The following post about the life of Italia Frandi’s daughter Helena, is an excerpt taken from the…

1918 Influenza Karori Cemetery Project

Researched and written by Max Kerr and Jenny Robertson



WOODWARD, Helena Arethusa
Born July 1888; died 28 November 1918; buried 28 November 1918

Helena WOODWARD’s mother, Italia Maria FRANDI, was born in the Tuscan city of Pisa in 1869. 



Italia Maria Frandi (35 Years)


Italia was the second child and only daughter of Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi (née FABBRUCCI) and had an older brother (Francesco Garibaldi, 1866), and a younger one (Ateo, 1873) born in Pisa before the family left Italy for the other side of the world:

Aristodemo Frandi blog

Aristodemo Frandi

Annunziata Frandi

Annunziata Fabbrucci Frandi









“The Frandi family travelled to New Zealand on an assisted passage upon the steamship Gutenberg, which left Livorno, Toscano Coast, Italy, on 15 December 1875 and arrived in Wellington, on the North Island of New Zealand, on 23 March 1876. From there they travelled by ship to Jackson Bay on the west coast of the South Island and then on to the Special Settlement’ at Okuru…….”

…From Anne Frandi-Coory’s book Whatever Happened to Ishtar? A Passionate Quest to Find Answers for Generations of Defeated Mothers pp. 279-280. (2010). Anne Frandi-Coory is a great-niece of Helena….

While living in the Okuru Settlement Aristodemo built a hut for his family to live in and Annunziata gave birth to two more sons, Italo Giovanni in 1877 and Antonio Raffaelo in 1878. When the Okuru settlement failed the family moved to Wellington, where Annunziata gave birth to four more sons: Enrico Carlo in 1880, Benito Ranieri in 1883 (lived for three months), Alfredo Guiseppe (my grandfather) in 1884 and Giovanni (stillborn) in 1887.”


Aristodemo appeared on the 1896 Wellington electoral roll as a fishmonger with premises in Molesworth Street, a business that he continued for at least 15 years.

Italia Frandi married on Christmas Day 1886 in what was then known as St Mary’s Cathedral, Hill Street (i), when she was 18. Her husband, John CARRENGE/CURRANGE, originally KARENTZE, was also a native of Pisa who had migrated to New Zealand. It appears that he was of Greek heritage and was employed as a wharf labourer. The couple had a daughter in 1888, registered with the name Ellen Harriet but from at least the time she was enrolled for school, she was known formally as Helena Arethusa and within the family and at school, usually as Lena.  A son, named Aristidemo Leo, was also born to the marriage in 1890 but died at 7 months old around February 1891.

Lena grew up in Thorndon, attending Thorndon School from 1896 until 1901, when according to her school record she left on ‘doctor’s orders’. The family lived either in the same or adjoining houses with Italia’s parents and some of Lena’s uncles in Murphy Street or Wingfield Street (a narrow street that used to run off Molesworth Street towards Murphy Street, alongside what is now the National Library). This would have been a convenient location for Lena, close to school, handy for her grandfather working at his fish shop, and convenient also for her father working on the wharves.


16 Murphy St Fernglen

‘Fernglen’ – 16 Murphy Street Wellington

As a young girl, however, Lena may have witnessed scenes of domestic violence. In April 1900, Lena’s mother appeared before the divorce court seeking a dissolution of her marriage on grounds of cruelty and drunkenness.  Lena’s father had deserted his family some 6 weeks earlier (ii).  The Evening Post reported (on 9 April 1900) that almost from the start of the marriage, Italia’s husband ‘had given way to drink’ and that he had frequently ill-treated her.  When she had remonstrated with him, he told her to clear out. The judge granted a decree nisi.

In the following year, Italia married a second time. Her new husband was Peter CORICH, a seaman of Austrian descent who had come to New Zealand in about 1885 and who was naturalised in 1899. The new couple had a daughter, Elvira Maria, known as Vera, in 1902.


Elvira and Helena on the right, dressed in clothes designed and made by their mother Italia

In 1889 (iii) Italia had established a dressmaking business to support herself, working from home, and around the time of the divorce she was advertising for ‘improvers’ (or apprentice workers or more likely, beginners) as well as a girl for housework. With the business being run from home, it is likely that Lena would have made herself useful with small sewing tasks and creative uses of fabric from an early age. Peter Corich died in 1906 and was buried in the Catholic section of Karori Cemetery. It was fortunate therefore that the enterprising Italia had developed her own income-generating business.

When she left school, Lena found work in a related occupation, as a milliner. She was employed by Cenci’s, primarily a millinery establishment when it was founded in about 1900 in premises in Vivian Street, but business growth over the next few years led to a broadening of its range to ladies’ outfitting in general and relocation to new premises at the corner of Lambton Quay and Panama Street. In 1905, at the firm’s annual picnic, Lena was reported to be the winner of the 440 yards handicap race for junior millinery hands (New Zealand Times 18 March 1905).

On 7 October of that year, Lena married Frank Hubert WOODWARD in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Social Gossip column in the Free Lance (3 November 1916) reported on the wedding. Lena wore ‘a pretty cream gabardine suit, with a wide Leghorn hat’ (that is, one made of fine plaited bleached straw), and her sister Elvira acted as bridesmaid. The paper added:

The bride is a niece of the late Captain Frandi (iv)who was last year killed at Gallipoli. She has many other relatives whose names are on the Roll of Honour, and some of whom have made the supreme sacrifice. Naturally, the luncheon after the wedding in the Rose Tea Rooms was of a very quiet kind, only relatives and very intimate friends being present (v).

Lena’s husband Frank was the eldest son of Helen and Charles Woodward, then living in Ellice Street, Mount Victoria. Like Lena, Frank was aged 28 when they married. Born in Lewisham, London, he migrated with his parents after serving with the East Surrey Regiment in 1904–05 and joined the Zealandia Rifles, one of the volunteer groups set up during the 1900s. At the beginning of 1914 he wrote to the Army District Headquarters in Palmerston North seeking a place on a course for aviation instructors, explaining that had studied the principles of ‘mechanical flight’ and as an amateur pilot had experience with two types of monoplane. It is not clear what came of this request, but in September 1914 he attested in Awapuni with the Main Body of the NZEF. In March of the following year he was transferred back to the District as unfit for camp duty. He re-attested in Trentham on 2 October 1916 and embarked for Plymouth (England) later that month, less than 2 weeks after his marriage. He served in Europe until his discharge in April 1918 when he was deemed no longer physically fit for war service because of ‘defective vision’. He was then taken on the strength of the Wellington Military District as Area Sergeant-Major and so continued to serve as a soldier.

Not long after Frank’s return Lena became pregnant and on 26 November 1918 she gave birth to a premature daughter, whom they named Helena, but the infant lived for just 6 hours. Lena was probably already sick with influenza and she died 2 days later, on 28 November, at the age of 30. Lena and Frank were living with her mother Italia in Murphy Street, Thorndon, at the time. Lena and her daughter were both buried on the same day, 28 November, in plot 142E in the Anglican section at Karori Cemetery. The headstone on Lena’s grave incorporates a Latin quotation ‘Anchoram habeus animae tutam ac firman’ (translated as ‘The anchor we have of the soul, safe and firm’) based on Hebrews 6:19 about the central importance of hope.


