I was born in San Giorgio la Molara (Benevento-Italy). My parents, Rosa Caretti and Salvatore Mercorella, were only 18 and 19 years of age respectively when I made my entrance the 10th November 1947. My young brother Con arrived almost three years later.
My maternal grandparents were Angelo Caretti and Maria Faraonio, it was in their home that I was born, in the town of San Giorgio and my paternal grandparents were Concetto Mercorella and Libera Corvino. We all lived together with them in a farmhouse on a beautiful country slope overlooking the town about 4kms away. Custom in those days was that the bride moved in with the husband’s family.
My first nine years of life were spent here, happily roaming the hillsides collecting wild violets and herbs that grew abundantly in the area – that is when I was not carrying out chores e.g. playing shepherd girl to a dumb goat, helping Mum prepare the meals, being sent down to a freshwater fountain with a small barrel on my head, which I did not mind, except when I had to share the road with wild cows!
My formal schooling did not start till the age of seven. My brother Con and I attended school about two km from our home, called Santo Lazzaro. I can still feel the plastic white collar with the navy blue ribbon which was worn over some sort of uniform.
Our father Salvatore left for Australia in 1952, I was four years of age and Con was two. Dad would not see us again until we were nine and seven.
Nonna Libera passed away in 1956 after 11 years on a wheelchair. Dad sent us tickets to join him in Australia, we disembarked at Port Melbourne on the 8th March 1957. It was a memorable event in my life. We were all on board the ship Neptunia, looking down at the sea of faces looking up. I soon recognized Dad amongst them. It was a joyous reunion; we were a family once again. We boarded the train that would take us to Adelaide where all our relatives were preparing a feast to welcome us.
In 1957, my brother Con and I were enrolled at the local Catholic school, St. Josephs at Hectorville. This major event was made easier for us as our cousins Maria, Angelina and Michelina Caretti had arrived the year earlier. Nevertheless, it was difficult and challenging, trying to learn our lessons without the knowledge of English. In those early years, there were no special programmes for immigrant children, we got thrown in the deep end, swim or drown; thank God well all swam.
In 1962, I enrolled at the Muirden Business College in King William Street, Adelaide. where I spent two happy years. I attained my Intermediate Certificate in 1964. This was also the year that the Beatles toured Australia for the first time. Our headmaster Mr Muirden allowed us half a day off, (we were all ready to wag it anyhow) so we could all go down to the Adelaide Town Hall to see them.
In 1964, I was offered my first employment with the then Postmaster General’s Department as a Shorthand Typist in the city of Adelaide.
Another milestone was 23rd September 1967. Lino Totani and I were married at the Church of the Annunciation at Hectorville. We have been married almost 33 years.
My parents moved from Adelaide to Alice Springs in 1967 for better employment opportunities. My brother Con also left Adelaide to join the Australian Air Force in NSW. Mum, Nonno and my little sister Diane (aged 18 months) joined Dad in Alice Springs early 1968.
Lino and I went to Alice Springs at Christmas time that same year. Con also made the trip, it was a wonderful Christmas. Lino and I liked the way of life in a small town, about 8,000 inhabitants,so much that we decided to stay. We all shared a home for about 18 months.
Lino and I were blessed with two gorgeous sons, David arrived the 11th August 1969 and Paul on 7th October 1971. David made us Nonni about a year ago, for which we are grateful and honoured.
Whilst the boys were small, I worked part time in a travel agency, thanks to the generous help from my mother Rosa, taking care of the boys. In 1975 Paul started kindy and with David already at school, I could look for permanent employment.
In 1975, I started working for the Alice Springs Law Courts (Secretary to the two resident Magistrates) which was to last 24 happy and interesting years. My initiation into this position was quite extraordinary to say the least. During an adjournment an elderly gentleman entered the court room with a 22 calibre gun, aimed at one of the lawyers, took a shot, then prepared to shoot again. At this point my feet said “Lina .. run”. So I obeyed and ran towards the door which was right in the path of the gunman. The lawyer’s life hung on a silver thread for about a week, but survived.
