It is my honour to share some insights into the life of my neighbour, Luigi Della-Vedova, better known to the Smith family as Louie Della.
Louie was born in Narembeen on July 3, 1935 to Batista and Giovanna Della-Vedova. He was the second of what was to be five children. His parents were wheat farmers at Narembeen, some 300km east of Perth.
Louie was baptised at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Narembeen on July 12. He made his First Confession and First Holy Communion at Sacred Heart church, Goomalling on February 2, 1944.
Life, though hectic, was good on the farm with neighbours like the Coopers, Ronchis and Menegolas with families to visit (the Menegolas had 11 children), the big draft horses and countless snakes, emus, roos too which, I suspect, terrified young Louie.
With speaking Italian at home, it became Giovanna’s obsession to teach the boys English, firstly teaching herself, then requesting help from Mrs Cooper, the lovely English lady who was aghast when Giovanna, on days in town, demanded to know why only men could frequent the local bar.
By custom, women had to wait outside. Giovanna, of course, took no notice and demanded to be served as an equal and trailing her boys along.
In 1941, at the tender age of 6, Louie and older brother John (7) were enrolled at St Joseph’s Boarding School in Goomalling staffed by the “Brown Joeys”.
This was to be traumatic for John, Louie and, most of all, Giovanna. She stayed over a week in a hotel in Goomalling, secretly going up to the school to see how her boys coped.
John was mixing reasonably well. But much to her anguish and dismay, Giovanna discovered that Louie was troubled and would go at playtime to a particular seat under a particular tree and virtually devour his shirt sleeve in emotional homesickness.
So she hotfooted it to the convent and asked the sisters for help. Together, they came up with a plan: Louie would help and be helped in the kitchen during the breaks.
He blossomed with the attention and became both a good student and a dab hand at scone and cake making. Big brother John became a dab hand at boxing. Little brother Peter followed to school at Goomalling.
As high school loomed, first John went to Clontarf, then Louie went to CBC Terrace (located on the site of the Perth Concert Hall).
Louie had interesting stories of the discipline of the Brothers, especially the time when the whole site was under water. Overall, he enjoyed his high school days.
While Batista and Giovanna were still farming at Narembeen, the family purchased a small property in Queens Park.
The boys, John and Louie, together with their Aunt Piera and cousins Lucy and Ronnie lived there. At this time the boys’ sister, Lucy, was born.
Louie’s time at Queens Park was full of pranks; bird egg hunting, climbing up and falling out of trees, cubby house building and bareback riding on a little pony that was agisted on the property and belonged to the nearby Kersley stables. Giovanna, however, was not happy as she yearned for her family to be all together at home.
Consequently, she spent years on a bicycle checking out the southern metropolitan suburbs for a suitable property that could be a business as well as a home for her family.
In 1948, she found the Gosnells property and spent a year convincing the owner to sell.
They bought the 1,760 acre Gosnells property and, on a hot 37 degree day, the family moved to Gosnells. As they arrived, they found the front paddock to be on fire.
The family’s first job was to put out the fire before they could move in. This was a portent of things to come for Louie.
He finished high school the same year and together with his parents set about learning about dairy farming. This was a big change: from wheat farmer to dairy farmer.
The property and livestock were in a rundown condition. It took careful evaluation first to find out that the cattle were suffering from Zamia Palm poisoning which presents as a form of rickets.
The whole farm had to be revegetated and any Zamia Palms cleared. The Agriculture Department suggested that they dig them out. The family decided that poisoning them would be enough.
Through a hit and miss system, this worked but left a huge crater. It was, very often, two metres across and two metres deep covered in dried Zamia Palm.
Lucy recalls being driven home by her mother in the horse and cart (no 4WD, then) with Louie sitting at the back of the cart with his legs dangling over the edge facing backwards.
All of a sudden, they hit a huge bump. After they recovered, Louie was nowhere to be seen. Lucy and her mother backtracked some 150 metres only to hear this almighty swearing, but still no Louie.
Eventually, they saw a head followed by the rest of Louie scrambling out of this huge hole. Standing himself up, Louie pronounced, “It’s one bloody thing to get rid of these @*#% palms. It’s a bloody nother thing altogether to plant your kids in the bloody hole.”
As the family business grew, so did Louie’s confidence. He assumed more and more of the running of the dairy. And he was only 15!
In 1950, along came the final family member, Frank. The Della-Vedova family was now complete and all together.
All the family were heavily involved in the Catholic and wider communities. Louie and the family were always members of the Local Progress Association, the Ratepayers Association and the Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.
The Progress Association provided a voice for ratepayers’ grievances. The Seaforth train station and the maintenance of the Manning River Bridge are good examples of how the Progress Association helped build the community.
It provided many community get-togethers under Louie’s presidency.
The Fire Brigade had its own way of careful community mop ups after fires. They had snagger roasting and “refreshments” as they tended many fires.
Though the Brigade consisted of 100 gallon tanks on trailers, there was never a house or building lost on Louie’s watch as Captain.
For his community contributions, Louie was recognised with an Honour Certificate from the City of Gosnells in 1979.
In 1973, Louie almost lost his life to meningitis, spending three weeks in Royal Perth, gravely ill.
During this time, the family was blessed with their association with Peter Gravenar who grew to be a deft butcher and man about the farm. Similarly, Lionel, who also became an integral part of the farm and family, first at school holidays and then full time.
Lucy remembers Lionel calf swimming and Louie as anchorman ferrying calves across the swollen Wungong River.
In 1982, a very special person called Karrie became the light of Louie’s and the family’s existence. Louie took great joy in seeing Karrie grow into a beautiful and capable young lady.
In 1988, the dairy quota was sold. Louie and the family concentrated on beef cattle raising.
Though there were many setbacks and tussles, there were also many ribbons won at shows for excellence in cattle. Through it all, Louie was a rock.
The passing of Batista, in 1990, affected Louie greatly. But the true Louie became even stronger whilst taking care, together with Lucy, of his mother from 1996 to 2002.
Just days after Giovanna’s passing, Louie was stricken with a malady that would test his very being. It first manifested itself as a simple tremor and lack of fine motor control in his left arm and hand.
The initial diagnosis was a stroke followed by Parkinson’s disease. Both these were later found to be incorrect. It took a further seven months and a diagnosis by Prof Peter Panegyres as the very rare Corticobasal Syndrome, a motor neurone disease.
There was no cure or treatment available. Expected longevity after this diagnosis is confirmed is five years. Research is still ongoing in this area.
Louie fought his for the best part of 10 years. Initially, he was only slightly affected, but as the syndrome tightened its grip, Louie progressively lost the ability to walk, and in later months to talk.
Louie has been described as a softie. He was also determined. He was determined to help the research of Prof Panegyres and Prof Peter Martin.
His bequests furthered this. His family are proud of his achievements and in this one especially.
Louie is survived by his sister and all his three brothers.
Rest in Peace, Louie.