If you want to know what Footscray looked like 10, 20 or even 40 years ago drop in for a chat with Footscray’s very own Tony Cavallaro. That’s what we did this week, to find out how the suburb that’s less than 5km from the CBD has changed over the years.
Where were you born & when did you come to Footscray?
I was born at the Footscray Hospital (now the Western Hospital) in 1955 to parents from Sicily’s volcanic, Aeolian Islands – named after the Greek God of Wind. Dad, Tomasso, came here in 1949 from the island of Lipari, with Mum, Sarina, who was born on neighbouring Stromboli. My first memory is of playing football in a Footscray jumper at St Monica’s as a 5-year old.
Why did your dad choose to open a store in Footscray?
When Dad arrived in Australia he came straight to Footscray because he had a distant cousin here. Mum’s sister had also settled here so it was natural for them to start their business in Footscray – at 98 Hopkins Street. The shop opened in 1956, just in time to cater for the Melbourne Olympics. We still use my grandfather’s recipes from the late 1800s. After mum’s death in 2004 we acquired the property from our other three siblings, so it’s still proudly 100% family owned.
What are the three biggest changes you’ve seen in Footscray since you’ve been running your business here?
Footscray hasn’t really changed – just the faces and the places they’ve come from have changed. It’s always been multicultural. The second change has been picture theatres. When I was growing up, we had five picture theatres and, on Saturday nights, our family – all seven of us – would leave the shop and walk in single-file down to ‘La Scala’ to watch an Italian movie like Toto, or Ciccio e Franco. Footscray used to be the sort of place where you didn’t need to go anywhere else because it had everything. It’s slowly becoming a ‘hub of activity’ again and it’s great to see that change happening.
If you had asked me about change and our shop, I’d have to say there are three things that will never change: Our cannoli, our almond biscuits, and our Easter lambs. Oh, and we’ll never change our coffee machine either. When we bought it we didn’t expect to make any coffees for customers – it was just for us!
If you could take one thing out of Footscray and share it with other parts of Melbourne, what would it be?
Friendliness – and our cannoli. Whether they’re Vietnamese, African, or Italian, people in Footscray are very friendly. They don’t have any pretenses. What you see is what you get. The Footscray community is and has always been a bunch of people with a vision to create a better life for themselves – which was us 50 years ago. For me, cannoli is iconic. It’s an ancient pastry – a taste of Sicily – and it’s something you take to someone’s house as a sign of friendship and warmth. In one of “The Godfather” movies, one of the characters said, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” If you Google “Best Cannoli in Melbourne”, Cavallaro’s comes up.
What’s your stance towards food bloggers taking pictures of your cannoli?
I think it’s fantastic. They sit down here and take a photo of their cannoli and two seconds later it’s on the Internet.