Read more about Helena here in the original

1918 Influenza Karori Cemetery Project


Julia Grego Smith was my grandmother Maria Grego Frandi’s younger sister. The following post was written by Julia’s grandson, Larry Smith. 18 October 2015.

Images and text copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 18 October 2015.


Julia and Herbert Smith

Julia and Herbert Smith (image: Larry Smith)


Julia Grego married Herbert (Minto) Smith of Great Hockham, Norfolk in 1920 at the Church of the Holy Rood in Watford town centre – after Minto’s return from First World War service in the Middle East. On the marriage certificate, Minto is described as a 25-year-old bachelor and engineer’s fitter of 31 Ashley Road, Watford; and Julia as a 20-year-old spinster of 193 St Albans Road, Watford. Her father was Filippo Grego, a greengrocer. Their witnesses were Edward F. Didd and Filippo Grego (who signed with a mark). Both of Julia’s parents, Raffaela and Filippo Grego were illiterate.

Minto’s father and grandfather were agricultural labourers.  At the age of 19 Minto enlisted in the 4th battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Norwich in September 1914. The battalion was training at Colchester, but in May 1915 it moved to Watford, which is when Minto met Julia. Unfortunately we have no stories about how they happened to meet.

Minto’s battalion was deployed to the Mediterranean in July 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay, on the Gallipoli peninsula, on August 10 – some months after the initial ANZAC landings in April. The entire Gallipoli campaign against the Turks was a failure, with almost 400,000 casualties on both sides. All Allied forces were withdrawn by late December 1915. However, in early December Minto had contracted typhoid and was evacuated back to England. After a year’s convalescence he was deployed to Egypt in January 1917 and was wounded in the second battle of Gaza. He was later posted to garrison duties in Egypt and ended the war as an acting sergeant.

After being demobilised at Purfleet in Surrey in July 1919, he headed for Watford to meet up with Julia again. After their wedding, Minto and Julia lived in Watford for a time and he worked for Filippo Grego briefly in the fish and chip shop. They moved around a bit before settling in Ashford, Middlesex in about 1939. At various times he was a chauffeur, drove a hearse and worked in a diesel engine factory. Julia and Minto eventually had two sons, Douglas and Roy.

Douglas enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment in 1939 and was deployed to North Africa in 1942, serving in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Italy. After the war he spent two years in New Zealand as an approved migrant under the assisted immigration scheme, but returned to England in 1954 and married Valerie Diamond (d. 2010) in 1956.They produced no children.

Julia’s younger son, Roy, enlisted in the Royal Air Force and was posted to the Bahamas, where he married Barbara Malone, a Bahamian, on Harbour Island in December 1944. Barbara was the eldest daughter of district commissioner Ronald Malone (originally of Hope Town, Abaco) and Una Higgs (of Spanish Wells, Eleuthera). Roy and Barbara Smith went on to have two children – Larry and Luanne.

The Bahamas had been a British Crown colony since 1718, and it was the chosen place of exile for the ex-King (the Duke of Windsor) who was appointed governor for the duration of the war. Nassau (the capital) was used by the RAF as a training base for bomber crews, flying twin-engine Mitchell B-25’s and four-engine Liberator B-24’s.

Leading aircraftman Roy Smith was posted to the RAF’s No. 250 Air-Sea Rescue Unit. Equipped with motor torpedo boats, their function was to rescue the crews of aircraft which came down at sea (about four or five a year), to co-operate with naval forces in the area hunting German submarines, and to tow bombing targets. Some 3,000 British and Canadian personnel were stationed in The Bahamas during the war.

There were no hostilities near the islands, so operational flying training could be undertaken safely, and there was good flying weather year-round. The location also enabled Canadian personnel to crew up with their RAF counterparts. After training at Nassau, many crews would join 45 Air Transport Group to ferry aircraft across the Atlantic for active service.

Roy was transferred back to England in early 1945, and Barbara followed him a few weeks after VE day via train from Miami and convoy from New York. They returned to Nassau in 1948 where Roy helped start a wholesale business.The Bahamas had a population of about 70,000 back then.

In 1955, after the wholesale business foundered, my parents, Roy and Barbara moved back to Britain with their two young children, running a succession of small shops around London. But during a family reunion in Nassau in December 1961, they decided to return to The Bahamas for good. Roy eventually became manager of a large car dealership called Nassau Motor Company, which holds the Honda and General Motors franchises for The Bahamas. He retired in 1985 to Spanish Wells, where he still lives today. Barbara died in December 2011 at the age of 84 from complications due to a ruptured appendix..

Barbara’s paternal line descends from the widow of a loyalist militiaman from South Carolina, who moved to the Bahamas after the American Revolution. Her maternal line traces back to the Eleutherian Adventurers, Puritans who settled The Bahamas in 1648 from Bermuda.

Julia was born 25 February  1900 in Watford and died 18 June 2000 at a nursing home in Ashford. Douglas Percival was born in 1921 and died in January 2012 at a nursing home in Egham. Minto was born in 1895 and died at his home in Ashford in 1981.

-Larry Smith


Roy Smith's RAF crashboat

RAF Crash Boat Roy Smith served on during the war (image: Larry Smith)







early 19C parliament buildings Nassau

Early 19th Century Parliament buildings in downtown Nassau on a Sunday minus traffic. Statue of Queen Victoria resides over the town square (image: Larry Smith)



Julia’s sister Barbara Grego Johnson and brother  Joseph Grego double wedding.  

(image:Larry Smith)

Rear L to R: Filippo Grego, bride Floss’s brother, Jessie Grego with baby, bridegroom Joseph Grego, ?, bridegroom Laurie Johnson, Julia Grego, ?, Laurie Johnson’s father.

Front L to RPhilomena (Emmie) Grego, Raffaela Grego, bride Floss, bride Barbara Grego, Laurie Johnson’s mother, Lillie Grego.


Read More about the Grego family – Our Family Tree

All images and text on this page are Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory

All Rights Reserved 10 August 2015


REGINALD ALFRED FRANDI 1919 – 1975: They Built Them Tough In Those Days.


Reg Frandi on the left of photo

Before he fought in the Second World War, my maternal uncle Reginald (Reg) Frandi trained as a fitter and turner at Cable Price. However, he returned from the war with very serious injuries and had to stay in Wellington hospital for quite some time, after which he was transferred to Rotorua for a long period of rehabilitation. He was advised to work out in the open air as he had spent three to four years in the desert during the war which left him with long term adverse effects on his lungs and stomach.


Reg Dawn wedding

Reg and Dawn Frandi (20 June 1945)


When he had regained his health and strength, Reg decided he wanted to become a farm cadet and was subsequently placed on a farm which was situated about 30 miles from Gisborne. It was on this farm that he eventually met his future wife, Dawn Marguarite Kelly. They were married on 20 June 1945 after dating for only three months. Subsequently they found work at Tawhareparae, about one and a half hour’s drive from Gisborne. After working there for a short time, they moved to Whatatutu, roughly two hours drive from Gisborne. At that time, the roads were all unsealed so they had to have a safe, reliable car.


Reg Frandi

Reg really enjoyed farming and eventually he was sent to Wanganui River to work for the Maori Affairs Department. This was a great challenge for him because he had to clear and break in the allocated land, to make it suitable   for sustainable farming. There was no reticulated hot water, so it had to be heated on a wood stove. He was a good rugby player and was adopted by local Maori as one of their own. In fact his whole family was very highly respected in the area. After about ten years, Reg and Dawn decided to move with their children back to Gisborne to live where Reg had a complete change of employment.


