I have been engaged by the Fletcher Jones ‘Stories From Our Community’ Project to create a series of short documentary stories about past Fjs employees and their memories of Fjs.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Gae Remme and learn about his life as an Italian who migrated to Australia in 1961 and his many years working at Fletcher Jones, Warrnambool.
Fulfilling a Dream
Born in Bitonto, Italy, Gae Remine was born to a very skilled but poor tailor. Gae left school and took up the tailor trade himself at 11 years. Together with his father they made beautiful suits sewn by hand. Gae, however, did not want to spend his life as a poor tailor and had dreams of moving to America.
“I wanted to go always to USA. That was my dream because I used to go to the movies and dream about the, the American Chevrolet, you know, big cars,” recalls Gae. “And always loved the English language, always. I used to sing some American songs, which I didn’t understand what I was singing. You know, the old Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, oh, Dean Martin, all these people here.”
Gae was 20 when he began pursuing his dream to migrate to America but at that time period immigration to go to America was closed because what they did in those days, was every five years, they closed the immigration. They let the new immigrants settle first, and then they reopen and bring the next lot in. So for Gae, America was not an option. Then he was told about Australia
“Anyway, I saw on the exchange rate in Australia. [and thought] I can send that much money to Italy. The exchange from the Australian pound to the Italian lire was [very good] then. Oh, they speak English there too. This [Australia] is the best that I can do”
So, Gae applied to migrate to Australia and was successful. The Italian Government paid part of the trip – the fare – and the Australian Government paid part of the fare. “See, I came on the Australian government invitation,” adds Gae. “[Once I started working,] I had to pay five pound a month back to the government and it was 110 pound I had to pay back. It’s five pound a month.”
Gae spent a short time at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp (North East Victoria) before hearing about the Fletcher Jones factory. In this video, Gae relays the story of when he arrived in Warrnambool for a work trial at FJs.
Gae was amongst a group of Italians at Fletcher Jones who were clever and hardworking tailors. Gae was often asked to find solutions to speeding up the manufacturing of garments, so making the garments quicker and easier to make. In this video, Gae talks in depth about the production of the FJ’s Skirt or Kilt as it is sometimes referred.
The Italians that Gae worked with at Fletcher Jones were like family to him. They worked and played together. They formed one of Warrnambool’s first soccer teams and called themselves ‘Gothic’ after a restaurant they ate at in town.
It felt very fortunate to hear Gae’s fascinating story and to learn a bit about what is was like for Italian’s migrating to Warrambool in the 1950s and 60s. I left Gae’s with my head full of great stories, some home-made wine and plenty of life (and business) advice. Here are a few of his gems:
“ You want to eat for 7 days, then you gotta’ work for 7 days”
“You gotta chop the dead wood off, you see. Otherwise, you don’t get any more fruit. You get less fruit. So now and again, you gotta prune the tree, and if a branch is not producing or not giving you enough fruit, you might as well cut it off because a new shoot will come.”
“Look, perfection, it’s a wonderful thing, but is very hard and too costly to get it.”
“You treat the customers like your lawn. What’s in your lawn? Now and again, in your lawn, there’s a bad weed. So you pluck the bad weed and put it away. So get rid of the weed. Just get rid of it so you have a nice lawn.”