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The way we were: Josephine Zammit Cordina

She brought a slice of life in Australia to our television screens and gave our emigrants the sense of nostalgia they craved. Maria Stivala interviews Josephine Zammit Cordina

Hers is the name that is synonymous with the popular TV programme Waltzing Matilda. Josephine Zammit Cordina is the woman that has bridged the Maltese community in Australia with that in Malta, bringing to our TV screens the life of a tpical Maltese family in Oz.

I was greeted with a warm welcome in the sweet home of Josephine and Harry. Everywhere I looked, I could see ornaments, framed pictures and other memorabilia that lead to Australia. What's all the fascination with Australia? I dared to ask.

"I cannot explain it," she immediately replied, smiling. "It simply fascinates me that our Maltese brothers and sisters in Australia have never forgotten about their roots. They are very proud of their homeland and I love to showcase that."

The never-ending cyclical journey to Australia started in 1988 when she produced a radio programme for SBS Radio Australia, a series of 28 episodes about the Grand Masters of the Order of St John in Malta. The production of the show ignited a sense of belonging to the Maltese community of people who are living so far away from their homeland.

"I can empathise with these people," she said, recalling the days when she and her family emigrated to Egypt and then to the UK, following her father Carmelo Gauci when he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.

"Living away from the country you were born and raised in, is definitely not easy... being away from the rest of your family and in a place that is culturally different to what is familiar to you..." She also recalls the emotional moments when she would be back on the island after a long journey by sea. "I would almost want to jump off the boat as soon as I saw Malta, I couldn't get here fast enough... it was almost as if Malta was beckoning us with joy, welcoming her children back home."

Waltzing Matilda premiered almost 18 years ago and has been airing both in the summer and winter schedules ever since. Her prime aim was and still remains, to make the Maltese audience more aware of our compatriots offshore.

Along the same analogy, Josephine has been producing and presenting the famous radio programme il-boomerang for the past 27 years, carrying the same concept.

"Waltzing Matilda and il-boomerang give me an opportunity to show people's individual stories and their accomplishments and ultimately rekindle their nostalgia towards our much-loved island".

Whether you are a priest, a farm man or an author, Josephine is interested in everyone's story. It is for this reason that attracted such a remarkable audience for all these years.

Notably, she received a number of honours for her dedication to the Maltese expatriates in Australia including, The Midalja Għall-Qadi tar-Republika in 1995, Honorary member of the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2003 and recently Gieh il-Hamrun in May 2011.

"I dedicated my life to these programmes," she confessed. As women always do, we started to talk about our families. She recalls leaving her husband and children to go to theatre rehearsals, or her weekly appointments with emigrants who return to Malta for a holiday. "It was never easy, leaving Harry and the children. But I never gave up, I am a fighter." She persevered through the odds and succeeded.

"It's all about balance, isn't it? My husband and I have learned to juggle our tasks and have learned how to work together. I simply wouldn't have achieved all this without him – he is the shoulder I lean on," she said with a warm smile.

Harry, a TV programme editor who had directed a local newsdesk for some time, took on the role of editor to help his wife with the production of Waltzing Matilda. "I edited all 390 episodes of them," he proudly remarked.

"We're a good team," they agreed.

The hard work has definitely paid off; Josephine Zammit Cordina has built herself a household name that is synonymous with the national and international broadcasting industry. In fact, Waltzing Matilda is still being broadcasted on an Australian TV channel Victoria.

I then asked her whether she analyses her work. Does she accept criticism? "I do, indeed". It is for that reason that she prefers working on TV productions because she can analyse her performance, she explained. Josephine also confesses that she mainly analyses herself from a visual perspective. "I always make sure that I dress up and look elegant, even if I am simply running errands. It keeps me feeling alive".

Speaking of running errands, we talk about how often she is recognised in the street. Does that bother you? I asked, naturally. "The audience is what made me and I am forever grateful for their loyalty and appreciation," she promptly replied.

One must never forget where they came from; it is those roots that help us blossom into the wonderful creatures we are today. "My gift is simply that I always recognise the need to appreciate where I had come from and as I continue to foster my capabilities, I wish others would follow suit".

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