Friends of the couple had opened up a quarry in Patutahi and Reg agreed to work for them. He was a very clever and able man who could turn his hand to anything and according to his daughter, Michelle, he was busy almost daily   fixing and repairing this or that. During his years working at the quarry he was to prove to his family time and again just how strong he was in dealing with severe pain. He suffered many injuries such as being crushed by rocks, breaking his jaw and eye socket and even losing some teeth!  When he lost fingers in a crusher, he went home to Dawn and asked her to bandage his hand. On another occasion when he suffered severe injuries, he was admitted to hospital for four days and hated every minute of it.

Michelle relates the story about the time her father complained that he couldn’t get his boot off. They took him to the doctor and it transpired that his foot was broken and had to be encased in plaster; he had been walking around on it for three weeks! Reg then insisted on being fitted for a walking boot so he could get back to work! It’s reminiscent to me of Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads who played a rugby test match for the All Blacks with a broken arm! They certainly built them tough in those days on the North Island of New Zealand.

Reg and Dawn built a house down the road from the quarry where Reg established a huge vegetable garden with “every vegetable you can imagine” thriving there. Michelle recalls that they all had to help in the planting of potatoes and then when they were ready, help to dig and pick them up. She says that as children they weren’t too happy about it, but upon reflection, they were good times for the family.


Reg & Marguerite

Reg and Marguarite


Apparently Reg was a great reader who once a month drove the whole family into town to visit the library, and afterwards out to dinner. He would take out five to ten books and read them all within a matter of days. He insisted that everyone choose books to take home because he wanted them to learn as much as he had from books. Reg didn’t earn much money, so they couldn’t afford to buy furniture. Instead, “he spent hours building little things for us, as well as tables, chairs, and beds.”

During summer months he would ask Dawn to pack a picnic dinner to take to the beach so that the family could all go surf casting; all had their own lines.  They would stay until it got too dark to see. Relatives had a holiday house at Ohope Beach, something like three hour’s drive north of Gisborne, where they often holidayed, sometimes for up to four weeks. Reg absolutely loved it there, and spent the time pottering about, fishing and reading. Reg and Dawn  had a very happy and fulfilled marriage, which was sadly cut short when Reg was killed in a quarry accident.

Michelle wrote in her letter that family was very  important to her dad, and it was what had made their lives so special:

He was a wonderful father, always had time for his family, and showed a deep sense of pride in all of us. This seemed strange to me as he had very little contact with his extended family, but I guess he had his reasons. Dad didn’t like lies and he didn’t expect anyone else to lie. He didn’t suffer fools; if he didn’t like someone or something, he would tell you.  My father didn’t drink much alcohol, and if he went out with mates, he always came home sober. He had a sweet tooth, loved chocolate, and when mum stewed fruit for dessert, he always added a lot more sugar.


Marguerite Reg Katrina Dawn Michelle Kelly

L to R: Marguarite, Reg, Katrina, Dawn, Michelle, Kelly


Reg helped to build St George’s Anglican church in Patutahi, but tragically he died before he could see it completed. His love of working at the Patutahi Quarry cost him his life. He was crushed to death when a tractor rolled on him.

Dad had the biggest hands; hands of a man who had had to work hard for everything in his life. Though a gentle man in many ways, he did lose his temper occasionally, but he got over it quickly, almost as soon as he had lost it. He taught us children so many great values in life, which in turn has helped us immensely to deal with whatever life might bring. We never wanted for anything when we were growing up. We weren’t spoilt, and learned from dad that nothing in life is free.

Michelle goes on to tell me that it would have broken Reg’s heart if he’d lived to witness the deaths, so early in their lives, of two of his daughters, Marguarite at 51 years and Katrina at 45years. Both Marguarite and Katrina died from cancer. Dawn lived on for another 30 years after Reg died, and never re-married. They had one son, Kelly.


Keith  18 Michelle  45 Bruce Matthew 14

Keith, Michelle, Bruce and Matthew Downie

Information contained in this Short Life Story was contributed by Reg Frandi’s youngest daughter Michelle Elizabeth Downie, in a letter she wrote to her cousin Anne Frandi-Coory in July 2005. Images: Parkhill Collection.

This page, including text and images, is Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory
All Rights Reserved 6 August 2015
Excerpts from a letter sent  to Anne Frandi-Coory by Sister Bernadette Mary, Archivist
Home of Compassion, Island Bay Wellington, New Zealand.

February 2002

Dear Anne

In response to your enquiry about the time your mother spent as a novice with the Sisters of Compassion, the following is what I have found in the Convent’s Register:

Your mother was 19 years old when she entered the Convent at Island Bay on the 7th December 1939 as a postulant. This is a kind of probationary period to find out whether or not a person is suited to the religious life. There was a separate wing set out as the Novitiate in the red brick building which had been built in the early 1930s, and was where all the novices were trained.


Novitiate Home of Compassion

Sisters of Compassion Convent (Image and text Sister Bernadette Mary)


A note made four months later, in April 1940, reveals that the Novice Mistress found Doreen to be a very highly strung person, but her manner was always pleasant. By July, Doreen always seemed to be worried about her family at home, especially her mother. However, she wanted to become a novice and looked forward to her reception into the Novitiate, the next stage of training to be a Sister of Compassion.

In July Doreen had to write to the Superior General asking to be admitted into the Novitiate, and giving her reasons for wanting to do so; that is the usual procedure. Apparently she was formally accepted, for on 15th  September  1940 she was received as a novice, together with four other young women. She was given the name Sister Mary Martina.


Home of Compassion

Postulants wore a black dress, cape and hat, Novices in white veils as on the front left of photo.  Sisters’ habits were navy blue with  light blue piping. (Image: Sister Bernadette Mary)


We all had to go through the same kind of training that Doreen would have had during her postulancy and Novitiate days, and although looking back, things were hard, we were never unhappy or abused in any way. Most of the time we were kept very busy indeed, either working in the laundry or caring for the babies and children, which didn’t give us much free time for idleness, I can tell you from experience.


Original Home of Compassion

(Image and text: Sister Bernadette Mary)


At the age of twenty Doreen requested to go home and subsequently left the Convent on 16th November 1940. There are no further comments in the Register. Any medical records were returned to Doreen when she left and there is no record of her being sick or having a nervous breakdown during her eleven months at the Convent.

I believe that Doreen often came to visit the Sisters after she had left the Sisters of Compassion. She rode out to the Convent on her bicycle which she had named ‘Martina’.

Yours Sincerely

Sister Bernadette Mary


Doreen & friend

Anne Frandi-Coory’s mother Doreen on right of photo (Image: Parkhill Collection)


The old Home of Compassion and Convent were demolished in the 1980s.

Read More: Letters To Anne Frandi-Coory

This page, including text and images are copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory 2 August 2015 All Rights Reserved 


Italia Frandi’s Daughter, Elvira Corich Pengelly, Reminisces  About Her Life Within The Extended Frandi Family. 

Pam Frandi Parkhill, Francesco Frandi’s grand-daughter,  was a great friend to Elvira Corich Pengelly, who was Italia Frandi’s daughter. Pam thought it essential to record these memories on tape as a valuable resource of Frandi Family history.  The story telling took place in the lounge of Elvira’s home at 54 Weld Street, Wellington, not long before she died in 1996.  Anne Frandi-Coory transcribed the interview from the tape recording in September 2005.


