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Yamba couple Alex and Mary Panetta and daughter Elena. The couple moved to Australia, to make a better life for their little girl. Image: Lynne Mowbray

Working hard for a better life

Lynne Mowbray |

For Yamba couple Alex and Mary Panetta, their personal journey leading up to the opening of their new Mobilebarn Yamba franchise in April, has not been easy.

“We are an Italian family from Vibo Valentia, Calabria, in southern Italy; a really poor town with a pretty bad economy,” said Alex. 

“I’d been working for a restaurant in Italy for three months and in Italy we get paid per month not per week. This restaurant didn’t pay me for two months and I was really upset and went home and spoke with my partner. I told her that I was angry and super upset and that I wasn’t staying in Italy anymore and that I was going to move to Australia.

“So I got on the internet and Facebook and started looking for jobs in Australia. I searched for Italian groups etc to help ease myself into Australia.

“Then I found an advertisement from the ‘Italian on the hill’ restaurant in Yamba, which were looking for an Italian waiter with experience. So I sent them a text and within about 30 minutes the owner phoned me.

“So I had a chat with him and told him what experience I’d had as a waiter. He told me that Yamba was a small tourist town on a beach and a great place to bring up children. I thought that it sounded like where we lived.

“I spoke to my partner and told her that if we moved to Australia, we might be able to realize our dreams.

“We couldn’t both afford to go, so I had to leave my partner and little girl Elena who was 2, behind in Italy – which broke my heart,” said Alex.

Despite having to leave his loved ones behind, Alex’s dream for a better life for his family, gave him the courage to chase his dream.

“I arrived in Australia in September 2017 with 300 euro (about $500),” Alex said.

“I didn’t speak any English at all – I couldn’t even say ‘hi’.

“I had relatives in Sydney who wanted me to stay with them, but I told them that I had to get straight to Yamba and start work.

“After paying for the flight and shuttle bus I remember arriving in Yamba with 50 euro left, which wasn’t enough to pay the accommodation.

“So I spoke with the owner of ‘The Italian’ and he paid my first weeks accommodation at the (Yamba) Backpackers.

“I checked out the restaurant and the owner told me to go and have a look around the town (and settle in) and I said; “no, I want to work” – so the same day I started work at ‘The Italian on the Hill’.

“My English was not very good at all, but they saw how hard I worked and after I was there for about six months, I started managing the floor.

“I needed to earn more money and I was still living at the Backpackers, so I started to work for them as a dishie. So I was working as a dishie every morning and waiter every night, for 7 days a week.

“I did this for some time but it was becoming too much, so I left The Italian and started working at the (Yamba) Bowling Club, so I still had 2 jobs which helped me to make enough money – because in the back of my mind I was still thinking of our future.

“To get the partner visa it cost us about $20,000AUD, which included the immigration agent and all the paperwork, plus all the flights.

“After one year in Australia I had saved the money and in July last year I returned home to Italy to see my partner and daughter.

“We had been together for seven years, so in September we got married.

“I had to wait in Italy for my new visa to return to Australia and the same day we got married I received my visa and we booked the flights back to Australia.

“So a week after we got married we left for Australia to start our new life together as a family.

“I am (extremely) grateful to both the Backpackers and the Bowling Club because they kept the jobs, for me to return to.

“I want to say a big thank you, because they actually gave me some money as well as assisted us with the real estate agents to get a place to rent.

“Now we have started a new life here and we really love Yamba. It’s still hard for us because we have no family here. But we did this for our little girl; to make a better life here, for her.

“We had to make this sacrifice, because the economy is so bad in Italy, that it will be hard for the next generation to get a job.

“We love Yamba and the people are all super nice. Everything is going good for us and we are still learning English.

“We opened this Mobilebarn business in April, as a franchise with the Maclean outlet who helped me to set up this shop,” Alex said.

Mobilebarn specialise in mobile phone repairs and accessories.

Alex and Mary are not scared of hard work.

Mary works as a cleaner (while 3 ½ year-old Elena attends day care) and Alex is working his Mobilebarn business as well as his jobs at Backpackers and The Italian, as well.

The couple hopes to one day bring their family out to visit them here in Australia.