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Corner of the World: Teresa Zarlenga

Emma Macdonald

There is a voyeur in all of us. Come inside the private spaces and places of some of Canberra’s most interesting people.

Teresa Zarlenga, couturier, gardener, charity supporter, opera buff.

When Teresa Zarlenga bought her home in Red Hill in 1995, it was a small and rather uninspiring ex-govvie. She set about orchestrating a massive renovation – tripling its size, setting aside room for a home studio where she makes bespoke clothing for clients, and even including an “Opera Wing”.

By this, Teresa means a 7.5-metre by 7.5-metre room in which she brings together notable singers with appreciative audiences – all for the benefit of numerous charities she supports. The room has superior acoustics and a large bank of windows overlooking the back garden.

But perhaps “back garden” doesn’t quite encapsulate what grows there.

Teresa’s Italian heritage comes to the fore in the layout and design of her Italianate garden and its 27 fruit trees, sturdy grapevine which this year produced 200 kilos of grapes, vegetable garden, rose garden, water feature and six happy chooks.

“When I am in my garden time seems to disappear, I never feel tired going from one job to another. Gardening also gives me an opportunity to share your produce and plants. During a very difficult time in my life I think my garden saved me. I am so proud of what I have created on my own,” she said.

“I had the great honour to be president of the First Canberra Garden Club and a selector with the Australian Open Garden Scheme. With Concord grapes from my vine, I made my first vintage in 2017 known as Villa Zarlenga Rosè.”

Teresa’s passion for opera has seen her host 17 musical events in her home for charities including Marymead, and Hartley Lifecare. Her musical networks extend to many a performer from the ANU School of Music and she has also organised musical charity events across a number of embassies.

This is, of course, a world away from Teresa’s former career – working as a cartographer.

“My passion since I went to sewing classes at 16 was to design and make beautiful clothes. My parents would not allow me to pursue dressmaking so I became a cartographer. Although I worked eight hours a day as a cartographer my heart was not in it. At least three nights a week I would make garment for clients always thinking that one day I would leave my job and really do what I enjoyed. In 1987 I gave up my government job and became self-employed, I knew I was going to be successful, I had faith in myself.”

To that ends Teresa now specialises in tailoring one-off classic designs for coordinated wardrobes. “My creations last a lifetime, and aren’t the sort of mass-produced ‘trendy’ clothes that go out of date.”

Her decision to open her home and garden to the public on multiple occasions is a testament to her sharing nature and love of a good chat.

“My concerts have never been for personal gain… I love opera and my dream has always been to encourage people who had not had the opportunity to experience opera to actually try it. I can be very persuasive!”

This article originally appeared as part of our Corner of the World article in Magazine: Home for Autumn 2018, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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