Gangland figures share Gatto grief
Mick Gatto has always known how to fix things. Whether by hard word or the occasional strong arm, he is renowned as a man with formidable powers of persuasion.
One problem he could never solve was his son, Justin. As Gatto told more than 2000 mourners who filled the pews and lined the aisles of Richmond’s St Ignatius church, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“We’ve done our best to look after him. We have all loved him. He loved everybody, too. We couldn’t do any more than what we’ve done.’’
It was close to midnight, just after Gatto came home to his family’s inner-city Melbourne, high rise apartment, when he witnessed his son’s death.
Gatto is a flint-hard man. He survived the gangland war. He beat a murder rap. Yet nothing had prepared him for what he saw that night.
Justin Gatto was back living with his parents after spending three weeks in a Bali rehab centre.
He had been in and out of half a dozen rehab centres over the years, his father told his funeral, and was planning to return to Bali for more treatment. One day, he hoped to work helping other people battling addiction and poor mental health.
Instead, a young, troubled life came to an abrupt end. With little warning, he ran across the apartment and leapt off the 14th-floor balcony.
Mick Gatto rushed downstairs and frantically tried to revive his son. He was cradling his broken body when paramedics arrived.
Wiping back tears with a white handkerchief, Gatto explained that he had wrestled with his protective instincts to keep Justin close, and his son’s desire to have greater freedom from the people who loved him most.
“He wanted to do his own thing,’’ Gatto said. “He wanted to be left alone, he wanted to be cut loose. He wanted to be free. I used to drive him mad, ringing him 20 times a day. In hindsight, maybe I should have let him loose.’’
Justin Gatto was remembered by his father, brother Damien and sister Sarah as a generous, kindhearted man who never quite fit in. He was socially gregarious yet in some ways a loner. He liked a good time but was no wise guy.
He died four days after his 34th birthday after a long battle with drug addiction and psychosis.
The mourners came predominantly in black. Some had shaved heads and neck tattoos. Others sported golden rings and snakeskin shoes.
There were notorious gangland figures Toby Mitchell and John Kizon, boxing identity Barry Michael and AFL goal-kicking great Peter McKenna, who used to live next door to the Gatto family when Justin was a boy.
CFMEU boss John Setka was also there. He got to know Gatto through his involvement in the construction industry and the pair regularly take coffee together at Gatto’s favourite Lygon Street cafe. Gatto gave a special thanks to John Khoury, one of his closest friends and a trusted confidant of the Mokbel crime family.
As Gatto eulogised his son, he stood with his arm around his wife, Cheryle. He urged the congregation, as a tribute to Justin, to make a financial contribution to Headspace, a mental health initiative for young people.
He also had a special message for Justin’s friends. It’s OK to party while you’re young, he told them, but the good times can quickly turn bad once drugs get their hooks into you.
Anyone who doubted this need only have watched Mick Gatto’s face as he carried his son’s coffin out of the church.
Mick Gatto, left, and the CFMEU’s John Setka, right
Perth identity John Kizon