My first job was as an assistant carpenter in a government joinery in Kingston. That first day I caught a bus to Kingston which serviced many suburbs, so I arrived late. With my first pay I brought a bicycle and cycled the 3-minute ride to work. My only issue was being swooped by magpies. That first day, they drew blood! I learnt to ride holding a branch above my head.
Those first weeks were difficult as I couldn’t speak English. An Italian co-worker took me under his wing. He lent me tools, helped me buy my own when I made my first pay and showed me what to do. I was so grateful for his friendship. I worked there for 6 or 7 months earning £15 a fortnight. During this time, I helped install wooden panelling at the Prime Minister’s Lodge. Menzies was the Prime Minister at the time.
I worked 5 days a week for the Government, and on Saturdays I worked for Canberra architect and builder, Karl Shreiner. It was very hard work that nobody wanted to do, but we were hungry for money and he needed workers. For enjoyment, sometimes the fellas and I would go to the Wellington Hotel in Kingston for a drink, but usually I was too tired to go anywhere.
In my free time, I helped my friend Branco build a garage in Fredrick Street Queanbeyan. I brought my first block of land for £100 next to his and in turn he helped me build my first garage there as well. Branco and I met on the ship from Italy.
My next job was working on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. I didn’t stay there long as the conditions were really bad, like a swamp. After one worker died in a fatal accident, I left.
When my employer found out I was a cabinet maker by trade, not a carpenter, I began to make wooden flyscreens for the new housing developments in Ainslie and Campbell. I made a critical error one day and a piece of timber flew up, hitting me in the temple. The specialist at the hospital told me that I was extremely lucky to be alive.
Sunday afternoons I played my accordion for the Italian parishioners. They would feed me and pay me to play the music of their homeland. There were no musical recordings in those days, so it was an easy way to make additional income. This was the beginning of my musical career in Australia which continued for over thirty years, helping me to earn enough money to buy my own home and business premise.
My music career was just starting, I had many bands from 1958 through to the 1970s. The Four Aces, John Sirola Quartet, the Sirola Band and The Premiers, our most successful band. We were popular as we changed our format and Line up to suit the occasion or the venue.
I started my first joinery by renting an already established joinery shop in Wiluna Street, Fyshwick. This had always been my dream. In 1959, I purchased a large block of land in Gilmore Road, Queanbeyan for £1150. In time, I built six commercial workshops on this site, and my son Dennis still runs our family business there - John Sirola Kitchens.