Flat White

Five tips for modern women, courtesy of Nonna

8 March 2020

3:30 PM

8 March 2020

3:30 PM

I find it immensely dull that International Women’s Day is primarily used as a platform for the sisterhood to whinge about the *cough* big issues facing oppressed, middle-class, mod-con owning, yoga-pant wearing Australian women. In reality, their greatest achievement is managing to hold together the pretence of actually liking other women just long enough to sock one to the blokes. 

So, in a decidedly different approach, I thought I’d share some wisdom from my Nonna. 

I grew up on a farm in country Western Australia. My grandparents’ house was 50 metres from ours: a little too close if you’re a daughter-in-law but heaven on earth if you’re a grandchild. My Nonna was the quintessential Italian matriarch – she cooked for 12 people three times a day, had a hawk-eye and a view on everything. She lived through the depression, the war, and my Nonno leaving for Australia in search of a better life for his young family. When he wrote to her saying it was time to leave Italy, she boarded a ship named Australia with her two young boys and left her whole world for a country she’d never been to, a culture she didn’t know, and a language she didn’t understand. Three weeks later she arrived in Fremantle, and two days after that, she travelled down a 360-kilometre dirt track to a farm south-east of Hyden in the Wheatbelt, near Wave Rock. This was 1958 and this was her new home.  

Ever since I can remember, I was under my Nonna’s feet. She taught me to cook, pluck chickens, and make laundry soap with pig fat. When I went to boarding school, I was shocked to learn my upbringing was out of the ordinary. I was also shocked to learn that spaghetti came in a tin, but that’s a story for another day. As I got older, it became apparent that my upbringing equipped me to deal with life and it’s bullshit.  

Here are the best things I learned from my Nonna. 

1 Save money 

Even if it is just a little bit, put SOMETHING away every week just in case. Money is freedom and it adds up quickly.  

In my twenties, I travelled extensively on my own dime. I was confident to negotiate my salary and walked away from jobs where their budget didn’t meet my expectation. I self-funded my businesses. Get my drift? It’s easier to make good decisions when you don’t have to make short-term financial compromises. If you’re hocked to your eyeballs, your boss holds all the leverage. They don’t call them golden handcuffs for nothing.  

2 Buy in bulk 

When things are on special, buy in bulk. Then you don’t have to buy the same things all the time and if there’s a shortage, you’re sitting pretty.  

Toilet paper is a relevant example. Am I in Coles brawling to get my hands on a couple of rolls of single-ply? No. First, because I have better manners and more dignity than that. Second, after boarding school, I can never use single ply again. And third, I did my six-monthly paper products shop in January – as per my usual schedule – so I’m good for a while yet.  

3 Cook in bulk 

We always cook in bulk at our place. We do sausage day, sauce day and process our meat on-site. I remember my Nonna saying to my mum that if my Nonno died, we still had 500 bottles of passata. I’m still not sure the correlation between our passata stash and my Nonno’s apparently impending death, but at least we would have time to grieve before we had to make sauce again. 

And if there was an Academy Award for the greatest variety of foodstuffs stored under olive oil, I’m pretty sure Nonna would’ve been up for a nomination. We used to preserve everything when it was plentiful for the months when it wasn’t. If you could pickle, brine, jam or jar it – we did it. Fowlers Vacola, anyone? And there wasn’t any of this ‘small batch’ rubbish. One year my grandparents brought home 100 kilos of sardines for us to fillet, dry and put under oil. We weren’t going to run out of sardines any time soon but I was damaged by the experience for years.  

It always amazes me how so many modern women crow proudly that they don’t even know how to cook. I mean, what could be less liberating than not being able to feed yourself. 

Learn to cook and always have something spare in the freezer. At least if you work late, you have something at home which is nutritious instead of ordering takeaway or eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon. If nothing else, you won’t die if the Uber Eats app goes down.  

4 Take pride in yourself and your home 

My Nonna always said how you dressed and how you kept your house was a reflection on you – if you didn’t respect yourself and your things, then you couldn’t expect others too.  

Be tidy, dress neatly, and brush your hair. It’s got nothing to do with conforming to stereotypes or internalising the patriarchy — it’s about a little personal dignity. Give it a go. 

5 Be generous but don’t let people take advantage of you 

Nothing shreds your authenticity quite like doing something only if you expect something in return. Be kind for no reason. It feels amazing. 

When my grandparents went to Perth, their SEL450 was always packed with eggs, fruit and vegetables to give to friends. And when people visited the farm, they always left full of food and half cut. Particularly, in the days when we didn’t have much, there was always a meal, a few laughs and a game of cards. People remember that kindness fondly. 

And the only thing you should expect in return for kindness is respect. That’s not negotiable. 

I often think that we don’t give our grandmothers enough credit for their resilience, their achievements and their selflessness. But we can be even better modern women if we take on the best attributes of those gracious women who went before. As Einstein said, I can see further because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.  

Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswomen and unrepentant nerd.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments