6 - 23 October 2010

Michael Ciavarella

When Antonio Ciavarella married Maria Caputo in 1968, he drove his bride to Sydney in his EH Holden. His left arm was stretched across the bench seat in her direction, his right arm on the base of the window frame and a longneck of Melbourne Bitter was purchased between his knees. They were a young Italian couple travelling to a new life when they were pulled over for speeding near Gundagai on the Hume Highway. Forty years ago, Antonio already had the hard hands of a concreter and the eye of a romantic. Now, it is his son Michael who, with the help of his father’s skill and wisdom, shapes and fashions this medium first used by the Romans two thousand years ago.

Concrete is now the most widely used man-made product in the world and it powers a $35 billion industry that employs over two million people in the United States alone. Many people use the words ‘concrete’ and ‘cement’ interchangeably, but cement makes up only a small portion of the total ingredients of concrete. The word ‘concrete’ is derived from the Latin root ‘concretus’, which means to grow together; with this in mind, it seems the perfect medium for a father and son to bond over a creative endeavour.

The post-war migration boom saw many young southern Italian men arrive in Australia. With them they brought a rich cultural history of music, stories and a willingness to work hard. Antonio was a young man ready to work and like many of his peers it was concrete which gave him the opportunity to create and to provide. Antonio would pour, shape and smooth concrete so that his four children would not have to. His hard work would give them choice. Under a summer sun and in the face of cold Melbourne winters, Antonio worked above and below this city’s skyline laying concrete that will remain for centuries.

Australia’s worst ever natural disaster was Cyclone Tracey. Christmas Eve 1974 saw the destruction of Darwin as its poorly designed buildings, not much more than shanties, were decimated by the 200 km/h winds that tore across the frontier city. Antonio, then working for a fledgling concreting business, left his young family in Melbourne to rebuild the town with doubly re-enforced concrete. The next cyclone that approaches Darwin will be more than matched by this material, so expertly and tirelessly laid by these men in the new wild country.

Antonio’s son Michael has now elected to work with the material from which his father has built towering buildings, footpaths and gutters. It is over concrete that the artisan has met the artist. Antonio, the practical, methodical indefatigable worker building structures of great utilitarian value, is now working with his son Michael, the urbane artist with the softest hands. It is an incongruous mix—perfectly paradoxical in every sense.

Antonio’s work with concrete bought the family a house in Rye on the Mornington Peninsular. While staying there on our regular summer holiday, I woke one morning to see Antonio and his brother boxing up an elevated concrete sink. The form work was so complex and intricate: a small-scale Sydney Opera House. The timber was set at various angles, all suspended about a metre from the ground. The work was precise and its purpose perfectly functional, but this too was the work of an artist. Antonio, the man who has laboured and cursed over concrete for 40 years, has the skill and the eye that we now see in his son’s abstract work.

Our daughter, when on a trip to Melbourne with her primary school, visited the observation deck at the Rialto Tower. She proudly told her teacher that Michael’s father built this building and in many ways I think she was right.

David Sutton - 2010