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Demolition of a Croatian-Australian Icon

Croatian guests heard a speech from Premier Bracks of Victoria, Australia, at Parliament House in Melbourne to celebrate Croatia Day last week. Premier Bracks spoke of the Croatian contribution to the Victorian economy. One example he used to illustrate this contribution was the story about the Excelsior Vineyard's label, which according to legend, gave Australia its Coat of Arms.
Premier Bracks did not discuss the current situation of the Vineyard however, which he is no doubt well aware of. Not only is the story untrue about the Excelsior trademark being a design used by the Australian government, but it is the Bracks Ministry which has approved a route for a new highway to pass Shepparton and Mooroopna, Victoria, which will result in the demolition of the Excelsior Vineyard.
Premier Bracks certainly did not mention in his speech that the Vineyard will be torn down for his highway. Other things about the Excelsior Vineyard which Bracks did not elaborate on include its real importance, such as its winning of gold medals for Australia overseas in the 19th century, that it is on the Victorian Heritage Inventory, that Trojano Darveniza, the original pioneer was a member of the famous Grand Jury of France, or that he was a successful industrialist in Victoria.
Indeed, this vineyard is a Croatian-Australian icon which survived 150 years, and the dreaded 19th century Phylloxera disease, but it will not survive 21st century politics.
The truth is far more interesting than fiction. For good reason the Excelsior is listed on the Victorian Heritage Inventory. The Darveniza wines and spirits, in 1888, 1889, 1890, and between 1891 and 1897 won for Australia over 300 prizes including 9 championships, 18 special gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze medals, in European cities, etc. Trojano Darveniza from the Dubrovnik region, was elected to the Grand Jury of France.
In the late 1900s Darveniza's industry was both wholesale and retail with a storage to hold up to 60,000 gallons. One Australian book, of many which mention the Excelsior, 'Journey to Wine in Victoria' by Benwell, 1976, states:
"what an excruciating pleasure it must have been to hear the vignerons of the Third Republic (France) pronouncing the name Mooroopna. What a triumph for Darveniza . ". This book also describes the selection of old Trojano's trophies, "the achievements that they commemorated could not possibly be overstated. Without a doubt, there is nothing quite like a wine award from any of the 19th century exhibitions to capture, in a single object, all the more heroic features of three thousand years of décor, and Trojano Darveniza made sure that the colony would not be left without some wonderful examples." He won medals for Australian wine and spirits all over Europe. This is the greatest contribution of the Excelsior Vineyard for Australia. In addition, there are few vineyards in Australia which can boast that they have been in only one family for over a century, let alone successful vineyards. We should not forget the successful vineyards of the 19th century any more than those of today.
"Excelsior Winery, 1922"
In the book, 'Mooroopna to 1988' of the Mooroopna Historical Society, 1989, the Excelsior Vineyard history is repeated again in detail with mention of 306 prizes and distinctions, just a little of which I repeat here. "In 1897, The Weekly Times described the winery as 'wholesale and retail . sales for Victorian consumption amounting to 10,000 gallons annually; for export to England, Ireland, Scotland, India, NZ, W. Australia, etc. amounting to 6,000 gallons annually. In 1971 the vineyard declined to "30 acres and produced Cabernet, Shiraz, Malbaec, Grenache and Muscat varieties." "In the Master's day the grapes were danced on to press the juice from the grape". Darveniza was known as 'The Master'. His name, in the Croatian language, was Drvenica, and the family originated in Trnovica, near Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Like many hundreds of Croatian settlers to Australia at the time, his name had been Italianized due to the Italian invasion and administration of Dubrovnik and other parts of Dalmatia under both Napoleon and Austria. Indeed a great deal of confusion still exists about the identity of Croats in Australia, in historical documents, and even amongst descendants of old Croatian families such as the Darveniza's. After all there was no Yugoslavia when he left his homeland in the 1850s.
The original Trojano was naturalized in Australia in 1889, as a native of Dalmatia who had arrived in Australia in 1869 after time in NZ. Other naturalization documents of the Darveniza's described them as being from "Trnovica, Ragusa, Dalmatia, Austria". A Shepparton Family History Book describes the Darveniza's as being from Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast of Yugoslavia. One member of the Darveniza descendants in the book, 'An Australian Saga' described the family as slavs. The Victorian Labour government website for MP Kaye Darveniza describes her as of Italian grandparents, and the Vineyard is mentioned there. The Vineyard's success certainly had nothing to do with Italian migration.
In Australia, Croats have been described as Illyrians, Dalmatians, Slavonics, Sclavonians, Morlachians, Slavs, Ragusans, Austrians, Italians, Slovaks, Southern Europeans, Yugoslavs, former Yugoslavs and Balkans, etc. This is due to a dearth of correct information about Croatia being available.
As for the Excelsior trademark itself, the Darveniza family oral history about the legendary label evolved innocently enough, but it cannot be authenticated in documents. The myth goes as follows:
Legend has it that Trojano Darveniza, a native of Dalmatia Croatia, created an original label for his wines and spirits, registered it in 1871, the design of which the Australian government copied for the Australian Coat of Arms at Federation. This Excelsior label legend is not borne out in official documents.
The Australian Coat of Arms has been in common use on coins and tokens since the 1850s and 1860s, and its first recorded appearance was in 1806 (The Bowman Flag).
In fact, the official registration of the Excelsior Vineyard trademark occurred in 1898, not in 1871 which was when he began his vineyard. The Trademark register book itemized all of the features of the Excelsior Trademark which included use of the already existing "Australian Coat of Arms" as part of his trademark. Darveniza also followed the trend of other vignerons who illustrated their labels with medals won.
Three Australian artists that I know of have already have preserved the Excelsior in their art, including the famous Tate Adams, and local Shepparton artists Isa Kelly and Debbie Lynch. I wish that Croats in Australia would take note and perhaps the famous Croatian-Australian artist Charles Billich could record the Vineyard in his own fantastic style.
"Excelsior Vineyard in 2004" V. Marinovic
In the meantime, the local community efforts have failed to alter the decision of the Bracks ministry in their chosen route, although it was not the only route proposed. There must be other ways to preserve the memory of this Vineyard, and to ensure that these sorts of issues are taken more seriously in the future.
One of Victoria's Heritage landmarks on Excelsior Avenue, a 150-year old icon of Croatian chain migration, a place of pilgrimage for Croatian wine buyers from far away Melbourne or Sydney; and the achievements of a 19th century ambassador for Australia overseas; will be bulldozed for progress! In all seriousness, would the Bracks' government have us believe that they would demolish the actual landmark where the Australian Coat of Arms was created!
Jean Lunt Marinovic
July 2004
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