I feel so proud that I was able to capture some of his amazing life and character in my book Finding Valentino. It pains me now that I have lost him. He was a wonderful father, a gentle and kind soul with an honesty that was admired by those who knew him.
Here now is a little bit about my father, adapted from the eulogy I read at his funeral. His life was an inspiration to me and my writing and I will miss him dearly.
My father, my hero, my inspriation
Valentino Di Sciascio was born in a small hamlet in Abruzzo Italy called Capoposta, on 21 April 1926. This was a very auspicious day as also born on that day was Queen Elizabeth. Valentino was the second son of Mattia Di Sciascio and Chiara Marcello. He had 5 siblings, Carmela (who died tragically when she was only 5), Camillo, another Carmela, Giulietta and Alberto. Only Alberto survives, living in the family home, the house my father was born in.
Whilst his family were poor and conditions were harsh relative to the life we lead now, Valentino’s childhood was a happy one filled with music, fun, laughter and camaraderie. His world at that time had a frontier of 10km. His family were farmers and lived a largely subsistence life. He was surrounded by relatives and friends in a village area which during his childhood housed about 200 people. He was a cheerful child who had many friends and was well liked. Valentino had limited schooling which was interrupted by World War 2. War was a difficult time for his family, especially 1943 when war raged, literally around their home. It was a frightening, hungry and challenging time for them all. This experience had a resounding effect on my father and how he viewed politics, war and indeed the goodness of mankind.
In 1952, at the age of 26, Valentino and his good friend embarked on a grand adventure to emigrate to Australia. It is so difficult for my generation to comprehend just how momentous that decision must have been; to leave your family, friends and homeland for a foreign country on the other side of the planet. But he saw no future in the poverty and despair of post war Italy. Valentino’s adventurous and courageous spirit saw him through his settlement and integration into Australia. He never saw his parents again and did not return to his family village for another 23 years. I can’t envisage how hard that must have been.
At home we have the suitcase that my dad travelled to Australia with. It is old and worn now but clearly on the lid is his name and destination, painted in large scrawling print using white wash. What feelings must have been going through his mind as he painted that label in early 1952? He carried that suitcase with him on his journey and the fact that we still have it now demonstrates how important a symbol of his life it had become to him. In that suitcase packed neatly on that long journey were his one pair of shoes, a few dollars and some clothes. The dollars ran out before he even arrived at Station Pier Melbourne. It was a meagre beginning to a new life and that suitcase is a poignant reminder of the story of migration, of loss and new beginnings.
Upon arriving in Australia Valentino was eager for work and tried his hand at many jobs. He was a labourer, builder, truck driver, production worker and farm hand. Through work and settlement into Australian life, Valentino became Wally. A name given to him by an Australian, a name he never requested but managed to stick to him for the rest of his life. A few years after arriving in Australia he and his friend started a poultry farm in central Victoria. It was at this time that he met my mother Joan. Mum worked as the bank manager’s secretary. Dad owed money to the bank and so paid quite a few visits to the manager. At a dance one night mum recognised Wally and they began chatting. The rest is history.
And what a history it was. They were married for over 52 years, had 6 children, were partners in a business and shared a life together which was honest, committed, loyal and sincere. After they got married, my father worked at a textile factory in Bendigo, whilst building up the poultry farm. After a while though he ended up working full time at there until 1968, when they and the textile factory dad worked for, moved cities.
In 1975, not long after my parents went to Italy for the first time since my father’s migration, the textile industry in Australia collapsed, along with his employment. But with typical Valentino style, he embarked on a brave move – to start his own general engineering business. This business grew from humble beginnings to 30 years later being one of the major aluminium window fabrication and installation companies in our city, largely due to his hard work and ever adventurous spirit in those early days. In this my mother worked beside him, supporting him every step of the way.
My father retired in name only. He still would venture down to the factory every day, doing whatever he could to help the business. This continued until Alzheimer’s took a hold of him and he became less able to be independent. He ended his days in the family home as mum’s shadow – he never left her side. In the last two years of his life, he was cared for at the dementia unit at an aged care facility, where they were blessed by his cheerful and gentle demeanour as much as my family were all our lives.
So you have read about his life and movements, but what themes define and describe Valentino’s character, who he was, why this humble man had an impact on so many people’s lives?
Here now is Valentino’s top ten.
Family meant everything to Valentino. Unlike his siblings in Italy, Valentino was a good breeder. He and my mother were the proud parents of six children. My cousin recalls asking dad why he had so many children. Dad told him that he never again wanted to feel the loneliness he felt when beginning his life in Australia. Well he never was lonely again. Many people chuckle when they refer to the Di Sciascio village that is our street – at one time 5 properties in one street lived in by our family. This was just perfect for my dad; to have most of his children close by. Valentino liked nothing better than being surrounded by his family. We were so pleased that we were able to share Valentino’s last breaths together. To the end, he was encircled by his family.
Valentino had a strong moral focus to his life. Whilst he wasn’t a religious man, he was a good man in every way. He demonstrated to his children the importance and value of respect. Respect for elders, respect for heritage, respect for culture, respect for others, respect for decency and good behaviour and respect for the institution of marriage and what a life commitment and partnership truly means. But most importantly he illustrated that the most essential virtue in life is to have respect for yourself.
