On Thursday 30th July, 2015, Karen Stade and Karen Price presented members with a valuable insight into their new book on the Italian community in Nelson. This substantial work has been five years in the making and the colours of the dust jacket – red and olive green hint at the subject of their work.
Tomato growing in the Wood area was not the first activity of the immigrants in the 1860’s. Fishing they could do well and Peter’s fish shop in Hardy Street was a later version of similar restaurants begun in those early years.
Not all had the intention to settle in Nelson. Some stayed because their passage to more distant ports was not possible. Some had been elsewhere first: the Americas and Australia. They brought a variety of skills with them. The de Faveros were stonemasons from Northern Italy; market gardeners generally came from the south. As street musicians they brought some culture and colour to brighten the lives of their Anglo Saxon compatriots. The Peter brothers (Joseph, violin; Vincent, flute) were accompanists for the silent movies. Later they were joined in NZ by John who played the harp and their widowed mother. They set up their tomato garden in 1915. During the First World War they were great patriotic fundraisers for the Italian Red Cross and the War Widows and Orphans’ Fund.
Chain migration occurred. The young men would come first and get established and then later the women, children and grandparents would follow. Some things, especially food, were hard to get used to but once they arrived they reverted to the recipes they knew from their homeland and growing tomatoes were a necessary ingredient for these.
In World War II things became harder for the Italians because Italy had aligned itself with the Axis Powers. Classed as “enemy aliens”, every Italian over the age of 16 had to be interviewed so that their “risk” to NZ’s security could be determined and were graded A-E (A being the highest risk) Their mail was censored and listening to short-wave radio was forbidden. They faced restrictions on buying property and where it could be bought. Enduring name calling and glasshouse breaking were just two of the crosses they had to bear – inflicted by those needing someone to blame.
As with all migrants, they have succeeded, however, in adding a necessary diversity to Nelson which was at the time a very Anglo-Saxon settlement in terms of culture and customs.