Interview with Leo & Nina (nee Di Masi) Vinci 1987
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.

Leo Vinci was born at Sinagra, Province of Messina, Sicily, in 1908. His family owned one hectare of land. His father, Carmelo, cut timber and made bricks and roofing tiles, firing them in a wood burning kiln. There were eight children in the family and in order to support them, Carmelo and Leo had to come to Australia, in 1925, to find work. They set sail on the “City of Genoa”, taking thirty-two days to arrive at Fremantle.

When they arrived at Fremantle they expected to be met by Jim Bergoni, Carmelo’s son in law, who was working for Crisafulli at Wanneroo. However, Jim did not meet them that day as he was not allowed to leave the vegetable garden until the next day, when there was no market to pick for. Carmelo and Leo caught the train to Perth and waited at the boarding house of MR. Renazzi and Con Funazzi. The next day they were taken to Wanneroo and given three days work with Crisafulli, before catching the train to Narrogin and hence by truck to Newdegate, to work clearing land for farming.

When Leo arrived at the camp the clearers had built in the bush, the men were still out working. He was hungry and looked in the tucker box to find food. After making a meal of bread and salami, he rolled a cigarette, only to find, when he had lit it, that he had used some of the men’s precious tea.

Life was very hard in the bush camps. The men were up at 5.00am to make a start before the heat began. At 11.00am they returned to camp for a lunch of soup and tea with powdered milk, they then continued to work until dark. Leo was made chief cook and had to return to camp early to prepare the evening meal. Each clearer’s camp usually consisted of a group of five or six men who moved from job to job together. On Sunday, their rest day, they often hunted rabbits for their meat supply. They also did the washing and wrote letters home. Leo and Carmelo cleared land at Lake Grace, Wickepin and Yealering. Carmelo returned to Sicily after four years but Alberto, another son, came in 1929 and worked with Leo in Wickepin.

During the Depression clearing almost stopped and jobs were very hard to find. Leo returned to Perth, bought a truck and began carting limestone from the quarries in the Spearwood area. He lived in a boarding house in St. James, Perth, belonging to Rifici and Ericetti. When the depression became so bad that no one could pay him for carting goods, he moved to the south west of the state to work for the Balingup sawmill. In 1938, Leo and Alberto leased eleven acres of land at Dardanup and grew a couple of crops of potatoes, using horse drawn ploughs to till the land. While he was at Dardanup, Leo saw a carrier’s business advertised for sale at Pickering Brook. There was land, two trucks and a house with the business. The business belonged to Jock Bentley, who had been the local carrier for many years. Leo bought the business and moved to Pickering Brook, taking his own truck to add to the fleet.

As Leo now had three trucks, he needed men to drive them. Ron Smith and his wife lived with him for two years and later Mr. Picci drove a truck and lived with Ugo Bovani of Karragullen. The main carting business came from local properties, taking their vegetables to market. All the vegetables were loaded by hand. Cauliflowers were loaded individually, often in pouring rain, at 4.00am. Leo did a lot of shopping for local people. He returned to Pickering Brook at 4.00pm and began loading vegetables again. Leo was also the local ambulance, taking many women to hospital, in labour, on route to the markets. He later bought the first Holden car at Pickering Brook.

When war began there was a shortage of petrol and most trucks were converted to run by gas producers. Leo converted his trucks but the expense and extra work made vegetable carting unprofitable and he decided to stop carting produce. He was then manpowered to cut wood and produce charcoal, which he supplied to Perth bakeries. The amount of wood used for producing charcoal worried the Forestry Department and the Government issued truck owners petrol tickets, in order to save the forests. Petrol rationing continued until 1945. Leo employed Italian men to burn charcoal for him, two of whom were, Genovasse and Ricardi.

In 1949, Leo met Nina Di Masi, also from Messina, when she and a friend, Rosa Rifici, came to a dance at the Carilla hall. Leo invited them to supper after the dance. They were married in 1942. Nina was working at Mount Lawley, for the owner of the Sunday Times. In the mornings she worked on the page “layouts” for the advertisements and in the afternoon she worked in the house, to earn her keep. She was great friends with Rosa and often on her days off, she would help in the Rifici shop.

Phillipe Di Masi was working at Three Springs when the family arrived from Sicily. Giuseppina and three children, Nina, Rosa and Fortunato arrived on the Remo, which had taken thirty-five days, via Abyssinia, to get here. The train Phillipe caught from Three Springs to meet them was too late to get him to Fremantle in time to see the ship berth. He rushed to Rifici’s to see if he could get a lift to the dock and, by coincidence, Leo Vinci took him to the Fremantle traffic bridge, on his way to Spearwood. Eventually two brothers Carmelo and Leo Vinci married two sisters, Nina and Rosa Di Masi.

