Civil Engineer & Civil Servant
Born in Florence, Italy on 22 April 1852, the son of Enrico Catani, merchant and Augusta née Geri, and educated at the Technical Institute of Florence. Young, eager and armed with a civil engineering diploma Catani migrated to Melbourne in 1876 via New Zealand; the astronomer Pietro Baracchi (Melbourne General Cemetery) and engineer Ettore Checchi (d 1946) made the trip together. Catani soon joined the Department of Lands and Survey (1876-82) as a draftsmen and later with the Public Works Department (1882-1917), he was employed with Checchi as an engineering draftsman, preparing plans for harbours, jetties and coastal works. In 1892 he was head of the section and among the projects was the draining of the Koo-Wee-Rup swamp using to great effect unemployed married men who were provided with small farms on the drained land; the township of Catani is named after him.
“Always courteous and unassuming”, Catani’s greatest contribution was the project to widen the Yarra river at South Yarra (1896-97) as a means of reducing flooding in the area. Through his urging, the project was enlarged to include the construction of the Anderson Street bridge; he personally oversaw the newly formed Alexander Avenue and its paradise of elm, oak and poplar trees. He was also involved in the re-design of the St. Kilda Esplanade and Red Bluff as an original member of the St. Kilda Foreshore Trust (1906-18); George Billson (q.v.) was a fellow member. Other projects that Catani was involved in were the development of the Mount Buffalo tourist resort and works at Arthur’s Seat, Mount Donna Buang and locally the draining of the Elster Canal.
Naturalised in 1892, Catani died on 20 July 1918 at Wyndham – 39 Blessington Street, St. Kilda after suffering a seizure a fortnight before while superintending the erection of additions to his home. In May 1886 he married Catherine née Hanley; their second born son, Lieutenant Eric (Enrico) Frederick (Ferdinando) Catani was killed in action on 29 July 1916 during the Great War whilst serving with the 21st Battalion.
ADB Volume 7 1891-1939 (A-Ch).
Smith, J. (ed), “Cyclopedia of Victoria” (1903).
Prahran Chronicle 27 July 1918.
The Prahran Telegraph 27 July 1918.
The Argus 22 July 1918.
The Herald 22 July 1918.
The Age 22 July 1918.
Cooper, J., “The History of St. Kilda” (1931).
(Image courtesy of Port Phillip City Collection SK0513. Image not to be reproduced without permission)