Lena Manno's journey to Port Augusta

MIGRATION: Lena Manno, who left Calabria, Italy to move to Australia in 1954 as a 21-year-old, cherishes photos from her early days in Port Augusta.
MIGRATION: Lena Manno, who left Calabria, Italy to move to Australia in 1954 as a 21-year-old, cherishes photos from her early days in Port Augusta.

When Carmela ‘Lena’ Manno touched down in Port Augusta in March 1954 as a 21-year-old, she became the first Italian woman to settle into this part of the world.

After marrying Laurie Manno via proxy, Lena boarded the Galileo Galilei and set sail for her one-month journey to Australia to meet her new husband and father-in-law.

With Italy in ruins after World War II, Laurie and his father departed for Australia to build a better life for themselves, working on the railway lines in Blinman before eventually arriving in Port Augusta.

Both from the village of Ursini, which belongs to the municipality of Caulonia in the province of Reggio Calabria, Laurie and Lena lived a stone’s throw away from each other growing up.

The pair – set up by Laurie’s uncle and cousins – began writing letters to each other and soon agreed to spend the rest of their lives together as husband and wife.

Leaving behind her parents, sister and three brothers, Lena said adjusting to life in Australia was not easy.

“It was very hard, but everyone said how good Australia was and at that time it was not too good in Italy,” she said. “The language was hard and no other Italians were here at the time.”

The newlyweds celebrated an unforgettable first Christmas together, with Lena giving birth to daughter Teresa just nine months after arriving in Port Augusta.

Port Augusta’s Italian community multiplied when two of Lena’s brothers, Nat and Nick, left Italy to join their sister, followed by the birth of Lena and Laurie’s second daughter Rosa in 1963.

Living on Forster Street, where Laurie owned the Forster Street Deli, the Mannos became part of the furniture in the Port Augusta community.

“Once the kids started to grow up we got more involved in the community,” Lena said. “Laurie was involved in everything. He was in the Lions Club, the Italian Club, he had his business selling turkeys, and the deli on Forster Street.”

Laurie died on July 6, 2010 at the age of 83 and is survived by his wife, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His exceptional contribution to the community was recognised at the 2017 Rowe Partners Port Augusta Outstanding Business Awards where he was inducted into the Port Augusta City Hall of Fame.

Lena, who regularly attends the Probus Club and Senior Citizens Club, said her advice to new settlers would be to get involved in the community.

“I keep busy. I’ve got a lot of friends and I’m involved in a lot of things,” Lena said.

Asked if she still misses Italy, Lena’s answer was simple.

“No, I don’t even think about it. Here’s home,” she said.