Maria Janac

Maria has lived an interesting life and speaks fluent Hungarian, Serbian and English, and understands Polish and Russian.

“I was born in Serbia in the part that used to be Hungary before the First World War,” she explains. “My village and school were Hungarian. Even the teachers didn’t speak Serbian.”

Her mother stayed home, and her father passed away when she was young. After the war began, she rarely had enough to eat and lined up for bread and milk. At aged sixteen, she worked as a housekeeper and learnt Serbian.

When Maria met George

Although Maria had boyfriends before, she met her husband at a dance and married him six months later at aged nineteen.

“George was a normal, everyday guy,” she says. “The youngest in the family and brought up by sisters. They spoilt him and I had to keep spoiling him.”

Shortly after their wedding, he left for the army at Bosnia.

“I visited him twice by taking an overnight train 600km away. When you’re young, you survive anything,” she recalls.

Due to health issues, Maria could never have children.

Coming to Australia

In 1966, Maria and George migrated to Australia because she had a cousin who welcomed them into her 12 square feet house.

“There were seven of us living there. We were happy in Australia. Afterwards, we rented a place for six months,” she says. “When we saved enough money, we built a house and my brother even visited Australia.”

Without knowing a word of English, she learnt the language in two years by going to the movies, watching TV and attending night school.

“Whenever I needed small goods, at first, I used my hands to describe what I wanted,” she remembers.

Working 9 to 5

“At 29, I started in a butcher shop with George. He was thirty-one, working outside with sausages while I operated inside as a saleslady,” she says. “I worked with food at delicatessens most of my life.”

Life as we know it

While Maria sadly lost her husband of fifty-seven years, she still spends time with her childhood friend.

“We were born in the same Hungarian village next to each other as babies,” she says. “We shop weekly for food and buy clothes. I have so many clothes. Her daughter is my power of attorney.”

In the early 1940s, Maria dabbled in petit point tapestry — fine cross-stitch embroidery. “My brother taught me. He showed me once, and I liked it,” she explains. “He gave me a wooden artwork of horses.”

She displays seven pieces in her home and gifted some to her friends.

AMCS experience

“I’m half paralysed, my eyesight is poor and I can’t do much with my right hand and leg,” she says. “I don’t know how I would survive without AMCS. My Support Worker, Vy, keeps my house clean and changes the bedsheets. She’s nice and we get along well. I’ve had shoulder operations and received a referral for physio. I’m lucky to have this help.”

Irma Thiele

Every time Irma opens the door, she greets her support worker with a smile and her “hair in curlers.” There is always something baking in the oven and handmade cards ready for her loved ones.

“I enjoy cooking and make so many biscuits. November is always flat out with organising half a dozen jars worth of biscuits for my kids,” she says. “I also bake Christmas cakes with whisky, three at a time.”

Every Sunday, she also attends church across the road and is on a roster to prepare morning tea with cake.

Family ties

Irma was born in Leeton, New South Wales, and has two younger brothers and two older sisters.

“My father was a Lutheran Minister and the only one in Tasmania when we moved there,” she recalls. “We travelled a lot, but the frequent night travelling affected his eyes.”

She met her husband at the Lutheran Church.

“We have four kids—boy, girl, boy, girl—and eight grandchildren,” she says.
Even though her husband now lives in an aged care facility where she visits weekly, she is not lonely.

“He was always in control of the television and watched war films which I don’t like,” she laughs. “I’ve never held the TV remote in my hands as much as now.”

Working 9 to 5

At school in Mildura, Irma learnt Dacomb shorthand writing. When she sat the test, she only made one mistake.

“I’ll never forget that error, which was the word, ‘baby’,” she reminisces.

Her shorthand abilities came in handy when Irma worked as a typist at Orlando Wines. “The best man at our wedding was the supply manager. He asked if I could help for a couple of weeks,” she explains. “Those four to five weeks ended up being twenty years.”

She enjoyed her job and drove from Sunshine North to Oakleigh daily.

The wine thief

While most people would love a job with free alcohol, Irma hardly drinks. “When we moved to a new house, I had to throw a lot out because I kept them in a hot shed at the back,” she says.

However, one person was only too willing to enjoy the wine.

