I Found A Hero! Nino Borsari.

Turning into Lygon St, in Melbourne, is akin to inadvertently slipping through a wormhole and popping out somewhere in deepest Italy. Tables clutter the pavements, crowds overflow from the coffee and gelato shops and the smell of Italian cooking fills the air. As the expensive convertibles speed by with beautiful people draped across their luxurious interiors and young couples promenade arm in arm, close your eyes and you could be living La Dolce Vita in downtown Rome.

As we were enjoying our own evening promenade, a Maitre De, who oozed Italian Charm, skillfully diverted us from our path. We walked into his cigarette smokescreen and before we knew it we were sat in his restaurant ordering our antipasti and drinking fine Italian wine. The restaurant in question was Borsari’s, on Borsari’s Corner, and it was undoubtedly the most authentically Italian part of Melbourne’s Rome away from Rome.

Before being seated we had been admiring the road bikes in the cycle shop a couple of doors down the street. Appropriately, it was a beautiful Italian Bianchi road bike that had caught our eye. While we drooled and dreamed, I had noticed the bike shop and the restaurant bore the same name, and as I now looked up from our table, I noticed a large neon sign above our heads. The sign, the bike shop, the restaurant and the corner it sat on, all had the same name, Borsari. I was intrigued.

I asked our waiter why the Borsari name was so prominent. “Ah”, “he was a great man, a great cyclist”, he said before disappearing into the busy dining room. As a keen bike rider, I was obviously even more intrigued.  I tried for the rest of the meal to find out more. Unfortunately, the restaurants reputation for exceptional Italian food was working against me and the staff were kept too busy to help with my enquires. My intrigue would have to wait.

The next day I did some rudimentary research and what I found out was fascinating. The Borsari name came from a man named Nino Borsari and his life story could keep a scriptwriter in business for years.

He had come to Australia to race his bicycle on the cusp of the Second World War. Unfortunately for Nino, with the outbreak of war, Australia and Italy became enemies and Nino became an “enemy alien. He was unable to return to Italy, he was forbidden from racing and was lucky to still have his liberty. His sporting reputation was the only thing that stopped him from being interned.

Nino came from Cavezzo, near Modena in Italy. He was born in 1911, and first started his cycling career on a heavy old iron delivery bike he rode for the local pharmacist. He would leave his delivery route to chase the pro cyclists when their training rides came through town. Nino was so successful in his pursuit that after trying, and failing, to lose him, one of the pro cyclists decided to help out by teaming up with the local pharmacist to buy Nino his very first racing bike. Nino never looked back. He would go on to become cycling champion of Italy and win a Gold Medal in the Four Kilometers Team Pursuit at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

Apparently, while Nino was competing in America, he found time for a screen test at a Hollywood studio. But unfortunately, his Hollywood career was less successful and he chose to continue with his cycling.
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After the war, Nino decided to stay in Australia and settle in Melbourne, rather than return to Italy. He married an Italian opera singer named Fanny and opened a corner shop in Carlton in 1941, on ‘Borsari’s Corner’ the very corner we had been eating the evening before.

They called Nino Borsari the Baron. He was a sleek and dapper gentleman, who, according to the locals, strode around Carlton in the ’30s and ’40s “like a golden Adonis”. He went on to rack up a host of notable business and social achievements including introducing the Bianchi bicycle range, the European game of Bocce, and various kitchen utensils, including the first Cappuccino machine to Australia. The latter was unthinkable at the time as Melbourne was a resolutely tea drinking city. But, to see Lygon street with it’s many Italian cafe’s bars and restaurants, to inhale the pungent smell of coffee heavy on the air and to watch the beautiful Bianchi bicycles ride by, is to realize what an effect Nino Borsari had on his adopted city.

Nino became the unofficial spokesperson for the Italian people in Australia, the president of the Australian Boxing Federation, a founder member of Juventus Soccer Club and was even a delegate for the successful 1956 Melbourne Olympic games. Not bad for a boy who back in his native Italy had started cycling during the depression riding on a diet of nothing but wild grass and Polenta.

Nino died in 1996 aged 84. His daughter Diana Espino, said her father had never fully recovered from head injuries he had received 12 years previously when a hit-and-run driver struck him from behind whilst he was out cycling. How tragic then he should be brought to his maker as a result of doing what had defined and driven his life.

When he first arrived in Melbourne in 1934 to compete in a race to celebrate the city’s centenary, Melbournians couldn’t have imagined how this suave Adonis with his curly, black, slicked back hair would shape and influence their cities future. Sitting outside Borsari’s Restaurant, it is impossible to ignore the impact the man Italians called ‘The Cavalier’ and Australia knew as ‘The Baron’ has had upon his adopted city. Thanks to him, Melbourne is one of the great cities to both eat and ride.

