A FORMER nurse who desperately tried to revive Sisto Malaspina after he was attacked by a crazed terrorist has revealed the tragic final moments of the iconic Melbourne restaurateur’s life.
The single mum performed CPR on Mr Malaspina after she saw him fall to the ground near the corner of Russell Place and Bourke St.
But the stab wound, just above his collarbone, had punctured a major artery, causing him to lose blood too quickly, the former trainee nurse said.
She said there was no chance of survival.
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“I know I did everything I could to try and save this poor man,” she said.
“I made the sign of the cross on his forehead and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. At least you are now at peace’.
“I had to wipe the blood off his brow, I needed to give him that dignity because his face was so kind.”
The woman has provided a statement to police but did not want to be named.
Mr Malaspina has been remembered as “the happiest person you could imagine”, amid an outpouring of grief from Hollywood stars, politicians and devoted, loyal customers.
A sea of flowers has been laid outside Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, the 74-year-old’s cafe, as the city tries to comprehend the loss of one of its most loved figures.
Mr Malaspina, who welcomed his first grandchild just over a week ago, was killed in the Bourke St terror attack on Friday afternoon.
The hardworking Italian immigrant was still a fixture in his traditional Italian cafe — as he had been for more than four decades — working up to 70 hours a week.
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Nino Pangrazio, his co-owner in Pellegrini’s, which had become a Melbourne tourist attraction, was distraught at the loss of his friend.
They were business partners for 44 years and had known each other for 54 years.
“Such a sad day for Melbourne. He loved life. He was always happy. Never a bad word, never a dull moment,” he said.
“As soon as people walked in the doors they were welcome. He was a bon vivant.
“The happiest person you could imagine. Always had a smile. Always had a smile for a pretty face, always with a joke.”
Oscar winner Russell Crowe, Wiggle Anthony Field, Olympian Tamsyn Lewis, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and state trade minister Philip Dalidakis were among those who paid tribute to Mr Malaspina today.
The cafe owner was just a few hundred metres from his restaurant when terrorist Hassan Shire Ali, 30, blew up his Holden Rodeo ute in Bourke St.
Mr Malaspina was one of the closest people to the explosion and may have gone to help Shire Ali, but was instead stabbed in the neck, according to witness accounts.
He was due to return to work last night but never came back.
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Another man said: “Staff are walking round in circles”.
“Everyone’s cut up about it,” he said.
Shire Ali also stabbed Rod Patterson, 58, in the head after he went to help a victim, and a 24-year-old Hampton Park security guard.
Both remained in hospital last night but were expected to recover from their injuries.
A brave police officer shot Ali in the chest to stop him from hurting anyone else and the attacker died later in hospital.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Mr Malaspina would be remembered for his life on Bourke St, not his death.
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“A person has died here. A person who I knew,” he said. “A wonderful, wonderful man. I send my love and best wishes to his family.”
Mr Shorten, who laid a wreath at Pellegrini’s, said: “ I just can’t believe that Sisto, who I was speaking to on Monday is not here today, on Saturday, and I think a lot of Melburnians will feel that shock”.
Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton said he was “proud” of the officers who stopped Shire Ali.
“I think they acted very bravely. They endeavoured to do their job, and I think they did that pretty effectively and bravely,” he said.
TRIBUTES TO A MELBOURNE ICON
A SIGN on the front door of the cafe said: “Due to an incident Pellegrini’s will be closed until Monday 12th”.
On any other day, it could have been a notice referring to some workplace mishap, but the abundant presence of flowers and heartfelt messages nearby suggested otherwise.
Pellegrini’s, at the top end of Bourke St, today became a shrine to its long-time co-owner Mr Malaspina.
“Icon” is a word terribly misused these days, but it’s so appropriate to describe Mr Malaspina and the institution he so lovingly nurtured.
A constant stream of people paid homage to the Italian-born businessman, most in shock at the manner in which his life was snatched away.
A middle-aged woman turned up in the early afternoon, clearly not wanting to believe that he was gone.
“Did Sisto die?” she tearfully asked another woman. “Was he the man killed yesterday?”
Australian Red Cross counsellors were on hand to provide comfort and support, as were representatives from the Victorian Council of Churches’ Emergencies Ministry.
The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has urged Victorians to focus on the best of humanity-— the acts of bravery and kindness— which emerged from the evil Bourke St terror attack.
Most Reverend Peter Comensoli said the “horrific and evil” events had shaken the city but it was also a time to honour “the lights of goodness that shone out on Friday afternoon”.
“Grief, pain, and anger are words that will readily come to mind,” Rev Comensoli said.
“This incident will have far-reaching effects on many people.
“Friday’s evil act was entirely contrary to the Way of Jesus, contrary to all true religion, and contrary to human dignity.
“The way of Jesus Christ is to build bridges of mutual respect and civil friendship among people and communities. The way of aggression and violence is never the answer.”
He acknowledged the “goodness” of those who defended innocent lives, who came to the aid of others, and who courageously tried to protect people in Bourke St.
