Home - Chermside & District History

Lestani Family

Introduction & Location

The Google Image shows the small town of Fagagna, partly obscured by the citation, well inland from the Adriatic Sea and in the foothills of the European Alps.

The four brothers Guido, Isaia, Elio and Ermes Lestani came from Italy in about October 1951 to work on the Zillmere Housing Project. (Click on Link Below) They left their wives and children at home in Italy while they worked in Zillmere. Then, about 18 months later the families joined them. At present the families are firmly settled in and around Zillmere.

Their home was the village of Fagagna near Urdine which is North East of Venice, Italy. It is 178m above sea level about half way between the Adriatic Sea and the European Alps which tower 2.5 Km above the town. To the north is Austria and Germany while to the east is Slovenia and Croatia.

The brothers came from a family of six living siblings while two had died in infancy; two of the siblings, Verginid and Enes remained behind. There were probably other relatives living nearby.

Not all members of the family wanted to come to Australia, leaving home is a very big decision, especially when there are wives and children involved. The four brothers were originally going for a year; it was rather tenuous, go and see? Then, maybe, come back home.

How did the parents feel about, not one son but four, of their sons going to the other side of the world. Where was this place? What was it called? Australia! How did you get there? Many young people had gone to America but Australia!

La Casa Lestani (I think)

The Google aerial photo shows the location of the what looks to be the Lestani apartment fronting on to the street above the citation.

Google aerial photo of the apartments in Fagagna clearly shows the courtyard bounded by another apartment building. The latter has a courtyard on its other side.

The courtyard contained a well to supply water and also used as a cool place to hold foodstuffs in airtight cans (billy cans), held by ropes and immersed in the water. Also animals such chooks, a cow for milk while pigs were fattened and slaughtered there.

Personal washing was once a week when a large round wooden tub was brought out, filled with water heated on the fire and the children washed. In winter they must have washed inside as this is snow country.

Washing of clothes etc was done by hand in a large tub.

All over Fagagna large plowed and planted fields are seen, in many cases on the doorsteps of the housing.

A Street View of Lestani Apartments 1

The building would be old, probably centuries old, and built to last for generations. The beam in the foreground spans the gate way into the courtyard. In the background the top of the bell tower at the church can be seen.

There seems to be two buildings in this and the following view of the Lestani Apartments. At the far end there is what seems to be a large door.

The family lived in a three floor apartment with a loft under the roof where produce such as corn, wheat and other agricultural products were stored. The children sometimes used this floor as a play area. The building is made of uncoursed rubble walls, with cement plaster around the windows and doors. The gable roof has Mediterranean type tiles but no roof gutters.

Another Street View of the Lestani Apartments 2

This view shows a building on the other side of the courtyard. Also the presence of a pipe on the roof may indicate that the property was sewered!

In this view the large door is clearly evident with a woman standing beside it. Also judging by the roof line it seems that this building juts out from the adjacent building. The Lestani chimney is also more prominent in this view as it also juts out from the wall.


Alessio and Amabile are probably a typical elderly couple who could be living in any country, including Australia. They did eventually come to live in Zillmere. Here they are sitting in the courtyard.

Alessio and Amabile Lestani are shown sitting, and busily working, at the back door in the courtyard. Alessio is stripping the leaves off twigs which he will weave into baskets. Amabile is mixing something in a bowl probably for cooking, she has kicked off her shoes and has hooked her heels over the chair rung to hold the bowl.

The family occupation is not clear but could have been farming and in a photo Alessio is shown working at basket weaving.

New Water Supply

Lestani - new water supply

This photo shows what looks like a new tap for the town water supply as the footing looks to be unfinished. Amabile looks on while Alessio is making what looks like a drain pipe under the tap.

Both of these photos show the composition of the apartment walls. The random or uncoursed rubble looks rather unstable but they have been using this type of wall for thousands of years. it has stood the test of time in an earthquake region.

Lestani - new water supply 2

This second photo shows Alessio watching the water flow from the tap. The tap post looks very much like the sort of tap posts which are now being used in the parks in Brisbane. The handle to turn on and off is on the back with the spout coming out the opposite side.

Photo in the Church

Lestani - Alessio, Amabile, Verginio, Enes

The Grandparents, Alessio and Amabile with the two siblings who remained in Italy, Verginio and Enes. This photo probably was taken in the church and it may have something to do with the Alessio and Amabile leaving to go to Australia.

Whatever the occasion was the photo is a very good likeness of the four.

Current Apartment

The old family home in Fagogna was sold to the local Council which renovated it and now rents it to tenants.

The rough stone walls have been plastered and painted changing the appearance dramatically. The building that was on the near end is gone but the gate is still at the entrance to the courtyard.

Agricultural Background of Fagagna

These rolls of hay are emblematic of a farming community which is highly mechanized. They form a neat link between the Church and the Apartment.

