The club was founded in 1965, with the first beginnings actually arising because a group of the Italians had formed a choir and needed a place to sing. The choir is still in existence today, Coro Alpino. With the choir the rest of the Italians in the Benoni and surrounding area wanted a place to meet their fellow Italians.
Initially it was a group of around 12 which included Mario Bellini, Luigi Del Re, Giuseppe Salomone, Guglielmo Traini, Franco Mauro, Gianni Boschetti, Beppe Galvin, Nino Corser, Michele Ingrosso, Capecchi and ‘Grandpa’, Di Domenico, Perotti, Gaboloni.
The first building used as a club was in Benoni on the corner of Cranbourne and Wilstead. The building belonged to Del Re and as he had moved his business, Reef Chemicals, to Durban had agreed to allow the Italians to use the building as a club.
There at the bottom end of Benoni, the club was formed and stayed in the building for around the first 2 years. Meetings of the committee however were held at the Rex Hotel in Benoni which was also owned by an Italian, Sartori, who eventually left to start the Oyster Box in Umhlanga. The club was rudimentary but the ladies did what they could and made food at times, and it was a place to play cards, chat in their own language and in general meet with friends.
After about 2 years, the club moved to next to the Dunswart Hotrod track. The premises was bigger in order to accommodate dances and the growing membership. But there was also the idea to purchase a property in order to settle the Club in a permanent home. The municipality offered the East Rand Italian Club the land adjacent to the rubbish dump in Benoni but it was not accepted because of the dump itself. The same piece of land is where Old Bens is situated today.
74 Middle Road, Bartlett became home for the club in 1978 and started with only a little house.
A home away from home, 8000km away from their homeland. The first president of the club was Giuseppe Salomone who came down to South Africa in 1954 to work in the mines along with Guglielmo Triani, Gabolone, Di Vitorio and others. Most Italians came to South Africa work in Italy was scarce and it was a choice of sugar plantations in Australia, building railway in Brazil or the mines in South Africa.
It must have been difficult to leave the homeland of Italy and travel 8000km to the bottom of Africa! In modern times air travel makes it easy to jump on a plane and travel the world but back in those days travel was not as abundant, and in some cases it took 3 days of flying not much higher than the tree tops to get to South Africa.
One can only imagine the homesickness, the cultural change and the work environment the Italians found themselves in. One would suspect these values made the formation of the Italian Club so important in their lives, and therefore important today, to ensure those values are not lost.
The initial group of miners started the Mine School in 1954 at State Mines in Springs and this initial group paved the way for other Italians to come to South Africa to work in the mines.
A nice real story coming out of these initial times of this group of miners comes from Guglielmo Triani who recounted that on 24 December 1955 they were down the mine and came to the surface around 8 am that morning where he was given his papers on successfully completing his apprenticeship. He raced off that day to get married, with Giuseppe Salomone as his best man, and was happily married for 50 years before his beloved wife passed away in the same year as their 50th wedding anniversary.
This story and many other stories have passed the East Rand Italian Club walls. The club has different memories for different people but the importance is that those memories should be cherished and are part of the culture and value system of the club itself.
This page on the website is dedicated to these memories and to all who have passed the walls of the East Rand Italian Club. May the traditions, culture and values be remembered. These are the building blocks on which we stand so that we can look forward and see from a higher step what the future actually holds.