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CHARLES D'ARRIGO - My Life....My Adventures


This fast-paced story takes the reader from the author’s humble beginnings in post-war Italy through to his illustrious career in the Australian celebrity-studded nightclub industry.  

The rollercoaster ride travels to the hard times when Charles found himself in jail.  His suffering and hardship is well documented and culminates with a well-publicized and successful High Court appeal.  An appeal where justice finally prevailed.  

This highly entertaining autobiographical account makes for a compelling read. It is written intimately and with great passion and humour.

In Store Price: $25.00 
Online Price:   $24.00

SPECIAL PRICE: $10.00

ISBN:1-9211-1874-1
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 212
Genre: Non Fiction

 


Author: Charles D'Arrigo 
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2005
Language: English

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Early Beginnings - Italy  

 

My story begins in 1959, when I was around eleven years old, in a small town in the south of Italy . There I grew up with my family. I remember that, in the middle of winter, when the snow was high and it was freezing outside, me, my brother, my sister, my grandmother, my mother and my father used to sit around the fire, and my mother and father used to tell us war stories to keep us quiet. One particular story that my mother told really intrigued me, because it was very sad.  

It began in the dark war days around 1944, because at the time she and my grandmother were all alone in this small town while my father was fighting the war at the Russian front, and also my grandfather was in Argentina . What made it worse was that my mother was pregnant with my brother at the time.

Now the town where my family lived was controlled by the Nazi SS – German soldiers, and life was very hard for my mother and grandmother, and the whole town. One morning the Nazis gathered the whole population of the town, including my mother and grandmother, and took them all into the town square for questioning. Apparently the Nazis had found out that the people of the town were hiding several Italian partisans. They wanted to know where the partisans were, but the proud townspeople did not want to reveal their hiding place. The Nazis forced everyone into a rollaway tunnel; they were all screaming and crying, but had no choice but to do as they were told. There they stayed for several weeks, in a stinking environment, with little food and water, while in the meantime the Nazis got drunk and made fun of the people. Sadly my mother was nearly due to give birth to my brother, and the smell and the smoke were causing her great discomfort. All the children and the old people were crying and screaming for help. To make things worse, one morning, one of the Nazi soldiers who knew how to speak Italian, began yelling at the people, saying that somebody had stolen his wallet. He said if it wasn’t returned as soon as possible he and his Nazi cronies would blow up the tunnel with everybody in it. Sure enough, some stupid person had stolen the wallet the night before, while the Nazis were drunk and sleeping, and he was now long gone.

Things had become very bad in that town; everybody was crying for help, because they all thought they were going to be blown up. God must have smiled at them that day, because suddenly the Germans began running away from the entrance of the tunnel; they just disappeared. Suddenly some familiar voices were heard. Apparently the partisans and the Americans had heard about all the people of the town being in danger in this tunnel, and had rushed to help the people.

My mother and grandmother were very happy to be liberated so quickly, and were soon back in their own home; just in time for my brother to be born a couple of days later. The whole town brought food, blankets and all kinds of things, because it was usual in that small town to help one another.

It all ended well for my mother and grandmother, when a few months later the end of the war was declared, and my father came home to find out that he had a son.

My father was so happy to have a son that he couldn’t stop talking about it to all the people of the town. Sometimes what begins as a sad story ends up with a happy ending, and when the story was finished we were all so tired that we all went to sleep.  

~~~  

Another time me and my sister were playing and we were making a lot of noise. My father told us that if we were to stay quiet he would tell us some of his old adventures from the war times. We quickly sat down to listen to him.

            The story was about when he had been posted to the Russian front; it was a sad story, but in those days, sad stories were the only stories that my parents knew. They had lived through the hardships and poverty.            

            The story began in the middle of winter at the Russian front, where my father was fighting the Russians, following orders given by the fascists and Germans. The snow was very high, my father told us, and his soldier friends were dying by the hundreds, blown up by bombs and grenades. The fighting was very tense, and suddenly he found himself all alone in the middle of the snow, with soldiers blown to pieces all around him.

            He threw his rifle up in the air and prayed to God for help. God must have answered his prayers; he woke up to find himself in a clean, comfortable bed in a military hospital. He had bandages on his hand and had lost two fingers. He told us that he thought that he had been dreaming.    He started to cry, and could not go on any more, and then we all cried too. We all went to bed crying. He stopped telling us any more stories because they made us too sad.  

            Things were very hard for my mother and father, during and after the war, as they had to rebuild their lives. My father was a farmer, a very good farmer; he grew very good veggies, tomatoes and all other fruits and so on. But the hard part was that they worked six and a half days a week growing all this stuff all year and suddenly large storms with hail and wind came and destroyed everything. Yes, they were hard times those days.  

