Luigi starts our conversation by singing an opera. His voice shows a passionate man, a believer in love, working hard and laughing through difficult times. He shared his lifelong experiences, from his youth in Sicily, to his new life in Australia.
Singing has helped Luigi throughout his life, both to share his joy and even to endure incredible hardship. As one of eight children born to a carpenter in a small town called Ragusa in Sicily, Luigi’s upbringing was humble. Luigi’s childhood was impacted by the second World War, when his family had to take shelter in mountain caves. Though it was terrifying, Luigi said the family protected each other, and singing helped them to pass the horrible nights.
After the war, a British oil refinery opened in Ragusa. Luigi began working there, preparing wooden frames for concrete composite plastic and concrete bricks. This was cutting edge technology for building in the 1950s. He also learnt skills in plastic injection moulding. By the time he was in his early 30s he had unique skills that paid a lucrative wage for his family.
Love for family defined Luigi’s life for a number of years. He met his wife Sarina when he was 13 years old and immediately loved her. When Luigi was 16, he proclaimed “one day you will be my wife” to Serena and they were finally married six years later, when Luigi was 22 and Serena was 17. Before they married, Serena was worried and said: “We cannot get married as we do not have money.” Luigi replied, “You do not worry about money,” and in the 50 years they were married, Luigi made sure that Sarina never worried about their security.
While Luigi and Sarina built their life together, Luigi’s parents moved to Australia. Sarina and Luigi chose to stay in Italy to look after Sarina’s mother. In 1968, when Sarina’s mother passed away, they decided to move to Australia. Luigi was 36 years old and left a good job at a factory, good money and a settled lifestyle to look after his parents. He said ‘“I was getting more money in Sicily than what I could earn in Australia,” but Luigi was dutiful and wanted to look after his parents.
Initially when he came to Australia he stayed in migrant camps until he could secure better housing. He came with his three children, Giuseppe, Emanuele and Maria Grazia.
Luigi started his company ‘LUPIEM’ in Australia and made office furniture. The name stems from the first letters of his children’s names. In time his sons joined him in the business. He decided to retire at 69, but he took tools with him and kept making furniture from home. He did not stop working from home until he came to Rathdowne Place. Work was life for Luigi. It kept him doing something every day and he had a strong motivation to continue.
Despite his work ethic, Luigi always found time to pursue his love of opera and he sang until his mid 60s. Over the years he sang on radio, both in Italy and Australia. He even sang on stage for ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s. He won acclaim for his singing, but it always remained a hobby. It was only when his wife Sarina asked him to slow down in his 60s that he stopped singing professionally. Luigi said: “Sarina used to ask me: ‘what do you love most, work or music?’ I always laughed and said work is life and music is a part of life”.
Sarina passed away one month after their 50 anniversary and though he admits that he feels lonely without her, he has also tried to make other connections in his new home at Rathdowne Place. Luigi has been at the Rathdowne place for over two years, and his door is always open. He likes people to visit and have a cup of coffee.
Luigi has survived war, looked after his family, brought up his own family, been a successful businessman, and sung opera in concert and on radio. His life is full of the rewards of hard work, love for his family and of course, for singing.