View Comments
Hardworking migrant built smallgoods empire
The West Australian

When Tommaso D'Orsogna stepped on to the wharf at Fremantle as a teenager in 1933 after a voyage from his Italian homeland, he had little more than hope and a willingness to work hard.

When he died on Wednesday, the family company he had started and nurtured was a household name and an embodiment of one of WA's most uplifting stories.

Tommaso D'Orsogna and his brother Cesare had arrived in WA to join their father Luigi, who had come to the State in 1927.

Cesare was 16 and Tommaso 14.

At 15, Tommaso began work at an abattoir near Wiluna, then at a smallgoods factory next to a butcher's shop in the town.

He spent four years making sausages, frankfurts, polony, corned beef, pickled pork and dripping. It was effectively the beginning of the D'Orsogna company we know today.

But before long, the work at Wiluna dwindled and the brothers went prospecting before the entry of Italy into World War II resulted in them being interned because of their Italian heritage, despite their Australian citizenship.

About 1000 Italian-born migrants were rounded up in WA and Tommaso was confined at Rottnest, then Fremantle jail, then Harvey internment camp.

He spent two years there and was moved to Kalgoorlie and South Australia before his release in August 1944.

In 2002, he was to return to Harvey to unveil a memorial fountain and without a hint of bitterness remarked that he understood why he and his countrymen had been interned and that at least the food had been plentiful.

After his release, Tommaso worked at Robb Jetty abattoir in the boning room, slaughtering area and coolrooms. After deciding that he wanted to go further in smallgoods, he headed to Melbourne in 1947.

He worked by day at a continental and Italian-style smallgoods business and at a cafe at night.

In March 1949 he opened his own smallgoods business - T. D'Orsogna Family Butcher in West Perth. By 1951, he had been joined by Cesare and another brother, John, and the company name was changed to D'Orsogna Brothers Pty Ltd.

The brothers devoted time not only to business and family but also became well known through establishing the D'Orsogna Cup, a competition that became synonymous with soccer in WA for more than 30 years.

D'Orsogna Smallgoods moved from West Perth to Palmyra in 1973 and in 2009 opened a production plant in Melbourne. The name is now found on products sold Australia-wide.

After the deaths of his brothers, Tommaso remained the last link to the establishment of the family company and as recently as a few months ago would still go into the business and make coffee for staff.

He died peacefully at age 95.

A company spokesman said: "Tommaso's widely admired work ethic and generosity made him an inspiration to his family, his business, his 500 or so employees at D'Orsogna and the WA community.

"From very humble beginnings, he helped build a smallgoods enterprise that has proudly served West Australians the finest of continental meats for more than 60 years.

"For many West Australians Christmas wouldn't be the same without a D'Orsogna ham and I know Tommaso was proud of that tradition and the sense of family it brought to the table.

"He was devoted to his wife Maria and his children Concetta (Tina), Luigi, Loreta and Eugenio."