Pioneers turn wilderness into paradise

When young couple Pietro (also known as Peter) and Louisa Mazzer (nee Gava) set sail from their homeland in Venice, Italy to make a new life for themselves, they had no idea of the difficulties they would face.


Peter's father had been killed in the Crimean War and he and Louisa lived with his mother and two aunts. He knew, if he wanted to make a life for his young family, as they had a baby daughter by this stage, he would have to leave his home country.


At the time of Peter's decision to find a better life for his family in 1879, Charles de Briel, the Marquis de Ray, Consul for Bolivia at Marseilles had issued a prospectus calling for people interested in making a new life in what he called New France. Today the island is known as New Ireland. Described as a fertile haven, it lay 350 miles north-east of New Guinea and offered each immigrant around 120 acres of land with a house, free passage and provisions to last six months. The Mazzers and other colonists had to either pay 75 pounds in gold or five years service as an agricultural labourer.


The brochure that a number of Italian families believed would take them to a wonderful new beginning. Image; Wikimedia Commons


The Mazzers, along with 300 other Italians left Italy on the ship India for their island 'paradise' on July 9, 1880 but were bitterly disappointed when they arrived. No houses had been built, no provisions made and the climate was so hot, it was more than many could bear. Around 68 people died due to the poor planning.


After many negotiations with governments from Port Breton to New Caledonia, 200 members of the ill-fated expedition managed to make their way to Sydney on April 7, 1881. With the help of Sir Henry Parkes, premier of the time, he assisted these strangers in a strange land.


Peter and his family followed Rocco Comminetti, an Italian working as a sailor on a boat, to an area near the Richmond River in 1882. Rocco had selected 40 acres at what is now New Italy. The Mazzers were the second to select land. New Italy was seen as a 'howling wilderness' but in the space of three years the Italians who settled there worked hard to turn it into a place of splendidly tilled gardens, orchards and vineyards with a school and thriving community.


Louisa Martin, nee Mazzer was born in New Italy in 1889. Courtesy New Italy Museum


Louisa, born in 1889 as the seventh child of Peter and Louisa and remembers a weatherboard house of four rooms with a kitchen detached at the rear of the house. There was tank water for drinking and a well that supplied the garden. The garden had grapes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Mother Louisa would tend the garden while the men in the community went cane-cutting and farm labouring.


Peter would sell his grapes when in season, from a cart in the nearby villages of Coraki and Woodburn. He also made his own wine. One Christmas his son Anthony, who was only very young, was staggering around and kept falling down. When his mother asked him what was wrong, he replied: "The wine makes me fall down". The little boy had managed to access his father's wine and sampled a large amount.


Peter and Louisa Mazzer's final resting place in East Lismore General Cemetery. Photo: Lucas from Findagrave


In 1888 the Mazzer family left New Italy and moved around to various farms on the Northern Rivers until they finally settled in Lismore. Louisa died in 1926 in Sydney from a long illness and Peter followed in 1927, when he accidentally fell from a horse and cart. These hard-working pioneers who wanted a better life for their family, despite the curve balls thrown at them, made their mark leaving the world a better place. They are buried at East Lismore General Cemetery.


Their daughter Louisa went on to marry William Martin in 1911 and died in 1985 at the ripe old age of 95.


References

  • Martin, Louisa, 'Memories of Louisa Mazzer born New Italy NSW 26/12/1889', Written in 1979, personal papers of Peter and Shirley Mazzer of Ballina.

  • 'Late Mr Peter Mazzer', Northern Star, Wednesday 9 November, 1927, Page 16

  • 'MAZZER Pietro', Historic New Italy, accessed 30th October, 2021, MAZZER Pietro – New Italy Museum

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