It doesn’t take long after meeting Antonia Scungio to realise that she loves her family unconditionally. She has created a warm and homely space at Rathdowne Place with walls covered in family photographs and keepsakes neatly placed around the apartment.
As I enter the cosy apartment on the third floor at Rathdowne Place, a woman dressed in a bright, red sweater and a shining, gold necklace greets me with a big smile and a glint of warmth in her eye. “Come on in and have a seat. I am Antonia,” she says. A few seconds after arriving, she offers me coffee and biscuits and she instantly makes me feel at home. As we sit in her living room, she starts telling me stories from a life built around family.
Antonia’s was born and raised in Vairano-Patenora in the Caserta province of Italy, nearly 60 kilometres north of Naples. She grew up in a caring home with her parents, four brothers and four sisters. In her childhood home, all family members were treated equally; a quality she carried on to her own family. As Antonia talks about her young adulthood in Italy, she continuously mentions her husband, Antonio, who passed away in 2009. “This ring used to be his,” she says while looking down at the pendant on her gold necklace. “I always wear it because it makes me feel like he is still with me”. Antonia touches the ring with a heartfelt smile. “I was very lucky to have Antonio as my husband. He was a hardworking and loving husband. He often got me flowers”. The happy couple got married and had their firstborn child, Anesto in the 1950s before moving from Italy to Australia a few years later.
Antonio migrated to Australia in 1956, and shortly after 24-years old Antonia and 18-months old Anesto followed. The little family found a new home in Mt Gambier. In the following years, the happy family expanded, as two daughters, Sara and Silvana, and the youngest son, Dino, was born. Antonia took care of the home and kids, while Antonio worked in the construction industry. Together they also started a construction company in the family’s name, Scungio. With pride in her voice, she tells that Antonio built a hotel containing 52 rooms in Mt Gambier. They named it Southgate Motel and all her kids worked at the hotel at some point. It is still possible to stay at the hotel, but it is now run by Best Western, who leases it from Antonia’s family.
“Have one more,” Antonia demands in a friendly tone while pointing at the biscuits. It is not difficult to imagine her being a loving and caring mother to her four kids. She continues her story by sharing how proud she is of her sons and daughters and their achievements. Anesto, Sara and Dino still live in or around Melbourne, while Silvana lives in New Zealand. Antonia has a close bond with all of her children, who often come to Rathdowne Place to visit their mother. Antonia also has six grandsons, one great grandson and one great granddaughter. She loves to get visits from her family and she always makes sure to have some sweets to offer her guests when they stop by.
In between her visits, Antonia tries to keep herself busy by attending different events at Rathdowne Place. “Monday, I play Bingo. Thursday, I knit and play Bingo too. Friday, I go to the gym. It is really important for me to stay active”. The book stack on her dining table reveals her love for reading and the big, green basil plant on her balcony is evidence of her love for Italian cooking. “I don’t cook that much anymore, but I did when I lived in Mt Gambier. Sometimes my kids bring some Italian food here, and then we have a nice family dinner at my place”. As Antonia talks about her hobbies, she shows me some of her latest knitting creations. She swings a light blue scarf around her neck in and lets me feel it.
Since moving to Australia, Antonia has stayed in contact with family still living in Italy. She has been back to Italy several times, but her home country has not been Antonia’s only holiday destination. She and her family travelled regularly, and she especially remembers a vacation to Darwin in the Northern Territory. “We were together, the whole family. I remember that we were on a boat trip where we saw many big crocodiles. It was a lovely vacation.” As Antonia retells the story, she looks at all the framed pictures portraying her big family. The pleasure of these sweet memories spreads across her face: “I feel lucky. I am really happy with my life,” she says while taking a sip of her coffee and offering me more biscuits.