Copy of IMG_0513

Pam Frandi Parkhill, Tony Pengelly, Elvira’s son, with Anne Frandi-Coory 2005

[Elvira is sometimes referred to as ‘Vera’, and her uncle Francesco as ‘Frank’ in the recording.  Francesco Frandi is Alfredo’s oldest brother. Francesco’s wife, Assunta, ran off with a neighbour and left him with four young children, including William who was Pam Frandi Parkhill’s father.]

Elvira Begins by Talking About Her First Cousin Amelia Frandi.

Francesco’s  only surviving daughter, Amelia, called Millie by her family,  was twelve years older than Elvira.  Elvira’s  mother Italia   included Amelia in many outings with her own daughter.   But Amelia was an embarrassment to Italia in many ways.  Elvira was always well groomed and dressed beautifully, as shown in the many photos of her, while Amelia always appeared unkempt.  Amelia loved food and although there was always plenty to eat, she frequently “stole food and hid it under her bed, and” Elvira went on,  “Amelia wasn’t to be trusted when you took her visiting.”    This was because after their visits “things would be missing from the house.”

In 1913, when Amelia  was 23 years old, she gave birth to a son out of wedlock, Kenneth Maxwell Frandi.  His father’s name was not recorded on any documents.  Kenneth died when he was three years old as the result of recurrent erysipelas (Fever and deep red inflammation of the skin)  toxaemia over  three months.  On 27 July 1917,  Amelia gave birth to another son, Maxwell Lawrence,  who, it is believed,  was later  adopted by  Cecil Taylor, the man Amelia would  eventually marry in 1922.  Elvira describes Cecil as “a first class boozer” although Amelia didn’t drink alcohol as far as she knew.   Maxwell was re-named Albert Taylor, and  their daughter Jean was born in 1925.  Before she was married, Amelia worked for the Richard Seddon household as a house maid.

Francesco, the Pierotti and Russo Families

Francesco’s  wife Assunta Pierotti left him with 9 year old Amelia, and three young sons, the youngest,  4 year old William, after they had been married for 11 years.  They had two other daughters who died in infancy.   Read: Francesco Garibaldi Frandi and Assunta Mary Pierotti.   Assunta  moved in with Charles Barnett in Whiteman’s Valley, Hutt Valley in Wellington, and they  subsequently  moved to Tasmania after the birth of their 11 children there.  Two more children were born to them in Tasmania.  They never married as Francesco and Assunta were both Roman Catholics and could not divorce. Assunta and Charles Barnett’s children did not know their parents  were unmarried, nor did they know that Assunta had left behind four children  and a husband until after Assunta had died.

Francesco’s parents, his sister Italia and his sister-in-law, Italia Pierotti Russo (auntie Kate) helped raise his four children after Assunta’s departure.   Italia Pierotti married Bartolomeo (Bartolo) Russo, who emigrated from Stromboli Italy, and the Russo family bought property at  Rona Bay in Wellington.   As Elvira explains, “it is situated between Days Bay and Muratai,  which was quite classy even then, and Rona Bay was  often called Russo Bay because of the influence the Russo family had in the area”.  Elvira remembers her mother quite often taking her over to the Russo’s, usually on a Sunday.  They were very friendly people and had many visitors.  She recalls that Rona Bay was just a “big beach” in those days, and quite undeveloped, but there was a ferry travelling around the bays.   Elvira’s son Tony Pengelly, elaborates, and tells us that he clearly remembers the trips to Rona Bay with his  mother and grandmother Italia  on the ferry called  Cobar.

Italia Pierotti Russo (auntie Kate) and her parents

Italia Russo’s parents Cesare and Luisa Pierotti embarked from Livorno to New Zealand when she was two years old.  She and Bartolo  lived in “a huge white house with a verandah all the way around it, which all the children used to play on and run around and at times the noise was deafening” recalls Elvira.  All the while “auntie Kate would be working like a slave cooking lovely meals, and she also looked after the garden, which was beautiful, with vegetables and flowers”, remembers Elvira with admiration.  When visitors were about to leave “auntie Kate would load them up with grapes and tomatoes, she had a big heart.”  “It was such a happy place,  and I loved going there”, reminisced Elvira, “because there was music; mandolin, banjo and wind instruments, and I liked playing with auntie Kate’s son Miro who was just a bit younger than me.”

Italia and Bartolo had four other children; Rita who was closer in age  to Elvira’s sister Helena, Caterina, Bartolo and Cesare.  Eventually “the sons moved to a stud farm in Cambridge”.  Some of the family also lived in Tinakori Road for a time, an area where other ethnic groups lived.

The Makara Farm in Karori

Frandi farm at Makara Wgtn

Makara Farm Front row L t R: Aristodemo, Amelia and Helena sitting on front step, Annunziata, Menotte standing beside her, Antonio and Yolande standing in front doorway, Italia seated in front of them.


Another favourite place Elvira loved to visit was the farm at Makara on the outskirts of Wellington,  which the Frandi family owned.  It was such a treat for her and there was a girl her age about a mile away who she often played with.  She and her mother and other relatives would often walk down to the beach which was “a horrible beach really, full of rocks and stones” but it was nice to be so close to the sea.  Often when her mother was too busy to go, Francesco and his  son William, would take her out to the farm.  “My mother used to feel so guilty because she did not always have time to take me out there.   We would go out to the farm on Friday night and return to the city at 7am Monday morning  after the men had done the milk run on the horse and cart.”  There is laughter in Elvira’s voice as she relates the story of the farm horse.  “The men would drive the horse and cart to the city to pick us up, and the horse would know where to go, because the men would be so tired after a long day on the farm, that they would nod off, but the horse just kept going until it came to the Makara farm gate, and then stop”.  More giggles.  “The horse always whinnied when it got to the gate, so the men would wake up and jump down to open the farm gates.”


Milk truck

Milk Cart

Then Elvira remembers, with another  chuckle, something else about the horse.   “Granny Frandi (Annunziata) would have all the windows open – and when she baked she would put the scones or the rice buns on the sill to cool.  But of course that horse could smell the baking, and steal the food, while granny was busy elsewhere.  Then suddenly we could all  hear granny shouting ‘that bloody horse!’ at the top of her voice”.

Elvira describes the farmhouse layout.  “At the back of the house, there was a huge vegetable garden,  and [from there] you would walk into a kind of shed where water was boiled in a big copper  and the water [pipes] was attached to the back of the open fire and coal range”.  This shed was where everyone left their coats and shoes before entering the farmhouse  kitchen.   The farm workers slept in the hay loft, “but they didn’t put boys and girls together, that wouldn’t have been right”.

Socialising at the Farm.

After milking was over and the evening meal finished, the adults would play cards.  “The house opposite belonged to the Post Mistress and there was an Anglican and a Catholic church further down the road, so everyone was catered for”, Elvira tells us.   Neighbours would  “congregate outside the Post Mistress’ house when they collected their mail or bought something from the attached small shop”.     Evidently, it was  a good meeting place to stand and chat.  Everyone liked to go to the local dance, but William was so shy “he would just stand there and watch everyone else dance”.  “At the dance hall there was a ladies’ dressing room where mothers could look after babies and put them into the little beds at the hall,  and there was beer and tea available”.    “But”, Elvira suddenly recalled, “the men had to put on their milking gear and go to work straight after the dance!”

