Bruno Bazec was an adventurous man who, in his youth, cheated death many times.
A soldier and boilermaker during World War II, he helped to build the world-class battleship Roma, but a feeling in his gut told him to transfer to the army inventory rather than serve on the ship.
Six months later, Roma was bombed, the battleship broken in two before capsizing in the Strait of Bonifacio near Sardinia.
Not long after, Bruno was preparing a faulty vehicle for patrol in Albania when he was poisoned by carbon monoxide.
Found slumped over the steering wheel, he was presumed dead. But as he was being carried away, a little boy saw his fingers twitching and they realised he was still alive.
Bruno, tough and savvy, survived the devastation of war and would go on to live a long and good life for almost a century.
“He had more lives than a cat,” says son Aldo.
Bruno was born on November 1, 1923, in the port city of Trieste in north-east Italy. His family struggled under Mussolini’s fascist regime, constantly searching for food and work.
“They were really restricted in what they could and couldn’t do,” says Aldo.
“He used to say that as a youngster it was very hard to live. They had no food. He lost a few siblings, including his sister Violetta, [who died] in his arms because they had no medicine to give her.”
He began working aged 14, making chrome and nickel at a factory, before he worked at the dockyards and began his lifelong trade as boilermaker and metal sheet worker.
Bruno was in the navy and army during WWII, at one point deployed to Albania where he served alongside a man called Atilio.
In a stroke of fate, the pair would meet many years later at Bonegilla migrant camp in Wodonga. They became close friends for more than 50 years, living a kilometre from each other in Yarraville.
After the war, Bruno returned to Italy. On October 6, 1947, he was invited to a ballroom dance and while taking a break from the heat, sat next to a woman called Maria.
They quickly realised they lived near each other and took the tram home together.
Maria, “remarkable and kind-hearted”, was the love of Bruno’s life. They were married on July 5, 1953.
“He just fell in love with Mum and they were inseparable,” says Aldo.
The couple decided in 1960 to migrate to Australia. They rented with friends in homes in Yarraville and West Footscray, and Maria fell pregnant in 1963.
Family illness back in Italy saw the couple return to their homeland, where Maria gave birth to Aldo. Bruno would later say his son was “made in Australia and born in Italy”.
Now a family of three, they returned to Australia in 1967, renting an apartment above a local fruit shop on Anderson Street in Yarraville before they made enough money to buy their own home nearby.
Aldo was exceptionally close to his parents, working with his father for 10 years at the State Electricity Commission, driving to and from work together every day.
When Aldo and his wife Blazanka had two daughters, Rebecca and Danielle, they were doted on by their grandparents, who took them to the park, treated them to lunch in Footscray and taught them Italian.
The girls learnt to make homemade gnocchi and pasta al forno, and played “shopkeepers” with their grandparents, who rigged up tents with tarps and pegs.
When Rebecca gave birth to son Xavier, he became the “apple of Bruno’s eye”.
In 2014, Maria’s health began to deteriorate. She moved into a nursing home and Bruno visited her each day, no matter the weather, at 3.45pm for more than three years.
The family were bereft when Maria passed away in 2017, surrounded by loved ones.
But Bruno continued to live a full and happy life, his days filled with lunch and coffee dates with friends and family, and weekends visiting the Geelong waterfront or lunching in Daylesford or the Dandenong Ranges.
He loved to spend time in the sun in the garden with Rebecca, getting excited by the “coocumbers”, chilli and parsley.
He loved a cold VB, barramundi fish and chips and vanilla slice. A particular favourite was freshly ground coffee. “You knew it was good if he said, ‘I want to swim in it’,” says Rebecca.
Another passion was the lotto. Aged 96, he would use his iPad to log into the website.
“Dad kept a record from the first time it actually was drawn, and kept them written down in a little notebook with every single draw done on a Saturday,” says Aldo.
Bruno also took great pride in his appearance: his shoes were always polished and he always kept a handkerchief and comb in his pocket. He always wore suspenders and never left the house without a collared shirt.
Aldo says everyone who knew his father remembers him as an “absolute gentleman”.
“He was always happy and he had a beautiful warm smile on his face.
“He was a kind soul and he was humble. He never expected anything and he appreciated everything.”
In 2019, Bruno began to have issues with his kidneys and moved into Benetas’ St George aged care facility in Altona Meadows.
After a mild stroke in August, Bruno was hospitalised. It was there that he contracted coronavirus. He fought for more than two weeks before he passed away on August 28.
His family miss him greatly, but now imagine him dancing in the heavens with Maria, a big smile on his face, looking sharp with freshly combed hair and a coffee in hand.
The Age welcomes submissions from families or friends who would like to pay tribute to those taken by the pandemic for inclusion within this series.
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.