A strong resilient family overcomes the racism of 1950s Brisbane

joes-milk-bar-coverHow many of us know someone, or have a relative, named Joe. This isn’t their real name, but, being Italian, this is the name they’ve gone by in Australia.

Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar author Zoe Boccabella tells the story of her grandfather‘s fruit shop and milk bar that once stood at the corner of Ann and Wharf St in Brisbane. But she tells more than that. She tells the story of a strong and resilient family, the story of a city which has lost many of its gracious old buildings and some stories from part of our past we prefer to forget.

Joe’s name was not Joe but Annibale. Zoe Bocabella takes us to the Italy of World War 11, to young resistance fighters, to families who had separated just before war broke out so the men could earn money in the canefields and have their families join them. Life was hard for the women left behind. Both her grandparents came from this background but lived quite different lives in Australia till they met, fell in love and married.

Before this fairy tale could take place, Joe spent some time in an internment camp hidden out in the bush. When the family tried to place this camp, most official traces had been erased. This was not a situation the government wished to acknowledge. While the camp was not cruel, it was pointless.

The racism that the young cane cutters encountered was real. They were called names, discriminated against in the workforce in terms of being employed and being paid. There were language and social barriers. The young men worked on orchards and many tried to establish farms of their own. As Catholics, they also encountered discrimination in a largely Protestant Australia.

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As Zoe Boccabella traces her family history, she encounters the difficulty of finding the buildings of 1950s Brisbane. So much had been insensitively razed.

The story of how the young couple worked hard juggling their young family, improving their business, helping others, is an inspiring one. It is also a book that leads to reflection on the way Australia has treated successive waves of migrants and to what extent we have cherished our brief built heritage.

Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar, by Zoe Boccabella – click here to buy from Dymocks

Also available as an eBook from Dymocksclick here