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Snow and steady

Flourish 24 Oct 2019

With a little help, Tommy Tomasi has stayed true to his passions – including the care of his wife Joyce

Tommy holding skis on the slopes
Tommy still skis the slopes in the Thredbo Valley whenever he gets the chance.

You don’t come across many 93-year-olds who are still snow skiing, but then that’s almost the least surprising thing about Tommy Tomasi.

Speaking with Tommy is a breath of fresh air: crisp, clear mountain air – the type that Tommy enjoys most.

Born in the Lombardy region of the Italian Alps in 1926, Tommy was on skis by the time he was four. He skied competitively from the age of nine, then World War II intervened.

While still a teenager Tommy became a partisan, then was captured and spent nine months in a political concentration camp in Germany.

“When I got back to Italy, I knew I had to start a new life. I couldn’t see any future, so I applied [for residency] to as many countries as I could. I said: ‘The first country that takes me, I’m going’. And that was Australia.”

Tommy sailed alone from Genoa, arriving in Perth in March 1949. He knew no one.
Work options were limited: it was either the railways or mining.

“I was familiar with explosives – we had to blow up bridges and things like that in the war – so I finished up at the mines at Kalgoorlie. Well, Leonora actually.”

It’s hard to imagine two places more different than the northern Italian Alps and the dusty gold-mining settlement at Leonora, nearly 900 kilometres inland from Perth.

Tommy worked there for two and half years. Then one day, on a visit to Perth, he saw a photo in a tourist office window of Charlotte’s Pass at Thredbo in the Australian Alps.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh my God. They’ve got snow.’ So, I decided, that’s it. Goodbye mines. I got myself a little motor car and I drove straight through.”

When he arrived in New South Wales it was the summer season, but he managed to get a job on the Snowy Hydro and became one of thousands of migrants working on the hydro-electric project. After a year, a job at Thredbo as a ski instructor came through.

“That’s where I met Joyce – a good Australian girl. She was working in the office. I met her in 1953, we married in 1953, and we’re still together.”

After a couple of years teaching skiing, Tommy went back to the Snowy Hydro, where he worked as a hydrographer for 10 years. In 1964, when Joyce was pregnant, the couple moved to Sydney where Tommy was hired to set up a ski shop. Later he worked as a product manager for a sports company, travelling regularly to Europe. He also took ski tours to America, Japan and Europe for many years.

Tommy and Joyce had four children: two boys and two girls. “Three are very good skiers and one is like my wife – not a very good skier,” Tommy laughs. “But that’s OK, nothing wrong with that.”

In 1958 Tommy and a fellow worker from the Snowy Hydro, Danny Collman, launched the Thredbo Ski Patrol, a voluntary emergency service for skiers.

Tommy went back to Thredbo every week during the ski season for the Ski Patrol, volunteering for 60 years and only finally retiring from active duty in 2017 – when he was 90. He retired, but he didn’t exactly hang up his skis.

“Oh, no. I’m still skiing. No problems.”

Tommy and Joyce live in Jindabyne in the beautiful Thredbo Valley. In the last few years Tommy has spent more time looking after Joyce, who has dementia.

He arranged some assistance through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme two and a half years ago – these home care services are provided by Australian Unity.

“We have a lady who comes in every second week to help with some cleaning. Just an hour or so. The cooking I do myself. My youngest son, Michael, he lives in a flat at the house. He’s here on the weekend so if the weather’s good I still go up the mountain.

“Unfortunately, Joyce is not the best. She’s 89. She’s been sick for about a year, but she’s gone down very quickly.”

Tommy says he and Joyce have been together for 66 years and he had been determined to keep her in their home for as long as he could.
As her condition has worsened, he has had to consider other options for her care. But he says he could not have managed without the support of his family, friends and the team from Australian Unity Home Care Services.

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A Home Care Package with Australian Unity can help you or a loved one stay living in your own home for longer, and provides support with services including Domestic Assistance, Personal Care, Health Services, In Home Nursing and Transport. Like to know more?
Learn more or call 1300 160 170

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