Newly-crowned Sydney Rose of Tralee Rebecca Mazza was inspired by her heroic Irish great-grandfather to enter the contest.
James Daly emigrated from Kanturk, Co Cork to Fremantle at the age of 19 in 1909 where he pioneered clearing land and farming in Western Australia while raising four children with his wife.
He enlisted with the Australia Imperial Force (AIF) in 1915 and fought bravely at Gallipoli and later at Pozieres where he was wounded and unable to take any further part in the war.
Although he died before Rebecca was born, the 24-year-old said the Irishman’s courage and strength continue to influence her family to this day.
“Without him coming to Australia and without him surviving Gallipoli and the Western Front, we wouldn’t be here. There’s this idea of where we came from and all the things that happened to make us as individuals. I often think, imagine if James got killed at Gallipoli, I wouldn’t be here,” she says wistfully.
“Knowing that inspires me to do as much as I can with my life because it’s so meaningful. You don’t know the impact you are going to have on future lives and that really resonates with me.”
James is something of a talisman for Rebecca and the Mazza family.
“Anytime something difficult is going on my Dad says ‘You’ve got the blood of Anzac flowing through you, so you can do anything’,” Rebecca said.
It’s a strength the family called on after Rebecca’s younger brother Tom, 21, was diagnosed with a devastating brain tumour two years ago.
Rebecca, who was raised in Perth but moved to Sydney last year, says her selection as Sydney Rose came as a welcome boost for her parents Catherine and Anthony Mazza and siblings Madeline and Thomas.
“My family are absolutely thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen my parents on such a high for such a long time.
“They’ve been through the mill after my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He had to have emergency surgery and came out of that not being able to speak and it was just horrific.”
Tom underwent further operations and thankfully with help from speech and rehab teams, he is now fully recovered and studying nursing.
Rebecca currently works as a mobile speech pathologist helping families to develop strategies to communicate with their son or daughter who has difficulty speaking due to conditions like autism or cerebral palsy.
She was studying speech therapy at university when Tom got sick and said it spurned her on to complete her degree so she could help her brother and others like him who face speech issues due to medical conditions.The 24-year-old spent several months working in a school in Waterford in 2013 and can’t wait to get back to Ireland this summer.
“I need someone to make me laugh; I just love the Irish banter.
“Irish people are so good at communicating with each-other and telling stories. I remember coming back from Ireland and the banter wasn’t there. Australian guys lack the same level of wit as the Irish and I do miss that.
“I have a very Irish sense of humour. I just absolutely love Irish people. I can’t wait to meet all the Roses from around the world. It will be fascinating.”
But Mazza is keeping her cards close to her chest about what she will perform on stage for RTÉ’s television cameras.
“I play guitar and piano so I have a few options up my sleeve,” she joked.