As I came to write this article I reflected on the context in which I have come to know Mario Demartini and his family. Firstly, I went to school with Mario’s daughter, Jellena from Grade 1 at St Catherine’s Catholic Primary School right through to attending Proserpine High School together. Mario’s wife, Gloria, took me for reading classes at Primary School and also, for religious instruction at High School. When I first went into business for myself in 1993 my office was situated in Mario’s building in the main street of Proserpine and he was my first Landlord. I then dealt with Mario as the Whitsunday Shire Mayor and most recently, Gloria has taught my two boys Jack and Mitchell at the Cannonvale Kindergarten where she has worked for more than 30 years.
As a local electrical contractor and the owner of an electrical retail store, Mario was also known to me as a child as the man who sold us washing machines and fixed electrical appliances when they were broken. Mario has two daughters being Jellena and Andrea.
I sat down with Mario and the first question I asked him was about his father Carlos whom I knew as a sprightly old man who remained in remarkably good health well into his 90’s. That is when Mario told me something I did not know and that is that his father Carlos (Carlo) was not born in Italy but rather in Argentina together with Mario’s Uncle Joe.
When the two brothers Carlo & Joe were young they went back to Italy before coming to Australia and initially settling in the Ingham area. The Demartini brothers travelled around with the family before Carlo settled at Kelsey Creek to the west of Proserpine. It was here that Mario’s father was injured in a farming accident.
Carlo’s mother, who was living with him at the time, told him to take some time off to allow his injuries to recover and that is when the young Carlo took time to return back to Italy for a short period. The grandmother had relayed instructions to the family in Italy to find young Carlo a wife. An engagement ring was sewn into the lapel of Carlo’s suit made by the local Tailor, Mr Byers (coincidentally, my mother worked for Mr Byers as a Tailoress when she left school).
The relations back in Italy had no success in finding a wife for young Carlo, however, one day when he went to a shop to buy a hat, the young lady who served him (Angela Buzio) soon after became his wife and later, Mario’s mother.
Ron was the first son who was soon followed by Mario. After Mario was born the family moved into the Main Street of Proserpine where the ANZ Bank is currently situated. Their father commenced operating a business known as the “Proserpine Agency” selling parts and machinery with brother Joe soon joining him in partnership. This was in subsequent years sold to well-known local businessman, Ron Ogilvie, a relation by marriage.
One memorable childhood memory for Mario was the fact that his family could not afford to go to the movies. Rather than let her children see other kids going to the movies, Mrs Demartini would dress her boys up in theirbest clothes and they would then go to have their evening meal at the Proserpine River Bridge to meet with and talk to a returned soldier, (known as Cigarette Joe) who lived beside the bridge. Ron and Mario had three siblings being Peter, Ines and Elizabeth (Lizzy). Peter became a builder, Ines married into the well-known local Dray family and Lizzy a hairdresser. After completing his primary education at the local St Catherine’s School he attended the Marist Brothers’ Ashgrove College in Brisbane. Afterwards Mario completed his Electrical Apprenticeship with Smith’s Electrical in Proserpine. Ron, who was also a gifted violinist, completed an Electrical Trade in Brisbane before returning to Proserpine where the two brothers went into business as electrical contractors and also, retailers of electrical appliances.
This partnership was together for 34 years. They sold the electrical contracting component of the business to their earlier apprentice Lindsay McNeil, and thereafter, Mario kept the retail component of the business operating under the “Retravision” banner for another 2 years.
In the mid 1990’s the Whitsunday Region was suffering from significant instability and was very much divided into Airlie Beach on one side and Proserpine on the other. Mario, who at the time was the Chairman of the Proserpine Chamber of Commerce, was approached by a number of local business people to run for Mayor with a view to uniting the Shire and ending the division which they felt was hindering the progress of the area. Mario took over as the Mayor of the Whitsunday Shire in 1994 and he stayed in this position for 14 years until 2008 when the Shire was amalgamated with Bowen.
During his time as Mayor, Mario saw the tourism industry in the Whitsundays develop. He credits this largely to the efforts of people like David Hutchen who was the then owner of “Fantasea Cruises”, Keith Williams (Hamilton Is), Vaughn Bullivant (Daydream Is) and other such prominent figures during that period including his fellow councillors who worked unitedly to develop the Whitsundays as a world class tourist destination. Mario
laments that the area currently lacks the ilk of such people with their drive, vision and business acumen. His duties bought him in close contact with the sugar industry working with the likes of Alf Musumeci a former Mill Manager. Such diversification within the shire resulted in an enjoyable and satisfying period in Mario’s life.
Having little experience in local government when Mario first became Mayor, he credits the assistance of the then Council CEO’s Dale Dixon and Tony Hayward for giving him the confidence and guidance to do the job well. Mario proudly notes that Dale, soon after leaving the area in or around the year 2000, became the Chief Executive Officer of the Gold Coast City Council.
Mario fondly recalls the various phone calls that he received as Mayor from agitated locals embroiled in disputes with their neighbours involving such issues as barking dogs and even the ever increasing crocodiles in the local rivers estuaries. A disgruntled local concerned about the proliferation of crocodile numbers delivered a bag to Mario containing a baby crocodile with a note asking him when he was going to do something about the problem.
One of the most rewarding experiences for Mario as the local Mayor was when he was called upon to conduct Naturalisation Ceremonies. He recalls one such ceremony which was conducted on Hamilton Island where 400 staff members on Hamilton Island attended the Naturalisation Ceremony of a fellow staff member. It was also his contact with the many local characters such as my good friend Trader Pete that Mario also recalls as being highlights of his time as Mayor.
In more recent times, Mario has been concentrating on spending time with his family and to continue his general community involvement including the PCYC.
A more recent project being to help establish a local Community Bendigo Bank in Cannonvale and Proserpine. I am also on the Board of the Bank alongside Mario. This has allowed me to see him in yet another role as a contributor to our boardroom discussions and a tireless worker when it comes to giving his time to benefit the community.
As I come to the conclusion of this article, I can reflect on my own experience with Mario and his family. I can honestly say that I have never heard one of them speak ill of someone nor have I seen anyone in Mario’s family lose their temper or treat anyone disrespectfully. If you can judge people based on how they treat others then, Mario, Gloria and their family can only be held in the highest regard. It is through the effort of families such as the Demartini’s that, for me at least, makes a small community such as Proserpine/Airlie Beach such an enjoyable and rewarding place to live.