The story of Peter James Mattei

Barb Mullen, AustraliaBy Barb Mullen, Australia

The story of the Mattei family of Australia continues. Alessandro Mattei migrated to Victoria, Australia in 1855. This is the story of his fourth son. The position of person has in the family is widely recognized as having a bearing on how they see themselves. Peter James was the eleventh child to Alessandro and Catherine Mattei, the third son and second youngest child.

His mother was about 39 when he was born; there was less than two years difference between him and his older brother Quill. Catherine had a good reason to feel exhausted by this time and Peter was probably cared for by his older sisters.

Peter James Mattei, aged about 14, at the family home “Rovanna”

peterjames2Peter was a small man, even for a Mattei, as a baby he would have been universally loved by his large family and perhaps more so if his small size at birth was a cause for concern.

An unsettled life

Peter Mattei moved around a lot in his life. This was not unusual for a Mattei, many of his siblings found it necessary for financial reasons to relocate for work.

Peter’s early years were spent in timber communities. First at Green Hills near Blackwood, then Castella near Toolangi. As a young adult he worked at Yea and in other parts of Gippsland with his brothers.

By 1913, Peter left the world of timber behind him and took to hospitality with enthusiasm. It suited the character of the man it seems and with his new wife, the young family settled in Wonthaggi, a coal mining town. The Dunbar’s and Monighetti’s, already in hospitality there, could help.

It was when he left the direct support of his family and moved north to Creswick in 1922, that things began to really go wrong.

The years between the wars were not peaceful for Peter or his family. Their lives were not settled.

Blakeville Road

Peter James was born at home at Blakeville Road in the Wombat Forest, on the 23rd of October 1884. The small house would have been overflowing with children and giving birth under these conditions would have been a trial.

Alessandro, now 46 years old, was felling timber. There were three important timber mills in the area but the timber reserves were beginning to run out, the forests there had been heavily logged for many years. It was not easy work for a man, the hard work over the years and poor living conditions would have taken their toll on him. His wages would have been dependent on how much he cut and that kind of work doesn’t pay well, so there would have been the added burden of another mouth to feed.

Logging in the Wombat Forest

loggingBlakeville Road, near Balkeville proper, was south east of Kornweingubora and south west of Blackwood. It was an isolated place then, no different to the many other local communities the family had chosen to live in.

The family owned no property and with such a large family and poor wages, it is likely their living conditions were primitive. Dirt floors, no running water, cramped living conditions, freezing in winter. Peter would have been a small child, Catherine who had not lost a child yet, would have been especially caring for this little one.

Within 6 weeks, Peter’s birth was registered and he was baptised, both on the same day in Ballan. His godparents were Ellen Hanrahan and his namesake, Peter Mattei, his uncle Pietro.

His uncle Pietro had many years before left Australia to return home to Cevio where he married and then went to make his fortune in USA. He later returned back to Switzerland with some of his children as adults. While on this journey he obviously detoured to visit the family in Australia, there were still many uncles and cousins from Cevio here, as well as his brother Alessandro.

Peter’s baptism was indeed a cause for celebration.

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