A rich family history

The Piavanini family reunion in 1977 on Livio's farm in Shotts.
The Piavanini family reunion in 1977 on Livio's farm in Shotts.

As the Collie Mail celebrates its 110th anniversary it’s no doubt that the community has a rich history.

The Mail spoke to the Piavanini’s, a fifth generation family who who have been here for almost 90 years about growing up in the region and why they call Collie home. 

The Piavanini’s originally migrated from Albosaggia in the province of Sondrio, located in the mountain region of Northern Italy. 

Livio Paola Piavanini was just two years old when his father Pietro Aturo Piavanini migrated to WA in a hope of a better life for him and his family. 

In 1923 Pietro boarded the Ormonde and arrived in Fremantle, where he stayed in a boarding house run by a paesan person, someone from the same village in Italy. 

Pietro’s first job was paid poorly, working as a farmer in Australind so he met up with some other Italians and did some contract work in the Wheatbelt.

He continued seasonal work on the wheat farms and then went onto the wood lines carting logs to the railway line, occasionally mill work in Dardanup and Busselton.  

With help from her husband, Letizia was able to save enough money in 1929 to migrate with their nine-year-old son Livio to WA. 

Just before the two made their way to Collie, Pietro put a 20 pound deposit down on a five acre block of land with a small bungalow in Collie-Burn. 

The family reunited and made their way to their new house, Letizia cried when she first saw the house because of the mud flooring and lime sack walls. She thought it was no different to the home in Northern Italy.

A year later in 1930 Letizia and Pietro gave birth to their second child Alfredo. 

Livio left school at the age of 14 and helped his father working on the construction of the Wellington Weir for a period of about six months. 

Alfredo Piavanini said growing up in Collie Burn at that period of time was very tough. 

In the early days it was very hard for mum, dad would go away for three to four months at a time where there was contract work at harvest and seeding times. She often had times where she cried and felt lonely because there weren’t many Italians in our area for quite awhile. She wasn’t happy with her situation but she always had the courage to go on.

Alfredo Piavanini

In 1938 the couple opened a shop in Throssell Street, Litiza knew very little English but ran the store as a green grocer, selling fresh fruit, vegetables.

She made friends with the Australian women and assimilated into their way of life and became a strong figure. 

“Dad was a great cook and also used to make his own sausages and sell them around town, he used to breed his own pigs and then get the beef from the butcher next door to their grocery store,” Alfredo said.

Pietro got a hawkers license, enabling him to sell fruit and vegetables on the street at his market garden and Livio would load orders onto a horse and cart and make deliveries to Cardiff and Lyalls Mill. 

“I remember I was brought up as an only child more or less because by the time I was five or six years old my brother was already 14 and already starting to get jobs wherever he could and I rarely remember playing with him,” Alfredo said. 

In 1940 Letizia finally got her daughter, Ada. She would often take Ada on the train with her to work and it was the same train Alfredo would catch to school.

"The train that would go to pick up mine workers and pick up coal is what we'd catch to school into Collie. We would get out of school at 2:50pm to catch the train back home and mum would catch it too to go to work,” he said. 

Piavanini family reunion on Peters farm North Collie, October 23, 2009.

Piavanini family reunion on Peters farm North Collie, October 23, 2009.

In the early 40’s the green grocer store moved into Forrest Street and by 17 years of age Livio was accepted to work in the Cardiff mine as a wheller. 

He married Nellie Borlini in 1943 and the couple then moved to Shotts on a 100 acre block where they started a diary farm and raised six children, Peter, John, Gloria, Sandra, Barry and Geoffrey.

“I can remember milking the cows before school,” John said.

Ada said in the early 50’s that her dad, Pietro used to make cheese from a couple of the cows he had.

“People used to come to Perth to buy some cheese from the farm,” she said.

From 1954 Livio became active in local government, serving as deputy shire president for nine years and as president for seven years. 

After school, Alfredo worked for Western Collaries as a fitters assistance before working his way up to deputy manager at Griffon Coal, in September 1955 married Sylvia Wells, who later had three children together, Gregory, Wendy and Rodney. 

Their daughter Ada married Nando Torre in March of 1958 and had four children, Lidia, Marco, Fulvia and Marisa. 

Later that year Pietro and Letizia sold their grocery shop and decided to move to Mount Hawthorn, Perth. Letizia had a lot of Italian friends living around Perth at that time and wanted to be closer to them. 

Ada and her family moved back in with her mum and dad a couple of times in Perth in the 60’s before buying their own place in Bondi street, just around the corner in 1967.

Ada clearly had a love of her childhood home, saying she felt relaxed and free.

I had a good upbringing and I suppose I was quite fortunate because they had the shop, we didn’t have luxury but we had everything that we wanted.

Ada Torre

“I remember in the early 50’s the town was full of people, Forrest Street on a Friday and Saturday night was booming with that many people going to the shops you would think it was Hay Street in Perth. I am a proud Piavanini to know my mother, father and brother Livio did so well migrating to Australia.”

Peter had similar sentiments about his town. 

"You can take the kid out of Collie but you can't take Collie out of the kid," Peter said. 

Sadly Livio passed away in 1979 at the age of 58. Pietro passed a year later and Letizia passed in 1983. Nellie passed away in 1994.

Barry said his fathers funeral had a lot of people attend.

“Dad was very well respected in the community and he had one of the biggest funerals I have ever seen with lots of people attending," Barry said.