3. Hard work and sacrifice
Valentino had a drive that was admirable. He approached the building of a future for his family with vigour, seriousness and perseverance. He sacrificed many personal pleasures in order to achieve this, including playing music and competitive cycling. Valentino had a capacity to work ferociously. In his general engineering, he had the intensity of concentration that enabled him to labour through often times repetitive work – he could spend hours on a lathe and would even forget to have lunch, when he was in that zone.
4. Inventive and intuitive
For a man with very little education, Valentino was able to solve complex engineering problems with vision, innovation and the skills of a craftsman. In the textile industry, some of his innovations transformed the way things were done, especially in the textile industry. He had an uncanny ability to visualise a finished product and work out the means to get there. This often required detailed and complex work, trial and error and most of all, the patience of a craftsman. For instance, local surgeons called upon him to create one-off stainless steel surgical tools. They came to him for a reason – not because of his degrees, but because of his abilities.
Valentino was a very neat, tidy and tucked in man. He liked to button up his shirts to the collar, tuck his singlets into his underwear, and wear zip-up jumpers so as not to mess his hair. His house, garden, factory and car were always well maintained, spick and span. No matter how hard he had worked during the day or how many hours he had put in, he would not leave the factory until he cleaned it thoroughly.
Valentino liked to prune trees. In fact, he preferred to cut trees down as they just made too much mess. Many a time when were young, dad would prune the fruit trees and you could hear my mother lament the loss of her plumb tree as she looked forlorn upon a naked trunk. They always managed to come back to life however. As his Alzheimer’s progressed, Valentino’s desire for neatness extended to an obsession over leaves. He would sweep leaves all day. Behind our family home stand two huge heritage listed elm trees. They are majestic. Dad hated them. They just shed too many leaves. Sometimes we would find him on the back lawn literally picking up individual leaves by hand. He would come to the back door to show his bounty with a grin and pride that was childlike. Dad, I hope heaven is a field not a forest.
Valentino’s life with music was a circle – he began his life with music playing an integral part with an accordion never far away from his hands, then he went for 40 years without it. In the last 10 years of his life, music again became central to his being. When Valentino was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, our family bought him a small accordion. After a few years he ended up with three. He would play several times every day. Until the last few weeks of his life, Valentino continued to play the accordion regularly. He was often out of tune and had an uncanny ability to somehow slip in some bars of Waltzing Matilda into every song he played. But there was nothing like witnessing the joy on his face, the concentration of his mind, the dexterity of his hands and the pleasure of his grandchildren as he belted out the traditional tunes of his childhood.
7. Honest and humble hero
Valentino believed in karma. He knew that if you were good and honest and helpful to those around you, then good things will come your way. Well lots of goodness came Valentino’s way as he performed many a good deed for his friends, relatives and acquaintances. Many people gained employment through dad, were provided an opportunity to learn and work in his business, or were given a day’s work when they needed it most. At the height of his success, he had working alongside him sons, relatives, friends, his son’s friends and the children of his friends. Many of whom worked for over 20 years with Valentino. His generosity touched many people. He was understated and quiet about this but he knew that it was the right thing to do – to help those who are close to you because otherwise life is meaningless.
Nothing exemplifies this more than in 2004, when a man well into his 60s, knocked on our door. He was from the village next to my father’s. He was in Australia visiting relatives and insisted on being brought to pay his respects to Valentino. You see, when he was a child and the war was raging around their village, dad saved his life. An American fighter plane swooped over the village to shoot at some German snipers. Unfortunately its machine gun fire landed right over where dad and some children were situated. Valentino swept the children to safety with his arms, leaving himself exposed to the bullets. He was shot in the leg. In the last months of Valentino’s life, he was often in the moment of that experience as he would recount in jumbled Italian, that traumatic incident that shaped his life. That man who came to visit Valentino 60 years after a terrifying episode, is a testament to my father’s quick thinking, sacrifice and humble heroism.
8. Wise and gentle
When people speak of Valentino, they often use the word gentle. This was such a part of him. He had a calm and reasoned disposition and was quite emotional. He was such a softie...and we loved him for it. He would be the first to cry when watching a sad movie and would cry at every important moment in his children’s life.Valentino was able to see the bigger picture of situations and could tell a great wise tale to give moral guidance to his children. It was those moral tales told with the wisdom of experience that shaped who I am and I know has helped shaped all of my siblings too.
9. No fuss - the simple things are always better
Valentino was not wasteful, boastful or flash. He enjoyed the simple things – a good bowl of pasta with homemade tomato sugo, a bowl of ice cream, chicken wings and roast potatoes, a glass of red wine at lunch time, a bowl of Nutrigrain piled high and smothered in sugar for breakfast, a Sunday drive, eating bread and jam with a knife and fork, watching his children’s success, growing a magnificent tomato, mowing a perfect lawn, tending the vines, and sitting at the head of his family dinner table glowing in the presence of all his family. Simple pleasures, welltreasured.
Valentino had this amazing ability to speak volumes with his eyes. Those piercing blue eyes of the Di Sciascio clan would be able to say I love you more forcefully and convincingly than words. His actions, pride, faith in family and loyalty to his wife demonstrate that love was indeed a fundamental part of his existence. He loved us. We loved him. His world was complete.
So, in the end, I can say that Valentino was many things: a maker (of things and of people), a thinker, an adventurer, a cheerful character, a gentle man and gentleman, a friend, father and husband, an Italian and an Australian, a music man.
Goodbye Wally. Arrivaderci Valentino.