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The Portrait: Juan Senserrick

The market gardeners settled around Keilor (Senserrick, Borrell, Cautero and Vert families), in West Brunswick (Torres, Dalmau and Alberni families) and in Essendon (Cautero). The Pou, Lleonart, Piferre, Auladell, Massaneda and Rovira families arrived between 1911-1914 and settled in Echuca on the Murray. Around the Koondrook Barham area were the Bonamusa, Sellicks, Prunell and Puig families. The biggest concentration of market gardeners was in the State of Victoria, but some of them settled in New South Wales, close to Mathoura (Sagatal family).

They mainly cultivated tomatoes, but some of them also grew orchids, rhubarb and a few capsicums and eggplants for their friends and families, as these tastes were not popular amongst the Australian crowd. Many Catalans in Australia still remember their visits to the Senserrick’s market garden, where they would get some of these prized and unique crops. 

Juan José Andrés Senserrick Sabater was born in Mas Vila in Santa Maria de Miralles in 1879. When he was five he was orphaned and he was adopted by the Poq family, from Torrebosqueta. He worked as a shepherd and learnt how to prune fruit trees and treat orchards.

When he was 20, his elder brother Josef paid his trip to Australia in order to evaluate it as a potential place of migration and to make a better life than in Spain. Juan arrived at Port Melbourne in 1899 and applied his Catalan skills to the growing of fruit and vegetables. He stayed in White Cliffs, Bendigo, for a year, where he would “borrow” the horse from his boss at night, plough paddocks and return the horse to its home before daylight. The baker always thought his horse to be lacking energy...

Later on, he went into partnerships with other Catalans to produce tomatoes and sell them at the Wholesale Market in Victoria Street, Melbourne. The business was to sell directly to retailers, as he learned in his trip to New Zealand. He was said not to be able to read or write, but surely he was very good at counting money!

In his 30s he returned to Spain and fell in love with Emilia Rosell, who worked at a cotton mill known as Afou House Works. Her mother had been widowed with 5 children and Emilia walked many kilometres to briefly visit her family on the weekends and then return to work. “It would have been difficult for mother Maria to see her daughter leaving perhaps for the last time to a distant country” said Juan many times.

Between 1912 and 1924 Juan and Emilia had five children. During this period, Josef Senserrick migrated to Australia to work hard and maintain his family in Spain. In 1925, Juan purchased some land in Keilor and built a house with a huge garden full of lemon, grapefruit, plum and apricot trees, as well as rhubarb and artichokes whose bulbs came from Spain. In 1939 Jack married another Catalan, Henrietta Martret.

Juan passed his skills on to family descendants and the rule to produce top quality and to always grade any marked fruit or vegetables as seconds. They always sold their loads of produce at the best available prices, so they sold all the stock. If they didn’t, Juan would take the unsold produce to charities on the return to Keilor, rather than throw it away.

For the best family economy, growers exchanged potatoes for tomatoes and cauliflowers, and Juan and Jack often gave produce to friends and neighbours merely for a smile. During summer months, the Senserrick employed Catalans and Basques that came from Queensland after cutting sugar and growing tobacco. Jack learned Catalan, Spanish and Italian from these seasonal workers. The family also liked to attend Catalan get-togethers, which were popular in those times.

After Juan’s death in 1965, the government acquired the Keilor market garden and now a freeway passes through the centre of his farm. Grandson Anthony John Senserrick also worked at market gardens in the Keilor Valley, following the family tradition as they have inherited energetic characteristics and acumen.

From “Journey of a Catalan Shepherd to Australia” by Peter Francis Senserrick, 2003.