By Glen Hosking
come from very humble beginnings. My parents were immigrants,
they came to the country with no money, and without a concept
of the language. My mother always told me that you must
always believe in your dream, and you must follow that dream.
However, great things don’t come easily, and if they do
come easily, someone will take it away from you. You must
work hard child, because that’s the only time you ever respect
Tina Arena, August 1997.
Lydia Arena was born on the 1st of November,
1967 in Melbourne Australia. Known as Pina to her
family, she adopted the stage name of Tina in the
early part of her career. Tina, the daughter of Sicilian
immigrants, who migrated to Australia from the small
town of Valguarnera is said not to have spoken English
until she was five. Tina is the middle of two sisters,
Nancy the older, and Silvana the younger, and the
close family grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Moonee
entrance into the performing arts began in the early
1970’s, when she reportedly heard her older sister’s
record of Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘You’re My World’. Tina
played the song continuously, and learnt the words
by heart. Weeks later, as a flowergirl at a relative’s
wedding, she sings the song before an appreciative
audience. After enjoying the applause, Tina pesters
her mother to let her enter a television talent quest.
She wins three of her four performances, and the show’s
produces subsequently ask her to join the cast of
the show as a full-time member. At only seven years
of age, Tina joins the iconic ‘Young Talent Time’
(YTT), a weekly Saturday Night television program.
For the next seven years, Tina appears weekly in lounge
rooms across Australia.
this early age, Tina exhibits the characteristics
that later become the hallmarks of her performing
persona – a souring voice, meticulous lyrical phasing
and amazing confidence. Each week, Tina performs to
audiences of up to 4 million people Australia wide,
and becomes known as ‘Tiny Tina Arena’. Throughout
her time on the show, Tina records a large amount
of material, the most notable of which is the album
‘Tina Tina and Little John’ which she recorded with
fellow cast member John Bowles. As the show’s protocol
enforces, at the age of sixteen, Tina leaves YTT.
Her YTT finale performance of Donna Summer’s ‘MacArthar
Park’ is incredibly well received, and sparks a great
deal of media attention. Indeed this is a sign of
things to come.
often talks about her time on YTT as a double-edged sword;
given me perspective on every part of the business – we
got to sing, we got to dance, we got to record – you couldn’t
get a better grounding". "I don’t think
that I would have come this far if it wasn’t for those
early beginnings"………."like anyone you
speak to who’s had childhood beginnings, the audience
has seen you go through puberty, they’ve seen you go into
adolescents, they’ve seen me enter womanhood. They’ve
watched my growth".
leaving YTT, Tina embarks on a solo singing career
as an adult performer. Tina’s first release as an
adult solo artist is the single ‘Turn Up The Beat’
in 1985. The single is produced by Australian rock
legend Brian Cadd, and its release sees Tina appearing
on many Australian variety programs as an adult singer.
However, the single does not achieve chart success,
and no follow up album is released.
then concentrates on completing the final years of secondary
college. This includes appearing in the school productions
of ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘The Boyfriend’. Whilst she is studying,
Tina is invited to support pop legend Lionel Richie on his
Australian national tour. Tina said of the experience;
Lionel was just unbelievably, he was great. I enjoyed
finishing school, Tina seeks out further recording work, but
is ostracised by the industry that has been so supportive
of her in the past. She approaches every Australian record
company, but the child-star albatross hangs around her neck,
and she is rejected by every one of them. She is told to loose
weight and change her name.
defies the advice, and seeks work on anything she can find,
such as working for a short time as a clerk for a Melbourne
Insurance Company. She also records a number of advertisement
jingles, such as Haymes Paints, Ollies Trollies and Movieland,
a jingle that is still heard on radio throughout Australia
today. Tina talks openly about how she coped with the rejection
from the music industry;
went into a shell. I crawled under a rock. I lost an enormous
amount of confidence. My spirit had really been thrown
around. But I never lost sight of the dream and the vision
that I had as a very young girl, and all I ever tried
to do was follow that dream."
pursuit of her dream pays off when she scores the
exhausting role of Renata in the critically acclaimed
stage production of ‘Nine’ alongside John Diedrich.
The role involves Tina appearing on stage throughout
the entire performance, and also sees Tina join the
cast in recording the soundtrack, where she performs
the song ‘The Grand Canal’.
is now starting to be taken seriously as an adult performer,
and this is aided by her many performances throughout Australia
with a number of the nation’s top bands. The most notable
of these include the highly respected nine piece band ‘Network’,
where she performs to packed houses at Melbourne’s Grainstore
Tavern, as well as David Hirschfelder’s (John Farnham’s musical
director) 22 piece Jazz orchestra at the Melbourne Metro nightclub.
then scores a role in the World Premier of David Atkin’s musical
production ‘Dynamite’. The production tours Australia for
10 months throughout 1990, and features both original and
cover versions of songs linked together by a simple storyline.
Writer Tony Sheldon is full of praise for Tina when he talks
about how his involvement in the production evolved;
they asked if I would be interested in a project using
the talents of the mysteriously under-rated Tina Arena,
I said no without any hesitation."
production involves a lot of dancing, and sees Tina
performing tunes such as ‘River Deep, Mountain High’,
and ‘Man in the Mirror’. Atkins said of Tina’s performance;
has a Judy Garland-like quality. She radiates
energy – it’s there in her voice and in her ability
to interpret that music in a way that can move