11 Responses to “I Found A Hero! Nino Borsari.”

  1. Retro Bicycles Says:

    Give me an old cool bicycle, and I’ll ride around the city for days.

  2. diambciff Says:

    http://www.google.com
    http://www.yahoo.com
    http://www.msn.com

  3. muscles from geelong west Says:

    What a great story and great individual. Ive been to the bike shop, but have yet been to the restaurant. I think Nino’s story could be a great movie, perhaps a trimmed down Eric Bana would be an ideal fit for Borsari.

  4. romano piva Says:

    As a young boy in Carlton ,i meet and much admired Mr Borsari,my Uncle Evelino Tedesco repaired racing bikes at Borsari’s and went on the tours,Further my uncle would get to work on the bikes of the Italian riders mr Borsari would bring out race at the Valadrome ,which was the wood planks ,which was built for the Olympics and with the night lights and noise the wooden planks made for such excitment.Mr Borsari used to stroll the inside of the Valadrome with another great Bill Long ,Nino was the unoffical Italian Consulate,whenever people needed help he was there,.I also went to school with his son Nino ,Junioranother gentleman,I remeber Nino buying a rare Maserati ,sportscar which i thought was the greatest as i grew up a petrol head for Italian cars,i remember it to be ivory white in colour ,it had curves that reminded you of Sophie Loren,which reminds me Nino did have a bit of an eye for the ladies,an his name was synomous with some of the beauties of the time.

  5. romano piva Says:

    Further,i remember when my father brought his light weight titanum Bianchi racing bike with Campagnolo gears from Nino Borsari,and it had the Borsari transfer on it.My father delighted in telling his friends that he had paid eiht thousand pounds for it ,and show them hoe he could pick it up with one finger.It had silk tyres and would every father’sday,dad’s birthday and christmas be down to Borsari’s to buy the silk tyres or to Giramondo’s to get a bicycle jumper made for Dad ,these where in the days before mass produced Netti garments.
    The Bianchi that Dad was an original from Bianchi and years ago Dad gave it to me and i was riding to Frankston and dropped into see my old friend John Kennedy for a motivation peptalk ,when i asked john to modify the bike ,he said no it would be sacrilage ,but he wanted to buy it.
    Nino did have interesting people working in his bike shop,there was this young chap who would come to Dad’s home to work on dad’d bike and arrived in an old EH Holden and Dad would exchange stories on how he used to ride with Syde Patterson to Lilydale,and how he knew Malcom Muckridge,and how he knew most of the riders Nino brought out to race at the Olympic valadrome.

    It turned out this young chap was none other than Australia’s own Skippy
    who go the yellow jersey at the Tour De France.
    Lastly,I remember Dad and Nino discussing a young cyclist who they said would have been destined for great thingss had it not been for his accident ,that turner out to be Peter Bartels,who i was privilged to meet at a later point in life.Finally,are we aware that one Bob Jane of Tyre fame was a brillant bike rider as was Kevin Donnallen.

  6. Kids Pools Says:

    italian foods are very tasty and most of their recipes are heart friendly too ”:

  7. Romano Piva Says:

    I have done further research in to my families background into Road Bikes.I found out that for fifteen years before my mother and her family coming to Australia from Bassano del Gruppa,in the Veneto Region of Italy,my Uncle Evelino Tedesco,otherwise known as Nino,had worked at the Wiler bike factory in the Veneto,this is the company that supplies the road racing bikes to the Italian team Lampede,now i know while i like the Wiler Trestina road racing bike so much.I found this out by chance talking to my mother on saturday while visitng my father who has dementia San Georgio hospital,in South Morang .I mentioned to my mother that i like Wiler Bikes and she told me Zio Evelino had worked for them in Italy before coming to Australia and working for Nino Borsari in Carlton.On friday i went to the Nino Borsari bike shop in lygon street,Carlton,i immediately noted that they are no longer agents for Bianchi bikes but are now selling GIOS bikes that actually look like the business.I worked around the shop and do you know it is in more or less the same configuration as it was 50 years ago when my Uncle Evelino worked there.

  8. Peter Webb Says:

    romano, did you go to Chanel

  9. Romano Piva Says:

    Yes I did.Romano

  10. Romano Piva Says:

    Further to the above i have found old photos going back to 1956-57 SUN TOUR where my Uncle Evelino Tedesco was a road mechanic for the Nino Borsari Team and the had an old Humber Van as transport.Also photos of Bill Long ,Nino Borsari Scgro what a time ,they where the Hard men of cycling not like me stopping at every oppurtunity for a coffee.

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