Agriculture has formed the basis of life in the rural areas for thousands of years. The fields here were being plowed and planted with crops here thousands of years before the Roman Empire appeared, and they are still producing food long after it was over run by the barbarians. People have to eat no matter what, so the farmer plows on and on.

The Parish Church

The parish church has stood on this site for over a thousand years. It is close to the Lestani home and the top of the bell tower can be seen over the Lestani Apartments in the first street view above.

An indispensable part of every town and city in Italy is the local Catholic parish church, many being of great antiquity. The bell tower was very important in times past as the bells called the faithful to mass and also to any celebration held in the area. This included births, deaths and marriages as well as civil events.

The church in Fagogna dates back to 983AD and the millennium was celebrated in 1983. And there was probably a church there since the fifth century.

The Move to Australia

Portion of Zillmere Housing Project
A portion of the Zillmere Housing Project on which the four brothers came to work. It was a massive undertaking and provided much needed housing for many people (Dept. of Housing and Public Works, Library.)

When the four brothers came to Australia they had to pay their own fares and it was on a one year contract. They liked what they found and brought the families out to stay.

Many years later Ermes recalled how they did not like the Queensland heat but they had to get used to it. The winter was different and the brothers laughed at the locally born Australians for wearing jumpers. The winters they knew in Italy had snow, that was really cold weather.

The brothers worked hard all day and then had to attend English classes twice a week at night. They lived in barracks with many other migrant tradesmen but like the local people they planned to have their own homes in time.

For more information on this aspect of their lives go to the Zillmere Housing Project link above.

Arrival of the Families

The vessel Roma berthed in Brisbane on the 22nd October 1952 with the wives and children aboard to be welcomed by the four brothers waiting on the wharf. The Courier Mail photographer was there to record the event with a graphic photo of the wives holding the children who were sitting on the deck rail waving to their fathers. (See link to photo in Trove below.)

The four families, Elio & Esterina, Isaih & Rosalia, Guido & Iolanda and Ermes & Annina, settled in Hodgson and Bebbington Streets, Zillmere and the ten children grew up as one large family. But settling in raised many difficulties, language being on of the biggest as they all had to learn English.

The children learned faster than their parents because they had to go to school and as they grew older they often had to act as interpreters for their parents when shopping, visits to the doctor and dealing with officials of all types.

An immediate need was to get the children to school. The eldest sibling, Ariedo, was 16 and went to work, the others went to the nearest Catholic school, the Sacred Heart at Sandgate until St. Flannan's opened at Zillmere in March 1954. Only three completed Scholarship while the other six went to work. The remaining girl, Renza, went to Sacred Heart and the boys, Ivan and Adriano, to St. Columban's, Albion. Renza went on to Senior and a boy to Junior.

A drawback all the children had was that their parents could not help them with their homework due to the different systems of education in Italy and Australia.


Nanda Staff - Visit by Primo Carnera
Staff at Nanda Pasta on the occasion of a visit by the once heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Primo Carnera 'the Ambling Alp'. Carnera came from Udine in Italy where the Lestani came from. Notice the way the several men are looking. Notice the size of Primo's hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of him.

On leaving school one girl became a Triple Certificated Nurse, one boy became a Civil Engineer, two others became Carpenters, Painters & Decorators, the girls worked as Machinists in Textiles and Shops Assistants.

As with many women in Australia three of the mothers went to work and, like many other Italian migrants worked at Nanda Pasta in Nundah. The firm was founded by Italian immigrants and largely staffed by them. It provided a 'home away from home' where they could speak in their native tongue to other new arrivals.

Social Life of the Families

Lestani - Playing Bocci
Sunday afternoon game of Bocci beside the family home in Zillmere. It is a bowling game using cast iron or stone balls, called Bocce, the man on the left is holding two of them. The game is played on a marked court with large wooden sides.

Like all immigrants the Lestani families brought their own eating and drinking habits, many of which which have been adopted by their own Australian born neighbors.

They also brought customs such as the Italian way of celebrating Christmas and Easter. Sundays were always a special day with visitors coming for dinner and staying for a game of Bocci afterwards.

They also took in lonely, young, Italian immigrants as boarders and helped them make a start in Australia.

50 and 60 Years On - 2002 - 2012 Celebrations

Where are they now? Still in Zillmere and surrounding suburbs; only one left Brisbane to live at Gympie.

All ten of the children who arrived on the SS Roma in 1952 had married and by 2002 they had 21 children and 8 grandchildren. Each of these anniversaries were celebrated with Mass at St. Flannan's followed by a dinner at the Sorrento Lounge, Deagon, where else? And all their friends were invited.

Grandparents Alessio and Amabile Arrive in Australia

In about 1959 Alessio and Amabile flew out to Australia and were greeted by the whole family at Brisbane Airport. They settled in Zillmere where they lived till they both died, six months apart, in 1964; they are still together in Nudgee Cemetery.