Tina’s jour­ney to her iden­tity

Know­ing the past can bring so­lace, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

FOR years, Tina Arena strug­gled with her sense of iden­tity. As a kid grow­ing up in Mel­bourne’s north­west, she felt aban­doned be­cause her par­ents de­voted so much ef­fort to run­ning a Moonee Ponds nurs­ing home.

Away from home, Arena felt iso­lated — at sea try­ing to deal with racist taunts.

Com­ing to terms with her past and find­ing so­lace in her re­la­tion­ship with her par­ents is drawn sharply into fo­cus in the ac­claimed SBS fac­tual se­ries Who Do You Think You Are?

‘‘ Be­ing a lit­tle girl con­fronted by a phe­nom­e­nal amount of racism was re­ally crip­pling for me,’’ Arena says in the episode.

‘‘ I was re­ferred to as a wog and that made me feel in­se­cure and worth­less.’’

Arena, an ac­com­plished singer who rose to child­hood fame on Young Tal­ent Time, trav­elled to Italy to un­cover the mys­ter­ies of her past and, in the process, dis­cov­ered sto­ries of relatives who, like her par­ents, de­voted pas­sion to car­ing for strangers.

‘‘ I’ve had some real is­sues of aban­don­ment,’’ Arena says. ‘‘ Deep anger to­wards my par­ents for de­vot­ing so much time to the com­mu­nity . . . why is it them over us?’’

Af­ter trac­ing the fam­ily tree, Arena says on the pro­gram: ‘‘ I’ll go home and apol­o­gise to my mother.’’

Arena was also con­fronted by sto­ries about the child­hood of her late grand­fa­ther Franceso, who she re­mem­bers as a ‘‘ grumpy old man’’.

At age six, he’d been forced to walk 23km each day to work in a Si­cil­ian sul­phur mine. He’d sleep in tun­nels, us­ing straw for a pil­low. Be­cause of sti­fling heat, adults and chil­dren would work the mines naked.

‘‘ He was handed a plat­ter of pain,’’ Arena says of his life. ‘‘ He lost his dad, he was the bread­win­ner . . . if he was alive to­day I’d kiss him to death.’’

Star of stage and screen Magda Szuban­ski is also pro­filed in this sea­son of Who Do You Think You Are?

Trav­els to the UK and Poland re­veal as­pects of her fam­ily his­tory that fill Szuban­ski with won­der, ad­mi­ra­tion and deep sad­ness.

She vis­its War­saw and traces the life of her fa­ther, who fought for the Pol­ish Re­sis­tance against the Nazis.

Szuban­ski walks through the tun­nels through which her fa­ther es­caped — be­fore be­ing cap­tured and placed in a pris­oner-of-war camp.

‘‘ It was pitch black (in the tun­nels), with crap lap­ping up to your chin, and walk­ing on the bod­ies of the peo­ple who didn’t make it through,’’ her fa­ther had told her.

‘‘ The Pol­ish Re­sis­tance story hasn’t been told that much be­cause the Com­mu­nists came in and sup­pressed it,’’ Szuban­ski says.

‘‘ Mak­ing the episode was not easy. The (film) crew were very sen­si­tive and care­ful, like sur­geons try­ing not to sever an artery.’’ Who Do You Think You Are? SBS One, Sun­day, 7.30pm

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