MICHELLI (MICK) BORZI

Contributed by

This is Mick’s story in his own words

I am Michelli (Mick) Borzi, born 24 July 1933 in Innisfail. I was the third of 4 children born to Alfio and Concetta Borzi. My father Alfio was born in 1902 in St Alfio, a small town in the province of Catania, Sicily. When he was 18 years old he decided to join his sister, who had emigrated to Australia with her husband to Far North Queensland rather than do compulsory army service. He knew he could make a good life for himself in Australia while prospects in Italy, particularly in Sicily were poor. He came to Australia by boat, docking first in Fremantle then continuing around the coast to Brisbane with a final boat trip to Mourilyan Harbour, all his worldly possessions in a suitcase on his back. He then walked to Boogan, about 10 kilometres south of Innisfail. There he started work cutting cane. In five years he was eligible for naturalisation so then able to purchase land. He put a deposit on a cane farm and began farming. He then met and married the daughter of the next-door farmer. My mother, Concetta had also emigrated from Sicily a few years previously with her family. She was 18 years old when her first child, Joe was born in 1928, followed by my sister Nell (1930), myself and then our youngest brother Ross (1936).

Like many families in those days our lives were built on hard work and a tightly-knit family unit. We didn’t have electricity so did our homework at night by hurricane lamp. We didn’t have a motor car – we had horses. Work was all manual – we had to chip grass before we went to school and after we came home.

My mother was a hard-working compassionate woman who doted on her husband and four children. She had no household conveniences – washing would take a whole day. She continued to care for her husband and family even through the last 7 years of her life during which she was very ill. My father was a loving but tough man. He ruled the household. He worked hard to give us a tertiary education at a time when that was rare. He did not believe in handing things to us but guaranteed us an education and gave it to us by going without so that we were not deprived. Although I finished left school after Junior in 1948, I found work with a public accountant and began studying accountancy by correspondence. My brothers finished senior at Nudgee college in Brisbane and my oldest brother entered medicine at the University of Queensland, eventually setting up in private practice in Mareeba.

Tragedy struck in 1951 when my mother died at the age of 41 from kidney disease. My oldest brother was at university, my sister married, and my youngest brother still in school so I was the only one who could help my father so I left work and began to help him on the farm. In January 1952 I was called up for National Service and did 15 weeks at the Army’s camp at Wacol, near Brisbane. It was my first experience away from home. I think it did a lot for me in as much as understanding the other fellows and depending on each other. When I returned to Innisfail my father told us he was going to remarry allowing me to seek work in the accountancy area where I had training and interest. In December 1953 I went on a trip to the Atherton Tablelands with an insurance agent. I learnt that the Butter Factory in Ravenshoe, 1 of 3 factories on the tablelands at the time, was seeking a secretary/accountant. I applied next day and was working there the next week.

While I was at Ravenshoe, often travelling home for the weekends in a small car my father helped me buy, tragedy struck again. My youngest brother had returned to college after holidays when the college called to say he was ill. He was soon after diagnosed with leukemia and died in December 1954.

I was just 21 but could see that improvements in transport and the dairy industry and lack of scope for growth in the number of farmers in Ravenshoe would soon make the factory unfeasible so I decided to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Within a week of leaving Ravenshoe I was offered a job in Atherton as an Accountant for the Holden dealer who had three dealerships across the Tablelands. I lived with a number of other young men in boarding houses and had a very good time. But I had to be more serious and responsible than others my age. In post-war years, being of Italian extraction wasn’t easy. I found whatever I did, until about 30 years ago, you were really pushing it uphill. You had to be better than the other fellow to be recognised. In the Australia of my youth, non-immigrant (British) preference for jobs was not only practised, it was the law. I have no quarrel with that – but anyone who was an outsider as I was, had to battle that much harder. I think that probably instils in us – it did in me – the drive to work harder at whatever we did to prove ourselves.

In 1955 I was hospitalised with kidney stones. There I met a pretty young nurse, Elza Pezzelato. Elza’s father had emigrated from a small town near Venice and in Adelaide met his wife, also from that part of Italy. They had come to North Queensland, firstly growing tobacco and then to a mixed farm in Kairi. I contacted Elza about a week later and our romance began. In my working life I enjoyed my job – I had been promoted to Assistant Manager- but was not popular amongst the long-term and older employees who resented the changes and improvement I made. I discussed these concerns with my boss. He offered to sell me his Mareeba dealership but I had no assets. Unbeknown to me he then spoke with his brother-in-law who worked for him as a mechanic and was interested in getting a dealership and suggested me as a partner. His brother-in-law, Don Gillman contacted me and we met to discuss options. Neither of us could afford to buy the dealership but I was able to put together a group of investors and in January 1957 we opened as Borman Motors (BORzi/gillMAN). That year Elza and I were married and she has been my wife, partner, nurse, companion, friend, housekeeper, cook and secretary ever since. Elza has always run the businesses while I was off doing the other things in my life.

