An Italian-New Zealand story

A new book by Dr Vincent Moleta delves deep into his Italian heritage and explores the challenges that immigrants face adjusting to life in a new culture.


Vincent grew up in Wellington, and completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Victoria in arts and literature. As a junior lecturer, he taught Romance languages, before completing his PhD at Cambridge University on early Italian literary history. He eventually settled in Australia, and was based at the University of Western Australia for nearly 30 years.

Vincent has published numerous books during his academic career, but Family Business is his first foray into his family’s history, whose roots lie in the small island of Stromboli, north of Sicily in the Mediterranean.

The book gives a vivid description of Stromboli and traces the journey his maternal grandparents, Bartolo and Giuseppina Barnao, made as they travelled from Europe to a new life in New Zealand a century ago.

As Vincent explains, the story of his grandparents was not unlike that of other Italian migrants at the beginning of the 20th century.

“They left Stromboli in large numbers to seek new opportunities—creating a better life for their families, and working hard to build successful businesses.”

Bartolo Barnao arrived in New Zealand in 1902 aged just 13, to work with his brother in the fishing industry. He returned briefly to Stromboli to get married, and settled first in Palmerston North and finally in Wellington’s Island Bay, running a successful fish market on Lambton Quay for many years.

The book explores the ups and downs of family life and many colourful stories emerge, such as making parmesan cheese from New Zealand milk to export and sell back in Italy, and large wedding celebrations in Island Bay with hundreds of guests.

“Above all, the narrative explores how people adapt to a foreign culture while maintaining their own traditions, developing new loyalties and cementing new friendships,” says Vincent.

Family Business: An Italian-New Zealand Story is published by Canterbury University Press.