The Di Masi family traveled to Five Gums, twenty miles from Three Springs, where Phillipe managed a farm. They lived in a shack with dirt floors. When the floor needed sweeping it took two buckets of water to keep the dust down or the household linen would turn brown.

During the school holidays Father Lynch, from the Dongara Convent, took six children from the area to the convent for English lessons. Nina was a good worker and helped the sisters cook and make beds for the children. She so impressed the nuns that Father Lynch asked her parents to allow her to work at the convent, in exchange for English lessons. She was made to work very hard, she made one hundred pounds of butter a week, milked the cows and fed the calves. There was only time for English lessons at night and by then she was too tired, she fell asleep over her books. After a few months she became very sick and returned home. Later, Mr. Mitchell of Three Springs gave the children correspondence lessons and gave the child who learned the most words during the week, two shillings (20 cents). Life was very hard but there was never any grizzling from the children. Another child, Giovannino, was born at Three Springs and Giuseppina became sick, forcing the family to return to Perth. They bought fifteen acres of land on the Toodyay Road, Midland, and began clearing to plant a vineyard. Philippe and his sons had to earn money to develop the vineyard and worked on a potato farm during the digging season, leaving the girls to continue clearing. The girls worked on neighbouring vineyards during the day and when they finished at night they would put on their father’s dungarees and boots and continue clearing. They cut around the roots of trees and then tipped the trees over with a kangaroo jack. The wood was piled up and at about 11.00pm, when the air was still, they set fire to the heaps. Giuseppina would see the flames and would know if was time to put the kettle on for supper. The girls were up again at 4.00am to do two hours work before going to other vineyards. The large pieces of tree were used as fence posts and the girls cut them all by hand, one hundred strokes of the saw each, until they were cut through. They lived in a small house which was gradually added to, Philippe made the furniture himself. Nina says it was heaven because the family owned their own land and they were all together.

The girls planted sultanas and currants, made Burgundy, Shiraz and Grenache wine and dried fruit in the sun, to sell. Every Saturday morning they rose their bikes to Midland to shop for the week’s groceries, they could only spend two pounds ($4.00). The first twenty pounds ($40.00) Fortunato made, he gave to his mother to pay for a set of false teeth. Nina thinks that now people do not know what hard work is. It was very hard for migrants landing at Fremantle then. There was no money, no food, no language and no jobs. Italians, Macedonians and Slavs cleared most of this country and have worked very hard to established farms, orchards and vineyards. Even so they were looked down on by the English and Australians.

When Nina and Leo were married, at St. Brigid’s, West Perth, in 1942, Nina had to borrow eighteen pounds ($36.00) from Leo to buy her wedding dress. Cloths were rationed but coupons could be bought for one shilling (10 cents) each. Nina says she definitely paid the money back!.

When she first came to Pickering Brook, men were paid three pounds ($6.00) a week and as jobs became scarce they would work for less. The years 1951-54 were bad ones for Italians looking for work. There were many migrants available for few jobs. Leo sponsored many people and gave them work, cutting wood. He continued with the cartage business after the war. There were good times at Pickering Brook too, Leo and Nina attended many dances at the Carilla Hall. Nina says there were three languages spoken at the hall, northern Italian dialect, southern Italian dialect and English, she spoke all three.

As the Vinci children, Charlie, Philip and Mario, grew up, they often worked with Leo carting wood and clearing his orchard. Even as young as six or seven years they would make apple cases after school for Frank Stervaggi. In 1961, Leo bought an orchard next to his property from Mr. Gillespie. There were many young trees which Nina watered by hand. The orchard in now owned by Mario who also, with his brothers, works in the cartage business.

All three sons live close to their parents and Leo often accompanies his sons in the trucks. Nina and Leo have had several trips to Italy, the first being thirty-three years after Leo’s arrival in Western Australia.

Family Information

Leo Vince married Anna ?

Alberto Fogliani married Domenica Corcia.

Conceta Fogliani married Carmelo Vinci.
Children; Anna, Domenica, Carmelo, Leo, Alberto, Carmelo, Maria, Francesco.

Leo married Nina Di Masi.
Children; Charlie, Philip, Mario.

Charlie married Mary Della Bosca
Children: Stephen, Chantelle.

Philip married Rosetta Guzzomi.
Children: Sonia, Leon.

Mario married Lucy Guzzomi.
Children; Paul, Michael.

Vinci arrivals

Alberto came 1929 married Maria Riccardi.
Children; Connie, Charlie, Netta.

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 We appreciate your involvement in recording the history of our area.

References: Article: Valley of Solitude by Jenny Keast

Images: 1 Jenny Keast