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Posted on Sun, Dec. 29, 2002

Australian cousins host a little bit of Italy

By Carolyn Palmarella Matkowsky
For The Inquirer

In the cold predawn of Dec. 27, 2001, I, along with my husband, college-student son, and elderly father took the first mile of a journey that would send us halfway around the world to Australia and our heritage. A cousin from Arizona planned to meet us in Sydney.

Letters, postmarked Brisbane, Australia, had arrived a year earlier. They began, "We are from Villa Magna, Chieti, Italy. Are you from there?" My Palmarella grandparents emigrated to the United States from Villa Magna. The letters included an invitation to a family reunion in Melbourne, Australia, in January 2002.

Our Australian cousins found our addresses by searching the Internet for anyone named Palmarella. Modern technology connected two New-World branches of an old European family.

We decided to see some of Australia before the reunion. After a layover in Los Angeles, we boarded an Air New Zealand jetliner for the 14-hour flight to Sydney. Despite the length of the flight, we slept well and arrived in Sydney refreshed.

Sydney is a vibrant, exciting, beautiful city. We toured the famous Sydney Harbor by boat and partied with other revelers on New Year's Eve at the historic Rocks. We rang in 2002 watching fireworks under Sydney Bridge with a few million others.

After Sydney, we flew to tropical Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. The clear, aquamarine waters of the reef are beyond awesome. My husband and son went snorkeling and scuba diving. I viewed the breathtaking underwater beauty from a small submarine.

Finally, the day we had spent a year planning for arrived. We arrived in Melbourne and cousins met us at the airport. After months of phone calls and e-mails, we felt as if we'd known them all our lives.

On Jan. 5, we attended the reunion with 140 of our Palmarella relatives, progeny of my grandfather's brother's 16 children. The party was held at an Italian club in Melbourne, and for a few hours we were in Italy. We ate scrumptious food, drank Italian wine, laughed, talked, and danced the tarantella.

My father, proud of his Italian heritage, cried as he studied the display board filled with pictures of relatives on three continents and a family tree that went back generations.

Over the next three days, we got to know our new family as we picnicked with them, saw a golf course where kangaroos roamed free, and toured the wild and beautiful beaches of Melbourne. The stark beauty of the rocks and cliffs left us speechless, but the best part was getting to know and love our Australian family.

The trip brought us to a fascinating country and proud, warm people who will always be part of our lives. It also made me appreciate the love and sacrifice of those who left the country of their ancestors so long ago so their children and grandchildren would find happiness and opportunity in the new lands of America and Australia.

Carolyn Palmarella Matkowsky may occasionally dance the tarantella at her Wilmington home.