|While most 83-yearold's are
comfortably nestled in retirement, Bankstown's Lena Gustin is commencing
work on her fourth novel.
Together with her husband of 57 years, Dino Gustin, the pair plan
to chronicle the Italian presence in
Bankstown and surrounding areas.
Lena arrived in Australia in 1956. At this time, there were no support
networks or bureaus which could offer
assistance to newly arrived immigrants.
Lena filled this void by commencing work on a 2CH radio
program entitled Arrivederci Roma.
From 1959 to 1984, more than 200,000 people tuned in weekly
to listen to Lena offer her devoted audience advice, guidance and
In addition to her radio commitments, Lena found time to
write two regular columns, Lena's Living Room and Lena Responds, in the
Italian newspaper La Fiamma.
"All those years ago, there were no offices to help a person
do something. Because I was on the radio and
writing in the newspaper, I became a familiar person," Lena recalled.
"The most important thing was the communication. If someone
asked me for something, I could do it
because of the program."
Considered a mother to all Italo-Australians, she
affectionately became known as Mamma Lena.
Dino and Lena have two children, Rosalba and Roberto, who
have emerged from the enormous shadow cast by their well-known parents
by establishing successful careers in their own right.
children are understandably proud of their parent's accomplishments.
"It was phenomenal the amount of letters they used to
receive. At that time you didn't have ethnic radio or community
support systems. Mum was the only contact that the Italians had. It
provided them with a lot of things they needed to know when they came to
this country. She became an assistant to everyone," Rosalba said.
The Gustins have been inexhaustible fund-raisers for a
multitude of causes. To list all their achievements in a few paragraphs
is virtually impossible.
In 1967, Italy recognised Lena's valuable work for migrants
in Australia by awarding her its second highest honour — The Cross of
"It was an official honour. But really I'm not a person who
worked for the Cavaliere. I'm the sort of person who helps people who
need it," Lena said modestly.
In further recognition of her tireless work for the Italian
community, she was awarded the MBE in 1968.
What makes the Gustins' efforts so commendable is the fact
that Lena and Dino worked primarily on a voluntary basis.
"We never received any money, but we had enough," Lena said.
Lena inaugurated the Sorella Radio Child Care Centre,
recently renamed The Mamma Lena Child Care Centre, 13 years ago.
| Money for the
centre was generated from donations sent in by Lena's many
"People would donate money and over the years this money
accumulated. So my mother and father decided
to put the money towards a good cause, establishing a child care
centre," Rosalba said.
"There are many stories like that. The focus of her life has
been to help people and she gets so much
satisfaction from that. If they can't give, they're not happy."
For those interested in sharing their experiences with the
Gustins, write to Mamma Lena and Dino Gustin, P.O Box 413,
Punchbowl, NSW, 2196,
Click here for current address and