It’s rare for a woman to propose to a man even today, but in 1940 it was unthinkable.
But that’s exactly what a 17-year-old nurse named Elsa did, asking a brilliant 25-year-old quiet achieving Yenda farmer for his hand in marriage.
On Monday, 102-year-old Giuliano Zanatta passed away, ending a 77-year-long marriage that was decades ahead of it’s time.
“I was always the boss. Whatever I wanted to do, he would agree to,” Elsa Zanatta, now aged 94, said.
Giuliano did a lot too, he rose from being a shy Italian child immigrant to one of the most valuable and influential members of the surrounding communities.
When Giuliano and Elsa married in Yenda, on 27 January 1940, it was a bare, undeveloped town. The couple helped build the school and church.
Giuliano then became a major supplier of fruit and vegetables for the surrounding regions.
Having built up a successful business, he was active in assisting other Italian immigrant families who were settling in Yenda.
Quite an achievement for a boy who arrived in Australia in the 1920s not speaking English.
“He didn’t know a word. I had to teach him,” Elsa said.
Elsa said she left school at 12, and in a less regulated-era left home to work as a nurse at age 14.
“Imagine a little Italian girl leaving her family at age 14 to go off to work,” she said.
Elsa said that at 17 she had to leave her job, when they discovered she didn’t have a certificate. It was then that she popped the question.
“He was a little shy, so I had to ask. He was quick to say yes, and I became a farmer’s wife.”
Despite all his community work, Guiliano knew where his priorities lay.
“He always put his family first,” Elsa said.
The couple lived in Yenda for 20 years before moving to Deniliquin.
They stayed in the farming business, but instead of fruit raised cereal crops, sheep, wheat and rice in their new home.
The couple returned to their roots much later.
“He always loved his daily glass of red wine, right up until the end,” Elsa said.
For the last three years of his life, Giuliano lived with Elsa in the care of the dedicated staff at Scalabrini Village, a residential care facility in Yoogali.
He continued to displayed a sharp wit even after brought up his century.
Elsa was saddened but full of energy when we visited her at Scalabrini Village, jostling for space in the room among a big crowd of visitors there to pay their respects.
She told us precise dates and detailed stories of Guiliano’s life events happening more than 80 years ago. We look forward to her celebrating her 100th in six years time.