Tina’s journey to her identity
Knowing the past can bring solace, writes Darren Devlyn
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