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Special celebration for a 'truly amazing woman'

Features

Family is everything to Enrica Bertossa who was separated from her own parents and siblings as an eight-year-old peasant girl in Istria. JENNY BRINKWORTH reports.

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When Enrica Bertossa celebrated her 100th birthday on May 24 she had to be content with a drive past celebration rather than the big party her family had planned.

With four children, 10 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren (with one on the way) and one great great grandchild (six month-old Layla), there was no chance of keeping her birthday party within the COVID-19 limit on gatherings.

There were tears of joy all round when 20 car loads turned up to show their love for ‘nonna’.

For 30 years Enrica was a parishioner at Clearview Kilburn, where her daughter Iris Daly works, before moving into St Hilarion at Seaton two years ago.

Iris said the family was full of “love, admiration and the utmost respect” for Enrica. “We all believe her to be a truly amazing woman,” she said.

Born in the small village of Gradinje, Istria (then part of Italy, now Croatia), Enrica Faust was the middle of seven children. At the age of eight she was sent to a family who lived two hours away to cook, clean, care for the younger children and tend the animals, in exchange for her keep.

She accompanied the family to Italy as their helper, which meant she rarely saw her family and she missed her brothers and sisters so much she would cry herself to sleep. At the age of 15 she moved to Trieste and took on jobs as ‘live-in help’.

At 17 she met and married Giuseppe Bertossa, who was nine years older and gave birth to her first child at 18.

When World War II began she and her two young sons lived through many bombardments in Trieste. Enrica would frequently leave the boys with their grandmother and risked her life to travel over the border to Istria, going from village to village mostly on foot to barter city goods such as cooking oil, salt and sewing thread for fresh farm food.

Iris said she once asked her mother how she slept when she was forced to queue for hours for food and Enrica replied, “I honestly don’t know”.

But she considered herself to be “one of the lucky ones” because her husband was always employed and although times were hard, she went to great lengths to ensure her family never went hungry.

A third son came along in 1946 and their small one bedroom apartment also became home to her mother-in-law for a few years as well as her 12-year-old niece whose family came to Trieste as refugees from Istria.

Iris said the niece, who now lives in New York, still refers to Enrica as “an angel”.

In 1954 at the age of 35, Enrica and her husband and three boys migrated to Australia seeking a better life.

In 1955 her last child, Iris, was born and in 1957 the family moved into their new home at Osborne. It was built entirely by the family with help from friends and relatives.

Enrica, who was widowed in 1969 at 49 years of age, has returned to her homeland three times.

“While always nostalgic for the country of her birth it’s Australia she calls home,” said Iris.

“She is grateful to Australia for the wonderful life she has built for herself and her family.”

After moving to Pooraka in 1984 she became a parishioner of Clearview Kilburn where Iris has been parish secretary and now part-time pastoral associate for more than 20 years.

“Mum always joined in anything that was going – family group functions, coming along with me to Anawim meetings (fundraiser for Catholic Charities) and of course she attended Mass there for all those years,” Iris said.

“She has always been resourceful; she could sew anything – without a pattern – and we kids were always well dressed.

“She was a wonderful cook, the grandkids loved coming over for dinner especially if Nanna’s gnocchi was on the menu but her passion and what she misses most is her spectacular garden. She could make anything grow and her garden was picture perfect with a profusion of colour and too many fruit trees to count.”

For many years Enrica was a member of the Istrian Social Club in Adelaide and was involved in anything they were organising, always putting her sewing skills to good use.

As one of Enrica’s grandchildren wrote on Facebook, ‘you don’t get to 100 without a certain determination, and she has determination in spades’.

Iris thanked the staff at St Hilarion who “go out of their way to give her the care and support she needs”, and while family members visit their adored nonna almost daily, she frequently asks to go home to tend to her garden.

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