A biography of Koroit's beloved Mary Fiorini-Lowell written by former neighbour and friend Jenny Phillips is being launched at the Koroit Irish Festival this weekend.
The book, Jenny Chats with Mary, applauds the creative life of the late 'Queen of Koroit'.
How did a young Mary - from south-west Victoria's country town of Koroit - attend a garden tea party at Buckingham Palace with the Queen; sing Waltzing Matilda at 2am with immigration minister Al Grassby; gain employment dubbing for the famous Gina Lollobrigida; perform around 300 radio plays, and confidently hitchhike around Europe alone?
Ahead of her time, how did she stay true to her creative path and achieve all these things, and more?
These are the questions Ms Phillips explored with her chats with Mary.
Mary Fiorini-Lowell was born at The Koroit Hotel in 1925, the home of the Bourkes.
With accommodation upstairs and the hustle and bustle of the bar downstairs, one can imagine Mary's father manning the bar while waiting anxiously for the arrival of his second child - with her mother labouring upstairs.
"There was a separate wing for the family, which was our private area and full of antiques," Ms Fiorini-Lowell told Ms Phillips.
"Dad used to block off the wing at the High Street end opposite the post office for mum when she was about to give birth.
"She had room numbers one and two for herself and the baby, room three for the nurse and room four for the doctor. We had the whole wing to ourselves."
She said the doctor at the time said it was "the best hospital he'd ever worked in".
Mary's much-loved father Edmund (Eddie) Bourke had a heartbreaking start to life.
His mother and father owned a hotel in Warrnambool, near the train station. Tragically, both died within six months of each other, leaving behind seven children under the age of 12.
Eddie Bourke was only seven years old.
One by one, the children were taken off in a buggy, gig, or jinker to be taken as far as Colac. All the children were separated.
Mr Bourke was taken in by a religious family, the Walls in Crossley, who brought him up "very well" in Mary's words at the time.
"But upon becoming a teenager he felt the need to move on and ran away to Koroit," she said.
There Mr Bourke, and Mary's mother Daly, met and instantly fell in love.
Mary's brother Mick (Michael) came first, followed by Mary, then Sheila and Elisabeth, and a little sister Alice born in 1935 who went straight to heaven.
There were no televisions or mobile phones, but Koroit certainly didn't lack in entertainment.
The hotel piano was regularly played and being surrounded by her musical family, it's no wonder Mary grew to have a passion for performing.
Whenever Mary was questioned about fear of being in the spotlight, she would reply: "Does a bird get nervous when it sings? It doesn't because it's meant to be doing it.
"I've never gotten nervous. I've done it and I've lived it."
As a child, Mary played in Station Street where she recalled 36 children living in the one block, including them.
"There were so many children that there were two chemists in town."
She attended St Patrick's Primary in Queen Street, Koroit, and attributed her later success learning scripts and writing poetry to the nuns who taught there.
"We had to memorise a stanza every night for homework, such as poetry or prayers," she said.
"We didn't understand what they meant but we still learnt them. When you're older, then you realise, 'oh that's what immaculate conception means'.
"I think it's especially important and it was great practice for remembering my scripts because my brain had been trained that way."
The Bourke family leased the Koroit hotel for five years and moved to Ballarat, where Mary and her sisters went to all-girls boarding school Sacred Heart College.
The college focused on the arts, where Mary learned to play the violin, cello and piano.
She was the president of the Dramatic Club, where she recalled spent more time putting on plays than learning.
Mary's father bought a home in Ballarat from the Convent and had it moved to the site of the Bentley Hotel, the original site of the Eureka Hotel.
But everything was about to change when World War II broke out.
A spy at The Koroit Hotel was discovered and fled, which saw Mary's parents return to Koroit while the children stayed in Ballarat.
Upon graduating music in 1943 Mary returned to Koroit, where she would drive a small pony cart and teach at the Koroit and Crossley convents.
As was common in the first half of the 20th century, Mary attended a finishing school called Tay Creggan, where the lessons were in elite class etiquette and social graces.
During the war, Mary produced a concert with 45 performers called Youth Steps Out, which toured around Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Macarthur, Terang and other country towns.
She recalls feeling the effects and heartbreak of war as she read out the letters of soldiers on 3YB radio.
