Dural - Pat Nati (OAM)
Interviewee: Pat Nati OAM, born 1950
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 24th July 2006
Transcription: Glenys Murray, Nov 2006
This interview represents the recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
OK Pat can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your family background?
Well, Frank, we originated, lived originally in North Ryde, we moved to Middle Dural in 1964 I was only 14 years of age, I had just finished my Intermediate, we moved up here and there was three brothers, three sisters, Mum and Dad and Dad acquired the twenty acres here and there was two homesteads on it and I had the opportunity of going to university at the time, continuing my schooling, finishing high school or working in the farm. The offer was too good so I started working in the farm with Dad and enjoyed it. Years ago it was different to today, a lot different.
Can we go back a bit further, can you tell me first where you were born?
Born 3rd April 1950 at Ryde Hospital
Your parents are Italian, can you tell me when they arrived in Australia and their association with this district?
Dad arrived as a sixteen year old in 1936 and Mum arrived around the same time but she was a four year old. Both my grandparents were very good friends, so dad was eleven, twelve years older than Mum, but they lived in the south of Italy in two towns one was Martone, where Maurice Iemma, actually I’m related to Maurice Iemma, his great grandmother and my great grandfather were brother and sister and on the other side of the mountains was a town called San Giovanni (di Gerace), that’s where dad was born and I had the pleasure of going back there in the year 2001. I took my wife for a holiday for her fiftieth birthday and we went to Paris and I thought while we’re in Paris, jump in a plane to Rome, got in another plane and went down to Calabria and discovered the town, both towns and actually even discovered the houses where they were both born and it was a bit of an experience that.
What kind of a rural aspect were your parents and grandparents born into, in the town?
Farming, back as far as I can go, grandfathers, great grandfathers were farmers over in Italy and just do as your dad does, sometimes you know.
What was the soil like in these villages?
Very poor, very poor that’s why it was hard for them to make, lot of mountains, lot of hilly mountains and that’s why they couldn’t make a living, lot of olive trees and olive plantations, but there was not enough flat land for good farming and that’s why grandfather went looking for a better life for the children. He originally went to Buenos Aries and with my other grandfather, they both travelled together, they went to Buenos Aries, they went to California, went back to Italy and they thought they’d have one more try and they tried Australia and my grandmother always said to me she remembered quite vividly that she got a letter and it said we’ve found paradise and this was Australia and it is paradise compared to other countries, we’re far away from all the troubles of the world and it’s a wonderful country.
Roadside fruit stall, Old Northern Road Dural 1972
Did they settle in Sydney then?
Settled in North Ryde, in Kent Road North Ryde, grandfather bought five acres on the corner of Kent Road and Rae Road no Kent Road and Ford Street down in North Ryde and my other grandfather bought ten acres in well it’s called Talavera Road now, but it used to be called Victoria Road and that was off Lane Cove Road and my father then when he got married bought five acres and that’s where the Marriott is today in North Ryde. All the Italians migrated round that area, around Macquarie University, it was all market gardens and I had my Uncle Vince Mesiti was next door to Uncle Roy Monteverdi further up was my cousin John Nati and his father and their family, but it was all market gardens around North Ryde, but then it all got released and they all went different ways. Who went Kellyville, who went Kenthurst, who went to Dural but they all moved to different spots.
Now which year were you actually born, Pat?
Your grandfather was in the Cowra concentration camp wasn’t he?
No that was my father, because Dad, when he came out in 1936 the war broke out in 1939. Dad had a licence and he was going to the markets for my grandfather and the war broke out and because the Italians were on the side of Germany, along with the Japanese who were also against, they interned all those who didn’t have that weren’t naturalised citizens they interned them in a camp in Cowra, so poor old dad was whisked away, anyone that wasn’t naturalised was like a danger to people and grandfather hurried up the process the paperwork and everything and got him naturalised. So he spent about eighteen months in Cowra, he actually saw the breakout of the Japanese, he thought it was fireworks going off that night and it wasn’t fireworks, they were being shot, the Japanese were being shot, 'cause they made a break that night.
Yes a very famous episode in Australian History. He was really there. So did he ever tell you much about that?
Oh yeah. He enjoyed the days in the camp ‘cause Dad said when they said “what do you do”? Dad thought well I’ll tell them I’m a chef, because he was always a good cook at home and he was put into the kitchen. He could eat what he liked, worked in the kitchen, he enjoyed the people. He said actually those eighteen months was like a holiday (laughs) compared to the farm.
Guiseppe Nati in his Dural garden
So were they farmers too your parents and your grandparents? When they came to North Ryde what were they growing there?
