Migrant’s tale has poetic heart
and it is hard to hold on to the details and relationships of so many people. We learn her parents were keen shooters. “[In Switzerland] My parents used to practise in the long corridor of their apartment with their air rifle. They would aim at the small doorbell above the entrance door.”
The Morelli family’s trajectory was like that of many immigrants. A block of land, a house that was always a work in progress, a struggle to fit in and to find the best salami. Mr Morelli got into business and thrived. Stylish, well-turnedout Mrs Morelli had excellent references as a designer-cutter from Zurich and worked her way up to a well-paid job at David Jones.
Both worked long hours. Soon the family moved to Sydney’s more salubrious north shore, where Valerie did well at a Catholic school. We learn about her father’s spear fishing, yodelling and skiing exploits and mother’s work experiences and colleagues.
Murray became a teacher of French and German and later moved to ESL (English as a second language) because, as she notes, language teaching has not flourished in Australia. Murray has boundless admiration for her beloved and brilliant poet husband. She writes: “I have had the good fortune to spend most of my life with one of the best masters of the word anywhere.”
Life was never easy or comfortable, especially after they moved to the country to look after Les’s father. Les worked where he could and later gained income from grants, prizes and poetry reading tours. The family often travelled with some, or all, of their five children, with variable success.
Interesting digressions reflect on topics such as why so many immigrants change their names. Valerie’s given name was Valika. She notes how far advanced European doctors and dentists were in their practices in the 1950s and 60s. She describes her mother and a friend going together to have their bunions removed (so they could keep wearing fashionable shoes) and have face lifts. She frets about her ageing and fading parents and how poorly aged care homes deal with long-time immigrants, many of whom revert to their first language.
Finally, she wonders “what I might have learnt, and been, if World War II had not sent my family and me on the long road around the world”. How many of us immigrants wonder about this too? Writer and critic generation immigrant. is a first-
Valerie Murray with her ‘master of the word’ husband Les at their home at Bunyah in NSW