Anything that followed was a piece of cake. The jurisdiction covered by the two magistrates was vast, Children’s Court, Family Court, Mining Court, WorkHealth, and one very important one was the Coroner, organizing and accompanying the Magistrate at the Alice Springs Hospital Mental Health ward for hearings. The Alice Springs Magistrates also had to travel to Aboriginal settlements once a month to hold Court, so on many occasions I accompanied them. Some memorable and diverse events were, of course, the disgruntled ex-employee pilot that flew a small plane into the hanger of Connellan Airways at the Alice Springs Airport killing about six employees inside the hanger, the Azaria Chamberlain inquest, the Mac truck that crashed into the pub at Ayers Rock and killed a number of tourists; the Air Balloon crash that claimed 13 lives. My close involvement was due to the fact that the Magistrates were also the Coroner, and all this work came under my umbrella, which included organizing the inquests, arranging witness travel, accommodation etc. This brought me close to the people involved, which sometimes were the deceased’s next of kin from all parts of Australia and overseas. I made many friendships in my line of work, including Lindy Chamberlain, we have remained friends since that tragic August night in 1980. Many of the Magistrates whom I worked with over the 24 years have passed away, but remain in my thoughts and prayers, Denis Barritt, Jack Towers, and the colourful Godfrey Foy (bob) or Scrubby to his friends. I am still in contact with the ones that are still living.
Of course there was always time to get involved in the community of Alice Springs. The main organizations that come to mind are Migrant Resource and Settlement, the Verdi Club Soccer Club; Dante Alighieri Society; Alice Springs Archives Society; and most recently the Central Australian Football League, involved in Australian Rules Football, which is one of my great passions. I became Secretary of the Pioneer Football Club which was basically an Aboriginal club. My husband Lino also joined in the capacity of Team Manager to the League Seniors. It was a wonderful family club which cemented many long lasting friendships. I received a Life Membership to Pioneer F.C. late 1999 whilst I was already living in Adelaide. This was a great honour which I cherish.
I have many diverse interests which basically have changed over the years. Amongst them, I have travelled to Argentina, Italy, and almost every state in Australia.
I have played basketball, netball, softball. I was the producer and announcer of an Italian radio programme on the airwaves of Alice Springs for two years back in the mid 70s.
One absolute crazy thing I have done has to be skydiving. On the morning of my 50th birthday I was determined to mark the occasion, so I decided to jump out of an aeroplane, tandem that is. I did not have the courage to tell my husband, neither my mother as they would have tried to talk me out of it. So the only ones who knew were my two sons Paul and David, my sister Diane, and my best friend Ronda Ross and all my work colleagues at the Court House.
The experience was overwhelming, to climb 10,000 feet in a small plane, then to step outside strapped to a professional skydiver, the anticipation, the excitement, fright, all mixed in one. The event was videoed from start to finish by another skydiver with a video camera and still camera strapped to his helmet. I had real evidence of my experience which we proudly showed to the family on that 10th November 1997
My other weakness is Italian folk songs, this has lead to a great occasion in Alice Springs a few years ago. The Darwin Theatre Company produced a play ‘EMMA’ which is based on the life of Emma Ciccotosto, an immigrant of the pre-war years. A Choir on stage singing traditional Italian songs compliments the play at appropriate intervals. This was a wonderful experience for Mum and I, and many Italian women of Alice Springs.
Upon my arrival in Adelaide late 1999, I was to discover that the “EMMA” production was in rehearsal, so with an invitation from my aunty Silvia Mercorella to join the Adelaide Choir “Le Rondinelle” the music master was Guido Coppola, and Vincenzo Andreacchio musical director I participated in another wonderful experience.
This involvement has lead to my joining the Rondinelle on a permanent basis. Vincenzo and a number of the younger women formed a choir also at the conclusion of the play, which I was invited to join, and I did. I am fortunate to experience two styles of our traditional Italian music; this gives me great joy and satisfaction.
OLYMPIC TORCH BEARER
This has to be listed high on my list of proud moments. Early 1999 whilst still living and working in Alice Springs my friend Ronda Ross and I were strolling around town on our usual lunch break, we were offered nomination forms for torchbearers in the forthcoming Olympic run. I actually filled it out, posted it and forgot about it, never really believing I would be chosen. In the meantime my husband Lino and I moved to Adelaide (due to health reasons). I resigned from my position at the Courthouse after 24 years.
At Christmas time my son Paul called me on the phone saying there was a letter from the torch relay. The shock was unbelievable on hearing I was chosen. I felt pride, gratitude, shock and pure joy. I had been chosen by a Selection Committee in Alice Springs to carry the Torch on day one, the 8th June 2000.
I received the uniform a month prior to the run and I travelled to Alice Springs for this great historical event.
In conclusion I must add that my best friend Ronda Ross (aboriginal lady) and myself are in the process of writing a book on our lives, how our friendship has grown over the years, enjoying and experiencing and sharing our two diverse cultures.