Gardening “kept Italy close” for Island Bay’s Italian immigrants

Gardening “kept Italy close” for Island Bay’s Italian immigrants

Gino Cuccurullo and mother, Teresa Cuccurullo, with their crop of tomatoes grown annually ever since Gino’s grandfather, Luigi Ruocco, brought the seeds to New Zealand from Italy in the 1960s. PHOTO: NINA CUCCURULLO

If you walked down Trent Street in Island Bay on a Sunday 50 years ago, the smell of fresh pasta sauce cooking would leave little doubt you had hit Little Italy.

Ever since, Italian immigrants first arrived in Island Bay in the late 1800s they have kept a tight-knit community based around family, food and fishing.

Many of the fishermen and their families kept to the streets closest to the sea: Brighton Street, Trent Street, The Esplanade and The Parade, and a handful of descendents still live there today.

Kiwi-Italian Nina Cuccurullo said the Italians kept Italy close by having their own gardens to grow produce that wasn’t readily available in New Zealand. Even now, many Italians will have an Italian garden patch.

“My grandfather, when he returned to Italy in the sixties, he brought seeds from tomatoes on the Island where he was from. My brother and I are still growing the tomatoes from the original seeds,” she said.

Nina and her brother Gino were the children of Teresa Ruocco and Antonio Cuccurullo, both first-generation immigrants to Island Bay.

Nina said family was an important part of growing up in Island Bay’s Italian community. “We grew up family-orientated. Our cousins were our friends.”

Sunday pasta was a strong tradition among these families.

“There was tomato sauce here but it was just tomato sauce for your fish and chips. The sauce was vital for the macaroni,” Nina said.

The macaroni itself had to be imported from Australia which Nina remembered arriving in long boxes, four times the length of spaghetti.

She would spend Sundays pulling it out of the boxes and breaking it into macaroni-sized pieces.

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Article by Jessica Reeves

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