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Joe Zekulich 1907 – 2014

WHEN Joe Zekulich arrived in Fremantle on the SS Ormonde on April 1, 1924 he was just 16. The eldest of nine children, he was sent by his father from their poverty-stricken, war-torn homeland of Croatia to be their economic lifeline in Australia. When Joe arrived he could not speak English and had little money. Denied work at the Kalgoorlie goldmines because of his age he accepted a 12-hour-a-day job on a market garden near the Trans Australian railway line for a pound a week plus keep. He eventually found his way to the Swan Valley after accepting a job offer to help with the harvest in the Swan Valley. It was there he met Rose Beus whose family were one of the first three Dalmation families to settle in the Swan Valley. Joe reportedly asked Rose to marry him in the cellar where he had processed many tonnes of grapes for the Beus family. The couple married on May 25, 1931 at the St Brigid’s Catholic Church in Midland. The couple settled in the Swan Valley where Joe established himself and his family in the grape growing industry. It was in 1932 that Joe recognised the vigour of vines in the whole region was deteriorating and perceived that this was being caused by the state’s worst grape enemy, nematodes. With single minded determination, and with neither scientific nor financial support at that time, he set out to revitalise the Swan Valley as a major viticultural region by seeking out vigorous growing resistant wild stocks. In 2005 Joe was inducted into the Royal Agricultural Society’s Hall of Fame, the first viticulturalist to be inducted. Joe had four children – Michael, Tony, Doug and Anne (dec), 13 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. Until Rose’s death last year aged 99, they were considered to be the longest married couple in Australasia. Joe passed away peacefully at Morrison Lodge in Midland on November 8. He was 107-years-old.

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