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Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Page: 11725


Ms O'DWYER (HigginsMinister for Women and Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations) (17:44): We are here in the federal parliament today to honour the life of Sisto Malaspina, who died in an act of terror in Melbourne on the afternoon of Friday, 9 November. Sisto was co-owner of Melbourne's most famous cafe, Pellegrini's Espresso Bar, together with Nino Pangrazio, a constituent of mine and a man that I consider to be a friend. In the city that's undergoing constant change, Pellegrini's, the top end of Bourke Street, offers us a sense of timelessness, of a Melbourne gone by. There were two things in particular that you could always expect when you visited Pellegrini's: its seemingly never-changing menu and the warm and charming Italian men who served you there. The Pellegrini's menu is a classic, from minestrone soup to simple spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne, or carbonara sprinkled with powdered parmesan cheese on top and a thick slice of bread and butter on the side, to sweet grenata or an espresso from the identical brand of coffee that has been used there for the past 60 years.

But it was the staff who made any visit to Pellegrini's an event. When you entered the cafe you'd be walking into the middle of a conversation in an Italian movie scene. You could choose to join in or sit on your own at the bar and simply enjoy the solitude and time standing still. Many famous people have been to Pellegrini's, including Russell Crowe, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins. Sisto—or Sestilio, as he was baptised—with his colourful shirts and stylish cravats, was one of those charming Italian men. He was warm, amusing and full of the joy of life. A tribute by John Masanauskas in the Herald Sun put it this way:

Everybody knew Sisto, and he knew everybody.

He was 73 years young. Six days before his tragic death he became a grandfather to baby Sofia, yet tragically Sisto died during a selfless act of kindness just a few hundred metres from his cafe. Upon seeing a vehicle aflame, Sisto immediately approached its owner to help, but he was stabbed to death by the same man, a terrorist, a man engaged in a senseless attempt to inflict terror on the city of Melbourne. Instead—and this is the great irony—Sisto's death and his final act of generosity united an entire city to love and to mourn Sisto Malaspina and his humanity. To Nino, I say that I know Sisto's passing deeply affects you and I know how close you were not only as business partners but also as friends. Your friendship with Sisto began when you worked together in a catering business a decade before you took over Pellegrini's. I know nothing that we can say in these circumstances can console, but I say, Nino, that you and Sisto have contributed to our country in many unforeseen ways.

Australia is arguably the coffee capital of the world and Melbourne the centre of its cafe culture, a culture that joins its people together in friendship and conversation every day at all hours of the day. It is variously reported that when Pellegrini brothers, Leo and Vildo, first opened the cafe in 1954 they imported Melbourne's first espresso machine. Lygon Street establishments claim that they were the first. I cannot verify which claim is correct, but if it is true or even nearly true it could then be said that the birthplace of Australia's vibrant cafe culture is in fact Pellegrini's. In 1974 the Pellegrinis passed the torch to Sisto and his partner, Nino. Fortunately for us, nothing much was changed, nothing modernised, and the Pellegrini's sign itself is now heritage listed. Many cafes that came after Pellegrini's have tried to emulate the tradition of providing an atmosphere of being welcomed and being given good food, good coffee and good company. What a wonderful legacy and what a brave man! To the Pellegrini family of staff—which is, of course, what they are—to Nino and his family; and to Sisto's wife, Vicki, and their children, David and Lisa, I, like so many Australians, offer my deepest condolences. May Sisto rest in peace.