Text and Images: Elisabeth Anderson and Judith Lydeamore
When the railway line was built through the Adelaide Hills in the 1880s, stone masons were brought from Italy to help build the tunnels for the first section. One of the surnames was Rossini and the three brothers on whom this story focusses were Bartolo, Giovanni and Guerino. According to a descendant, Lynda Barrington of Bridgewater, seven members of the family sailed to Adelaide on the City of London in 1879, with another, Giovanni, having come in 1877. They were from Verona, Lombardy, in Northern Italy.
The stone masons were engaged by Messrs. Walker and Swan. Upon the completion of their work they became pioneering settlers at Upper Sturt and Belair and successful market gardeners and orchardists.
Historian Edward H. Hallack wrote of them in The Toilers of the Hills (1893) as being “useful and industrious colonists”, writing that their place was described as being “the Italians”. He related how they had saved up sufficient money to purchase two seven-acre lots of land at £80 per acre in gullies above the railway line in Upper Sturt. They had cleared them of timber, stones and scrub, erected homesteads for themselves and families, excavated and built water tanks to grow peas, potatoes and strawberries and gradually built up an orchard of about 1000 apple, cherry and plum trees. They’d had no previous experience of gardening in their native land. The land had no irrigation and, said Hallack, served as a useful object lesson in showing what could be done without it.
Hallack felt that by dint of having more than laid claim to the title of “working men”, it was to be hoped that, in spite of the high price they had paid for their land, they would be rewarded by making “something more than a living”. A family story stated they built their homes using stone they had excavated while building the railway tunnels.
In his book Under Mount Lofty (1987) historian Robert Martin described the brothers as “a byword among their neighbours for hard work.” He related how they had transformed the land into rich and productive garden soil and how one of the brothers, for instance, had hand dug a large square around each fruit tree and grubbed the stones out of the hillsides to build into dykes and retaining walls.
It is believed the Rossini brothers also cut and dressed the stone for the building of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary at Old Mt Barker Road Stirling East in 1881-1882.
The Rossini homes still stand at Upper Sturt and descendants of these Italian pioneers continue to be valued members of the local community today.
Do you have stories or memories of the Rossini’s and their time in the Adelaide Hills?
Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.