Times were changing and more than 200,000 women joined the workforce during the war to fill in jobs previously occupied by men only, which opened doors for women everywhere.
In 1940, aged just 19, the war was nearly over and Mary sought permission from her father to travel to Melbourne to pursue the creative arts.
She resisted the role society had chosen for her and was intent on exploring her passion for theatre and radio plays, and like a fish to water she swam through the rapids enthusiastically.
She landed a junior lead role in a radio serial with Morris West, founder of production company Australasian Radio Productions.
"He said, 'the world looks pretty good when you're 19," Mary recounted. "I said, yes it does, especially if you can get a job on radio.
"At the beginning my father would pay for me to go back and forth as he didn't want me to stay overnight but eventually, I stayed in Melbourne when I had more work."
She remembered the day the war ended: "We sang 'It's a great day for Koroit' when peace had just been declared."
Mary was getting more and more work in theatre, film and radio, but recalled it wasn't all smooth sailing.
"I've got a page in my diary about 1949, 'Can't get work, shoes worn out, can't buy a ticket home, bad day'."
A blow to her acting career changed her direction, after she withdrew from an acting role in a play, saying she could not take part in a scene mocking religion, due to her own faith.
"I was told if you walk out of this play, you will never work in Australia again.
"He was right because I couldn't get an agent to get a job after that," Mary said.
It was a difficult time; her father passed away and she was out of work after striving for her acting career for five years.
She found work in Queensland and after a string of trials and tribulations she returned to Koroit after a year.
Her next adventures took her to Adelaide, where she had her first love encounter with an Italian man Luigi (Louis) Betello.
Mary's late 20s were filled with heartbreak due to the death of her father, but her desire for adventure and newfound love shone light on her days once again.
She travelled to London, then Italy where she dubbed for Italian movies, and eventually hitchhiked her way to Ireland - the home of her forefathers.
"Even though girls didn't travel alone so much and travelled in pairs, I never had an unpleasant experience," Mary said. "People were so good to me.
"It was so wonderful to arrive in the home of my forefathers. The lovely language and the lilt of Irish brogue stood out for me when I first arrived."
After two-and-a-half years in Europe in the 1950s she returned back home, the only Australian on a boat with 971 migrants, where she taught them English.
She and Lui married at The Infant Jesus Church in Koroit, after writing to one another all that time.
They moved to Adelaide, where she worked for the ABC, and befriended Pavarotti.
They shifted to Melbourne, then to Koroit after her mother had a stroke.
There they bought a cottage overlooking Tower Hill for 100 pounds, with "no water, no electricity and no indoor toilet".
It was small, rundown, and old, but Mary loved her new home with all her heart and recalled: "little by little we brought the cottage back to life."
No matter where she went in the world during the rest of her life, she always came back to her cherished cottage.
Mary's mother passed away the following year, and Lui just a few months after that, marking "the most terrible part of (her) life". He died of a massive coronary failure.
At 50 Mary was diagnosed with ovarian cancer - however, after the surgery the doctor said there was no cancer and there never was. It had been an issue with pathology.
Later on she did get breast cancer and bowel cancer, but recovered quickly.
Her teaching and trips overseas continued until she met her husband-to-be Frank Fiorini-Lowell in 1990.
He introduced her to sailing while she introduced him to travel and the world of art.
A year later Frank proposed and they married in Koroit. The pair had many adventures together.
Mary passed away peacefully on April 3, 2020 at the age of 94 at St John of God hospital having lived a full life.
Upon reflection of her life Mary said: "I never made it big, but I am content and have led a blessed life."
On closing the book, Ms Phillips wrote: "All in all, I am enlightened and inspired by Mary.
"Mary was an adventurer at heart and a free soul who enjoyed the flexibility of going with the flow. At times she was faced with no money, no job and no roof over her head creating moments of uncertainty and fear.
"With self-confidence and strength of character she created opportunities to use her talents and still managed to see the beauty of Italy and its people. And of course, help from her family and friends was muchly appreciated, but there is no doubt in her mind and heart that God played a huge part in bringing it all together."
To read the full and adventure-filled life of Mary Fiorini-Lowell, find a copy of Jenny Chats With Mary in Koroit.
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