There’s a very good reason why Tina Colautti keeps a picture of her long time boss, Sydney Valentine Lunch, on the wall of her room. He’s the man that she credits with changing her life.
Tina Colautti was born in March 1925, in Friuli, Udine, Northern Italy. This is where her family would live for only 2 more years, before moving to Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia.
Several months after arriving in Melbourne, two year old Tina was running a high fever and though the illness was temporary, it left Tina with infantile paralysis of the left leg. Tina lost the ability to walk unassisted and as a child she had to learn how to use a caliper. Despite this hardship, Tina has achieved many things.
Speaking the Friulano dialect at home and English at school, Tina became fluent in both languages. She was an interpreter for her Italian speaking parents. Having spent significantly more time living in Melbourne, than in Udine, Tina once remarked that she felt “95% Australian, and 5% Italian”. Her mother replied, “No. You are born Italian, all of you is Italian!”
Between 1936 and 1938, whilst at school, Tina attended the Cavour Italian Club in South Melbourne to learn how to read and write in Italian. Tina liked the Italian language, and she was quite good at it. She came second in her class for all three years she attended.
Each year, the applause for the girl who came first and third in the class was louder than the one for Tina. Tina felt that the audience didn’t want to applaud a person with a caliper. This stayed with her and while the discrimination was hurtful, she used it as motivation in the future.Unfortunately during World War II, Italy was seen as one of Australia’s enemies, so her beloved school was closed down in 1939.
Upon leaving school, Tina studied a commercial course at Business College and this led to a role as a shorthand typist at Jaguar, before Tina applied for a “Girl Friday” role at Silvertop Taxis. After discussing the job description at the interview, Tina felt as though she lacked the necessary skills and experience. The reply from the interviewee was “How do you know you can’t do this, if you’ve never done it?” The interviewee was Silvertop founder and managing director, Sydney Valentine Lunch.
She got the job and S.V Lunch became Tina’s boss. Tina remembers him as a very disciplined man, and meticulous in running the business. On one occasion he went so far as to wash an employee’s cab while still in his suit, making the driver watch to ensure he never left it dirty again.
More than a successful business owner, Tina remembers S.V Lunch as a “wonderful man” who helped her to change from a self-conscious girl with a disability, to a successful young woman. Once when Tina was feeling particularly self-conscious, S.V Lunch said to her: “Learn to accept your disability, and people will accept you.”
After 10 years, Tina left Silvertop and was offered a job at the Chrysler owned ‘Valiant Cars’. There, she learned how to drive and the process for borrowing money, and obtained a driver’s licence for an automatic car.
She also worked at the Veneto Club in Bulleen, where her administrative and Italian language skills were very useful. After retiring, Tina continued to study Italian at the U3A in Doncaster, an area she still regularly frequents.
Tina Colautti will always keep a picture of her long time boss, Sydney Valentine Lunch, on the wall of her room. He helped validate everything she had done before working for him – and encouraged her to achieve more thereafter.