My Geelong

Tony Valenti at Vallis IGA X-press Liquor in Highton. (Rebecca Hosking) 221940_01

The Hamlyn Heights community rallied around the Valenti family when an arsonist destroyed their supermarket last year. Tony Valenti speaks to Luke Voogt about decades at the store, plans to reopen and his other great passion, music.

Tell us about you…

I’m 58 but I still think I’m 35. I live in Highton with my partner Mel and between us we have three great kids Lana, Anthony and Zach, and a gorgeous 15-month-old granddaughter named Blare. I have many hobbies but not enough time to tackle them all. I love to cook, write, learn about history, discover new food and just relax. I started at Vallis IGA, Hamlyn Heights, with my parents when it opened in 1979. My brother Joe started the following year and my other siblings Frank and Silvana started several years later. I left in 1980 to pursue other interests and was in and out of the business, but came back permanently almost 20 years ago.

How did you feel when the store burned down?

I didn’t really believe what I was seeing. I remember my parents watching 40 years of hard work burnt into rubble and the faces of our devastated staff, and trying to work out how we were going to keep them employed. The community was as devastated as we were.

As the news spread to all our customers, words of sorrow and almost despair came filtering through social media. It had become a meeting place for friends and family. It was a major part of their lives, as they were to ours. After the initial shock faded, words of support and encouragement came flowing through and buoyed us all. The good news is we are finally on track to open the new store this time next year. It’s been a long wait, but it will be worth it.

Tell us about your music career…

One of my hobbies that became a full-time passion was music. In earlier years I played bass and sang in different tribute shows, from Elvis and Rod Stewart to Cold Chisel. I even toured with Sir Cliff Richards. My longest stint was with my dear friend Patrick McMahon, who is the Superman of entertainment. I worked with Patrick for years and toured Australia many times. I worked in Malaysia for six months and have worked all over Asia. In the past decade I’ve had the privilege of working with some great Geelong musicians singing in my own band and doing A Neil Diamond tribute. The best part, except for performing, was the people I met – from prime ministers and sporting legends to entertainers and actors – I could name drop for hours. I’ve also performed on Bert Newton, Hey Hey it’s Saturday, morning TV and more. I’ve been recording an album, when time permits, with a producer who got me started in music about 44 years ago.

What’s something about you that people might not know?

I used to do radio, locally and in Melbourne. I interviewed entertainers, authors and politicians, and at one stage I had a Geelong Cats footy show. Oh and I was a hairdresser for a while too! You’ve got to try everything!