“One Sunday morning, someone came over the fence and stole a couple of dozens of bottles. We knew the thief must’ve been nearby because he wouldn’t have been able to carry them himself,” she remembers. “My son and husband found the wines stored under a bridge nearby. We called the police but never found out who the chap was.”

House of cards

In 1994, Irma attended a craft camp at Halls Gap in Victoria, and loved creating cards ever since. The activity is her way of socialising.

“I used to go to craft group every Monday afternoon and sold quite a few cards,” she explains. “Some people went to knit. Others came just to talk.”

Most years, she produces many one-of-a-kind Christmas, Easter, birthday, and special occasion cards. She always has a box ready and people visit her at Lifestyle Brookfield to buy them for approximately four dollars each.

AMCS experience

“At 83, it’s a bit hard to do everything. The worst part is changing the bed sheets. I can’t lift the mattress. My support worker comes every fortnight,” Irma says. “I can rely on her for general things and don’t even have to tell her what to do.”

Tina Sciretta

Packing and unpacking suitcases could be fun when young, happy and free to travel. But for Tina, she had to leave her country, family and friends. The suitcase has now become her symbol of human mobility and a companion for many trips over the Northern to the Southern hemisphere, and vice versa.

Family ties

Born Tina Damiano in Lacedonia, a province of Avellino, she married Nicola Sciretta from the same town. In 1953, they had their first child, Valterio. Because of economic necessities, Nicola had to immigrate to England in 1954 for work. Two years later, Tina and their young child joined him. The couple then had two more sons, Michael and Mario.

“Nicola’s work as a bricklayer was very hard,” she says. “We sold our home and returned to Torino in 1963 where Nicola’s two sisters lived.”

However, city life didn’t suit Nicola, so they returned to England in 1965.

Coming to Australia

“In 1968, almost as a joke, we came to Australia, selling our second home in England,” recalls Tina. They sailed down from Southampton on the Achille Lauro towards Australia, stopping at the ports of Genoa, Napoli and Messina before arriving in Cape Town after nine days. During their one-day stopover in Napoli, they toured the city, took photographs and purchased memorabilia.

A few years later, Tina and the family returned to Torino while their eldest son remained in Melbourne with his new bride.

“We stayed in Torino for seven months, but our nostalgia and family ties led us back to Australia,” explains Tina.

To remember their trip and cultural roots, Tina bought two cassette tapes and listened to the songs about romance, nostalgia and absence throughout their journey.

Her life now

In 2007, Tina sadly lost her dear husband, but she remains close to her children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She finds great serenity in her association with people her age and attends an Italian social club within her local community. Her suitcases are now, “resting with relics of a life marked by satisfaction and regrets, like everyone else.” She last visited Italy in 1995.

AMCS experience

“I first joined AMCS two years ago,” says Tina. “The staff speaks Italian, supports me in every way and takes a genuine interest in my life and hobbies.”

Audette Helou

Audette was born in Lebanon in 1946 where she did not attend school due to the war and the country’s complex political problems.

“But through my life experience, I learnt to speak Arabic, English and French,” she recalls.

Family ties

Audette married at nineteen and then raised four kids as a single mum. However, tragedy struck when her eleven-year-old son was shot in the head during Lebanon’s war. Her child’s death, “caused a scar in the heart and pain even now.”

She continued to work hard in various roles to support her two sons and her daughter, including building her own business as a beautician for many years.

Coming to Australia

“When the children grew up, one of my sons and my daughter moved to Europe,” explains Audette. “My other son went to Australia to follow his dreams and commitments. He married and had children.”

In 1998, he brought her to Australia under a Visitor visa and after a long process, she finally received her permanent residency and then her citizenship.

Sadly, Audette lost him a few years ago. Even though she was consumed with grief and sadness, “I received love and support from my friends, keeping me strong.”

Iron chef

During this pandemic, she often practised her favourite hobby — cooking. Everyone who knows her, cannot wait to eat her delicious Lebanese baklava again. When she’s not preparing food, she says, “communicating with my children and grandchildren overseas brings me lots of joy.”

AMCS experience

After being with multiple Aged Care providers, Audette joined AMCS in May 2020.

“AMCS changed my life. It lifted me from my loneliness and isolation to be more open to life, knowing someone is always there to hear me and provide me with support. They’re able to understand and respect my culture and communicate in my language,” tells Audette. “AMCS is part of my family!”