Wollongong's beloved Giulia passes away

It is an indication of the mark Giulia Bonacina made on life that the Pope sent her a letter of congratulations on her 60th wedding anniversary.

She and husband Efram, both tireless workers for the Wollongong community, celebrated 60 years of marriage in 2001 by renewing their vows and holding a luncheon for family and friends.

As well as congratulations from Pope John Paul II, the couple also received letters from Queen Elizabeth, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, the Governor-General, the NSW Premier, NSW Governor and several state members.

Mrs Bonacina passed away on Sunday at Wollongong Hospital, aged 92, eight years after husband Efram, leaving behind an impressive legacy.

The pair devoted much of their lives to helping the migrant community in Wollongong.

Migrants themselves, the couple and their three children arrived in Australia in 1961, moving to Wollongong when Efram got a job at BHP.

They went on to establish the Italian social welfare group ITSOWEL and served on its board for many years. The group's president Renato Garnero said he had known Mrs Bonacina for 40 years and felt the region would be very different without her.

"There would not be what we have today if it wasn't for Giulia's contribution," Mr Garnero said.

"Will she leave a void? Yes, undoubtedly. Even up until the very end she was always there for the Italian community."

Mrs Bonacina helped to establish the University of Wollongong's Friends of the University and became a fellow of the university in 1990.

"She remained a very active member of the university community, regularly participating in the university's graduation ceremonies - including even those ceremonies recently held in December 2012," UOW spokesman Bernie Goldie said. "This warm-hearted woman who has given so much to the community will be sorely missed."

In her life Mrs Bonacina received many awards, including the Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, the British Empire Medal in 1980 and in 1987 was honoured by the Italian government.

She was also a torch bearer during the 2000 Olympics and in March this year received the United Nations Older Person Award for Wollongong.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, who presented Mrs Bonacina with the award, said she had worked with not just the Italian community, but the entire community of Wollongong.

"She was a remarkably energetic, bright, interesting and engaging woman," he said.

"You could say that she died with her boots on, in as much as she was always engaged in the community right up to the end."

Former Keira MP Colin Markham and his wife Melissa were guests at the Bonacinas' 60th anniversary back in 2001.

"The both of them were just incredible people," Mr Markham said. "They're the sort of couple that I see standing side by side in whatever they would do."

Mr Markham called Mrs Bonacina "a kind, generous, honest, hard-working mother, wife and community activist".

"I had the highest regard and highest respect for her as a human being," he said. "If all of us did half of what she did the world would be such a better place.

"She'll be sadly missed, there's no two ways about it."

Mrs Bonacina's funeral will be at St John Vianney's Catholic Church in Fairy Meadow on Thursday, February 7, at 1pm.

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