Casa Fin Family Stories: Maria Defant (nee Fin)

Maria Defant is the sister of Giuseppe Fin.

This is the speech presented by Sonia Jeffares and Sandra Ganora (Maria's daughters) at Maria's 90th Birthday Celebration -

"We’re here today to celebrate Mum’s 90th Birthday, born in Vicenza at 11.40pm on 29 Feb 1920, a leap year so we could say Mum is really only 221/2 years old.  By only have having just narrowly missed out on being born on 1 March, it’s a shame  they didn’t think to falsify the birth certificate by 20 minutes no one thought of the ramifications of not having a real birthday every year as the rest of us do. Mum has now just reached the ripe old age of 90 and  has invited you all here to help her celebrate this milestone with her because you have all been connected to her life in a variety of ways.  All of us here today have own personal memories and shared experiences that we carry, each of you is here because of your various connections with my mother over many years.

How do you capture a long and complex  life in a few words? Not easily - so I thought I would try to encapsulate some of the key events in Mum’s  life that have shaped her and give a brief account of some of the moments in her life that may add context and texture to your understanding of  a woman who clearly knew what she wanted from an early age.

I have confined my reminisces with the earlier years of my mother’s life with which you may not be so familiar. Until the age of 10 Mum lived in or around Vicenza. Then for economic reasons, the family moved to rural Runzi, a move that never sat comfortably with her. In her early teens her older sister Nella married and moved to Bolzano.  Filling isolated and missing  her family Nella invited Mum to join her,  Mum of course seized  this  opportunity to escape Runzi and answered the call to join her sister in Bolzano for a few months.  By this time Mum had already started to learn the skills of dressmaking. In Bolzano she soon realized she could more successfully fulfill  her potential in dressmaking more  successfully by making beautiful outfits for a city clientele rather than practical country clothes in a  rural village.

It would seem that even at this young age she had an eye for style and sophistication and maybe even then saw the business opportunity. She returned to the family home back in Runzi and managed to convince her parents to allow her to move permanently to Bolzano to learn the trade of dressmaking and undertake an apprenticeship.  By her 20th birthday she was fully qualified, had completed her apprenticeship and established her own dressmaking business at her sister’s home where she employed several young assistants.

Unfortunately, this occurred against the backdrop of WW2. Bolzano is near the Brenner Pass, one of the main arteries  for troop movements between Italy and Austria. Air raid sirens were a familiar sound and on many occasions she would scurry with her nieces , Anna Maria and Romana to the safety of the bomb shelter. In fact on one of these occasions her life very nearly came to an end, when the house they were living  in was severely damaged by a bomb seconds after making their escape.

She returned to the safety of Runzi for a year or so to recover from the shock of that devastating event. It was not only the yearning for the needle and thread that brought her back to Bolzano to resume her business.  Other yearnings had also taken root during this period. In 1940ish  Mum had come to the attention of a young man, Lino Defant, born in Trento and hailing from Baselga di Pine, and working in Bolzano,  a subtle courtship ensued leading to an acceptance of a proposal of marriage in 1942, with the marriage postponed until  the end of the war in 1945. She was now able to have a home of her own in Bolzano.

But alas, that was not meant to be. The paths that our lives take are generally shaped by unforeseeable events. While visiting her parents in Runzi, a letter arrived from her aunt, her mother’s sister, Angelina  Bertoldo who was living in Australia.
For my parents, saddened by the loss of a child early in their marriage, this reconnection with relatives from Australia was the catalyst that prompted the desire for change and adventure.

My parents and Sandra arrived in Australia in October 1949 to start a new life. The Bertoldo family some of whom are here today were instrumental in helping them settle in this new country. The motor of the Singer sewing machine was started up within weeks of arriving and Mum’s business began to flourish again, this time Mum occupied a niche market - specializing in weddings.

There are 17 of us here today whose dresses were made with mum’s deft dressmaking skills.  The first wedding dress mum made in Aust was for Louise Zadro, who with her husband Terry will be celebrating their 60th  wedding anniversary in Dec this year.

A few years after arriving I was born,  and not too many years after that my mother’s younger brother Beppi  joined us in Australia, and he and his family most of whom are here today have been  an important part of our lives ever since.

Mum has not lost her touch and she continues to sew for herself and the family. In fact - she asked me recently while making her outfit for today, whether I thought she was too old to wear frills!  My reply – at 90 you can wear whatever you damn well  please!

Everybody here today has  played a part in my mother’s life – in some cases going back as much as 70 years or more.  She has loved us, clothed us, fed us, told us what we should do, and regailed us with stories of her family.

Yet, while in many ways Mum is a product of her era and culture she is also fiercely independent, and  unbelievably resourceful. She is proud to be celebrating her 90th b’day with all of you because you have helped enrich her life.

Finally, before closing, while each of you has played a role in my mother s life and that is why you were  invited, however it would be remiss of me not to mention those of you have travelled to be here today most notably Romana and Walter, daughter of Nella, my mother’s sister, and her nieces Anna and Loreta and Loreta’s husband Stephen, and  her dear friend Elia from Brisbane."