Amelia’s Three Brothers.

Describing her cousin Menotte as “happy go lucky, although a shingle short”, Elvira adds,  “but he was very fond of my sister Helena”, intimating  this redeemed his shortcomings.    Menotte’s brothers  “Ricciotti  and William  were very reserved and shy  but everyone got along with each other very well on the farm”.  Ricciotti was a “terrible gambler”, and there was a casino not far from where the family lived in Wingfield Street, “but he was very hard to get to know”.  The extended Frandi family and their friends “loved going to the farm because it was such a happy place”, says Elvira dreamily, “and there used to be singalongs most nights, although everyone usually went to bed very early because the men had to get up about 5am to milk the cows and do the milk run”.  Life at the farm was based on  “a lot of friendships where there was an old record player, you know with the  huge sound trumpet, and the women did embroidery, mending and made cushions.  Granny Frandi was great at mending clothes, she was very, very neat.  There was always a lot of laughter”,  cackles Elvira as she relates those warm, happy times, “and  although Francesco was very quiet he liked company, and there were a lot of sing songs”.   Elvira illustrates, “Uncle Enrico played the clarinet,  Uncle Antonio the trombone and the trumpet, while uncle Ateo played the piano.  Uncle Alfred liked to sing and play the fool!     There is a photo somewhere of uncle Antonio taken at the front door of the farmhouse”   continues Elvira, “where there were two bedrooms there  at the front, two more further down the hall and then a double bedroom which was grandpa and granny’s.  Then you walked into a big room which was the dining  and sitting room combined, and the kitchen was off that”, she finishes.

Elvira, Italia and the Convent.

Italia & Vera

Italia and and her daughter Elvira


Elvira once again turns the conversation back to her beloved mother, Italia.  “We were forbidden, as children, to play outside in the street [Wingfield Street, Wellington] but my mother was quite happy for us to play on the huge lawn in the front of the house. She was very kind and my friends were often invited over for treats.  One  day my playmates  were overheard by my mother to say that ‘Vera will get the strap’, and my mother questioned the girl as to why.  My playmate then explained to my mother that on Monday mornings at school the Mother Superior would ask at assembly for those who did not attend Sunday School to raise their hands.  And those who raised their hands got six  straps on the hand which really hurt.  After a couple of times I did not raise my hand any longer, to avoid the strap”.  Elvira says her mother was furious and felt that the convent school was turning her daughter into a liar.  “So”, Elvira carries on, “my mother goes to the convent and says to the Mother Superior, ‘I am Elvira’s mum, is it true that if the girls do not go to Sunday School, they get the strap?’  ‘Yes’,  replied the nun, ‘that is our ruling’.  My mother next explains to the austere nun  ‘I can rarely go out, and the weekend is the only chance my daughter gets to go out to the Makara farm’.  Then my  mother lectures, ‘I think that you should check with each family about what their situation is – you are just encouraging my daughter to lie so she wont get the strap!’ So my mother removed me to a State School”, Elvira tells me with unconcealed pride.   “But my mother did send me back to the convent years later to learn music”,  she adds quickly.

Elvira Growing Up.

Elvira talks of her teenage years which she describes as “good”.  “Cabaret had just started and I had nice things to wear, because mother was more affluent then, she even had a cigarette holder!  These were the days of the Charleston;  good times for me, and life started for me when I was 17 or 18 years old”.  Then she speaks lovingly of Italia again, “The  good things about me were all because of my mother’s upbringing, she was strict but very kind”.   And obviously very talented and a good business woman.   Italia was an accomplished dressmaker and clothes designer, and Elvira says her mother worked long hours, as she was a widow with no other means of support.  “My mother was a great dressmaker and had many clients, who would call on her with descriptions of clothes they had seen at DIC and Kirkcaldies”,  Elvira continues, the pride and love for her mother evident in her voice.  “So she would walk to those stores and look at the respective garments and go home and copy them”.   Italia had a tailor’s table upon which she cut out all the patterns and fabrics,  and Elvira often heard her mother tell her clients, “on the funny phone we had”, ‘please do call in and if you like what I have done I’ll make it for you in the fabric of your choice’.   She was a great dressmaker.”

Shops in the City

16 Murphy St Fernglen

‘FERNGLEN’ 16 Murphy Street, Wellington, where Francesco and his sister Italia lived and ran a boarding house


Elvira then discusses the shops in the vicinity of 20  Wingfield Street where the family lived before moving to 16 Murphy Street, which was  a boarding house as well.  The other streets are “Molesworth, Hill and Aitken Streets”,  The shops include a “shoe repair, Prestons Butchers, horse and cart yard, and a big house with a very long verandah”.  On the corner of Wingfield Street there was a Chinese shop with accommodation.  “Our house had three steps up to the entrance, all the houses seemed to have three steps up to the doors”, noted Elvira as an aside.  “In those days the Chinese had pigtails and they wore black caps, and kids would always try to pull their pigtails or else pull their caps off.  They used to get angry and chase the kids with a knife, awful choppers they were”.  This evokes memories of her dear sister Helena who was 14 years older than she.    Even though most of the memories were happy ones for Elvira, there is obvious poignancy  in her voice when she speaks  of Helena, who died at the age of 30.  The large age difference meant that Helena would have been like a second mother to Elvira, who was sixteen when her sister died and it would have had quite an effect on her young life.  Elvira elicits  that the Chinese  “thought the world of Helena”.


Elvira & Helena Italia's girls

Elvira and Helena in beautiful costumes made by their mother, Italia


The Neighbourhood

Elvira’s tone picks up again.  “There was a small cake shop, then a wood and coal yard.  Oh, and a fish shop and the grocer’s store.  Opposite was the Prime Minister’s residence [Pipitea St] and the Post Office, and then along further there was the drapers and grocer’s shop combined, they had half of the shop each.   And then there was the driveway and the baker’s shop, with a lane [Collina Tce]  beside it”.  The family was surrounded by all the suppliers they needed.  Elvira then remembered that there was another Street next to the lane called “Hawkestone Street where there was a pub called the Shamrock which also had accommodation and I liked to go into the greengrocer’s shop. There were also lots of shops around Molesworth Street  and a side street led to Tinakori Road which was very primitive, but it was all very friendly.  My mother used to let me buy sixpence worth of broken biscuits as a treat, but she would say ‘now don’t eat the chocolate ones, Elvira’ ”

Doreen’s Life Within Her Family

Frandi girls

Anne Frandi-Coory’s mother, Doreen with her younger sisters Joyce and Betty (photo: Karen Albert)

Italia always felt sorry for her niece Doreen as “she had a pretty hard childhood”, Italia had one day told Elvira.   “She was the eldest girl and was responsible for helping around the house and caring for the three younger  girls, Joyce, Betty and then Anne”  and it was evident that Doreen was very attached to Italia.  Anne, her youngest sister,   also has stories to tell about the hardships of Doreen’s life, and the  heartbreaking  events  she was a witness to.    Although there were 16 years difference in their ages, Doreen and Anne were very close.  Doreen’s son Kevin was also a part of the many  sad times in her life and speaks eloquently of them.  It is attested to by several members of the family, that Doreen’s mother Maria, or Millie as she was known within the family, was a morose woman in looks and in nature, and there are very few photos of her looking happy.  Doreen reminded Tony very much of her mother Maria, in her features  and demeanor; fragile and anxious.

