Gina Zarrella’s backyard is exactly the kind you’d expect from an Italian grandmother.
Separated into two sections – one for flowers, the other for vegetables – the garden wraps around three sides of her Newcastle house like green arms embraced in a warm hug.
Everything Zarrella cooks in her light, spacious kitchen comes from her garden. Vegetables of every size and colour are planted in beds that she and her second husband Bob have dug and fertilised themselves over the years.
Rows of beetroot, eggplant, cucumbers, and leafy greens stretch off to the right. Tomatoes are just starting to curl their thin, finger-like vines up the wooden posts that have been twisted into the soil. Trees heavy with lemons and oranges, mangos and mandarins sit quietly near the back fence.
Gina and her husband Bob wake up at 6:00am every morning to tend to their garden. An outdoor sink has been built along one of the house’s walls. Sometimes, when she comes up to visit, Gina’s granddaughter Chloe Logarzo joins her there, washing and trimming that day’s ingredients.
“She used to love my garden, plants and things,” Zarrella says. “She stayed with me three months when she played for Newcastle.
“She used to cook, too. She used to help me if I was there in the kitchen. She loved lasagne; whatever I cooked in the Italian way, she liked.”
Gina Zarrella – formerly Gina Logarzo – migrated to Australia from Italy in 1964, when she just was 19. Following an invitation from her high school sweetheart, Gina arrived in Sydney in late February. By early March, they were married.
“I bring everything from Italy; the white dress and everything,” she says.
“We got married in Five Dock. But I didn’t like it when I [first] come because I couldn’t speak English. It was so hard. I left my mum and dad there [in Italy]. My husband had his sister here, everybody. But I had nobody.”
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Over the next few years, as they settled into Australian life, the couple had three kids including Chloe’s father, Joe. Slowly, Gina began to feel more and more like Australia was home.
“One of my friends – Italian – she took me to Killara Hospital and I worked in the kitchen there,” she says. “And I learned; I started to learn English and they liked me there. I liked it there after.
“When I worked in the hospital, they made me feel welcome. I didn’t understand [some things] working in the kitchen, and they tell me the form, the knife, what it was [in English]. And I started learning. And the boss was so nice.
“After the kids were born, that’s it; Australia was home.”
“When you’ve got kids and a husband here, [you don’t] want to go back. I went so many times to see my mum and my family, but I always come back here. I don’t like it there anymore.”
And then the grand-children came.
“All the grandchildren are nice, but Chloe, for me, she’s different. She’s more affectionate. She rings me and says, ‘nonna, I love you.’
“I miss her now she’s far away. One day, when this virus [is] gone, maybe we’ll go see her. I said to her, ‘me and mum will come.’
“She worked hard for the football from [when she was] a young girl. I remember her grand-dad – not my husband, the other one – took her everywhere for the soccer.
“She loved it from a young girl. And we were proud of her. That’s what she want to do. My son said, ‘oh, you’ve got to find work!’ I said, ‘Leave her alone! She’ll be good at the soccer and that’s it, if she likes it!’
“[When] she comes up here, I support her in every way.”