Della Franca

Acknowledgement is made for the enormous research carried out by Jenny Keast for her publication "Valley of Solitude" from which information has been used in this family history.

Charlie’s Grandfather was one of the first Italians to travel to Australia, arriving at Port Melbourne, Victoria, in 1860 after a ninety day journey by sailing ship. Giovanni Della Franca worked in the timber industry in the Dandenong Ranges, cutting and hauling the huge Mountain Ash trees. He stayed in Victoria for six months, then returned to Italy with thirty gold sovereigns – a lot of money in those days. Giovanni was born at Tirano, in the Alps, when that part of what is now North Italy was in Austria. Garibaldi, in his fight to unite Italy, fought many battles in the area.

Charlie’s father, Giuseppe, also made the journey to Australia, in 1896, when he was twenty years old. He came to Western Australia and worked as a labourer, helping build the Mundaring Weir. He then worked at Kalgoorlie, cutting timber to shore up the mines and also cutting firewood for the boilers.

When he was twenty-seven years old, Giuseppe returned to Italy to find a wife. He married Antonia Antashini at Tirano and stayed long enough to see his first child born. Antonia did not wish to travel to Australia, she and their son Giovanni, were left in Italy while Giuseppe again took the boat to Australia. This time he worked in Queensland, burning charcoal and also in the expanding sugar cane fields. In 1909, he returned to Italy for the last time, with seven hundred and fifty gold sovereigns tucked in a money belt. He always said that if Antonia had traveled with him he would have had much more but he had to send money to Italy to support his family. Had his wife come to Queensland he would have bought land and cleared it to grow sugar cane. Other Italians had done this and had become millionaires.

On his return to Italy, Giuseppe invested his money and built a fine house. Giuseppe always told his sons “never leave money in the bank, grab as much land as you can but do not go into debt or you will start sinking.

Giuseppe was called into military service during World War One, at the age of forty. He survived but felt bitter and advised his sons, when they were older, to go to Australia. The boys followed his advise and all came to Western Australia.

Giuseppe’s brother, Vittorio, who was born in 1893, came to Western Australia in 1912 and worked in the mines at Kalgoorlie and at Meekatharra. He was naturalised in July 1930 (Imperial Certificate No. AA6386). In 1938 he returned to Italy to find a wife. He married Cesarina Della Marta, of Baurafina, Tirano, in 1939. They returned to Western Australia and joined Charlie at Pickering Brook. When Cesarina arrived at Pickering Brook the Zig Zag railway reminded her of the thirty-six zigs of the road up the mountain to her home at Baurafina. When Cesarina and Vittorio returned to Italy for a holiday, after thirty-one years, the population of the village had been reduced from one thousand to only three hundred people. Everyone had gone to the towns to work in industry. The first of Giuseppe’s sons to come to Western Australia was Giovanni (Jack) who was just seventeen years old when he left Italy, in 1922. He found work cutting wood on the woodlines of the goldfields. Charlie came when he was seventeen years old too, in 1927, and was met from the ship, the Vivaldi, by Jack. Due to the depression job prospects were poor in Perth. The railways and quarries were not employing new workers and the only work was in the bush., cutting timber. Charlie joined Jack on the woodlines but did not like it much, as he was not used to the heat and rough outback life. Jack had paid Charlie’s fare to Australia but warned him that if he did not like if he would not pay his fare home again, he would have to earn it. Charlie stuck it out, cutting timber, with hands that bled for weeks, driving teams of horses and cutting the huge piles used to shore up the mines. He also cut firewood for the boilers to provide steam for the steam driven machinery. Charlie later had a license to drive a steam driven traction engine tree puller.

Jack returned to Italy seven years later to find a wife and married Natalina in 1930. After eleven years of hard work Charlie also decided he would return to Italy. When he told his boss, Mr. Mathews, he was leaving he was told his job would be there when he returned. Charlie said a big “no thanks!” If he returned with a wife he would stay nearer to Perth. Charlie left Australia in May 1938. Before leaving for Italy, he and his Uncle Vittoria visited friends, the Antonio Di Piazzi’s at Pickering Brook. Charlie liked the country very much and decided that if he did return to Australia it would be Pickering Brook.