“Into the darkness of evil, may a light of goodness shine. Let us acknowledge and honour the lights of goodness that shone out on Friday afternoon,” Rev Comensoli said.
“So, let us pray for the gentle repose of the soul of Sisto Malaspina; lets us pray also for those who were harmed; for those who defended others; and for our police and emergency service providers — all of whom reveal to us the path of goodness and right action.”
The top part of Bourke St has a village atmosphere, maybe because there is little through traffic, so it doesn’t feel like a bustling part of town.
On Saturday, locals, including the newsagent lady and a chef from the Melbourne Club, met up near Pellegrini’s to contemplate the tragedy and remember Mr Malaspina.
Marla Cichowski, who visited Melbourne for the first time last January, said her first meal was at Pellegrinis.
“My good friends from NYC told me I had to eat there. They are both Italian and said it was one of their favorite Italian cafes in the world,” she said.
“I was traveling solo and sat at the counter alone. But I wasn’t alone. Sisto greeted me and made me feel so welcome.”
“Telling me all about his food and when he first came to Melbourne from Italy. He even walked to the back of the restaurant with me and let me try some pizza they were making that day.”
“My heart breaks for Melbourne, his family and his entire Pellegrini family. Sending prayers and peace to everyone.”
Tasha Bakker recalls a night Sisto kept her company at Pellegrinis after her friend cancelled on their dinner plans.
“I remember one night a few years ago I was waiting to pick up my mum and dad after a Friday night Geelong game at the G,” she said.
“I was meant to meet a friend for dinner in the city who cancelled, it was torrential rain and I sat in Pellegrinis eating my dinner with nowhere to go for three hours.”
“Sisto propped me up in the corner and came back with a cake & coffee, turned the radio on and we listened to the game together.”
“He’d go and serve people and drop back to listen with another coffee or watermelon granita! It was a kind gesture & I will always remember it. We will never forget you Sisto.”
John Mosley said he’d never forget to visit Pellegrinis when he returned to Melbourne after living overseas.
“One thing never changed however and that of course was Sisto, for he was always there, always attentive and always smiling.”
“My life took me all over the world, I have had many successes but many losses too, including loved ones. But one thing was always constant, the rock of Pelligrinis and of Sisto. I am heartbroken. Sisto is dead but long live Pellingrinis!”
The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle, whose office is directly opposite the cafe, spoke of the generosity of Mr Malaspina and his staff in providing food for the homeless.
“Sisto was a huge personality, very friendly, always had a wise word to say to people, and he had an amazing heart,” he said.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who signed a condolences book at the cafe, revealed he had met with Mr Malaspina less than a week ago.
“He served up a freshly baked almond cake, and he was always good for a chat about politics and Melbourne,” he said.
“He’s a Melbourne icon … he and Pellegrini’s and the staff and the people who have run that place since the mid-70s are part of Melbourne life.”
Lord Mayor Sally Capp also paid homage, speaking through tears as she recalled Mr Malaspina’s generosity and his contribution to the city’s coffee culture.
“It makes it all the more poignant and hurtful that it’s happened to somebody that is an icon, who has been part of the fabric of Melbourne,” she said.
But perhaps the most poignant tribute came from Pellegrini’s staff, who put up a big sign for the “best boss”.
“You always looked after us like family … Pellegrini’s was your life, we will never forget all that you have done and given us all,” it said.
VICTIM ‘HONORARY GRANDFATHER TO MANY’
Sisto Malaspina arrived in Australia in 1963 and took over Pellegrini’s from the original owners in 1974.
The eatery was the first cafe in Melbourne to have an espresso coffee machine and developed a devoted following, but Mr Malaspina’s warm hospitality was part of the reason that Pellegrini’s was so popular for decades.
He spoke of being “blessed with good health” just two weeks ago, saying he was still working 70 hours a week, despite being past retirement age.
“I work my 70 hours a week as I did 40, 45 years ago. It’s not as intensive, I don’t move as fast and I don’t take as many steps. But I still enjoy what I do, I feel needed,” he told SBS in an interview.
“I’ve been blessed with good health, I don’t feel any different now than I felt when I first started.”
In his own words, which few would challenge, he was more than a cafe owner.
“I feel like an honorary grandfather to many,” Mr Malaspina said.
Pellegrini’s had become a tourist attraction with its 1950s decor and service.
Its neon sign was heritage listed and its menu, which was a rotation of traditional Italian pastas, has not changed since it opened in 1954.
In an interview with Hospitality Magazine last year, Mr Malaspina opened up about why people kept coming back to his coffee bar.
“Pellegrini’s was the number one in the way it did things, the way things should be done — fresh ingredients, taken from the growers to the market to the shop. Everything done by hand.
No mechanisation, no additives. Everything was simple, fresh and beautifully put together,” Mr Malaspina told the magazine.
“And it hasn’t changed at all. It’s still the same menu, prepared in the same way. Slow cooking, no machinery, done by hand … This is the way food should be done. It’s not contemporary food. It’s secular, traditional, home cooking.”
Pellegrini’s, with its proximity to state parliament, was a favourite haunt for politicians.
But even former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam would pop in for a coffee regularly.
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