Italian migrant Leo Zaia celebrates 90th birthday in Tamworth

A TAMWORTH man’s 90th birthday was as much a celebration of his long-lived years as it was a tale of love.

Italian migrant Alessandro “Leo” Zaia, a doting husband of 61 years, marked his 90th year in Tamworth on Sunday with close family at the Square Man Inn.

Leo was born on July 19, 1927, in the small town of Riva, Serravalle, Northern Italy. 

He joined the Army in WWII, and worked in France as a young man to support his parents and family.

In 1952, Leo immigrated to Australia on a cargo ship, San Georgio.

He arrived in Melbourne in April of that year and was transferred to Bonegilla Migrant Camp, a camp for Italian, Dutch and German migrants during post-WWII immigration, based in Albury-Wodonga.

He had no English language, except for the basics he would pick up at the camp.

Leo’s next chapter began when he was sent to Innisfail, Queensland as part of a cane-cutting team. When he became unwell, he was transferred to the Villawood Migrant Camp in Sydney in 1954.

Leo went to work as a farmhand at Keera Station, Bingara, where he became highly-respected by Gordon “Fafa” Munro, who supported him by up-skilling him.

When Leo migrated to Australia, he had left behind his love Isora (Louise) in Italy.

What began was a three-year love story of writing letters to one another.

But in November 1955, Louise arrived in Melbourne on the “bridal ship” known as Flaminia.

Leo picked her up from Melbourne in his new car and they were married later that day in Sydney on November 17, 1955.

Their honeymoon was spent driving back to Bingara, where the couple had their first daughter Adriana in 1956.

The family moved to Walgett the following year, where Leo took up a job on Walgett Shire Council in the park and garden department. 

He became well-known around the region for his market garden.

In 1964, Leo and Louise had their second daughter, Alda.

The family moved back to Italy when they became homesick in 1967, but returned to settle in Quirindi in 1968, where Leo worked on the shire council in parks and gardens.

The couple moved to Tamworth in 2000 to retire, but Leo keeps himself busy gardening and growing his own vegetables in true Italian style.

Leo celebrated his 90th birthday with Louise, 87, and their family on Sunday. 

He is a grandfather to Alexander, Ashleigh, Samantha and Stephanie, and a great-granchild to five-year-old Dominic.

Leo lists good homegrown food, a good wife to cook it, a glass of vino, loving family and exercise as secrets to a long life.

“Work hard and love your wife,” he tipped.

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