On his return to his home town, Charlie made it known that he was looking for a wife. His neighbour, Mr. Di Piazzi, suggested Charlie meet his daughter, who was working in Milan as a maid. The family she worked for were coming to the Alps for the summer and that was when Charlie and Virginia met. Charlie and Virginia talked and talked and soon began talking about marriage. She said yes straight away but Charlie put a condition on the marriage – she had to go to Australia with him. She still agreed to marry him and the families began making wedding plans. Charlie had not seen a priest from the time he went to Australia to the time he returned to Tirano and when the priest who was to marry them began asking questions about his church attendances Charlie was amused. The priest was not very happy about performing the ceremony and Virginia’s father had to tell him that if he did not marry them they would travel to Australia anyway. When Charlie explained that there was no church in the bush the priest understood and was happy to marry them. They were married in November 1938. They went to Milan to have Virginia added to Charlie’s passport and after being married for two weeks they set sail for Fremantle.

War clouds were sweeping across Europe and Charlie’s father was glad to see his son go to Australia. He felt he had done enough military service for all his sons, Australia would be safer for them. Giuseppe advised Charlie not to take his wife into the bush but to stay near to Perth and start a farm.

On their arrival in January 1939, Charlie and Virginia visited the Di Piazzi family at Pickering Brook and were told of a block Antonio Di Piazzi had leased from Bill Cabassi, who had bought a school bus at Bruce Rock. Di Piazzi had leased it hoping Charlie would return from Italy and buy it. Charlie had left money in the bank here to enable him to buy the land for six hundred and fifty pounds ($1300.00).

For the first few months Virginia did not like the new country, it was very different to the Alps and she could not speak English. There was only one other woman near her, Lena Di Piazzi, and she was very lonely. Charlie took her to Boans Store in Perth and told her she could buy anything she wanted, she did not speak English, she just had to take her purchase to the store clerk and holds out the money. People were very honest and any change would be returned to her. After that Virginia often took the zig zag railway to Perth to shop and she liked the honesty and friendliness of the people. She gradually began to like Western Australia and when her children were born she no longer wanted to return to Tirano.

Charlie built a weatherboard house on the land in Merrivale Road and soon Virginia wanted a cow to provide butter, cream and cheese. Charlie knew how to manage cows because he had been brought up on a small farm. Virginia however had to learn how to milk too because Charlie often had to take produce to the markets early in the morning, the time the cow had to be milked. The milk had to be separated, leaving a lot of skim milk, so they bought a little pig to fatten. They also had chickens and plenty of eggs. Vegetables were grown in the swampy land near the creek and peas and potatoes were grown for the market. Charlie had to clear all the land before planting fruit trees. In those days clearing half an acre by hand took all winter.

No clearing could be done in the summer as the vegetables took all the time. Charlie says he could now clear half an acre in no time, without taking his coat off – machinery can do it for him. His greatest expense while clearing was buying twenty sticks of gelignite, it was very expensive then. He also used a kangaroo jack to help tip the trees over.

Much later, Charlie cleared one hundred acres on Wanneroo Road for Ezio Luisini, using a steam traction engine he bought from Tomlinson’s Steel at Welshpool. Archie Anderson taught him how to use it when he was working with him at Pickering Brook.

The produce, vegetables and fruit were transported to the Perth Markets by general carriers Jock Bentley and Leo Vinci, who carted for fifteen years. At 2.00am on the 2nd October 1939, Virginia went into labour with her first child. She and Charlie walked from Merrivale Road to Vinci’s house, a distance of about two kilometres, in the dark and in light rain. Virginia had a blanket over her shoulders for warmth and when the rain became heavier they sheltered under trees but were scared to stay too long in case Vinci left for the markets before they could get to his house. Luckily, he was still at home when they arrived and he rushed Virginia and Charlie to the King Edward Hospital at Subiaco, where their first son, Frank, was born almost as soon as they arrived.

