exploring common humanity
IT is a long way from the small Italian village of San Ginese to the quiet streets of Myrtleford. But author Moreno Giovannoni, who was born in the village but spent much of his formative years living in Buffalo River – has strong ties to both places, as well as indelible memories of his experience as an immigrant. “I grew up at Buffalo River on a tobacco farm, just past what we used to call Johnson’s Bridge, so I basically spent all my time there,” Moreno said. “I mostly came into town to go to school and that was it – the rest of the time I was fishing, or riding my horse. “I did a bit of ferreting too. “I spent a lot of time sitting on river banks and daydreaming, and I also spent a lot of time listening to Beatles records on the back verandah, looking out over the river flat where the tobacco grew to the hills on the other side of the river.” Moreno has vivid memories of the community in the 1960s and 70s. “In those days, Myrtleford and district was buzzing with share farmers and seasonal labourers at tobacco picking time” he said. “The Italian community was enormous. “At the end of tobacco season dances were big occasions when the grown ups would let their hair down. “The dances would be held in the grading sheds and there would be trestle tables covered with food and drinks, and the kids would be playing hide and chasey under the tables and outside in the dark.”
Moreno said he has come back to the area for regular visits over the years, including school reunions. Wishing to create a record of the town he came from, as well as give people an insight into how migrants feel when leaving their home in search of a better life, Moreno recently published his debut book, The Fireflies of Autumn. He said he wrote the book, full of stories about the village of San Ginese, in “fits and starts” over the course of eight years after reflecting on the life his parents had led, and added that by writing about the struggles and feelings of immigrants, he wanted to underline the things people have in common. Reflecting on the current insular and nationalist global political climate, Moreno said “the more people know about each other, especially about people who on the surface look different, with different customs, religions and so on, the better it is, because in the end you see that there are a lot of similarities between people, regardless of where they come from”. He pointed out that there was a time people were distrustful and wary of those in the Catholic community, and many were discriminated against in work and other areas of their lives. “It’s when you don’t know about the way of life of other people that you can become so worried about them, and it’s then that nasty politicians exploit the fear we have about people we don’t know,” Moreno said. “Interaction and knowledge of each other’s histories and stories is one way to break down barriers. “Get out there and eat together, and talk, and visit each other’s houses and get the children to play together.” Moreno said writing the book was an unforgettable experience. “Writing the book and getting it published has been an emotional rollercoaster,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life and I’m grateful to all the people up here, the Presentation nuns especially, who gave me an education, nurtured my curiousity and encouraged me.” Moreno said he will come back to the North East more regularly in the near future, particularly to gather more information and talk to local sources for his next book, which will be set in the area and focus on Italian communities. “I look forward to it,” he said. The Fireflies of Autumn is published by Black Inc Books and is out now.
BACK IN TOWN: Moreno Giovannoni in Mytleford during a recent visit to launch his new book, The Fireflies of Autumn.
PROUD ACHIEVEMENT: Moreno Giavannoni’s book evokes the immigrant experience.