Anne with Freddy and Reggie

Doreen’s youngest sister, Anne Frandi Albert (photo: Karen Albert)


Elvira’s First Wedding

Elvira spends some time talking about her first marriage to William (Bill) Meban, whose photos show a very handsome man, with dark swarthy looks.   “We were engaged after only knowing each other for three months”, she explains, with mirth in her voice.  “My mother and both families had set a date, but Bill didn’t want to wait for that date, he wanted to get married straight away”.    Pam states, “your mother didn’t get a chance to make the wedding dress”.   “Well, yes and no”  replies Elvira, and then she tells us that she and Bill decide that  they will get married on a week night and plan for their secret event meticulously.  “Bill was an engineer on the Ripple,  a New Zealand Coastal ship, and we knew it had to be that particular week or we would have to wait for his next trip home”.  Elvira then explains the hectic timetable they had devised for themselves.  “I had a singing lesson that afternoon at the convent, which would explain why I was dressed to go out, and it was my chore to prepare the dinner that night, so I bought something quick to cook.  Bill  would be at our place for dinner, so we  could head down to the Registry Office as soon as dinner was finished.”   Elvira then says with girlish giggle, “I made a dessert for tea,  it was huge – to last two or three days I told everyone”, but in reality it was to be for their wedding breakfast.  “We left separately, and then met up at the Registry Office, and we had  two witnesses, Edith Brown and the ship’s Chief Engineer.  As we prepared for the ceremony, Bill suddenly exclaimed, ‘Vera, look at your frock!’ and I looked down to see blood had dripped onto it from the quick steak meal” she laughs.   “I had borrowed that dress from Uncle Alfred’s wife Maria”, Elvira tells us.  It is unclear  whether Auntie Maria was in on the secret wedding plans.

Time To Own Up

So Elvira and Bill were married in secret, but their consciences soon got the better of them;   “My mother didn’t deserve this treatment”, they had reasoned, “and we were worried someone might notice the ring.  On his next trip home, we were sitting at the dinner table, all chatty and bright, when uncle Frank observed, smiling,  ‘We’re a very jolly family tonight’ and looking over at family friend Skipper Bates, he asked, ‘have you been drinking Bates?’”  Things started to get out of hand, their guilt consuming them, and after six weeks of subterfuge,  Bill insisted to Elvira, “you have to tell your mother!”  Elvira’s cackle filters through the noisy tape as she says “The marriage hadn’t even been consummated, even then.”   Italia took the news well, although surprised and worried, “You wont be well received in Napier”, she cautioned.  “Of course, mother was right, and Bill’s mother was furious!”  and a more serious Elvira continues, “She called me a slut and asked Bill when the baby was due, to which he replied  ‘there is no baby’”.  Elvira and Bill agree to a second wedding ceremony in 1923 at Old St Paul’s Church down the road from  Wingfield Street,  ”because Mrs Meban performed so much.”  Elvira’s  father had died when she was four years old, so  Francesco gave her away.   But Elvira goes on to say  that things were “never really reconciled with the Meban family”. She enlightens us further,   “Bill’s father was a shoemaker and his brother was a sheep farmer in Napier”

Elvira Bill Meban

Bill and Elvira Meban Wedding


What might have been

Elvira confides that she and Bill had often discussed having children and what faith they might bring the children up in.   And what church would they marry in?   “Well we got married in an Anglican Church, my mother was a Roman Catholic and Bill was a Presbyterian”.  However, Italia was relatively unconcerned, counselling her daughter that  “God means you to be happy, so you decide, it’s up to you”.

Elvira’s Loss

Tragedy was about to strike the young couple.   You could sense the sadness as the details of the tragedy slowly emerge;  “I remember there was a severe storm that night [1924].  Oh there were often bad storms, but this was worse than the others.   I got up in the morning after a sleepless night, and on the way to the bathroom, I could hear my mother talking to a lady,  ‘You had a busy night last night, with the phone ringing constantly’”.    Elvira recalls that the lady had  replied  “Get a good breakfast into Vera, the ship was wrecked with all lives lost in that  terrible storm.”   The news was absolutely devastating for Elvira.  “Bill was in the engine room – not a hope of getting out, and Bill had always told me that the ship was a death trap.   And the strange thing was, the Chief Engineer  died in the night, the same hour as Bill died in the shipwreck, but he was in hospital with peritonitis,”  she finishes quietly, obviously the memory is still painful for her after so many years have passed, and she changes the subject.

By all accounts, Elvira never really got over the heartbreaking loss of her first love, Bill.   But Elvira was no stranger to tragedy, and neither was her mother. They lost a father and husband, Pietro Corich in 1906, a much loved  sister and daughter, Helena, in the 1918 ‘flu epidemic, and the child Helena was carrying. Italia also had to deal with the death of one of her favourite brothers, Ateo, in WW1 at Gallipoli.

Elvira married her second husband Melville Pengelly in 1931.  She died 7 May 1996 and is survived by her only son Anthony John Pengelly.


Thank you to Pam Frandi Parkhill and Tony Pengelly for their contribution to this piece of Frandi Family history.

***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***


Francesco Frandi and Assunta Pierotti were married in December 1888 when Assunta was pregnant with their first child, Bella Italia Rosina Satina  who was born 13 July 1889.  Bella died on 20 February 1890 from exhaustion after a severe bout of diarrhea and vomiting. Assunta was about four months pregnant at the time with their second daughter, Amelia Fatima Elena.

The couple then had two sons, Menotte Garibaldi and Ricciotti Orlando.  A third daughter Olivia Stella died shortly after her birth on 11 February 1894. Their last child, William Donald, was only about  four years old when Assunta left and moved in with Charles Barnett.

Assunta’s sister Italia (Kate) Colorinda Pierotti married Bartolomeo Russo whose parents were Domenico and Josephine Castellano Russo. Kate also suffered tragedy; she gave birth to a set of twins who died in infancy.  Kate and Italia Frandi, Francesco’s sister, helped to rear Francesco’s four surviving children. Nevertheless, the four children, and Amelia especially, had a difficult early life, which I document fully in my book Whatever Happened To Ishtar?

Cesare and Luisa Armita Pierotti were Assunta and Kate’s parents.  Cesare’s gravestone bears the inscription, “He fought for the independence of Italy in 1860”. Both are buried in Karori cemetery.

Charles and Assunta eventually left Wellington for Tasmania after the birth of 11 children.  Another two children were born in Tasmania, where
Assunta was the business manager of the successful partnership – Charles could not read as he only attended school for a day. Assunta read the newspapers to him. They owned a boat building company; Charles built a yacht, and they had shares in a timber mill and a hotel. He also built eight houses.

Francesco never agreed to divorce Assunta, so she and Charles Barnett were never married. One day while Assunta’s grand daughter was brushing her hair she suggested to Assunta that she should make a will. Assunta replied that “it would be a bit difficult”. When she died there was no will and the family discovered in disbelief that their mother wasn’t married to their father and then they discovered photos of her four children to Francesco that she had abandoned in New Zealand. The family just didn’t want to believe that their dear mother could abandon her children! Kate and Assunta corresponded regularly and Kate kept her sister fully informed about the children’s lives.  Amelia, one of those four children, contested probate and she and her three brothers received a settlement which was confidential. Marcus, Assunta’s son, helped his father, Charles Barnett, to fight the claims from New Zealand.

