A different Veneto story

This time, something a little different …
Guest writer, Francesco (Fran) Bonato  and I were in contact before I spent time researching in the Veneto region in 2018.  He writes about his family who are Veneto migrants – but not market gardeners.

Fran has been an architect for 40 years and founded the practice, Tectvs.*

From furniture to architecture

Attilio Clementino Bonato landed in Perth, Australia, in the summer of 1956. The son of a subsistence farmer, he was one of 10 siblings. And like many Italian migrants, he followed an older and a younger brother to Australia. Another brother and sister later; she eventually returned to Italy.

Tino, as he was known to his friends in Australia, was born on 3 September 1931, in Fossalta di Trebaseleghe about 25 kms north-west of Venice in the province of Padua in the Veneto. His ancestral origins were Sud-Tyrol, his father born in Borso del Grappa just above Bassano del Grappa at the foot of Monte Grappa. They moved down onto the plains following WWI when the Italians, more particularly the Alpini (his father was an Alpino), fought the Austrians.

Bridge at Bassano del Grappa

Famously portrayed in Hemingway’s 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms, halting the Austrian advance at Ponte Vecchio bridging the Brenta at Bassano del Grappa. The bridge is famous for a range of reasons, not least of which having been designed by Palladio in 1569 and another as one of the Veneto’s oldest surviving bars; Bar Nardini circa 1779.

But Tino’s story is not so common. Although like many from the Veneto, well in fact all of Italy, he came to Australia seeking that better life. He did not arrive here and work as a labourer or farmer (as his two brothers were then doing just out of Perth); he came to Australia as a furniture maker. And this too was no coincidence having met Bill Clark in Venice circa 1954, while Bill was on his ‘grand tour’. During his time in Venice they met in the workshop where Tino was working at that time. You see, Bill Clark was also a furniture maker.

Two years later, Tino arrived at the doorstep of Bill’s family home in Lockleys unannounced. A Saturday night, his wife answered the door and he handed her the business card Bill had given him in Venice two years earlier; he didn’t speak English nor she Italian. Bill recalled him immediately; in those days you remembered to whom you gave your business cards. They put him up in their lean-to and started work Monday morning. They found him a rental and two years later my mother, Ornella Marcon, arrived from the same home town, Fossalta. I was born a year later.

Famiglia Bonato, Nella, Fran, Gary, Tino, Athelstone, c 1967

And so begins the story of my father’s influence, on me and my younger brother; we are both architects and practice together, along with a long-time school friend.

The relationship I had with my father in those early years had a lot to do with helping him make furniture; as soon as I was tall enough to see into the back of a drum sander he had me on the other side catching panels as they came out. Unlike many kids my age, who would be off to school and club sport of a Saturday morning, I could be found with my father at Bill’s factory, Carlton Manufacturing in Salisbury, performing some necessary task.

Tino’s earliest surviving piece of furniture made at Carlton Manufacturing c 1965 (currently being restored)

Eventually, this relationship went from student to collaborator and to making furniture together. I completed my architectural degree at the University of Adelaide in 1982 and founded Tectvs in 1989.  And this subsequently led to the ritorni or return visits.

Although my father passed away in 2007, I continue these ritorni to Italy, particularly the Veneto. They are more professional than personal, albeit having enabled all of the wider family to stay connected and make new and dear friends. They now too travel to Australia.

Francesco Bonato
2 June 2020

*Tectvs has worked across a range of  local, national and international projects.


A causa della situazione di Covid-19, non e’ stato possibile tradurre il blog in Italiano.

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