That melodic Australian-Italian voice always begins with your name. And a question, of “how are you, how is your family?”. More than anything, the warmth radiating from Adriana Lamarra’s wide smile endears her to everyone who walks into Tony’s Handyman Centre in Goulburn. Adriana and Tony, a former long-time Mayor of Goulburn, opened the secondhand business 44 years ago.
Adriana understands the challenges confronting the secondhand industry and won’t allow it to erode her optimism. “Young people love to buy flat packs, that is why IKEA is doing so well,” she says. “They put it together and say ‘great, I have put this together’. They don’t rub it down, sand it, varnish it, it is not like it used to be, ” she says. “I’m not interested in online selling, even though I could sell a lot more,” she says.
Adriana will never forget an anecdote from the head of a national charity sitting next to her at a mayoral function, when their conversation turned first to her occupation, which led to an enthusiastic discussion about fine English china. Over the years, travelling frequently overseas, he returned with a gift of equal value for each of his two daughters. One had asked for something new, the other for something old. So one daughter received a contemporary trinket, the other a piece of china, either a Dresden porcelain figurine from Germany, or Capodimonte from Italy, or Lladro figurine from Spain. In almost no time the new items ended in the garbage bin. “He says, after so many years one girl has no value and the other one (who collected china) has a little fortune in the hand, ” Adriana says.
Excitement flares each time a customer finds an old, discarded but useful thing on Tony’s huge display floor. The day before this interview a man asked if Adriana had wooden supports for old-style curtain rods. “I took him down the back, he wanted four, there were four in the box for $10. He couldn’t go out happier, he wanted something old,” she says. That’s her goal in keeping the shop, its high-and-wide windows and countless contents clean, neatly arranged and well stocked.
Matching an antique chair leg, a scarce metal handle no longer manufactured or enamel knob to a person’s keepsake furniture brings her as much joy as that of her customer.
Adriana comes from Italy’s extreme north where her father Luigi Braidotti cultivated grapes, wheat, corn, and hay. He and his wife Bruna had a plot of chestnuts in the mountains from where they also collected firewood.
The family of five lived off what they could grow around the home. In the early 1950s, Luigi sailed for Australia for work in the treacherous Bulli colliery. With a torch on his head and pick in his hand, the 45-year-old descended deep into the pit for the next two years to earn enough money to buy a garage at Corrimal in Wollongong’s north.
A month after her 10th birthday, Adriana sailed with her brother, sister and mother on the Flotta Lauro liner ‘Roma’ to Australia, spending Christmas and new year at sea.
“So when we arrived on 22 January 1955, we went to our own little house. It was the garage, with two rooms and a lean-to and that’s where we lived. He never ever paid rent, he was such a proud man, he really, really loved his family and sacrificed everything for us, ” she says, dabbing tears from her eyes. “I always get so emotional when I think of that house – when I saw it I was so happy. We lived in a big old house belonging to the Pedroni (owner) in Italy.”
Walking to mass each Sunday they would stop at an Italian cafe, where Adriana later began working after school and on weekends for the next eight years. She helped the owner’s wife Josephine learn English. Among regular customers was Goulburn businessman Tony Lamarra, who took an interest in the pretty, 20-year-old, bustling about behind the counter. He approached her parents, and the young couple began going out and became engaged. One day Adriana and Bruna climbed into Tony’s big American car for a trip to Goulburn. “He took us for a drive to the Kenmore Hospital. Well, I was in shock,” says Adriana. “This most beautiful hospital – people sitting on seats, the lawns were manicured, the buildings, I had never seen anything like it. I loved the look of Goulburn, proud and big. The huge streets, I mean in Corrimal they were really narrow streets.”
The white art deco house in Deccan Street where they were to begin their married life was her castle. Their honeymoon lasted one weekend and a day. On the Tuesday she was back at work.
In 1973 the Lamarras opened a secondhand shop where Kmart stands today in Clifford Street. Having left a seven-days-a-week regime running a grocery shop Adriana loved the five-and-half-days at the second hand shop. “I said right, this is the job for me, because I had two little ones by then, Philomena, 5, and Michael, 3. People were looking for second hand furniture. We bought furniture cheaply because people were throwing it out, other people would come from Canberra and from all over place.” Anything made of cedar sold quickly.
Two years into their business, when the Bank of NSW was about to close, they retrieved from under the stairs a set of scales for weighing gold with tiny weights in two small drawers. Still learning the trade, Adriana priced it for $25 – and it was swiftly sold. “It should have gone in a museum in Goulburn,” says Adriana who had no idea of its value. “I just hope the person who bought it appreciates it. God only knows where it is, I’m talking about 42 years ago.’’
At Kenmore Hospital, long cedar chapel pews with hinged seats which could face in either direction were picked up for a bargain. “I hate to say, we sold them for $25 again,’’ says Adriana.
Pregnant with their third child John, her legs sore and feeling uncomfortable at mayoral events, she remembers then police commissioner John Avery and Policy Academy executives as among the nicest people who lightened her day.
“I have my (Catholic) faith, I always get through things. We are all in His hands, whatever will be will be,” says Adriana. “My mother taught us how to pray, how to believe. My mother taught me how to be obedient to your husband, like all Italians,” she says, laughing. “I reared my three children here, I just loved doing it, I still do, but the day is coming closer where I will have to leave the business,” she says, reaching once more for her hankie.