I rise to pay tribute to a remarkable family from the Far North, the Rossi family, who had two very sad losses in the last couple of weeks. Bob Rossi Snr, OAM, KC, passed away last month aged 90 years. His story highlights just what can be achieved through hard work and determination. The second loss was that of Bob’s son, Bob Jnr, on Saturday, which was a huge shock to his family, friends and the community.
Today, in this place, I would like to highlight the inspiring story of one of the Far North’s best-known families, and their incredible contribution to our community. Bob Rossi Snr was born in 1923 in Italy. His father migrated to Australia to give his family a better life, as did so many in depressed post-war Europe. After an arduous journey, his wife and young son arrived at a rugged cane farm near Aloomba, Queensland, in 1925.
It was not an easy life, but Bob Snr always stated, ‘We were poor, but we were very happy.’ As for many immigrants, hard work and enterprise were life-changing for the Rossis. Over three years, Bob Snr’s parents saved 900 pounds, which helped them buy their first farm of 50 acres on the Mulgrave River. Young Robert struggled at school, speaking only Italian, but, by the age of nine, he was fluent enough to accompany his father as an interpreter in business dealings.
His schooling placed him in demand with the Italian community for writing letters and interpreting; and he continued to help Italian families throughout his life. In 1994, the Italian government bestowed a Knights of Cavaliere honour upon him.
Bob met his future wife, Luciana, at a school dance in 1946 and they were an ideal match. They went on to have three children-Robert, Gloria and Lynette. Bob always paid tribute to Luciana as being a huge support in his life.
Despite having being interned as an ‘enemy alien’ during WWII, Bob began a legacy of community involvement. He was a foundation member of the Mulgrave Junior Farmers and held numerous roles in the sugar industry for the next 35 years. His focus on innovation brought new techniques to a traditional practice. He was responsible for forcing Australian companies to manufacture harvesters that could cut green cane.
Bob’s involvement with Mulgrave Shire Council began in 1968 and lasted 23 years. In his role as deputy to the late chairman, Cr Tom Pyne, the pair formed a solid relationship which oversaw much of Mulgrave’s rapid growth.
After a productive public life, Bob retired in 1991. He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1992, one of his proudest moments. Bob reflected that despite growing up at a time when Italians were regarded poorly, it never affected him because he knew that success would come from within himself.
His focus on family was a great strength, especially in later years when he enjoyed the company of children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. When his health deteriorated he said, ‘I have had 70 years of good life and health. If I have a few years of disability, it might test my character.’ At Bob’s funeral in Gordonvale on 23 May, hundreds, including myself, paid their respects to a man who was fiercely proud without being self-centred, quiet but with a lot to say.
Given the focus on family, it was fitting that his son, Robert Jnr travelled to Darwin last week to catch up with his daughter and new grand-child. Sadly, Bob Jr passed away while attending a rock’n’roll dance-one of his three great passions in life, along with his family and barra fishing. We can take some comfort from the fact that he died doing something he loved. Bob Jnr was 64, and is survived by his wife Pam and six children-Lisa, Angela, Michael, Narelle, Glenn and Daniel.
Like his father, he leaves a legacy of community service. Bob Jr played a very active role in the Gordonvale RSL, and was well-known for organising dances as a popular social activity. His commitment to the state and high school P&C was well-known, as were his efforts with the Mulgrave Central Mill, Pyramid Race Committee, Southern Suburbs Junior Rugby League, the National Party and subsequently the LNP. He was highly respected in the community and if anybody needed a hand, Bob Jnr was always the one to offer.
The Far North has lost two very special men in Bob Rossi Snr and Bob Rossi Jnr. Their collective efforts have been greatly appreciated by the community and we are certainly a better place for that. They will be well and truly missed but they will never be forgotten and I add my tribute to them in the House this evening.
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