Tenterfield Care Centre's plans to extend Haddington Nursing Home continue unabated despite COVID curtailments, but the facility's first resident Emilia Sattalo can well remember when Haddington opened its doors back on May 26, 2003.
Emilia came to Haddington from Tenterfield Hospital after suffering a stroke, but the Italian-born lady led a very winding path to the room which has now served as home for 17 years.
As a nine-year-old she emigrated to Australia along with her father, sister Marie (12) and brother Jo (three). The wedding trousseaux of both Marie and Emilia were sold to help pay for the trip, but still their mother and 18-month-old sister Lucia had to be left behind to rejoin the family when funds allowed.
Emilia well remembers the Thangool shed that the family first lived in, with hessian serving as interior walls. The rest of the family were supposed to be on the next ship but WW2 broke out and Dad were interred along with other Italian nationals at a camp in Victoria for their 'protection'.
Although not understanding the circumstances, Emilia recalls bidding her father farewell through a chainlink fence where he was penned up with hundreds of other 'foreigners'. Being a little older Marie did understand and the parting broke her, Emilia said, and she passed away several years later.
Emilia and Joe ended up in a Rockhampton orphanage. They spoke little English but were treated well, before being reunited with their father at the end of the war in 1945 when the family went tobacco farming in Texas.
They didn't have much and Dad was earning one shilling an hour on the farm, but they saved enough to bring out Mum and Lucia in 1950.
The farm had good and bad years but when Emilia left school at the age of 14 she wasn't keen on unpaid farm work.
"I said I'd work for wages or return to Italy."
She was employed by the Consulate General for Argentina in Sydney as a housemaid. After an outing to Bondi Beach that nearly ended in a drowning tragedy ('all I can remember is big fat men around me, belting me up to make me vomit'), Emilia answered her mother's call to return to Texas to help fix up the family home. She went on to be the housekeeper at Texas Station.
Future husband Valentino was growing tobacco at Yelarbon at the time but made regular trips to Texas to drive his employer to doctors appointments. Valentino was a regular visitor to the family home, ostensibly to speak Italian with Emilia's mother but Emilia thought he was keen on her sister Lucia.
Mum soon set her straight and Emeila and Valentino married, although the traditional first dance between bride and groom was beyond Valentino.
"He told me 'If I was able to dance I would have already taken you dancing by now'," Emilia said.
"I ended up having my first dance as a married woman with his brother."
The couple continued tobacco farming for three years. Valentino then bought a promising piece of land at Caboolture (north of Brisbane) with a $5 deposit and they built it up as a tobacco farm, starting off with no machinery.
They eventually had some cash reserves to also establish a meat chicken farm where Emilia was principally responsible for raising 100,000 chickens a year, and the children.
If you think tobacco farming is hard, you should try chooks.Emilia Sattolo
"If you think tobacco farming is hard, you should try chooks," Emilia said, remembering the 20-hour working days.
One evening Valentino announced he had sold both the tobacco and chicken farms and the family relocated to Riverton, just west of Mingoola, where they saw out the rest of their farming days.
With Emilia already ensconced at Haddington, Valentino joined her there in 2006 around the time that the south wing was opened. She was offered one of the new rooms but said she was only interested if she could share a double room with her husband. When that wasn't possible she was opted to stay put, with Valentino moving in across the hall.
He sadly died in 2009 but Emilia said she is content to see out her days at Haddington, although she scoffs at the thought of celebrating her 100th.
"It's good and clean. You can't wish for more," she said.
Although further injury has left her wheelchair-bound she can look out from her room into the sheltered area where she used to garden when she first arrived. She can still see planters outside her window which others now tend, and keeps a close eye on which herbs and vegetables are doing well.
She said it's a good home, and the food has improved greatly since the early days. She's even a fan of the spaghetti which chef Nicholas dishes up.
Emilia has some favourites amongst the staff, calling them 'very special carers', and likes to be involved in the organised activities.
Fellow residents who become special friends tend to come and go, and she greatly misses Linda Pelusi and Theresa Stone who used to gather and chat in Italian. Emilia has a strong suspicion that she and Linda have common relatives back in Italy.
Emilia returned once to Italy, in 1995 for just three weeks, but said she had a wonderful time. Valentino returned twice and his mother was keen on him to stay, but he resisted.
Emilia has no regrets that her life took her to Australia.
"I love it here," she said.
"I can't see myself living in Italy."