THE ELDERS OF PICKERING BROOK 1935. L - R: JOE NATTA, CHARLIE DELLA FRANCA, VIC DELLA FRANCA, JACK POLESSI, PIETRO BECHELLI, PETER COMETTI, JACK DELLA FRANCA. #1

As Charlie saved money he bought more land and began to expand the business. Virginia was a great worker too and taught the boys to work from an early age. In order to prevent tax losses Charlie’s accountant advised them to buy virgin land to clear and develop, and 5,000 acres were bought at Badgingarra, in the wheat belt. Frank, the eldest son, decided to leave school and at sixteen years of age, he and a pensioner, Mr. Ferrari, began to clear the land at Badgingarra. Charlie bought another property twenty-five miles north, towards Eneabba, which the family still owns. Two properties were too much for Frank to manage so the Badgingarra one was sold. The other two boys, Giuseppe and Ugo, decided they did not want to continue at school either so Charlie allowed them to join the business too, but before he allowed them to work with him he told them to remember there could only be one boss. The family eventually owned three orchards and a farm. In order to store the fruit from the orchards, Charlie built an eight thousand bushel cool store, which was completed in 1960. A larger cool room, which was later built on the same site, was burned down in 1985. However, the business has become one of the biggest in the area. The family also owned a jam factory, which supplies jam for commercial bakeries.

Charlie is a very definite that his surname, although often shortened, is Della Franca without a hyphen. His father told him that the name goes back perhaps two thousand years to the time the whole valley was wiped out by a disaster, leaving only two women, one a Della France and the other a Della Vedova. Charlie was the first Della Franca to come to the area, there are now, in 1986, twenty-two male Della Franca’s in Pickering Brook, all descendants from the same family. The name is not likely to die out.

On Sunday afternoons, come rain or shine, Charlie and his friends play Bocce on land near the cool store. In summertime they moved the ring to a bushy area to be in the shade. They just cannot stay at home. At 1.00pm exactly, they begin to gather at the playing area, as they have done since 1939. Charlie has provided very well for his family, his sons and his grandchildren. The business is still held by the family and Charlie hopes it will still be intact for his great great grandchildren. Despite having his sons run the business now, Charlie cannot take a quiet back seat, he still goes to the cool store and orchard every day. Since Virginia died, Charlie does his own cooking, shopping and cleaning. He is very independent, a very strong man with a strong personality but still one who is close to his family and one who has proven his worth in Australia.

Family Information

Giovanni Della Franca came to Australia 1860.

Sons – Giuseppi and Vittorio.

Giuseppi Della Franca married Antonia Antashini.
Children; Giovanni, Charlie, Vittorio, Guiseppe, Celesta.

Giovanni arrived in Western Australia 1922, went to woodlines, married Nataliba?
Children; Charlie born Tirano, came to Western Australia aged 3yrs. Gan-Carlo married Joan Sala Tenna, Inus married in Australia, Irene married Bruno Manni.

Charlie, born 1910, married Virginia Di Piazzi, born 1920.
Children; Frank born 1939,

Frank married Sophie Pronco.
Children; Paul, Loretta, Vanessa.

Giuseppe born 1941, married Maria Natta.
Children; David, Fiona, Marissa.

Ugo born 1943, married Norma Wylie.
Children; Rebecca, Kent, Rachel.

Arrival of other family members

Grandfather, Giovanni, Melbourne 1860.

Father, Giuseppe, 1896, Western Australia and his brother Vittorio, 1912, Western Australia, mines, Meekathara, Pickering Brook 1939.

Charlie's Brothers

Giovanni, Pickering Brook 1939. Called wife Nataina and son Carlo 1939.

Vittorio, Pickering Brook 1939. Called wife Carolina after World War 11.

Giuseppe, Roleystone 1945. Returned to Italy 1982.

Celesta (Coda) 1945, was widowed in Italy during World War 11, brought two children to Western Australia and remarried (Pelegrini).

(Uncle) Vittorio married Ceserina Della Maria 1939.
Children; Bruno, Alfred, Josi, Frederick.

Brono married Carol Stinson.
Children; Mathew, Steven, Mark.

Alfred married Lena (Adele) Della Vedova.
Children; Roland, Elizabeth, Christian.

Josi married Romolo Tassone.
Children; Vittorio, Alberto, Romolo, Mario.

Victor married Mary Depiazzi.
Children; Jennifer, Peter, Ben, Danial.

Frederick married Jill Weston.
Children: Craig, Grant, Sandra.

Every endeavour has been made to accurately record the details however if you would like to provide additional images and/or newer information we are pleased to update the details on this site. Please click here to email us at info@pickeringbrookheritagegroup.com We appreciate your involvement in recording the history of our area.

References: Article: Valley of Solitude by Jenny Keast

Image: 1 Jenny Keast