Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Carlo Catani

Drainage works on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp
Illustration published in the Illustrated Australian News January 1 1892
State Library of Victoria Image IAN01/01/92/20

There are a number of towns in Casey Cardinia, named after local identities. We have already looked at Pearcedale, which was named after early settlers, Nathaniel and Mary Grace Pearce. The town of Catani is named after Carlo Catani who was one of the Engineers in charge of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage scheme. I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit about the man behind the name.

Carlo was born on April 22 1852 in Florence in Italy. He was the son of Enrico Catani, who was a merchant, and Augusta Geri. He was educated as a Civil Engineer at the Technical Institute of Florence. Carlo and his two friends, Pietro Baracchi and Ettore Checchi, arrived in Melbourne, via New Zealand, in September 1876.

The trio were employed as draftsmen by the Department of Lands and Survey. In 1880, Catani was registered as a Surveyor and in 1882 he and Checchi joined the Public Works Department as Engineering draftsmen. By 1886, they were both assistant Engineers. Checchi (1853 - 1946) went on to become an Engineer with the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission when it was established in 1906. Baracchi (1851 - 1926)  became the Acting Government Astronomer for Victoria and later joined the Commonwealth Government as an Astrologist and Meteorologist.  Catani was promoted to the Head of his Section in 1892. In 1893, the Public Works Department resumed the control of the Swamp drainage works from private contractors and Catani was appointed as the Engineer.
Catani implemented the Village Settlement Scheme. Under this Scheme, all workers had to be married, accept a 20 acre block and spend a fortnight working on the drains for wages and a fortnight improving their block and maintaining adjoining drains. The villages were Koo-Wee-Rup, Five Mile, Cora Lynn, Vervale, Iona and Yallock.

Lubecker Steam Bucket Dredge in action. 
I suspect that this must have been taken shortly after it arrived in 1913 by the number of interested observers.
State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u866  You can see more of these photographs here

Catani was also responsible for the first mechanical equipment used on the Swamp. He had ordered the Lubecker Steam Bucket Dredge in 1912 and it arrived in 1913 at a cost of £4,700. It weighed 80 tons and had a capacity of 61 cubic metres per hour. A labourer at the time dug about 8 cubic metres per day. It was used on the Lang Lang River, then on the Main Drain, Cardinia Creek and Yallock Drain.

Catani’s other work with the Public Works Department included flood mitigation works on the Yarra River. He was responsible for planting the elms, oaks and poplars along Alexandra Avenue. He designed the Morrell bridge. The laying out and planting of the Alexandra Gardens was also carried out under Catani’s direction. His last major project was the reclamation of the St Kilda foreshore. The gardens he designed at the end of Fitzroy Street were named after him as was the Catani arch bridge on the St Kilda foreshore. There is a bronze bust of Carlo Catani on the Clock tower on the St Kilda esplanade. 
Contemporaries of Catani said that he 'saw possibilities to which others were blind' and that he had 'unfailing courtesy and a kindly nature.'

Carlo was naturalised in 1892. He married Catherine Hanley of Port Fairy on May 18 1886 at the Free Church of England in Fitzroy, by the Reverend Nathaniel Kinsman. They had six children, Edward (b.1886 and d.1887), Elvira May (1888-1947), Enrico Ferdinando (b.1891-killed in Action in France in 1916), Ettore Luigi (1893-1967), Eugenia Anastasia (1895-1915) and Enid Marguerite (1899-1950). Catani died July 20,  1918 at the age of 66 and is buried at the Brighton cemetery. Catherine died in 1925, aged 68. None of the children married.

Carlo Catani
 Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photo.

I looked at Enrico's Military Record and found that he was Killed in Action on July 29 1916. Enrico was a Second Lieutenant, had served at Gallipoli before serving in France. He was buried at Cemetery Post Station, near Pozieres. However in a interesting and poignant twist, in 1932 the body of an 'unknown' soldier was exhumed from another location and this was identified through the identification disc and other personal effects to be Enrico Catani. There are a series of letters in Enrico's Military file between the Australian War Graves Service and Enid Catani regarding this discovery. In the end Enrico was buried again in the Serre Road Cemetery near Beaumont Hamel, in France. The body of the Officer, who was initially thought to be Enrico, now has a headstone stating that he is an 'unknown Australian Lieutenant'. In one of the letters Enid sent to the Government regarding the discovery of her brother's body, Enid said that her surviving brother, Ettore, had never recovered from the shock of Enrico's death and is under the care of the Master-in Equity of the Supreme Court. The Master-in-Equity looked after people who did not have the legal capacity to care for themselves. It sad to think that effectively, the family lost two sons to the First World War.

You can read more about Carlo Catani, here, on a blog devoted to his life and works.

Most of this information comes from the article on Carlo Catani, written by Ronald McNicoll, in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. 

The information on his children comes from the Victorian and New South Wales, Indexes to the Births , Deaths and Marriages. 

The information on Enrico's Military Service can be found on the National Archives of Australia website The National Archives has digitised the records of all the First World War soldiers and they can be printed or downloaded, free.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Many thanks for the information about Catani and his friends. I knew quite a lot about Catani's contribution to the St Kilda foreshore. But I was totally unaware of the work that the young Italians did in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage scheme etc.

I've created a link to your post, many thanks
Art and Architecture, mainly