The Catalan roots // Francisco Dalmau

Francisco Dalmau

Dalmau escaping military service
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Dalmau sense of belonging
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“Francisco had no idea Australia was on the other side of the world, so his plan was to treat it as a bit of a holiday. Little did he know he would never return to Catalonia”. Frank Dalmau

Francisco Dalmau was born in Canet de Mar, and was the fourth child of Joaquim Dalmau and Sarvina Mainou. He had 4 brothers and 2 sisters. Sarvina died giving birth to Emilio when Francisco was 8 and Juaquin was 12. His eldest brother was killed in the Cuban war.

Francisco worked in spinning and weaving factories in Barcelona. During the war in Cuba with USA, conscription was imposed. While his number did not come out, his work mate was not so lucky and suggested Francisco write to Manuel Borrell at White Hills in Bendigo and ask him to sponsor them to grow tomatoes in Australia. Within a month they received a cable telling them they were booked on a ship leaving Marseille: L’Australien. He left France on the 8th of September 1905 when he was 23. On board were other travellers: Vicente Vives, Mr. Ceillier, Mr. Walter and Mr&Mrs Esnard.

Francisco had no idea Australia was on the other side of the world, so his plan was to treat it as a bit of a holiday, stay a few months to pay off his fare and then return to Spain. Little did he know he would never return to Catalonia.

Francisco docked at Port Melbourne and boarded a train for Bendigo. He would tell of his shock at the space and the long distances between towns. He stayed with the Borrells for 2 years and paid off his fare. Then he rented a ten-acre block and grew tomatoes himself. However, he soon realized that the only people making money were the Commission Agents and railways, so he decided to come to town and acquired land at the bottom of Ardmillan Road, Moonee Ponds, where he opened a fruit shop (in Puckle Street).

One of Francisco’s regular customers in Puckle Street Store was Jane Williams, Manager of the Edments Jewellery Shop, an unusual status for a woman of that time. If he was busy, he would ask Jane to help herself or to serve other customers for him. They ended up marrying in 1914. They lived in Nicholson Street, Gardenvale, Prahran and finally Brunswick, where Francisco bought a 1-acre block in Moreland Road, West Brunswick (1931), where he grew his tomatoes.

Francisco and Jane Dalmau created a true Catalan home in that it was welcoming and they extended an open door to all. Many Sundays, family and Catalan friends would visit, or the family would go to Keilor at Joe Borrell’s. Frank recalls that in one of those visits, he came into the room and one of the visitors spoke in Catalan and they all laughed. Francisco translated to his son “beware of the blue eyed Catalan’. 

Daughter Maria entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in Sydney after her 21stBirthday. In 1940, after entering the convent, Maria took ill and died of pneumonia. Jane died in 1955 and Francisco never got over it. He divided Moreland Road between the two sons, Frank and Rob, and they built their family homes there, while Francisco lived in a bungalow at the back of Rob’s house where he continued to grow tomatoes till he died on the 7th of April 1960.