By Gabrielle Morgan
Among the many books on my bookshelves there are some more treasured than others, especially the ones which have been signed by the authors themselves. I often come across newspaper clippings of reviews that I had slipped between the pages and sometimes I find a lovely card still hides in the jacket with the sentiments expressed by the person who gave me the book as a present. Now, years later, I find endless delight in coming across these bits of nostalgia which never cease to move me as memories crowd my mind.
One such book, titled ‘Padre Padrone’ which when made into a film was winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977, still holds the cutting from the newspaper about the author Gavino Ledda who had come to Melbourne to find material for another book he was to write about the problems of Italian migrants in Australia.
The article read, “He hopes the book will draw attention to the problems faced by generations of Italians who have been forced by poverty to leave their homeland. ‘Many benefited materially from the move, but were stunted in their spiritual growth,’ he said. ‘Their years working in factories and sweat shops cost them heavily in human terms.’ He compares his research to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ – travelling the world for the story of his people.”
‘Padre Padrone,’ Ledda’s autobiography, tells the vivid tale of his brutally hard life as the child of Sardinian peasants. At the age of five he was wrenched from school by his tyrannical father to tend the family flocks and would often stay out all night in the fields with the sheep. He never learnt to read and write until he was twenty when frustration to escape his hard life and the grip of his masterly father led him to join the army. This presented him with the chance to study, battling the extraordinary pressure of his own illiteracy. But with the determination of the deprived he forced himself to learn and later entered university where he attained a doctorate in linguistics and became a teacher.
His heart wrenching story caused a sensation in Italy and led to reforms among the rural community of Sardinia.
It was my privilege to meet Gavino Ledda at the Italian Institute in Melbourne. I still hold an indelible impression in my mind of that meeting. It seemed to me the life he had led was etched in his face. Poverty, hard work and emotional suffering were ingrained in the yawning crevices of his face and reflected in the depth of expression in his eyes.
Now, when I open my copy of ‘Padre Padrone’ and read the inscription, “To Gabrielle, with appreciation, Gavino Ledda,” I feel proud to have a personal signature of a man who lives in my memory as someone who fought so hard for his ideals and his own identity, a man to be admired for his scholastic achievements against all odds. To have attained the position of university professor after his deprived childhood seems to me to be a lesson in courage and determination of spirit.
‘Padre Padrone’ is a special gem in my collection of books.
© Gabrielle Morgan