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The other week my sister found a photo. It is not dated but from the look of it, it is probably the early 1980s. It is taken in the backyard of the house I grew up in, at a time when the back terrace is lush with plants in hanging baskets. There are five people in the photo starting on the left with an unknown man in a rust coloured top; Emidio Flamini, former Reid Street Fitzroy panel beater and native of my father’s hometown of Pola; my godfather santolo Mario Rosso, formerly of Altona (and before that of Pola); my father Nello sporting a 1970s moustache and wearing a dark-blue patterned shirt (that I took to wearing out in the late 1980s with stovepipe black trousers and winkle-pickers), looking rather proud of the garage and terrace that he had recently added to our Vermont South home; and finally my mother Livia on the top step, right wrist wrapped in a sling wearing a green floral dress that she made. It was the heyday of our brick-veneer 1970s home with the addition of a double-garage, large terrace, paved gardens with raised beds for vegetable-growing and underground cellar with brick arches for storing wine.

We are the only family who has lived in this house and this weekend it was sold. Now begins the task of going through the house contents, emptying the rooms one by one, deciding what to keep, dividing it between family members, what to give away to the local charity and what to discard. Since my father passed away in 2012, my mother progressively gave away household contents: most of my father’s clothes, her jewellery, my father’s books on politics and world affairs, kitchen items she no longer uses. But there is still so much there: paintings on the wall, some painted by my father who loved to paint as a hobby; photo albums and loose photos dating back to the 1930s in the wooden record stand my father made; my father’s classical CD collection; my mother’s sewing machines and drawers full of coloured thread and old dress patterns; packs of old letters from family in Italy; tins of old buttons that I remember playing with as a child; a lock of my very blonde hair from a hair cut when I was in primary school. There is so much to sort and sift through before the final contract of sale is signed.

And along with all of this are the memories: collecting plums and peaches from the fruit trees and making jam in the kitchen with mamma; my father taking on the writing of the history of Italy for a local Italian social club and spending hours poring over the old computer well into his 80s; the first steps my daughter took on the porch of the house with my mamma there watching; my papà and his friends playing tresette (an Italian card game) in the lounge room behind closed doors (to contain their rowdiness and cigarette smoke) while the women prepared the cakes, coffee and chatted in Triestino dialect in the kitchen; my niece playing “Sandy Blues Bar” in our 1970s style bar and making pretend cocktails for the grownups; studying for high school exams in the study where all the furniture is painted dark burgundy, using the World Book encyclopaedia as a reference; and more recent lunches with mamma in the 1990s renovated kitchen, right up to the day she went to hospital in late June.

I went there last month, to give myself an hour in the house alone, cook a last meal there (a plate of spaghetti aglio, olio and peperoncino) and take photos. With the heater off and no-one else around, it felt beautiful and somehow timeless. My father bought it in 1973, one of the first houses in what was once an apple orchard and what felt like the outskirts of Melbourne. The population mix has changed and 40 plus years on from those homes being built, many are changing hands and being renovated. Some may even be knocked down to make way for apartments and to house the new generations and huge influx of new populations in Australia.

I hope that the buyer of this home, my family home, is happy. I will remember it as it was back in 1981, with my mamma and papà on the back porch, surrounded by friends, happy and proud of the home they made in Australia. And if photos could come back to life, I would walk up the stairs, onto the porch and through the back door into the kitchen. I am sure I would find a delicious spread of food prepared by mamma for everyone to share.


  • Denise Booth says:

    A joy to read albeit with hints of sadness. Good luck with the process ahead but should be helped with family conversations as you do it. Laughing at all those 80’s photos!

  • suzana says:

    Oh how touching this post was for me, for a European myself, family, traditions and memories are everything to us.

    I too have had this dilemma with my grandparents home in Croatia, the vineyard where I played and fell over and over again. Where I got “drunk “on poppy seeds soaked in warm milk with sugar that my grandfather made for me. Oh the memories.

    please me meticulous about the items that cannot be replaced like photos and paperwork, too often they are lost to us.

    Love to you and yours, Suzana xxx

    • What beautiful memories of your grandparent’s home in Croatia – even just writing them down is important to instil them in our minds forever. Thanks for your lovely words Suzana X

  • Nadia says:

    Beautiful Paola. I shed a tear reading that. X

  • carol L says:

    Such beautiful memories. You’ll always have them. 🙂 Thank you for sharing them.
    Carol Luciano

  • Susan Crosby says:

    There is nothing quite like the homes of your parents and grandparents. The smells are what immediately took me back, although it has been many years since they were both sold and gone from us forever. Thank you for this lovely post. I have a nostalgic yearning now to be in my childhood back garden. I am planting many of the trees we had back then at my home, especially apricot trees which my Dad loved and my Mum made jam from every year.

    • I know what you mean about the fruit trees. It breaks my heart to see them in flower now and know that we will not be able to enjoy the fruits like we have every year since I can remember. Smell is a very powerful sense that allows us to close our eyes and dream back to those memories

  • Gael Joyce says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories and emotions Paola, such a heart wrenching time. Beautiful photos you captured the essence of your childhood home perfectly x

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Paola. It makes my heart ache a little bit – like so many of your readers, I can identify with what you are going through. xx

    • Thanks so much Rachel – it has been heartening to hear that so many have gone through it already and confirm the feelings I have. A bittersweet time and definitely an emotional roller coaster X

  • CATHY says:

    Paula it was an absolute joy to read your blog. Good luck with everything. Personally i am dreading the day when i will be doing this too. Very emotional time. Take care lovely lady.

    • Thanks Cathy – I had always avoided thinking about this day coming along, hoping it magically wouldn’t. It is not easy but necessary and made me think think about what will happen when I have to move on (and all the “stuff” I have – hellish for someone to sort through). Maybe I will start accumulating less …

  • Very touching and beautifully written Paola. Ciao, Cristina

  • Joan Middleton says:

    Yes Paola, Very Touching. You have an amazing heritage…and I can feel the love come through the descriptive dialogue of how it was to grow up in this warm beautiful home. Easy to understand why you are such a wonder cook!
    Can’t wait to see you…….Soon!

  • Tyana says:

    This made my eyes well with tears. My mother in law passed away a few weeks ago and I look at my father in law and their family home and my heart aches with what is to come. It is something I know I’ll have to do with my parents home too. Sometimes it’s sucks being a grown up😢

    • Hi Tyana,
      It is one of the most difficult things I agree, and one you do not think about when times are good (as it would be unbearable). Good luck with your father in law – I totally understand what you are going through. Take care

  • David says:

    So difficult to say goodbye to a home, yet so beautiful to have all the memories and that final hour by yourself.

    • This is the hardest one to say goodbye to because of the memories of both my parents and the fact that they were there for so long. Some people drive past their childhood home periodically to see what it looks like – once we hand over the keys, I know I will not go there again as it is too sad for me

  • paninigirl says:

    What a wonderful post. You really captured what it was like to live there. I’m sure it will be hard packing it up-my sister and I did that for my mom’s house last year (which had been my grandparents house where I spend every Sunday growing up) when we had to move her. It was a lot of work, but we reminisced and had a lot of laughs too.

  • Flavia says:

    I am just now catching up on some blog post reading and made sure your blog was the first I went to. What a lovely and touching post, Paola. Thank you for sharing your memories with your readers.

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