I 'vechietti' Italiani: Exploring Port Macquarie's Italian community through the lens

I 'vechietti' Italiani: Exploring Port Macquarie's Italian community through the lens

I 'vechietti' Italiani: Exploring Port Macquarie's Italian community through the lens

Updated 27 September 2017, 12:00 AEST

Photographer Ronnie Grammatica tells the stories of elder Italian men through black and white portraits.

Photographer Ronnie Grammatica's most recent exhibition highlights both the similarities and subtle differences in the profiles of elderly Italian men transplanted on Australia's east coast.

"I really enjoy taking photographs of people, and if there is a story to tell I aim to capture it," Mr Grammatica said.

His series of back and white portraits have been displayed in the Port Macquarie library on the New South Wales mid-north coast.

The group of retired gentlemen are no strangers to the venue as they meet at the cafe opposite the library every Friday morning.

When Mr Grammatica discovered where the men met he was inspired to tell their stories — having just relocated from Milan to Wauchope nearly three years ago he struggled with isolation.

"Italians are renowned to be loud and speak with their hands, so you can only imagine the drama that unfolded on that first day," he said.

"They are characters and have great stories to tell."

Mr Grammatica not only wanted to repay his friends through his photography but wanted to tell the story of their small coffee shop community.

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Luigi Guarnieri and Franco Bortoli are two of the subjects in Mr Grammatica's exhibition.

"It was so dramatic, I have no clue how [Ronnie] did it," Mr Bortoli said.

"The first time I saw the photograph I thought we looked exactly like mafia men."

Mr Bortili moved to Port Macquarie in 1979 to become a farmer.

Having called Venice home all his life, he was invested in moving away from water.

"I didn't even know what a cow looked like before I got here, I had hardly even saw grass," he said.

Mr Guarnieri arrived in Australia during the 1960s in search of a different life post-World War II.

"I left Italy when I was 20 years old … I went to the Bonegilla migration camp for eight months," he said.

"I helped to put up powerlines all through north-west New South Wales.

"When I met my wife — she was 19 and I was a 24-years-old — she couldn't speak any Italian and I couldn't speak any English … now we have been married for 52 years."

Mr Guarnieri has his black and white portrait framed in his home.

"I reckon I look like Julius Ceaser," he said.

Italian community dwindling

Mr Bortili said nearly 40 years ago when he initially moved to the region, the Italian community was more involved.

"We once ran a function for over 1,000 people to raise money for the earthquake in northern Italy," he said.

"Plenty of those Italian families who use to live here have moved to Sydney or Queensland, following children or family as we have got older.

"We have never created a formal Italian club, we are very informal and just meet here for coffee.

"Now, most of the time its only three, four, maybe six of us."

The group's coffee catch-ups have become widely recognised throughout the local community.

"We regularly have people coming to join us and learn to speak Italian. They ask for lessons," Mr Bortoli said.

Mr Grammatica said he is amazed at how committed the gentlemen are in regularly organising meetings.

"They have made me feel very welcome even though I am substantially younger than they are," he said.

"I love spending time with them, even if I cannot make it every week I always know where to find them."