I sold my shares in Borman Motors to the Gillman’s in 1960, purchasing land in Tabacum on which I grew tobacco. I was travelling into Mareeba to purchase some concrete blocks to build drying kilns when the owner of the factory offered to sell it to me. I thought about it overnight concluding that Mareeba was expanding: with the Tinaroo dam in operation and reaching more farms that growth would continue and farmers would do what I had done – buy concrete blocks for kilns. The next day I presented him with a cheque, and when he accepted it dashed to the bank manager to make sure he would cover it. He was not impressed but he did so! Soon after I decided to add a Bedford truck to cart sand to the brick works myself and added truck-driver to my list of skills. I realised half the bricks were being sold in Dimbulah so took one of the two brick-making machines to Dimbulah and bought another concrete mixer and block of land. I operated both brickworks for about 3 years, selling them separately a few years later.

In 1961, the call to serve the community led me to run for Shire Council. At 27 I was elected Chairman of the Mareeba Shire Council, the youngest ever at that time. In my first 12-year period as Mayor I was able to lead the introduction of infrastructure improvements in Mareeba, in particular around water usage, purification and the establishment of an aged persons facility. In 1963 my brother and I purchased property near Davies Creek Road. In 1965 my brother sold his medical practice in Mareeba and I bought the property. He joined friends in a medical practice in Brisbane, but 4 years later at the age of 41, died during a medical procedure. Elza and I and our three children moved to the property but in 1966 moved into Mareeba and finally into our current home in May 1967 and started my Real Estate business. After 4 terms as Shire Chairman I did not contest the 1973 election.

I was interested in state politics and did stand for election but was not successful. I have always been around politics – I have always been ambitious to the extent that I wanted to do something and politics meant that I could take a part in making things better. I honestly believe that we have a responsibility to make a contribution towards our way of life, to how we exist.

As Chairman of the Mareeba Shire Council I represented Mareeba on the Cairns Harbour Board from 1964 and in 1970 was voted Chair. Before my appointment, the board had restricted itself to harbour matters only. Having become Chairman, I felt there was a responsibility on me to become involved in all of the issues for the betterment of Far North Queensland. The Board approved my plans for long term development of the harbour and airport including development of the foreshore, infrastructure improvements and developments, tourist infrastructure and advocating for a tertiary facility in the region. In 1973 when my position as Mareeba Shire Chairman ceased, fellow members lobbied for me to remain on the Board and I became the Government appointee to the Board. Amongst the many undertakings of the Cairns Harbour Board while I was Chair, the most controversial was the development of the International airport but it was eventually opened in 1984. The job was done.  During my time at the Harbour Board I was award an OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1978. 

A few weeks after the opening of the International Airport in Cairns I was appointed by the Queensland Government as Commissioner to the Middle East with a brief to promote Trade, Tourism and Investment. I was grateful for another challenge and another situation in which to make a contribution. For Elza and me, it was a complete departure from what we’d become used to. Two years later I was asked to go to Los Angeles to again open a new office and promote Queensland. We were there for 4 years before the new Labour government closed the office in August 1990.

On our return to Mareeba, we decided to develop our property at Parada near Mutchilba and began growing mangoes. We then built a fruit packing shed on the property and pack our fruit as well as that of other farmers. During this time, I was involved in a number of public ventures including establishing the Mareeba Heritage and Museum and Visitor Information Centre and revitalising the Mareeba Chamber of Commerce. In 2000 I again stood for Council. I won a second term before deciding not to nominate again.  During this term I have been again honoured by my country, in 2001 with a Centenary Medal and in 2005 by being made a Member of the Order of Australia. 

My second period as Chairman gave me another opportunity to contribute to the town that has been central to my life. I have seen the growth and problems in Mareeba. I think the major need is jobs. That is why I promoted the development of an industrial estate for industries to be established. Industries mean jobs. Mareeba is my home. Everything that has happened to me has happened here. I have been honoured here. I have been given opportunity here. My children were born here. I have lived all over the world, but Mareeba is my home.

Janet Greenwood Operations Manager

Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.

Mick Hay Announcer (Mareeba 4AM & Innisfail 4KZ)

Mick has worked casually in radio for 30 years at a number of stations including 4LM, 4GC and 4KZ whilst also working for Telstra. He joined the 4AM team taking over the Breaky Show full time in July 2014. Mick enjoys living in tropical North Queensland after growing up in Innisfail and staying in areas like Thursday Island, Normanton, Mount Isa, Cairns and Mossman. In his spare time, Mick likes to go camping, do a bit of fishing and he enjoys the great outdoors.

Angela Musumeci Volunteer Project Officer

Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is now happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.

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