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Alfonsi, Teresa (Tess) Vera (1907 - 1986)

AO

Born
22 June 1907
Oneta, Italy
Died
23 April 1986
White Cliffs, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation
Businesswoman and Miner
Alternative Names
  • Alfonso, Tess (alternative spelling)
  • Alfonzi, Tess (alternative spelling)
  • Bazzica, Teresa Vera (maiden name)
  • Kumm, Tess (former married name)

Summary

Tess Alfonsi was the first woman miner in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Details

Teresa Bazzica was born in the small village of Oneta, Italy, and migrated to Australia in 1915 at the age of 8. Her father had migrated three years ealier and worked as a fitter and turner in Western Australia. From 1921 Tess was living in South Australia, using her knowledge of 23 Italian dialects to work as an interpreter, but she subsequently moved to Broken Hill. There she found work at a bar and met German mine-worker Louis Kumm. The pair were married in 1927.

With Lou, Tess camped out beyond Broken Hill and began mining for mica using a hammer-tap drill. Living off rabbits and kangaroo-tail soup, they slept in a humpy made from potato sacks sewn together. After weeks of toil they had packed five tons of mica into bags ready to sell, but the entire haul was stolen as it awaited collection in a mule cart by the road. Almost defeated, the Kumms began mining again - this time for feldspar and, once they realised its value, for beryl. They founded the Triple Chance Mine and were rewarded with success. A stone cottage replaced the humpy. Often left to guard the mine alone, Tess used her .303 rifle to fend off snakes and claim-jumpers alike, and she survived several explosions and mine accidents.

Lou Kumm was a hard worker but a heavy drinker and in 1954, he and Tess were divorced. Ten years later Tess married her foreman, Dominic Alfonsi (also spelt Alfonzi or Alfonso in contemporary reports). She continued her work, opening a total of 23 mines in New South Wales with several more in South Australia and, at one time, supplying 90% of the nation's feldspar requirements.

In 1975, N. Saddington of the Australian Lapidary Magazine profiled Tess Alfonsi and 'couldn't resist asking her what she thought of women's liberation. The answer was a gentle snort. She has done a so-called man's job for nearly 50 years and her reply was, "Anyone can do anything they want to; there is no such word as can't. A woman may not be able to do some things as well as some men, but she should still go ahead and do it".' The following year, a correspondent for Woman's Day was reporting with disbelief that 'she's only 1.5 metres tall and weighs little more than 59 kilos. Yet Tess Alfonzi is tougher than a buffalo and hardier than the salt bush that grows by her home'. By then nearly 70 years old, Tess was still wielding 'a hefty pick and a geologist's hammer' to crush and sort various grades of ore, and driving a front-end loader. She was, wrote Woman's Day, the only woman in Australia to operate her own mine.

Tess and Dominic Alfonsi retired to White Cliffs, New South Wales. Catholic by faith, Tess was community-minded and did a great deal of work for the New South Wales Spastic Council. In 1980 she was awarded the Order of Australia. From 1987, she was honoured by the presentation of an award in her name to an outstanding female student undertaking mine-related studies at the Broken Hill TAFE College.

Sources used to compile this entry: Alfonsi/Alfonzi, Tess, 1964 - 1981, Filing system by name; Outback Archives, Broken Hill City Library; Allison, Col, 'Tess of Broken Hill: Lady with a Pickaxe', Woman's Day, 8 March 1976, p. 9; Camilleri, Jenny, Some Outstanding Women of Broken Hill and District, Jenny Camilleri (Broken Hill Historical Society/Broken Hill Council), Broken Hill, NSW, 2002; See also Barrier Daily Truth, 14 June 1980, p. 1; material held by Outback Archives, Broken Hill.

Archival resources

National Library of Australia

  • Broken Hill Social History Project, 1981 - 1982, ORAL TRC 1873; Stokes, Edward; National Library of Australia. Details
  • Interview with Theresa Alfonzi, former owner/miner of the Triple Chance Mine in Broken Hill, 5 June 1980, ORAL TRC 1176/8-9; Murray Walker; National Library of Australia. Details

Outback Archives, Broken Hill City Library

  • Alfonsi/Alfonzi, Tess, 1964 - 1981, Filing system by name; Outback Archives, Broken Hill City Library. Details

Digital resources

Title
Tess Alfonsi Drilling
Type
Image

Details

Title
Tess Alfonsi Chopping Wood
Type
Image

Details

Barbara Lemon

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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ISSN 2207-3124