~~~  

One day my parents received a letter from a friend that lived in Australia , which my mother read to us. In the letter it said that if we were interested in going to Australia these friends of the family were prepared to sponsor us.

My mother said to my father, “Why don’t we try to go to this new country, because I’m sure that things would be better than they are here.”

They had several more conversations about the matter and suddenly one day he said, “Yes I can’t handle being here anymore. I have a family to support but it seems that all the hard work has no rewards. Write to these friends of ours in Australia and tell them that we are very interested in going to this country, Australia .”

This she did – and sure enough within months, the proceedings began.

 

Firstly my father told my mother, and the rest of us, that he thought it would be better if he were to go to Australia on his own, to see if this new country was better than the one we lived in at the moment. So, it was decided.  

The final day came.

I remember that the year was 1960. We all went to this place called Messina . That’s where all the ships were departing for Australia . The time came for my father to embark, on a ship called the Flotta-Lauro, and we were all crying because the head of the family was going to a far away country, and I thought, ‘who is going to look after us while he is away?’

I remember I must have been about 12 years old at the time. Suddenly my father said to me, “While I’m in Australia , trying to create a better life for all of us, I want you to handle things. I know you’re young, but I want you to be the man of the house.”

I thought to myself, ‘Why me?’ My brother was five years older than me, and I guess the reason why my father didn’t ask that of my brother, was because my brother was a hairdresser, a ladies hairdresser, and he knew absolutely nothing about farming. In actual fact, he had never even been onto a farm, but I had. When I was a little boy, about 10 years old, I used to always go to the farm to help my family after school, so I know a little bit about farming.

 

After my father left we all returned home, and for 18 months, I was the new head of the house – I guess I was pretty proud – I was only 12. My mother and I started working together along with my donkey, my goat and my cow. I remember that my mother used to go to the farm and cut all this grass, which I then put in the cart. My donkey and I used to take it home to feed the cow and the goat.

One day we decided that we could try to make it a little bit easier and start selling milk, so we spoke to some of our relations about it. They had cows and some goats and we asked them how much they would sell the milk for. They decided to sell it quite a lot cheaper just to try and help the family. So while I was bringing the grass home to feed my animals, my mother was milking the cow and the goat and I was also getting milk from my family. I would then distribute the milk around to the neighbours that lived locally. I remember by doing that, we accumulated a fair bit of money, which helped to put food on the table and to clothe us. Also, it was enough for the trip that we were hoping to make in the near future to Australia .

So you see it was hard work, but I was proud – because at only 12, I was the man of the house. I think my mother was proud too because – my mother and I were just like a team – as we still are today in 2006.

We’re still a team my mother and I.

We worked so hard. I remember that my little friends used to come to me and ask, “Why don’t you come and play any more?” and I would reply, “I guess I can’t because if I do, then we won’t have any money to survive.” Then my friends would come help me on the farm, because they understood that my father was in a far away country, and I was the only man working.

 

All that came to an end one day, after my father had been in Australia for about 18 months. The letter arrived telling us that he had work organised for all of us, and that he wanted us to join him in a few months time. I remember my mother and the rest of my family were so happy that night; mother made her best spaghetti and meatballs, a special dinner that is usually reserved for Christmas and Easter.

We were all so happy; my brother, my sister, my grandmother, my mother and me that we were going to this new country. A country, where if we believed what we were told, had kangaroos on the street. I kept telling my little sister, who was 5 years younger than me, “We’re going to see the kangaroos. We can play with the kangaroos.” My sister would reply, “Kangaroos, kangaroos.” Oh yeah, she was so happy. She was my best mate and still is today – my sister is still my best mate.

