Tribute to a Menindee legend
Saturday, 16th January, 2021
By Annette Northey
Domenic D’Ettorre, who passed away on Friday, December 11, 2020, las left a legacy both immeasurable and eternal. He was 87.
Dom, as he was referred to by all who knew him, leaves behind his wife Maria, sons George and Tony; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Dom and Maria’s first born, Vince, was sadly killed at the age of 21 in a car accident at Menindee.
Well-known for cultivating Menindee Grapes, Dom is the last of his generation of the D’Ettorre family, surviving his younger brother, Gino, by several years.
Maria, and other family members reflect on the impact Dom had on their lives and the contributions he made to the township of Menindee; and indeed, the broader agricultural community.
Born in the small town of Caramanico in the Abruzzo region of Italy on October 29, 1933, Dom was flown to Australia at the age of 15 with his younger brother, by their father Vince, who had immigrated here before the Second World War.
“Pop said, ‘Dad was there waiting for us and we stayed the night in Sydney; the next day we caught the train to Menindee’,” grandsons Damien and Mitchell recalled.
Dom’s father had staked out a block off the Darling River where an old bakery once stood and the family got busy working the land.
It wasn’t long before Dom purchased his own block a few kilometres out of the township, just over the old bridge which crosses the Darling River.
He worked on the railway for about six months and did some work on the block, and in 1959 built a one-bedroom and kitchen house on the front of the block where he lived with Gino for a few years.
Dom would travel into Broken Hill in his Bedford truck once a week, selling fruit and vegetables to green grocers.
It is here that he met the love of his life, Maria, who was working at Schinella’s Fruit Shop.
They married in May, 1962, and moved into the ‘little house’ where they stayed for six years before building their existing home. Their sons were born in 1963, 1964 and 1969.
Dom and his brother loved to water ski at Copi Hollow, and Dom was eventually made a Life Member of the Speedboat Club there.
“Pop was a bit of a rev-head with ski boats,” his grandsons said.
He was also a life member of the Gun Club.
Dom’s status at the Maiden’s Hotel in Menindee must not be overlooked, either. He was known, respected and admired by all staff and patrons.
“He used to go there every Friday night, sit on the same stool at the end of the bar, spend a few dollars in the meat raffle, have a few drinks, and I would and pick him up and bring him home,” Maria said.
“He used to love his whisky, but when he started having heart problems he gave it away.”
Dom worked hard on the farm growing anything he could off the banks of the Darling River, such as carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, and lettuce.
In 1971, he bought a second block where he grew potatoes, onions, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons and rockmelons.
In 1982, Dom and Maria’s eldest son, Vince, gave his father some grape vines to grow, and these were the first Flames (black seedless) to be grown in Menindee.
The white seedless Menindee Grape variety soon followed, and they also grew Red Globes.
Dom and Maria worked very hard, cultivating the vines and building their business.
The farm quickly grew, giving the community a great opportunity to work and earn money on the block.
Damien and Mitchell recounted the contribution it made to the township, quoting their grandfather.
“Pop said, ‘Just about all the town would come out and pick on the vines; 90 per cent of the people in Menindee would work, kids and all. And when the season was over, we’d have a barbeque and a bit of a drink, everyone was welcome.’”
“We did very well,” Maria said.
Their grandsons said everything their grandparents own to this day stemmed from their hard work and was not just handed to them on a silver platter.
“... we will continue to live our lives the way he taught us; to work hard, be kind to others, and to not take ourselves too seriously,” Damien and Mitchell said.
Maria said growing grapes for them proved to be too expensive about seven years ago, when the cultivation and earlier harvest of the white seedless Menindee Grape in Queensland dominated the market share.
“It wasn’t the water, there was enough water,” Maria said.
“So, we let them go and he planted rockmelons and cucumbers and other things after that.
“He used to pick them and sell them to Schinella’s to get his whiskey money.”
Maria’s most precious memory of Dom was the love they shared and the work they did together for fifty-eight years.
“We had a good life and a bad life, you know, just like everybody else,” she said.
“After we lost our son - that was the worst part. We could never replace him, he was 21.
“But everybody loved Dom because he got on well with everybody.”
Dom was a hard worker and Maria said up until the last week he was still doing things.
“He just never stopped, he kept going.”
After Dom and Maria let the vines go, Dom planted a few vines (Flames and Red Globes) closer to the house, just for something to help keep him busy.
Now though, they will keep Maria busy and serve as a poignant reminder of an incredible life with an incredible man.
And then there is the ute; Dom’s work ute was almost as legendary as its owner.
“It was his life, he loved it,” Maria said.
So much so, that it preceded the hearse in Dom’s funeral procession, all the way to the cemetery!
Hard-working, humorous, kind, selfless, and the fabric of Menindee society, are only a few of the ways in which Domenic D’Ettorre will be remembered by his family, friends, and all who come after him in Menindee.