Messina, Sicily, Italy
Messina, Sicily, Italy on 20 July 1957
Sydney on 20 August 1957
O’Connell Street, Summer Hill, Sydney
Dressmaker at Sasha Boutique, Burwood, Sydney
Dressmaker at David Jones, Sydney CBD
I was born in Messina, a city in Sicily on 27 June 1938. My family lived in the city centre a couple of streets back from the sea. My father was employed as a customs agent and my mother took care of the house and children. There were eight of us so she was very busy. My parents never considered coming to Australia and they were not happy that I decided to come. It was very difficult for them letting me go and for me too. I missed them terribly, especially during those first years here in Australia .
I met my husband Giuseppe Scarcella, who also lived in Messina, when he was on leave from military service in Rome and was back in Messina visiting his auntie Angela. His auntie was considered the finest dressmaker in the town and my mother knowing this, urged me to take lessons from her in the hope that I too would become a good dressmaker. This would have been very handy for us, considering our family was a very large one and I would be able to make many of our clothes.
I would have my sewing lessons every week and one day while I was there, Giuseppe came to visit his aunt. That’s how we met. I trained with her from the time I left school at 15 until I left to come to Australia at 19. I have to say that I too am a very good dressmaker. Giuseppe and I became engaged and were married in Italy a year before I left to come to Australia and stay with his parents. Giuseppe had to stay in Italy to finish his compulsory military service.
I left Messina for Australia on the Neptunia on 20 July 1957 and arrived exactly one month later in Sydney on 20 August 1957. I travelled with a group of family friends and shared a four berth cabin. I suffered terribly from seasickness but still managed to enjoy being at sea reading and spending time with friends. When I arrived in Sydney, I was met by my in-laws and I went to stay with them in their house at O’Connell Street, Haberfield (now Summer Hill) in Sydney.
I didn’t work for the first ten years. I waited until all three of our children, Lilly, Susie and Eugenio were born. My first job was as a dressmaker at Sasha Boutique in Burwood. I worked there for 17 years. I eventually decided to leave because at the time we were travelling back and forth to Italy once a year, so it was very difficult to be available for regular work. My next job was at David Jones in the city [Sydney], again as a dressmaker. I used to do all their fittings and alterations. That’s about 17 years ago now. I haven’t worked since then.
My husband’s first job when he arrived was at General Motors Holden in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. He was there for six years. It wasn’t his profession, as he was trained as a watchmaker, but there wasn’t enough work at the watch repair and jewellery business in Leichhardt [Sydney]. That changed in a few years and he joined his father in the business, Scarcella and Son Watchmakers and Jewellers. Our shop is still in the same location in Parramatta Road, Leichhardt. It’s been there for the last 53 years. My husband still goes into the shop almost every day, but only for a few hours.
The most precious possession I have is this beautiful statue of the Madonna. I first saw it when I was only 15. It was when I went for my sewing lessons in Messina at my husband’s auntie’s house whose mother lived with her. It must be more than 150 years old by now. It was a gift to her mother [Giuseppe's grandmother] for her wedding from the local Capuchin friars. When I first saw it I fell in love with it. It was placed on her mother’s dressing table in her bedroom.
After I got engaged to Giuseppe, his grandmother said to me, “Who knows, one day this Madonna may belong to you”. And so it happened. First it was given to my mother-in-law and then she gave it to me. This was about 25 years ago. One day she brought it with her to my house and just put it in my bedroom. Just like that. I was so happy.
The origin of the Madonna statue goes way back. The local Capuchin friar would come through our town every week collecting money for their order. Almost everyone would make a small donation of some kind because it was well known that the Capuchin friars were very poor, in fact they were the poorest of the religious orders. Because this friar came around so frequently, he got to know all the locals and so he found out that Giuseppe’s grandmother was to be married.
On her wedding day the friar came to her house and presented her with the Madonna as a wedding gift. It was obviously a religious statue and made out of the finest porcelain. It has been beautifully hand painted in the most exquisite pastel colours. For someone like Giuseppe’s grandmother, who had a strong faith, it was a good omen for her marriage and her future. She lived a long life and happy life. I too am very religious and I pray to the statue every day. I take great care of her.
Giuseppe and I have lived with my in-laws since we first arrived in Sydney. When we moved to Summer Hill they came with us and the same when we moved to our next home. My father-in-law is now over 101 and my mother-in-law is not far behind. We’ve been all together and very happy as a family now for over 48 years.
I’ll leave the Madonna to my children, naturally to the most religious one.