 

For another 4 months we struggled until we had enough money. I remember in the last month, when it was time to sell my donkey, I cried because the donkey had worked so hard. The goat, the cow and the donkey had done so much to help us, and now we had to sell everything. We sold everything except the house, because we thought it was better to have a house to come back to, if Australia did not prove to be all that we hoped for. We could always sell the house at a later date if we were successful in our new country.

 

The day arrived when we all had to go to Messina . My family, my cousins, my aunty and all of our relatives were there. They were all crying because they realised that they might never see us again. It was worse for my brother, as he had a steady girlfriend who he was in love with – but I guess that’s life.

But me – I was happy to go to my new country, because I was full of dreams, I guess 14-year-old dreams, to see what I could find in my new country called Australia. I was looking forward to the trip because I’d never been anywhere before. The only place I’d been was on the bus to the beach, not far from my town. This was going to be the trip of all trips – a 30 day trip, a long trip, but I didn’t care because I was looking forward to it. All I was leaving behind was hardship and hard work; I really wanted to get out of there because although I didn’t mind being the man of the house, it was becoming a bit too much for me. So yes, I was looking forward to going to my new country.

The day before we left I borrowed the donkey from the new owners. I told them, “I just want to take my donkey for my last trip.” I must have gone to all the farms that my father had looked after, and a lot of other places, and visited all my little friends. We all had a good cry. You see, I was the leader of my little soldier friends, and it was tough. I just remember how hard I had worked, and what a struggle those 18 months had been, and how sad I felt to leave all my friends and my donkey. Yes, I guess I was sad because I didn’t know what my new country was going to be like. I didn’t know if I was going to get new friends and the language barrier – I had no idea.

I was thinking about all these things when I was talking to all my little friends. They had gathered around me like a bunch of little soldiers, all in a circle, and they were all saying to me, “Are we going to see you one day? Are you going to come and visit us?”

I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I will.”

Sadly though, right up to this date, which is 2006, I have never been back to Italy . But I hope one day to go. I told my friends, “Time to try for a better life.” This is what we hoped.

I remember that the night before, we couldn’t sleep, because we were thinking about our new country, Australia . I guess we were sad to leave our country but then who doesn’t want to go to a new country for a better life? I certainly wanted to because I was also looking forward to that trip on a ship. I didn’t have to work. What I could have was a holiday. Have a good long rest, which I think I deserved. Yes, we were talking all night long, my sister, my brother and me, and my mother and grandmother. Yes, we didn’t sleep all night long, just talking about what was going to happen – life in a new country.

 

I also remember a couple of years before that; I was working where my brother worked, in the salon, just for a couple of hours every now and then. When it rained I couldn’t work on the farm. I used to pick up some spare change by washing people’s hair and sweeping the floors. One day this man comes along with an Italian sort of an American accent. He would have been a man of around 59 - 60. In he walks, into the salon, with two of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. I think the only time I’ve ever seen girls like that is in the movies. He asked my brother if he could do their hair.

While he was waiting, he said, “I think you’re wasting your time here in Italy , working for peanuts.” He said, “Why don’t you go to America ? Because with a talent like yours you can make good money and have a good future.”

My brother answered and said, “We’re going to Australia soon because my father is already there.”

Then the man said, “If you’re interested to go to America I could probably sponsor you and your whole family there, and start you up in business, for a better future.”

My brother turned around and said to this man, he said, “Look why do you want to do all this when you hardly know me?”

The man answered, “Well because I think you’re worth it. You do very good hair and my two lovely friends here, they’re very happy with the way you do their hair.”

My brother said, “I better ask my mother and see what she thinks.”

The man said, “You go ahead. If you decide, let me know, and I’ll do the proceedings for the whole family. I’ll even get your father from Australia to come to America .”

My brother went home and I remember he told my mother the whole story. I was there, and my little sister and my grandmother were there. He told my mother that this man had come to the salon, with these two ladies yesterday, and he had said that he could set us all up in business to America . And my mother said, “Well, how well do you know this man?” He said, “Only because he comes to the salon every now and then and he brings different women all the time.” She said, “I don’t think I trust the situation, I think it is better that we all listen to your father and go to Australia, because he told us in the letter that he’s already got jobs organised for us, so we better do that. You thank this man, but just tell him that you decided to go to Australia and not to America .”

And that’s exactly what my brother said to this man the next time he saw him.

 

 

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