we were busy working the farm and the POWs just became part of daily life.  They used to cook for themselves and sometimes ate meals with us.  An army truck used to come around about once a month with provisions for the Italians and I remember them buying chocolate which they gave to us.  Chocolate was not available in shops so this was a treat. I think they would have bought their spaghetti and such from the truck canteen.

I remember their red uniforms that they used to wear but after a while you didn’t notice this.  We would go to the beach and everyone would go swimming and they were just part of the group.  And then they would get dressed in the red uniforms and you just didn’t see them as different really.  I would also drive them to church.

You would see some of them in town as well.  Some of the Italians were used as drivers.  They would go to farms and collect the wives and take them into town to do their shopping.  These were women whose husbands had enlisted and were away at war.  I suppose the C/O saw that  this was a good use of manpower.

I remember the POWs as being happy.  They were happy to be away from war.  They were good fellows and you would hear them singing as they walked the ½ mile up over the hill to work at my uncle’s farm.  They had cut a bit of a track through the scrub and made a track.  We never had any trouble really and like everything in those days, you just got on with things and made do.

Martin Schulz

December 2016