The Italian Fishermen
Of Fremantle

Italian fishermen from Capo D'Orlando (Sicily), Molfetta (Apulia) and the Aeolian Islands have created a wonderful life for themselves and their families in the Western Australian fishing port of Fremantle. Situated 12 miles southwest of Perth, Fremantle is a unique city which features a combination of authentic Victorian architecture and a multicultural population. We were lucky enough to visit the area recently, and we felt like we'd arrived in another country, one where the Italian culture is highly visible and appreciated.

italian fishermen - fremantle cafes
Fremantle's 'Cappuccino Strip'

Italian names are in evidence everywhere, from storefronts and businesses to the fishermen's monument in the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour. The main street, an area known as 'Cappuccino Strip', is filled with sidewalk cafes, offering a range of Italian coffee and cakes. We reconnected with family members who had chosen to settle in Western Australia, rather than the more popular east coast of Australia. While the east coast Italians gravitated towards running fruit shops, the west coast immigrants found ready work in the fledgling fishing industry, later forming the first permanent fishing fleets in Fremantle.

The Fishermen of Fremantle

Arriving in the 1880s, Italian immigrants, together with their Greek counterparts, helped build the Fremantle fishing industry. Suffering the usual forms of prejudice and unfair treatment by fishing industry auctioneers, the fisherman formed the Fremantle Fishermen's Co-operative in 1947, effectively taking control of the marketing of their catch and ensuring a viable financial future for their families. Fishing in Western Australia is now a billion-dollar industry.

The Fishermen's Monument

In 2002, Claude Basile, Ross Merlino and Guido Micalizzi, sons of three pioneering fishermen from Fremantle, proposed the construction of a monument to the local fishermen who contributed so much to the Western Australia economy. In 2005, the Fremantle Fishermen's Memorial was unveiled in the heart of the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour, with an honor wall of 608 names and two bronze sculptures by local artist Greg James. The names were taken from pre-1947 fishing license records, and include a number of our family members.

italian fishermen - monument
The Fremantle Fishermen's Memorial

The other major monument to Western Australia's immigrants is the group of Welcome Walls outside the Maritime Museum at Victoria Quay, Fremantle. As part of Western Australia's 175th anniversary celebrations, the Welcome Walls were unveiled in December 2004. The Italian fishermen and their families are also represented here. Additional walls are currently under construction as more families of immigrants apply to have their ancestors' names recorded.

italian fishermen - welcome wall
The Fremantle Welcome Wall

The Blessing of the Fleet

Each year in October, Fremantle hosts a celebration called the Blessing of the Fleet. Some form of this ritual is practiced by fisherman around the world, but the Fremantle celebration was initiated in 1948 by the Italian fishermen. The purpose of the ritual is to ask for Divine protection for the fishermen at sea, and also to invoke a more general blessing on the community. There is a procession through the streets of Fremantle to the harbour, with the statue of Our Lady of Martyrs carried by the men, and the statue of the Madonna of Capo d'Orlando carried by the women.

italian fishermen - statue
The Madonna of Capo d'Orlando Statue

In 1952 the town of Capo d'Orlando in Sicily donated the statue of the Madonna of Capo d'Orlando to the Italian fishermen of Fremantle. Both statues used in the procession are permanently housed in St Patrick's Basilica in Fremantle.

The Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour is home to a host of seafood restaurants, including Kailis' Fish Market, Cicerello's and The Mussel Bar. Fremantle is a multi-ethnic city, with a high percentage of Italians, Greeks, Englishmen and Scots, and a smaller population of Portuguese and Croatians. At last estimate, the Australian population was around 65%.

italian fishermen - welcome wall
Restaurants at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour

Freemantle is definitely a place to forget about diets and just enjoy the fabulous seafood and cappuccinos. We've never eaten so much in our lives, but it was a holiday to remember on so many levels - an all too brief glimpse into the world of the Italian fishermen of Fremantle.