They were growing flowers and vegetables. Mainly celery in North Ryde, Dad used to grow a lot of celery, lot of lettuce and the occasional flower crop for Mother’s Day or things like that. But when he got married and moved to his own farm they concentrated just on flowers and he used to grow a lot of dahlias, he was very big into dahlias, asters, chrysanthemums for Mother’s Day, shaster daisies, marigolds, all sorts of flowers. He did very well, raised six kids, put us all through private schools, he did very well. He was a good provider.
Are both of your parents Italian by origin?
So how would you describe your parents, when you have to talk about them, say my mother, my father what kind of people were they?
Well Mum’s still alive, she’s seventy-eight and she’s a young seventy-eight, she misses Dad terribly, because they were married for about fifty three years. How would I describe Dad, Dad was a very hard working man, very well respected in the community, had no enemies. His funeral was the biggest one I’ve ever seen in my life and that always reflects on what sort of person you are is the size of your funeral, if you were loved. He was a lovely man and I worked along side of him for thirty odd years, we worked along side each other. We had a few clashes at times.
Did he teach you about growing flowers?
Oh yeah, he was always teaching me, teaching me more about life than growing flowers, all the little sayings he used to say to me and I thought “no Dad you got it wrong, I know more than you” and then the older you grow up you realise how wise the man was.
That’s true, so what language was spoken at home?
Especially when we were young, five, six, seven at home we had to speak Italian and I was always thinking why, you know, Dad said “when you’re out the gate speak whatever you like, but when you’re here you speak Italian and I thought that was a bit cruel. But after I realised what he was doing he was teaching us that we could learn the language and once you’ve learnt it you know it for life and the only way you can learn it, is by speaking it. Whether to my grandparents, to my parents, to my brothers, sisters and now we all speak Italian and when I went overseas to Italy for the first time, it was so good that I could just talk to the people, talk to the restaurants, the hotels, the cab drivers. Now thank God I knew how to speak the language and yeah that was through Dad.
Right and your Mum was she similar?
Yes very similar. Like I said, she raised six children, got married very young Mum was only not quite sixteen when she got married, she had four of us before she was twenty-one so that is young and she’s had six children, she’s now got what fourteen grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren and the oldest great grandchild is nearly seventeen so she could possibly make a great great grandmother.
Round Corner 1962
Right, so when your family came to Dural to settle down and this is in the 30’s. 1936 in North Ryde, Dural in 1964. Can you describe what Dural was like in 1964?
It was mainly orchards orange, mandarin trees a lot of peach trees, a lot of peach trees, a lot of the people were getting out of citrus and the stone fruit industry and selling their land and that was like their superannuation, because we’re talking about people that were the Bests and the Cranstons and they had inherited their land through their great grandfathers and it was passed on through generations and they started selling off five acre blocks because it was cut into five acre areas and a lot of market gardens were moving into the area and the whole area was just about market gardens, but now you look around, because this in 1960, late in the 1960’s, that was forty years ago, so if a man would have been in his late thirties or forties buying five acres, that man is now eighty years of age. Like my Dad if Dad was alive today he would have been eighty five and a lot of the kids haven’t taken that profession, there’s very few market gardens left in all of Dural and Glenorie, because the kids are now educated, they’ve gone to university, they’ve taken up a professional career and very, very few have followed their father’s footsteps now, because it is, it’s a competitive industry and you know it’s seven days a week most of it, the farm. Whereas you go into a profession, weekends off, six weeks holiday. Farmers don’t see those things, it’s very hard because it is a perishable goods industry and you can’t walk away and say “I’ll go away for six weeks and come back” you can’t do that,
Right, sure, so in 1964, when you were about fourteen years old and you came to Dural first, which schools did you go to then?
No, no I finished school, I finished, I went to Holy Cross College in Ryde, went to Borromeo in Ryde also, the last year I did North Ryde High and that’s where I met my wife actually, we met in 1963, thirteen years olds, both thirteen and twelve. We’ve been together ever since then, long time. But I went to school at Borromeo, Holy Cross College in Ryde and then North Ryde High. When I moved to Dural I had finished, so I got my Intermediate Certificate, I got it very young because I started school very young, I was I had to get permission to leave school, even though I’d finished my Intermediate but I was only fourteen years of age so I was still young, yeah.
Did you know what you wanted to be at that age already?
I wanted to be a jockey. Actually the first thing I did was go to the stables at Rose Hill cause I was a champion horse rider and my ambition was to be a jockey and I went to a trainer and his name was Herb Sampson (?), one of the top trainers at Rose Hill at the time and I said “sir I want to be a jockey” and he said “what size shoe do you take” and I’m thinking what’s that got to do with my size and he looked down and he said “now son you’re going to be about nine and a half, ten stone” he said “you’re going to be too big”. I only weighed four stone three at the time I said “no, no”. He said “no you won’t make it” and he was right. But my ambition was to be a jockey so I become a farmer.
Nati Farm 790 Old Northern Road Dural 1969
Was that a let down for you?
