Gang­land fig­ures share Gatto grief

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - CHIP LE GRAND

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

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