Assunta buried money as she did not trust banks-neither did her mother Luisa or sister Italia (Kate). When Luisa died money was found stored in bamboo curtains, a large suitcase and pillows. She often tied money around her legs.

Assunta Pierotti

Assunta Mary Pierotti Frandi

Francesco Frandi

Francesco Garibaldi Frandi

Frandi farm close up

The Frandi farm at Makara, Karori, in Wellington where the extended Frandi family enjoyed some happy days. L to R Aristodemo Frandi, Francesco’s daughter Amelia and Italia’s daughter Helena seated on step, Annunziata, with Menotte standing beside her. Antonio and Yolande are standing in doorway, Italia seated in front of them.


Menotte & William Frandi

Two of Francesco and Assunta’s sons Ricciotti and William Frandi


When Assunta left Francesco for Charles, the couple remained in Wellington for some years until they moved to Tasmania. One of the reasons Francesco’s son William moved to Waimate after he was married, was because (according to William’s son Bryan), of the continued embarrassment  William felt about his mother’s abandonment of her first four children and her affair with another man. In those days, Wellington was a small town, and Charles and Assunta originally lived together not far from where Francesco and his children lived. William remained a very shy man who hardly spoke. Bryan told me that when he was a child, he rarely heard his father speak, and as a consequence he didn’t utter a word either.

Assunta Pierotti Frandi 2nd family (Barnett)

Charles Barnett and Assunta with their thirteen children in Scottsdale, Tasmania 1913  (Photo: A Lockwood)



Assunta and Charles Barnett eventually left Wellington New Zealand for Tasmania on 10 December 1910, after the birth of 11 of their children. Another two children were born in Tasmania. The Barnett family had owned land in ‘White Man’s Valley’ near Wellington but had sold most of the farm when they decided to move  to North Eastern Tasmania.

The Barnett family eventually became closely associated with the development of Bridport for the following seventy years after their arrival in Tasmania. Initially the family lived in Scottsdale for two years after which time they purchased one thousand acres in the Cuckoo Valley area. They cleared the land and bought livestock for their new farm.

When the Forester Mill was being established, Charles helped install some of the machinery and lay the railway track to the mill. The tramway extended  from Mt Horror to Bridport from where the timber was shipped. After five years working in the Mt Horror timber industry, Charles built a boarding house, now the town’s hotel. In 1929 he built more rooms onto the boarding house and later built eight houses. Charles built the first store in Bridport.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the couple’s oldest son George enlisted and took part in the landings at Gallipoli.  In a twist of irony, Francesco Frandi’s three sons Menotte, Ricciotti and William, also enlisted.

In 1912, Charles purchased one of the blocks offered for sale in the then new part of Bridport, near the Timber and Tramway Company’s jetty.  On this he built a substantial family home. Charles was also credited with starting the town’s fishing industry in 1915 and he also played a large role in the establishment of Bridport’s holiday ‘Canvas Town’.  Today, the Barnett family remains closely linked with the fishing industry and descendants own and run a well known restaurant there.


See Family Tree at bottom of this page……

Charles Barnett & Assunta

Charles Barnett and Assunta Pierotti Frandi at their home in Bridport



1-Assunta Mary Pierotti FRANDI b. 15 May 1872, Leghorn Italy, d. 20 Apr 1949, Tasmania
+Francesco Garibaldi FRANDI b. 10 Jan 1866, Lugano, d. 20 Jul 1929, Wellington Hospital
2-Bella Italia Rosina Satina FRANDI b. 13 Jul 1889, Tasman Street Wellington, d. 20 Feb 1890, Tasman Street
2-Amelia Fatima Elena FRANDI b. 31 Jul 1890, Wellington, d. 2 Nov 1967
2-Menotte Garibaldi FRANDI b. 6 Sep 1891, Wellington, d. 5 Apr 1947, Silverstream Hospital Wellington
2-Ricciotti Orlando FRANDI b. 2 Nov 1892, Wellington, d. 18 Jan 1952, 49 Devon St Wellington
2-Olivia Stella FRANDI b. 11 Feb 1894, Wellington, d. 1894
2-William Donald FRANDI b. 28 Apr 1895, Wellington, d. 29 Jul 1971, Post Office At Waimate
+Charles Thomas BARNETT b. 13 Dec 1872, Brighton, Victoria, d. 13 Aug 1963, Tasmania
2-George BARNETT b. 7 Mar 1896, Wellington, d. 23 Apr 1972
2-Rose FRANDI b. 18 Jun 1897, Wellington, d. 18 Jan 1994
2-Marcus BARNETT b. 10 Oct 1898, Wellington, d. 20 Dec 1953
2-Eli BARNETT b. 7 Jan 1900, Wellington, d. 1953
2-Charles BARNETT b. 28 Aug 1901, Wellington, d. 1956
2-Violet (Jo) BARNETT b. 3 Mar 1903, Wellington
2-Remus (Bully) BARNETT b. 20 Mar 1904, Wellington, d. 18 Dec 1971
2-Totara BARNETT b. 20 Mar 1904, Wellington
2-Avena BARNETT b. 29 Apr 1906, Wellington
2-William BARNETT b. 27 Nov 1907, Wellington, d. 29 May 1984
2-Albert (Ab) BARNETT b. 6 Jun 1909, Wellington, d. 6 Feb 1980
2-Miro (Midge) BARNETT b. 27 May 1911, Tasmania, d. 14 Mar 1971
2-Gertrude BARNETT b. 31 Jan 1913, Tasmania


1-Cesare PIEROTTI b. 1842, Leghorn Italy, d. 15 Oct 1918, Wellington
+Luisa Armita PIEROTTI b. 1853, Italy, d. 12 Dec 1929, Wellington
2-Italia (Kate) Colorinda Pierotti RUSSO
2-Assunta Mary Pierotti FRANDI b. 15 May 1872, Leghorn Italy, d. 20 Apr 1949, Tasmania

Anne blog

Anne Frandi-Coory 2010


During the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children in Melbourne, hundreds of victims have come forward to give evidence. Now adults, their testimonies are heart-rending and difficult to listen to. What has made their journey into adulthood so precarious (many have committed suicide) is that at the time, nobody believed they were being abused by those in positions of trust. None of the perpetrators has ever said they are sorry, much less the institutions in which they were incarcerated as children.  Only now can they talk about their traumatic childhoods. They are finally being listened to and believed. How healing it is to have your abuser, or in these cases, your Church, apologise to you, showing genuine remorse.  The Catholic Church has by far the worst record of any institution for blaming the children for what has happened to them, and for protecting paedophile priests and Christian Brothers.

As George Pell, Cardinal, once stated: “We had no idea the sexual abuse of children would do so much harm”.

Another Catholic Church official at the Vatican stated: “A priest leaving the priesthood to get married, is a far worse sin than a priest sexually abusing children”

I can empathise totally with what these victims have endured over their lifetimes. If only once, even one member of my devout Catholic extended family had acknowledged my abandonment by my mother and the abuse meted out to her and me by them, it would have gone a long way to healing the wounds. Instead, I was not allowed to discuss the abuse, or if I did, told I was lying. It was to risk another beating if I dared to ask about my mother, or what happened to her. Many a time I was kicked  while on the floor, or had a swelling the size of an egg on my eyelid caused by a strap wielded by an aunt. Cousins often witnessed this abuse, but still, no apologies or acknowledgment.

Unfortunately, when you turn your back on an abusive family, there really isn’t any group you can join for support. You have to go it alone.