It was a let down yeah, yeah, it was a huge let down because I think I would have been a great jockey, because I had great balance on a horse and I was fearless on a horse.
Who taught you to ride?
Myself, I started when I was five or six years old. There was horses in a paddock next door and they used to agist there and the people used to come and ride on the weekend, but during the week I used to ride bareback, no saddle, no bridle. I used to just jump on them and ride them around with no saddle or bridle and I could do incredible things on horses when I was very young and that was my ambition to be and I always pictured myself, and I’d ride them with a piece of string in their mouth and gallop them around at full gallop and pretend I was a jockey you know, riding a race at Randwick. But I became a race horse owner instead.
So you made up for it?
Made up for it and I’ve won some wonderful races with my horses and I still have horses today with Gaye Waterhouse and Gary Portelli(?) so I still enjoy the sport, but through ownership.
Right, any famous horses that we might know?
The best would have been a horse called Bruago (?) who won about eleven races in the city and he competed at group one level, he raced in The Doncaster Handicap, took him to Melbourne he raced in the best class in Melbourne and we were twenty sixth in order of entry for the Melbourne Cup so we went very close to running in the Melbourne Cup which would have been a buzz.
Right, so going back to your childhood and growing up, what sort of food did your mother cook at home was it Italian or Australian?
No mainly Italian, lot of pastas, you do pasta with chicken, pasta with beans and potatoes or you do past with broccoli, meat, Dad would go to the butcher’s shop and in those days you could buy a half a lamb, a butt of beef. Oh no it was a good mix of food and we always ate well and we always grew our own chickens and we had our own goats, my chores was to milk the goats before school and put the goats out so they can graze on the grass, they had like a little rope around the collar, they had a collar and a little latch to ties them and my job when I got back from school was to put them back into their yard, milk them again and I thought everyone did that at school. I just assumed that everyone had goats, you know when I was young growing up in primary school.
This is in North Ryde?
North Ryde yeah, so we had our own milk and it was hot milk on top of cornflakes or rice bubbles you know, cause you didn’t have to heat it up cause it was straight from the goat to the table and they’d make their own cheese, we used to make our own salami because Dad would always grow a couple of pigs and during the winter months we’d kill them and make the salami. All the vegetables, because Dad always had a row of beans and peas and potatoes and lettuce, so we were self sufficient actually.
Did that sort of tradition continue when you moved here to Dural?
It did but now after Dad died the veggie gardens gone, I’ll grow a few tomatoes or something just for the house and a few chillies and a bit of parsley, but Dad would grow for all of the children until the day he died, for all our families, he’d grow enough vegetables and fruit for all of us.
Nati packing shed c1975
Right so this is in Dural then? In Dural, so what sort of business did your father start here in Dural, was it the flowers?
Dad when he sold North Ryde he could have retired he didn’t have to work he was only trying to build the business up for the boys, for the three sons. Then one son went and bought his own taxi, he used to have his cab at Northern Districts around the Ryde area, my other brother went into advertising and I was the only one that stuck by Dad and worked on the farm. Then I built the business up, especially the roses and then I asked both my brothers if they wanted to come into the business and they did and now it’s a big business and actually we’re expanding now, we’ve just bought fifty six acres at Peat’s Ridge we signed the papers last Friday and we’re going into one of the biggest ventures and that’s growing hydroponic vegetables, so we’ve started a big company and Peat’s Ridge is the next spot so we’ll still live in Dural but our main growing will be in Peat’s Ridge.
Right so still in the farming business, the family business?
Oh yeah, but it’s a different way now, this is the houses will all be heated with huge furnaces and a different way of growing, hardly any chemicals. We’re trying to grow, my foreman’s devised this way of growing without using chemicals because if you control the temperature the plants have got their own immune system and you don’t have to use chemicals. That’s what’s wrong today a lot of the fruits and vegetables are contaminated with sprays, whether that’s giving a lot of cancers I don’t know but it can’t be helping. We’re using so many deadly sprays on chemicals today and then people just go in the fruit shop, buy them, they just quickly run them under the tap, but you’ve got no idea how strong these chemicals are and I think a lot of those are going into our bodies and that’s why you hear of so much cancer today.
So you’re going to be an organic grower?
Mainly organic yeah
Good, good excellent. Now just before we move on from the family again, just how important was religion in the family?
Every Sunday was church. Dad belonged to Our Lady of Grace which was a fraternity that bought the big statue of Our Lady from his home town into the church at Marsfield. St Anthony’s Church, I was an altar boy. Actually one of my first, I wanted to be a priest, before I wanted to be a jockey, I wanted to be a priest because I was an altar boy in St Anthony’s Primary School from first class to fourth class and every Friday was benediction and special days. So I was an altar bay for years, never missed Mass on a Sunday, never. We’d go to the Holy Spirit at North Ryde every Sunday the whole family off we’d go.
Go To Part Two