My childhood was filled with fear, abuse and gross neglect; some of it took place in institutions run by the Catholic Church, but most of it was carried out by my Lebanese extended family, herein called “The Family’. Not once has any member of The Family ever acknowledged my abuse and neglect at their hands, much less apologised. In the end, I decided to write a book Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers.  There were so many different versions of my and my brothers’ fractured childhoods doing the rounds, I wanted to put the record straight. Not only for my mental health, but so my children could breathe in clean air and know the truth.  Neither I nor my two brothers appear together in any family photos.  In fact, I had to put the few childhood photos of us on social media because relatives were placing photos on the site, with our names on them, but who were definitely not us!

There is no doubt that The Family hated my Italian mother. They made her life hell, and my father, a weak man, did nothing to protect her. Two of his brothers preyed on her, and for this she was evicted from the Coory family home. Because she had to work, my mother could not look after two children, so my father placed Kevin and me, then 3½ and 10 months old respectively  in the Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in South Dunedin. My mother was then pregnant with my brother Anthony.

However, I was the scapegoat child who as the only daughter paid dearly for my mother’s ‘sins’. The Family’s hatred for my Italian mother, and by default, me, was evident whenever my father took me to visit in that household. My mother was an ex Catholic nun and very naïve, so was an easy target. They ridiculed her constantly, the favourite word for her was “sharmuta” Aramaic for prostitute. As a very small child I didn’t understand what the word meant, but I knew by the way my aunts and grandmother spat it out, that it was nasty. I was totally devastated when I later discovered what it meant. My mother was never ever a prostitute, but after being sexually harassed and abused by two of my father’s brothers, to whom she had a son each, she was the ‘sinner’! My mother later developed bipolar disorder. Slowly over the years, with the help of occasional visits to a psychologist, I managed to live a mostly fulfilled life. You can never forget an abusive childhood but you can live with it. I still have panic attacks and suffer from periodic depression but I can deal with it by getting passionately involved in projects, like writing and painting. I married at 18 years and escaped Dunedin and largely turned my back on The Family. From time to time I have met relatives who persist in telling me to “get over it” or “move on”!  Funny isn’t it, how people who have had a loving mother and father, and a supportive family, can be so heartless!


Anne in convent clothes

Anne Frandi-Coory at 8 years old -just removed from the Mercy Orphanage for the Poor in Dunedin


Children who have been abused and abandoned during their formative years have exceptional memories. While most people remember episodes of their childhoods from about four years of age, victims of abuse and abandonment can remember vividly, events from their infancy. Memories re-surface throughout adulthood as isolated vignettes of violence and sexual abuse with no context in time or place. For instance, I can remember standing in a cot in a room with many other toddlers in cots squeezed in around me. My father had just visited and I was distraught. I saw him walk past a window and even though it was dark outside, I recognised him and the hat he always wore. Until many years later when I went back to the orphanage to gather evidence for my book, I didn’t know what I was remembering, or even if it actually happened.  As soon as I saw the abandoned nursery, I recognised the windows through which I had watched my father leave; contexts of time and place began a healing process.

Other recurring memories emerge from an incident which involved my mother collecting us two children from the orphanage and taking us to Wellington to live with her parents.  I was eighteen months old at the time. For years a memory kept resurfacing of my mother carrying me onto a small plane. Often accompanying that memory was another memory of me standing in a cot in a tiny room watching my mother getting undressed. The details were vivid. She was smiling at me, and I remember that my cot was pressed up against the foot of her bed. Earlier, I had seen a man holding a little boy’s hand leading him out through the bedroom door. It wasn’t until decades later when Kevin and I were reunited and had sat up all night until the early hours of a morning, talking about our childhoods apart, did pieces of the puzzle come together. I related these latter events to him and he immediately knew the contexts in which they occurred.  He was four and half years old at the time and he was the child holding our grandfather’s hand walking out of mum’s bedroom.  There is a rare photo of us at this time. Kevin is sitting in a little armchair he remembers well, with me sitting on the grass in front of him, in our grandparents’ overgrown rear yard.


kevin & Anne 2 at grandparent's house in Wadestown

Kevin and Anne, Wellington


Apparently, our mother’s parents didn’t want her and her three children (Anthony was a newborn) staying there, so they paid for the airfares for her to “go back to your husband!”  However, it was what occurred beforehand that seared the memories so vividly into my brain, although I don’t consciously remember the events. Kevin told me that while we were all staying at our grandparents’ house, there was a lot of screaming and yelling by our grandmother, at her daughter. This was a household that had seen years of domestic violence from the time my mother was a young girl.

One day, mum, Kevin and I were sitting on mum’s bed while she was nursing Anthony.  She gave birth to him while staying at her parents’ home. Our grandparents entered the room and in Kevin’s words, our grandmother was screaming at mum “enough to wake the dead” while our grandfather ( a very violent man) was belting mum around her head with his hand.  After these and other revelations, many of the fractured memories stopped recurring. It’s as if once they have been acknowledged and verified, they are filed away in the sub-conscious.


the three of us cropped

A very rare photograph taken at St Kilda Beach, Dunedin of the The Three of Us together: Anne, Anthony, Kevin (image: Joseph Coory)


I had to research the facts surrounding my childhood before I could write the book, and the truth was devastating, but also liberating.

When I was ten years old, I was sexually abused in a car by the husband of one of my Lebanese aunts.  This episode illustrates the difference in childhood memories which occur after four years of age. I remember the context in which the abuse occurred, so my memory of it wasn’t fractured and it didn’t resurface as much as my infant memories did. I was very frightened of this uncle, but I was just as frightened of The Family, so I couldn’t tell them. I was too scared to tell my father, whom I adored because my uncle was a huge man and I thought he would kill my father; they argued all the time. The sexual harassment continued until I was eighteen and I left Dunedin.  After I published the book with this episode of sexual abuse in it, cousins laughed and said that he was just a “dirty old man”. Obviously, this paedophile was known by some members of the family.  Just recently, a cousin published many photos of the Coory family on social media, and this paedophile was in one of them. I was extremely upset and when I made the comment that this man was a paedophile, I was told once again to “get over it”!  As in the cases of institutional sexual abuse, unless we have zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children in families, paedophiles will continue to abuse children and the child will continue to be told to “get over it” or will not be believed!  I thought I had managed to file away that particular childhood memory, but as always, it only takes a photograph, a look-alike person walking by or other stories of similar sexual abuse for the memory to flood back.



Under the red crosses I penned years ago: the paedophile and the cruel aunt. That’s me at 14 yrs sitting on the ground on the left.


An analogy comes to mind when talking about trying to live a normal adult life following an extremely traumatic childhood:

It is as though there is a deep black hole behind you in your past. Unless you find passions in life to keep you busy, or become a workaholic, frightening memories will invade your dreams and many of your waking moments. Often it’s like running on the spot to keep the black hole from dragging you into drug and alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety, suicide, and in some cases becoming the very adult in your memories that you’re running away from.  I can understand why many victims ‘drown’ in the black hole.  Life can be a difficult journey for those who’ve had a happy and loving childhood, but for many so abused, it’s a constant day to day battle.  I am one of the more fortunate.

Please don’t ever tell victims of child sex abuse, gross neglect, or abandonment, to “get over it, move on” You have no idea what you are asking unless you have walked in their shoes!

All text and images are copyright  To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 18 March 2015

%d bloggers like this: