THE CALL OF THE SEA
by Tony Parentich
Most of the Croatians migrating to Western Australia during the latter part of the nineteenth and also the early part of the twentieth century gained employment on the Goldfields, the Woodline and generally in industries such as sleeper cutting and railways where the work was hard and the conditions very poor. A small proportion, however, were able to go into fishing, an industry in which they were involved in their home country and one in which they were particularly skilled
The Croatian Coast on the Eastern Side of the generally placid and crystal clear Adriatic Sea extends from Rijeka in the north down to the Prevlaka peninsula in the south and has a length of almost 1800 km with almost1200 islands, islets and reefs. This coast is divided into the ‘HRVATSKO PRIMORJE’ in the north, the ‘MAKARSKO PRIMORIJE’ in the middle and the ‘DALMATINSKO ZALO’ in the south. Those from the north were referred to as ‘HRVATI’ and those from the remainder of the coast ‘DALMATINCI. This coastline and that around the 1200 islands off the mainland, have provided huge fishing grounds for those inhabiting these areas. In addition to this, the only major industry near the coast.where a considerable portion of the Croatian population lives, is that of Shipping. Many ‘HRVATI’ and ‘DALMATINCI’, therefore, had a close affinity with the sea and became seafarers, ship and boat builders and fishermen.
Because of this affinity, many Croatians, who migrated to Western Australia from the coastal regions of Croatia, had the desire to go into the fishing industry even although, at that time, the financial returns were not great. Some even, when the need arose to supplement their income, went into other industries, such as sleeper cutting and bush clearing for short periods of time
THE HISTORY OF FISHING IN CROATIA
Fishing has been the mainstay of the livelihood of the people living on the coast for many centuries. For example there is documemtary evidence that in 1621 Nikola Zrinski gave Ivan Katnic from Dvorske (Hrvatsko Primorje) permission to fish beneath ‘Krezinu i velu Crikvu’ (Krezinu and the big Church) indicating that fishing was an important industry in the region 400 years ago. The fishing industry is almost as old as the presence of man on the coast with fishing techniques, know-how and equipment passed on from one generation to the other.
In addition, Croatians have, for centuries, established themselves as very capable sailors and seafarers and hence have a very close bond to the sea.
Over many years fishermen in Croatia have used both wet line and net fishing. Wet line fishing includes the use of a troll line, set line or a long line. In troll line fishing, a line up to 130m in length with about 40 lead sinkers and many hooks attached to it, is towed behind a boat to catch surface fish. In set line fishing a line with floats, sinkers and about 100 to 150 hooks attached (a parangal) is left in the sea overnight to catch passing fish. In long line fishing a line with a heavy sinker and up to five hooks attached is used to catch fish at depths of up to 80 metres (very similar to the line used in snapper and dhufish fishing off the Western Australian coast)
Mesh and trawler nets are used to catch school fish. Trawler fishing at night is the most commonly used method of netting fish and involves the use several small boats (at least two) with powerful lights (svicarice), which are focused on the water to attract the fish, and a large boat trawling a net to catch them.
Croatian migrants fishing in Australia brought with them the know -how and skills that they had learnt and developed at home.
THE FISHING INDUSTRY IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
PRIOR THE LATE 1940’S
Prior to the development of crayfishing as a major fishing industry in Western Australia in the late 1940’s, the fishing industry could be divided into the following three categories according to size of boat and type of fishing:
Large ocean-going yachts (greater than 10 metres in length) –based in Fremantle or Geraldton and involved mainly in deep-sea wet-line fishing.
Single mast-ed cutters (6 to 10 metres in length) – wet-line and mesh net fishing mainly in local waters, although the bigger boats in this category were also ocean- going.
Centre-board or clinker built sailing dinghies (up to 6 metres in length)- mainly mesh net and shore net fishing in local waters.
Initially for all categories the boats were essentially sailing boats with the smallboat operators using 4.5 metre oars to propel their boats in most cases.
Most of the category 1 ocean-going yachts were double mast-ed ketches – mostly converted racing yachts and pearling luggers. They were full deckers with an ice box, which had a capacity in excess of 3000 kg of fish, set into the deck amidships and also with a foreward galley and accommodation at the stern.
The crew on these boats operated between Cape Naturaliste and Northwest Cape and would be at sea for up to 20 days depending on how long it would take to fill the icebox. They used fishing lines made of imported hanks of corded cotton varying in thickness from 2 to 5 mm. with heavy lead sinkers and up to five hooks attached
(similar to the long lines used in Croatia). Most of the fishing was for scale fish, mainly scnapper and dhufish, but also for cod, Spanish mackerel and baldchin groper.
During the winter months the larger boats in category 2 , which were also full deckers, and the ketches based in Fremantle, sailed north past Geraldton and the infamous Kalbarri and Dirk Hartog Island and onto Shark Bay to join the Geraldton based boats for the annual scnapper schooling season, which began at the end of May and finished at the beginning of August.
When the fish were running, the crew would fish continuously (24 hour days) until the icebox was full of gutted and cleaned fish. They would then sail nonstop to Geraldton, unload their catch into covered railway wagons, pack it with ice and then rail it to buyers in Perth. The crew would take on provisions, load up with ice (1 to 2 tonne) and head back to Shark Bay to continue fishing. At the end of the season some of the boats would take their final catch directly to Fremantle to save freight and agents costs. The crew of the Fremantle based boats would be away from home for the entire scnapper fishing season (almost 3 months).
During the off season the crew of the large boats would involved in deep-sea fishing between Jurien Bay and Busselton and be away from home for up to twenty days.
It is interesting to note that, although crayfish were plentiful along the coast, they were hardly worth catching because of the small local market and low price (2 shillings and 6 pence (25 cents) a dozen). Fishermen catching crayfish would store them in wells in the boats or in submerged crates, tied below the jetty at the fishing harbour, from which they would supply the market when required. Most of the crayfish caught were used as bait for catching snapper and dhufish
Boats of intermediate size (category 2) were mainly half deckers with their crews involved in both wet-line and net fishing and operating mainly in local waters. The crews on Fremantle based boats would often stay out several days, sleeping on the boats overnight (having half a deck they could sleep on board with some protection from the weather).The fishermen would wet line fish for whiting, snook and pike and net fish for herring, garfish and tailor around Carnac and Garden Island, Safety Bay, Longpoint and Rottnest (mainly at night). In addition, they also caught crayfish, which were stored in wells in the boat or in crates under the jetty from which they could supply the local market.
The small boat operators (category 3) were mainly one day fishermen using fishing nets to catch small fish and also set-lines and eventually nets to catch sharks. Their boats were completely open so that these fishermen had no protection at all from the weather. When net fishing, which was mainly done at night or early morning , the fishermen would use a drag net (trata) to pull their catch up onto the beach in shallow water or a mesh net to catch fish in deeper water (up to 10metres). The most commonly caught small fish were herring (bukva), garfish and tailor. When using a drag net, the fishermen, on sighting a school of fish near the shore, would row around it rapidly in a small dinghy (4-metre) and so entrap it in their net and bring it onto the beach. When mesh net fishing, the fishermen would use burley to attract the fish and then encircle the fish in their net by rowing around them with their 6-metre boats using 4.5 metre oars. The Croatian fishermen had their own style of rowing when rowing in pairs. Facing the bow, the two rowers, one standing towards the front and the other towards the stern would propel the boat by pushing on the oars and while so doing bending their backs to get extra power. Although, in the main, they fished the local waters, these fishermen would go out as far as Rottnest to fish during the herring season in May.
Generally the pioneering fishermen up to the late 1940’s struggled in their endeavours to provide for their families.. They worked hard and long hours in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions to eke out a subsistence living. The fish they caught were offered for sale by auction to hawkers at the local Fishmarket or sold directly to fish suppliers such as Fremantle Fish Supply (Paino),Western Fish Supply and Fremantle Providoring in Fremantle or Kailis in Perth.
The return the fishermen got was very poor. Auctioned fish were sold by lots (eighteen piece lots), and not by weight, from six pence to a shilling (5 to 10cents)a lot Quite often, because the demand for fish was not great, it was not sold at all. Because of the problems associated with the marketing of the fish, the pioneer fishermen, through the Fishermen’s Association, were instrumental in formation of the Fremantle Fishermen’s Co- operative in 1947. This greatly improved the returns the fishermen got for their catch.
Over this period of time, Croatians constituted 16 percent of those involved in fishing with most having small boats. Relative to the total, Croatians involved in fishing in the various categories were as follows: 5 percent of the fishermen in category 1, 10 percent those in category 2 and 95 percent those in category 3.
POST THE LATE 1940’S – THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CRAYFISHING INDUSTRY
The Fishing Industry changed considerably with the marketing and selling of crayfish overseas. Although, as is mentioned above, crayfish were plentiful along the Western Australian coast, the local market was just too small to make crayfishing a viable industry. Some cooked and frozen crayfish were exported to Singapore, mainly from Geraldton, prior to World War 11 but it was only a small market with the price of live crayfish a mere two shillings and sixpence a dozen (25 cents) and cooked crayfish three shillings (30 cents).
With the development of the American market for crayfish in the late 1940’s the Fishing Industry changed completely. Because of the increased demand and hence higher prices for crayfish all the fishermen went into crayfishing. This lead to an increase in the number of fishermen, buyers, processes and exporters of crayfish and also to the building of bigger and faster fishing boats. It is from these humble beginnings,that the industry has developed into what it is today – a multimillion dollar industry
CROATIANS INVOLVED IN THE FISHING INDUSTRY IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Although a considerable proportion of the Croatians migrating to Western Australia (and Australia generally) at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were from coastal regions ( Hrvatsko Primorje, Dalmatinsko Zalo and the islands along the Adriatic Coast ), where fishing was a major part of their working life, most of these went into other industries such as mining, wood and sleeper cutting, and bush clearing where the financial return was greater.
What employment path the Croatian immigrants took followed a particular pattern and was dependent on the region from which they came. Those migrating from the Hrvatsko Primorije (Crkvenica, Dvorska and places in that area, (the Hrvati)) invariably spent some time in the Margaret River region sleeper cutting and bush clearing in addition to fishing. On the other hand, those from the Dalmatinsko Zalo (the Dalmatinci) and also those from the islands, in most cases, went into mining on the Goldfields, woodcutting on the Woodlines, market gardening in Spearwood and Osborne Park, vineyards in the Swan Valley,limestone quarrying in the Fremantle region and, in some cases, farming. When the opportunity arose, a proportion of these went into fishing.
THE EARLY PIONEERS
Among the first professional fishermen in Western Australia were three Croatians Josip Marian, Josip Katnic and Jere Lusic who, initially, were fishermen in Victoria and who, after sailing Marian’s fishing boat across the Great Australian Bight to Fremantle in 1890 (1897 in Mike,s article), became commercial fishermen here..
Josip Marian, a vigneron, fisherman and sailor was born on the island of Hvar, Croatia in 1839 (1837? In Mike’s article) and, after working on the Suez Canal until its completion in 1869, migrated to Geelong, Victoria, where he became a fisherman.
After arriving in Western Australia, using Fremantle as his base, he fished the waters between Fremantle and Mandurah for many years. In April 1901 Josip Marian brought out his nephew, Anton Marian with whom he fished for a short time and with whom he set up the Slavonian Vineyard in Armadale (see section on The VINE, GRAPES AND WINE)
Josip Katnic from Dvorske, a sailor on an Austrian ship, disembarked in Melbourne where he began fishing. He continued in the profession in Fremantle and, when the need arose, went sleeper cutting in Margaret River. When he had saved enough for fares he brought out his brother Jakov , who in turn brought out his son Joja to join him in fishing. In addition, he brought out his nephew Frane Brozicevic in 1910- the first of a family of Brozicevic’s ,who became prominent in the fishing industry in Western Australia
Another Croatian fishing pioneer was Antonio Ivanusic , who after coming from Sydney, NSW, in 1892, settled in Ord Street North Fremantle (near the Swan river) and fished the local waters in 1893. Following on from this, Mirina Dvorcan and Ernesto Matejcic, both from the Crikvenica region of Croatia, arrived in Fremantle and went fishing. Ernesto, a very tall man with a big frame and long arms so that his hands reached down to his knees, bought a six metre boat and net fished in the local waters. Ernesto, who always had his cask of bevanda (wine and water – a traditional Croatian drink) in the boat, would, with one hand on the tiller and the other holding the cask, partake of its contents, while heading out to the fishing grounds. The story has been told that, on one occasion, when fishing on Garden Island with the two brothers, Frane and Stjepan Car where they were using a drag net (trata), he intervened in an argument between the two, by putting his huge hands on their respective heads and pushing down until they were up to their knees in the beach sand.
Following on from these early pioneers, many Croatian families became involved in the fishing industry in Western Australia. In most cases a member of the family would come out and then, once settled and financially able, bring out other family members to join him. Quite often only the male members of a family migrated.
THE BROZICEVICH FAMILY
As is mentioned in the preceding section, the first of the Brozicevich’s to migrate to Western Australia was Frane (Frank) sr. who, in 1910, at the age of seventeen, was brought out by his uncle, Josip Katnic with whom he stayed and fished for several years.
Returning to his hometown of Crikvenica in Croatia in 1922, Frank sr. met and married Angelica Alafetic. They had a daughter Marija (Mary) in 1923 and with the need to provide for his family, Frank sr. returned to Fremantle in the same year and again began fishing the Fremantle waters, intermittently spending time in Margaret River cutting sleepers to supplement the meager income he earned in fishing. Frank sr. again returned to Croatia in 1925, stayed two years, during which time a son Frank jr. was born, retuned to Fremantle in 1927, and then finally, brought out his family in 1930.
The Brozicevich’s family involvment in fishing in Fremantle waters spanned over 80 years. Frank sr., from the time he began fishing in Fremantle in 1910, had several boats – the Defiance, the May and the Margarita – all about 7 to 8 metres in length (category 2) and continued fishing the local waters until his retirement in 1950. However the fishing tradition in the family was continued by Frank jr. who was involved in the fishing industry up to the 1990’s. In addition, his sister Mary married Emilo Grizicic, who was also from a fishing family (father and grandfather were fisherman), in 1946. Petar Grizicic (Emilo’s father) had a 7 metre boat – Bari- and fished the local waters.
Frank jr., even during his school days at the South Terrace ( Fremantle) State school and Christian Brothers College, helped his father in the fishing industry during school holidays and on weekends. Having put his age up, he left school at 13 years of age and began fishing fulltime with his father for eight years, however, because he felt that the net fishing his father was involved in, was not very ‘productive and also, because he wanted to go into deepsea fishing and crayfishing and generally work with a bigger boat, he left the industry in 1948.
Over the next 12 years he worked in the meatworks, owned a truck and worked on the wharf before returning to fishing in 1960. With the crayfishing industry developing rapidly Frank Jr built a 42 foot (12.8m) boat (Margarita II ) in his backyard and began crayfishing at Jurien Bay and Lancelin. Having inherited his father’s woodworking skills, he built several other boats. Over the next twenty six years that he was involved in crayfishing, he built Margarita III ( 17m) in 1972, Margarita IV ( 12m) in 1976 and MargaritaV (13m ) in 1980. He was also involved in the administration of the industry and became President of the Fremantle Fishermen’s Co-operative from 1974 up to 1986 before retiring in 1987.
Other members of the Brozicevich family involved for a short time in fishing were Stjipe (Steve) around 1911/1912 and Miro around 1914.
THE KATNIC FAMILY
Josip Stanislav Katnic (cousin of Josip Katnic mentioned in the preceding sections). son of Josip and Barbara Katnic, was born in Crikvenica in 1893 and came to Fremantle with a cousin Andi Katnic in 1909- both only 16 year olds- to join an uncle and other cousins in the fishing industry. Because of the early death of his father, who was drowned at the age of 27, and being the eldest son and hence required to provide for his family, Josip Jr. began fishing in Crikvenica at the tender age of 10. Josip’s brother, Stjepan, who was two years his junior, came to Fremantle in 1911 also aged only 16 to go fishing.
The brothers , living in a boarding house, fished with their cousin and uncle until 1913, when Josip returned to Croatia for a year and then came back to Fremantle in 1914 to again go into fishing. At this time World War I had begun and because he was considered an ‘ Áustrian Slav’ Josip had to register as an alien (registration number 07455). As a consequence he had to report regularly to the Sergeants of Police in Fremantle and Geraldton to register any changes of address. At this point in time Josip had the fishing boat Klaro and fished the local waters – Fremantle, Garden Island, Rockingham and Safety Bay and also, during the schnapper season, the Shark Bay area.
An incident that occurred between three fishing groups at Long Point (near Safety Bay) is an indication of the general attitude towards Croatians after World War I. On the night of 6th of January 1920 there were several groups fishing in the area. Two groups Josip Katnic, Nick Vidosevic and Josip Car and also Stjepan Katnic, Andrija Botica and Nick Silic and his son John left their camp, which was near by, at 11.00 pm. to go net fishing. About 12.30am (7th ) the group of Josip Katnic, Nick Vidosevic and Josip Car had set their net (trata) and were pulling it onto the beach when they were confronted by a ‘British’ group comprising Charles Deram, George Willis, Pietro Vinci and William Rankin and accused of cutting across the ‘ Bitish’ group’s net. In the meantime, the group of Stjepan Katnic, Andrija Botica Nick Silic and his son had pulled their net onto the beach and, while anchoring his dinghy and still standing knee deep in water, Stjepan Katnic received a shot in the shoulder from a 44 calibre Winchester rifle held by Charles Deram.
As a result of the confrontation, charges were laid against Charles Deram and George Willis – Deram of unlawfully wounding Steve (Stjepan) Katnic and Willis of assault. In spite of the fact that a man was shot in the shoulder, the jury in the trial of the two men returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ in both cases.
The attitude of the ‘Britishes’ towards Croatians at this point in time is reflected in the context of the article describing the ‘confrontation’ which appeared in the West Australian on the 7th of January, 1920. Quote :
BRITISHES V AUSTRIANS
AUSTRIAN WOUNDED IN SHOULDER
EARLY MORNING FIGHT AT ROCKINGHAM
There are a considerable number of Austrians in the Spearwood and
Rockingham district, and at times during the war period feelings ran
high between the British section of the community and the enemy
So much for the ‘confrontation’ and now back to Josip Katnic. Josip returned to Croatia for 4 years in 1920 and during this time married Katica Car (1922) and continued in professional fishing in Crikvenica. Again, not being able to provide a decent living for his wife and daughter, Marija, (born in 1923), he returned to Fremantle in 1924 bought a 6 metre boat the ‘May’ and again began net fishing the local waters around Fremantle, Garden Island and Safety Bay with his brothers Stjepan and also Ivan, who had migrated from Crikvenica in 1924.
In 1928 Josip brought his family out from Croatia and, in 1929, bought Stanko Vicich’s half share in the 45foot (14 metre) ketch the ‘Curlew’. The following year Josip’s brothers Stjepan and Ivan bought the other half share from Stjepan Car ( born in Crikvenica 1886, arrived in Fremantle 1913) and the three brothers began deep sea fishing for schnapper and dhufish between Fremantle and Onslow . Because of ill health Stjepan sold his share in the ‘Curlew’ within a year and moved to Albany to again go into net fishing, however ownership in the boat remained within the family with Ivan Katnic (Jr) (Ivan’s son), who had came out from Croatia in 1937, and Stjepan Car (Josip’s brother-in law, born in Crikvenica 1911 arrived in Fremantle 1938.) buying quarter share from Rudolph Brozicevic in 1940.
On purchasing the ‘Curlew’, the Katnic brothers removed a 45 HP motor which was no longer functional, and relied solely on the sails. Fishing trips lasted between fourteen and twenty days, depending on how long it took to fill the icebox, which held 3000 kilograms of fish and was packed with thirty blocks of ice (each block 50 kg) for each trip. Josip, who was skipper of the boat, had to negotiate many perilous trips between Fremantle, Geraldton and Shark Bay. On one occasion, when caught in a cyclone between Geraldton and Jurien Bay, using only a small jib, he headed straight out to sea and deep water to ride out the storm, and then, after the cyclone had subsided, sailed on to Fremantle.
In 1949, with the development of the crayfish industry, the crew of the ‘Curlew’ began crayfishing in the Jurien Bay region and continued fishing until 1959 the year that Josip retired. In addition to their daughter Marija (Mary), who married Tony Grljusich, Josip and Katica had a son Jack in 1933 and a daughter Joyce in 1935.
On Josip’s retirement the ‘Curlew’ was sold but the Katnic name continued in the crayfishing industry. Ivan Katnic Jr. built a crayboat the ‘Venus’ and fished with his father and Stjepan Car at Jurien Bay. Tragically Stjepan Car drowned at Jurien Bay in 1968.and Ivan Sr. retired in 1969, however Ivan Jr. fished up to the mid eighties so the Katnic family was involved in fishing in Western Australia for almost 80 years.
During World War II both Ivan Katnic and Stjepan Car were conscripted and served in the Australian Army
Other fishermen with the Katnic family name were Roko, who came to Western Australia in 1928 and skippered a number of crayfishing boats and Frane who migrated in 1938. On arriving in Fremantle Frane fished for a year, spent one year working with the railways on the Nullabor Plain and, after working for Millers Timber Company for 5 years, spent another 3 years fishing in Fremantle before returning to Croatia in 1948.
THE CAR FAMILY
Josip Car, who fished with Josip Katnic and was involved in the confrontation with the ‘Britishes’ at Long Point ( see preceding section) had a very adventurous and eventful life. He was born in Crikvenica in 1882 and left home in 1903 as an Austro- Hungarian sailor on the warship ‘Panther’, a steamship bound for Shanghai. The ship arrived at its destination in 1905, where Josip met an uncle who had been in Shanghai since 1865 (40years).
His uncle was on a sailing ship which was hit by a cyclone in the China Sea. He was one of three survivors who, hanging onto a plank, were washed onto an uninhabited island. After being marooned on the island for fifteen days, they were rescued by Chinese fishermen, who took them to Shanghai where, after hospitalization, they recovered.
Josip’s uncle, although illiterate, spoke fifteen languages, and was employed in the French Embassy as a translator and interpreter.
Josip, after four days in Shanghai, sailed on the ‘Panther’ to Nagasaki in Japan and then finally onto Pula, Croatia arriving in 1907. Having completed his National Service, he then returned to Crikvenica. where his stay was short. Although he now had a fiancée, Marija Katnic, eager to eke out a reasonable living, he left for Buenos Aires in 1909.
In Argentina he was employed as a fireman on a locomotive, and, making what he considered was a reasonable living, wrote to Marija to join him. Marija was not keen on the idea so Josip went back home in 1913 and again frustrated by the conditions at home, within a few months, left for Fremantle where he was engaged in net fishing over the next 7 years. Again believing he had earned enough to support a family he returned to Crikvenica in 1920 and married his beloved Marija . Josip and Marija had a daughter Marija (Mary) born in 1921 and a son Vjeko (Jack) born in 1924.
Again unable to provide adequately for his family, Josip returned to Western Australia in 1925 and worked in the Margaret River area clearing bush and cutting sleepers. After two years, having saved enough money, Josip moved to Fremantle, brought his family out from Crikvenica, bought a house and a small boat and again started net fishing the local waters particularly those around Garden Island.
Josip and his son Jack continued net fishing the local waters in the Fremantle area for many years.
THE VICICH FAMILY
Stanko Vicich, born in Crikvenica, Croatia in 1901, came to Western Australia in 1924 and, on arriving in Fremantle, immediately headed for Margaret River where, together with many others from the same village, he gained employment clearing bush and cutting sleepers.
Within a year, now financially able, he moved to Fremantle, bought a small boat and began net fishing. However, keen to go deep-sea fishing, with partners Gustic Car, Andrija Veljecic and Ivan Zupan(equal shares) he bought the ‘Curlew’ a 45foot ( 14 metre) doubled masted sailing ketch, a leisure craft built in Melbourne in 1924. The partners modified the ketch for fishing, put in a 45HP. motor and went deep-sea fishing for schnapper and dhufish between Cape Naturalist and Northwest Cape
The partnership only lasted a short time and with the buying and selling of shares Stanko Vicic and Stjepan Car each had a half share in the boat in 1928 when it was sold to the Katnic brothers (see preceding section.).
In 1929, after a quick trip to Croatia and back, Stanko bought a fishing boat the ‘TRAFALGAR’ which he lengthened by 2 metres to 10 metres to make it ocean going, re-named it ‘Slavija, and with his former partner Ivan Zupan again went deepsea fishing.
After 10 years of fishing in 1934 Stanko had saved enough to bring out and marry Anka Car. They had four children …………………
Stanko has told the story that on one occasion when returning from Cape Naturalist on the Slavija with Ivan Zupan they were becalmed near Mandurah. Unable to proceed to Fremantle they waited for 3days after which, with a gentle breeze beginning to blow, they headed for Rockingham and Fremantle. On nearing Rockingham about 5.00pm the gentle breeze turned into a gale, the strong wind ripped their mainsail and with only a jib up they were caught in a cyclone. The strong wind and mountainous seas carried them down the coast and by the time that the conditions had improved (4.00am next morning) they were back in Bunbury where they had the mainsail repaired and then sailed back to Fremantle.
Because of illness Stanko sold his half share in the Slavija to Stjepan Zupan and for a short time went back to his profession – carpentry and woodwork. However this was short lived and within a short time he was back in the fishing and crayfishing industry and, after fishing in the Fremantle area over a period forty years, retired in 1966.
Stanko’s brother Ivan, who came to Western Australia in 1937, also spent many years in the fishing industry.
The fishing families described in the preceding sections all came from the ‘Hrvatsko Primorije’ – the Hrvati, and there are many other such families. In addition to these there are many from the ‘Dalmatinsko Zalo’ – the ‘Dalmatinci’ and also those from the many islands who have made a huge contribution to the fishing industry in Western Australia.
THE PARENTICH FAMILY
Ivan Parentich, born in Zaostrog which is on the Dalmation Coast, in 1886, was the eldest son in a large family and consequently, even as a youngster, had the responsibility of helping to provide for the family. His father, Frane Ante who married his mother Tomica Gnjec in 1882, was mainly involved in fishing and also earned a living by growing olives, grapes and figs. Frane Ante on many occasions went south to the Neretva river where he fished and as an expert net maker helped the local people to make fishnets. Early in the 20th century Croatia was under Austro- Hungarian rule and Bosnia- Hertzegovina under Turkish with the border a part of the Neretva river. Frane would often take salt, sardines and oil in his gajeta ( 6 metre boat) up the river, cross the border into Hertzegovina and exchange his produce for flour and potatoes. This transaction was termed ‘izmjena dobra’ – good exchange At that time this exchange was considered illegal in Hertzegovina because the Turkish customs would allow materials to be brought in but none to be taken out. On one occasion the Turkish customs had caught Frane Ante in the river on their side of the border after he had carried out such a transaction They took him into custody, tied a rope to his boat and wading knee deep in water, began to pull his boat up the river towards the Turkish Customs Centre in Caplina. At a point where the river was reasonably deep and the current strong, Frane Ante cut the rope with his ‘tamperin’ (a pocket knife he used when working on nets) and, before they could recover, was drifting rapidly down the river and towards the border. When they recovered the customs officials called out:
‘Vrati se Parenta pucat cemo’,
which translates as ‘ Come back Parenta or we will shoot’
His reply as he escaped down the river and across the border was:
‘Jok, Gabela, Bogami, ne dok je starac ziv’
which translates as ‘No, Gabela, by God, not while the old man is alive.
However the large family still struggled to survive, so that Ivan, even during his primary school years and also as a young teenager, worked to help support it.
In his endeavours to provide for his family, Ivan, at the age of fourteen, went to Trieste for five years and worked on the Italian ships in port by day and in a wine saloon by night sending most of what he earned back to Zaostrog to support his needy family. After returning home for a short time, he headed off for New Zealand but, on arriving in Fremantle in 1906 decided to stay. Although he had a great love for fishing, he went to the goldfields and worked at Kurrawang, the Woodline, Lancefield, Gwalia, Laverton and Wiluna. He mostly worked on the woodlines where he could earn more money to send home to his family and in 1909 brought over his brother, Martin (born in 1889) who became a miner in Boulder and died from silicosis in 1940 at the age of 51.
Ivan was interned in Liverpool, NSW as an ‘Austrian Slav’ from 1915 to 1919 after which he was returned to Croatia. On his return to Zaostrog he met and married Milka Antunovich who was born in the next village, Drvenik in 1901. The couple settled in Zaostrog where their daughter Tomica (Tonka) was born in 1922. Ivan again felt he had to leave for Western Australia to provide, not only for his wife and child but for his whole family and so, leaving his wife and daughter in Zaostrog, returned to Fremantle in 1923 and again worked in the goldfields region for the next 7 years.
He initially worked on the Kurrawang Woodline and because he believed his two sisters Kate (born in 1900) and Vilma Mina ( born in 1903) would have a better life in Australia brought them over in 1924. His two sisters married within a few years, Kate to Tome Berich in 1927 and Vilma Mina to Jack Kosovich in 1928 and had families here.
Ivan also brought out his brother Mate in 1925 and the two brothers worked in the mines and woodlines around Gwalia, Beria and Boulder and also did contract fencing for the ……. up until 1930. Mate, born in 1898 and married in 1925 to Marija Prlenda, also left a young wife and baby daughter Smiljana to come to Western Australia. In the meantime Ivan had become a naturalized British subject in 1928.
Having worked hard and earned what they thought was enough to have a good life in Croatia, the two brothers returned to their families in 1930. Over the next four years Ivan and Mate worked their land growing olives for oil and grapes for wine and also fished the local waters. Both had additions to their respective families with Marija ( Maria,1931 ) and Ante (Anthony, 1932) born to Ivan and Milka and Ante (1931), Ivo (1933) and Tonka (1935) born to Mate and Mare.
Within a few years Ivan again found that it was difficult to provide adequately for his family in Croatia and saw the need to return to Western Australia. Having decided to bring his family with him and not having the funds to make the move at one time, Ivan came over with his daughter Maria early in 1934 (borrowed money to pay for the fares) and then brought over his wife Milka, daughterTonka and son Anthony four months later. After working, for a short time, on the mines in Boulder ( where his family experienced the riots of 1934) Ivan took his family to Beria ( near Laverton) in 1935 and built a boarding house to accommodate 40 miners. For the next five years he worked on the Lancefield mine and together with his wife Milka and daughter Tonka ran the boarding house. During this time Ivan and Milka had two further additions to the family Tereza Delores (born in Boulder in 1934) and Lily (born in Laverton in 1936).
Mate, leaving a wife and young family in Zaostrog, came out to join his brother in Beria in 1936, worked on the mine and generally helped in the boarding house. He never returned to Croatia and so did not see his family again apart from his son, Ivo, whom he brought out in 1957. During his time in Western Australia Mate, apart from the time he was conscripted into the army during WWII, lived with his brother Ivan’s family.
With the closure of the mine, due to flooding, in 1940, the Parentich family moved back to Boulder for a short time before going to Fremantle in 1944. Ivan then bought a 6 metre fishing boat and initially went fishing with Ivan Pecar, who was from Podaca (near Zoastrog ).Ivan Pecar, here on his own with his family back in Croatia, had boarded with the Parentich family for many years. Mate, on his discharge from the army after the war, joined the two Ivans in fishing the local waters in the Fremantle area. After a few years Ivan Pecar bought a 6 metre boat and fished on his own for many years and the two Parentich brothers continued to fish together.
Initially Ivan and Mate were, as were all the Croatians with small 6 metre fishing boats, mainly involved in net fishing using a mesh net or a drag net (trata} to catch small fish such as herring, garfish, tailor and whiting. In addition, most of the small boat operators used set lines (parangal) to catch sharks and other big fish. Ivan and Mate had the idea that nets, similar to those used as anti-submarine nets in Fremantle Harbour during WWII, could be used to catch sharks.
Initially by buying similar netting but eventually by weaving their own from cord (with Ivan the major net weaver) they made up shark nets which extended up to 2 kilometres in length. In order to keep their idea of catching sharks using nets a secret from other fishermen, the brothers would, at night, load the nets onto their 6-metre boat and, using 4-metre oars, row from the fishing harbour to Gage roads to set them. Although they did not use buoys to locate the completely submerged nets but a grappling hook to locate and pull them Eventually other fishermen got to know about the shark nets and began using them Initially the two brothers fished the waters close to Fremantle going as far as Rottnest during the herring season in May.
On one occasion at Rottnest, having been caught by strong westerly winds, instead of returning home to Fremantle Ivan and Mate decided to ride out the storm, and anchored in Thompson Bay for the night. By about 3.00am.the strong winds had changed to a northerly direction so that now, without the protection of the island, the boat was swamped and the two had to swim ashore. Members of the army posted at Rottnest at the time, helped them bring the boat ashore and repair it so that they could return to Fremantle.
Although they were living in Fremantle, Ivan and Mate spent more and more time fishing the waters around Safety Bay and Penquin Island to the extent that they used the island as a base. In 1946 they established living quarters on the island by lining the walls of one of the caves with hession and setting up a kitchen and a sleeping area within the cave. In the main they would fish the local waters during the week and in most cases go home to Fremantle on weekends.
The two brothers stayed on the island for nine years and with the development of the crayfishing industry in 1947/1948 went into crayfishing. During this time they were operating two 6 metre boats and brought in George Barbarich, Ivan’s son –in-law as a partner.The fishermen with small 6 metre boats continued their net fishing throughout the year and were only involved in crayfishing for a few months each year – November to February- when the crayfish were close to shore.
Ivan and Mate became well-known in the area and eventually spent their weekends on the island entertaining their many visitors and feeding them with grilled herring (pecene bukve) and crayfish. In each of the years 1952, 1953 and 1954 when the South Fremantle Football Club won three consecutive Premierships in both the League and Reserves, Ivan and Mate entertained about 70 members of the Club on the island. The club supplied the drinks and Ivan and Mate supplied the food (grilled herring and crayfish) for the day.
In 1954 W.A. Holiday Resorts Pty.Ltd. had acquired a lease of the Island and the resorts managing director, Laurie Gill, who had befriended Ivan and Mate and on many occasions had been supplied fish and meals by them, through the State Gardens Board, had them evicted from the Island in December 1955.Two other professional fisherman Ivan Pecar and Ivan Cikarela, who were sharing another cave on the island, were also evicted. Of course the fishermen could have stayed on the island if they had leased the accommodation provided by W.A. Holiday Resorts Pty. Ltd. Ivan and Mate then stayed in a house in Safety Bay and continued to fish in the area
In February 1961 Mate , having finished crayfishing in the Safety Bay region for the season, joined George Barbarich (Ivan’s son- in law) on his boat the ‘Marlene Ann’ to go crayfishing in Jurien Bay. Tragically, on the 15th March,when, going through the South Passage, they were hit by a breaker (a big swell in the water that turns over on itself) and both lost their lives. Mate, who had been in Western Australia for 35 years and had not seen his family in that time, had been making plans to return to Croatia that year.
Ivo Parentich, Mate’s son continued the Parentich family tradition in fishing becoming involved in crayfishing between 1961 and 1982 so that the family’s involvement in fishing in Western Australia extended over a period of almost 40 years. In recognition of Ivan and Mate’s contribution to the Safety Bay area, the City of Rockingham has approved the use of the name ‘Parenta’ in the allocation of street names to new subdivisions in the area.
OTHER SMALL BOAT FISHERS – 6 METRE BOATS.
As mentioned earlier Croatians constituted 95 percent of the fishermen using small open boats similar to the ‘gajeta’ used in Croatia. In many cases they were involved in other industries in the Fremantle area such as market gardening and limestone quarrying to supplement their meager returns from fishing.
THE BILCICH FAMILY
Vinko Bilcich, born in 1910 in Bogomolje, Hvar, migrated to Western Australia in 1927. With his family in Croatia involved in fishing over many years (Vinko’s father was lost at sea when Vinko was 14 years old) Vinko, when he arrived in Fremantle, continued the family tradition and went into fishing in addition to buying some land in Spearwood where he developed a market garden. Initally he net fished with Ivan Ivicevich (Barney) and the pair sold their catch either by auction at the Fishermarket or directly to householders or factory workers in the Fremantle area. In the late 30’s Vinko bought his own small boat and, in addition to market gardening, not only continued net fishing but also bought a sidecar, to which he fitted an icebox, and sold his fish directly to Croatians in Osborne Park and the Swan Valley (many other Croatian fishermen also sold their fish this way).
Vinko’s life over the years that followed was certainly very busy and productive. He married Danica Jurich (from Crikvenica ) in 1939 prior to serving in the army during WWII. After the war, still involved in market gardening, he continued his association with the sea. This association included working up as far as Broome on a pearling lugger, wet line fishing for dhufish and schnapper in the Geralton area, crayfishing with Stanko Vicich and finally building and skippering a 10- metre boat the ‘Paul’ with which he crayfished in the Cervantes and Jurien Bay area before he retired in the 80’s. Over these years Vinko and Danica had five children – Frances, Joyce, Shirley, Paul and Steven.
THE LUKATELICH FAMILY
Ante (Anthony) Lukatelich, who was born in Slovonia in 1889, was the youngest son of Jose and Ursina in a family of fifteen children, eight boys and seven girls. Because of the difficulty for such a large family to survive in Slovonia at that time, at the age of ten, Ante was sent, en route to Western Australia, to South Africa to stay with relatives until enough money could be saved for him to continue his journey. After five years, at the age of 15, he continued on to Western Australia and arrived in Fremantle in 1904.
Left to his own devices, he worked in a restaurant in the Fremantle area for a short time before going to the Goldfields where he gained employment on the Woodline and in the gold mines. Most of the time he worked as a miner on the Day Dorn mine near Kew and by 1920, at the age of 31, because of the extent silicosis in his lungs, was classified as a ‘turned down miner’.
Ante married Frances Brajsich in 1914 They had three children during there stay on the goldfields Elsie (1915), Ettie (1917) and Katie (1920}. Because of his lung condition, for which his family received a pension from the Miners Relief Fund of 15 shillings ($1.50) per week for himself, 7 shillings and 6 pence ($0.75) for his wife and ($0.75) for each child, the family moved to Fremantle in 1920.
Ante had a variety of jobs over the next few years including working at the Lime Kilns at Coogee as well as the limestone quarries in the Fremantle area. During the depression years in the early 30’s, he worked on Sustenance Projects (the building of the Fremantle War Memorial was one) on which during this difficult time, part-time employment was given to those in need. (one day per week for a single person and two days per for a person who was married.
Initially Ante started net fishing in the early thirties by helping other net fishermen who had small boats and then bought his own boat in 1939 and continued in the fishing industry until 1959, during which time he was involved in both net fishing and also crayfishing. At the age of seventy, having retired from the fishing, he worked on a pilot boat operating in the Fremantle Harbour for a few years.
After moving to Fremantle Ante and Frances had three more children Joe born in 1924 and twins Dorrie and Jim born in 1927. Although his two sons Joe and Jim did go fishing with their father Ante for a short period of time, because of the difficulty of making a reasonable living from fishing,they found employment in the wool and woolskin stores in Fremantle.
On his discharge from the army in 1945, Joe became manager of the Fremantle Fishermen’s Co- Operative and in 1947 when the Co- Op decided to go into crayfish processing and leased rooms at the Anchorage Butchers Site, Robbs Jetty both Joe and Jim became involved in crayfish processing. At that time the processing industry in the main, employed part-time workers. Most would work their normal day jobs throughout the day and then in the evening cycle to the processing plant to work from 6.00 pm to about 2.00 am next morning. The process involved twisting the head of the crayfish from the tail, which was done by the men and then wrapping the tails and packing them into boxes which was done by both men and women. The industry certainly made it possible for casual workers to earn extra money. Many of the women employed were girlfriends, wives or daughters of fishermen.
Whereas initially all the crayfish processing was carried out on shore, because of the rapid development of the crayfish industry, it became necessary to set up crayfish processing facilities on freezer boats.. For example 1950 Joe and Jim together with Ivan Pecar, who had fished for many years, flew to Lancelin to set up a crayfish processing plant for the Co-Op on the freezer boat Lukanuki. Joe and Jim continued in the industry for many years.
THE CIKARELA FAMILY
Ivan Cikarela born in 1901 on Pasman Island, which is on the Dalmatian Coast near Zadar fished the waters around Fremantle for over thirty years. Being the eldest son in a family of six children he, like many other first born males in Croatian families at that time, was required to go out into the world, not only to earn a living, but also to provide for the family at home.
In 1921, at the age of 20, Ivan, as a seaman on a steamship on which his major task was shoveling coal, jumped ship on its arrival at the port in Fremantle. At this stage his plan was to make quick money on the goldfields in Kalgoorlie and then, after a few years, return home. Life does not always go according to plan.
Ivan headed straight for Kalgoorlie where he spent 10 years bush clearing and also cutting wood on the Woodline. He then left Kalgoorlie and moved to the Fremantle area where he began work on a limestone quarry. At this point Ivan met and married 16 year old Nellie Cotter who had moved from South Australia and lived in a house situated in a street that he walked down on his way to work.
During his first year of marriage (1933), Ivan, when cycling to work had an accident which resulted in him fracturing a leg. He was taken to hospital and his leg put in plaster and then in traction. In addition, because of the weight on his heel, a tobacco tin was taped to it to reduce the pressure. Over time the tin dug into his heal causing an infection which resulted in the heel becoming gangrenous and having to be cut away to save his leg. Because of this tragedy, Ivan was very restricted in his movements and, no longer able to work on the quarry, had to look to other options to earn a living.
Over the next few years Ivan, in partnership with an old and loyal friend, Jack Garbin, bought a truck and the two began carting for farmers in the Bruce Rock – Narembeen area carrying manure, fertilizer and wheat. The partnership continued for three years up until the time they were involved in a level crossing smash with a train, a crash that they both fortunately survived
Following this Ivan, having decided to go into fishing, bought a 6 metre boat the ‘Unity’ to begin net fishing in the Fremantle area and continued in the industry over the next thirty years. Over this period of time, because of his leg injury, he was considerably hampered in his movements and it was only in the late 1950’s when a Fremantle doctor, Dr Hodder, operated on his leg and performed tissue grafts from his calf to his heal that he was able to move more freely.
Ivan net fished the local waters including Penquin Island and then went into crayfishing in the early 1950’s. Initially he sailed his small boat up to Jurien Bay, where he lived in a shack near the beach, and similar to all others with small boats went out to sea to pull his pots by hand. Ivan also worked as a crew member on on some of the larger crayboats and , having qualified for his Skipper’s Ticket bought a 10- metre boat ‘Miss Dalmacia’ in partnership with a farmer friend Nicholas Della in 1960 and continued crayfishing at Jurien Bay until his retirement in 1966. Partway through their partnership Ivan and Nicholas decided to dissolve it, and, having won a marble draw between them, Ivan bought out his partner to continue fishing.
Ivan and Nellie had three children two sons Roy (1939) and Ivan 1950 and a daughter Janet (1944). Roy was keen to become a crayfisherman and fished with his father in 1961 but tragically lost his life in an accident that year.
Ivan was keen on music and often played a piano accordion at home. He also got together with other fishermen such as Mate Radonich, Peter Covich and Stanko Vicich to play Croatian songs at social gatherings.
The RADONICH FAMILY
Mate Radonich, who already had a brother, Stipan here, arrived in Fremantle from Pitve on the Island Hvar, Croatia, in 1927 at the age of 24. Initially he stayed with his brother and wife Blazenka, who had a market garden and general food store in Spearwood, and, for a short time, worked in the quarries in the Fremantle area before heading east along the Goldfields’ railway line. Travelling along the line he part of the way jumped train and part of the way walked – gathering provisions and seeking employment on the farms -as he made his way to Kurrawang and Lakewood where he worked as a woodcutter.
In 1933 Mate married Dragica Bonjolo (sister of Blazenka, Stipan’s wife ), who had migrated from Vodice , Croatia in 1931. The circumstances and sequence of events leading up to his marriage to Dragica are certainly very interesting.
Dragica had come to Western Australia to marry Mate’s cousin, who had been corresponding with her after seeing a photo of her at her sister Blazenka’s place. As her ship was docking at Fremantle harbour, Dragica, seeing Mate and his cousin on the wharf awaiting her arrival decided that she wanted to marry Mate and so, on disembarkation told Mate’s cousin that she would not marry him.
Over the next year or so, being a single woman in a Croatian community consisting mainly of males, Dragica received and refused twenty seven proposals of marriage ( much to the disgust of her sister, Blazenka, who considered she should have taken the opportunity and accepted one of the proposals). Meanwhile Mate, who couldn’t pluck up the courage to propose to Dragica and because of his inability to propose , was tormenting himself to the degree that he was physically unwell (it could be said he was ‘lovesick’). Domina, Mate and Dragica’s daughter, described what happened on the day of their betrothal in the following manner:
“At Teta Blazenka’s place dad was so churned up with anxiety and so unwell that he went and sat in the shed where the animals and farm implements were kept. Mum, concerned about his well-being, went to the shed and asked if she could do anything for him to which he replied, ‘Yes you can marry me’. Mum’s response in Croatian was ‘jeli si od rijci?’ which translates áre you of your word?’ When dad replied that he was, mum accepted the proposal, and they shook hands on the deal.” Domina Radonich, Fremantle
Mate and Dragica married on 28th December,1933 and had three children Domina, 1934, Mikula (Michael),1936 and Rosa 1939.
Mate continued working on the Woodline for a couple of years and then in 1938 bought 5 acres of land in South Coogee which he developed it into a market garden. He also bought an 18 foot boat to go net fishing at Woodman’s Point.
Domina stated that her father hated the land so that most of the work on the market garden was carried out by the family and hired help. During WWII Tony Portelli, a family friend, who had been interned because of his Italian background, was released in their care to work in their market garden
In 1943, with, in his mind, the possibility of a Japanese invasion and concerned with the safety of his family, Mate sold the market garden (against the wishes of his wife Dragica) and moved to Rockingham and Safety Bay where he continued net fishing until the end of the war after which he moved to Fremantle.
Mate continued fishing and crayfishing right up to his retirement in the 1960’s but,during this time, always found it necessary to supplement his income by doing additional work such as processing crayfish, clearing farm land as part of a ‘ganga’ (a work gang) and building limestone fences. In addition to this, Dragica , a skilled tailoress, contributed to the family income with her dressmaking.
Mate, a very jovial fellow, always had a smile on his face , cracked a lot of jokes and with a fine tenor voice, enjoyed singing Croatian songs with his mates.
Mate’s son Mikula continued the family tradition in fishing and boats up until 2005. In addition to crayfishing he obtained a Masters Ticket for boats under 300 ton and at various times worked up the coast as far as the Gulf of Carpentaria crayfishing, prawning and seismic surveying for the oil industry.
The preceding sections outline the history of some of the families involved in fishing prior to 1947. There were many others. (Table 1). For all these families it was very difficult to make a reasonable living particularly for those not involved in deep-sea fishing. Hence the need for the breadwinner to be involved in other activities such as sleeper cutting and bush clearing in the South West, mining and woodcutting in the Goldfields, market gardening in Spearwood, lime stone quarrying in the Fremantle area and generally any other activities that would supplement their meager returns from fishing. They would be involved in these additional activities either prior to or in addition to their time spent in fishing.
In spite of this, the general disposition and outlook of all the Croatian fishermen was very positive. On days when, due to bad weather, they could not go fishing, they would gather at the fishmarket or outside the Newcastle Club, Fremantle (intersection of Market Street and South Terrace ) to exchange pleasantries. At these gatherings they would talk about fishing and also tell a few jokes to pass away the time. They were all good mates and it is interesting to note how they would greet each other. One person would greet another by saying:
‘Kakosi Me-te ?’
where ‘me-te’ was the way of saying ‘mate’ in Croatian so the greeting was
‘How are you mate ?’
The reply would then be:
‘Nije slabo’ which translates as: ‘Not bad’
The gathering outside the Newcastle Club would often be dispersed by the police, because it was considered that it was blocking access along the footpath. Of course, today, with all the tables and chairs on the footpath along Cuppuccino Strip no such problem arises.
In addition to this, many would get together over a glass of ‘bevanda’ (wine diluted with water) and socialize. On many such occasions someone would get out a piano- accordian and the group would sing Croatian songs. Acting and singing groups were formed and these performed in the Spearwood Agriciultural Hall.
Those involved in fishing prior to 1947 were certainly the pioneers of the industry in Western Australia. Although they worked hard to eke out a reasonable living they still had time to mix socially and maintain their Croatian culture.
Table 1 lists the names of the Croatians who held fishing licenses up to the year 1947. It should be pointed out that some of those listed were part-time fishermen who had other sources of income – such as market gardening – and hence did not rely solely on fishing. In addition, during WWII (1939-1945), with the eligible men conscripted into the services, only the older fishermen namely Josip and Ivan Katnic, Ivan Cikarela, Peter Covich, Ivan Parentich, Ivan Pecar, Mate Radonich and others fished during this period. Some of the younger fishermen, who had been conscripted, including Steve Car, George Anicich and Hugo Mandich did have special licenses to fish and to supply the army with fish during this period. Those who relied solely on fishing are marked with an asterisk (*)
| TABLE 1
CROATIAN FISHERMEN UP TO 1947
Surname First Name Year
|1927 – 1947
|1942 – 1946
|Katnic (I) *
|Katnic (II) *
|1925-1928 ,1929-1934, 1935-1947
CROATIANS IN THE FISHING INDUSTRY POST 1947
The fishing industry changed significantly in the 1940’s. Early in the period because of the Second World War many of the Italian fishermen were interned, their licenses suspended and their boats confiscated resulting in a considerable reduction in the size of the industry. In addition to this, young fishermen of all nationalities were conscripted. Of the Croatian fishermen, Steve Car, Ivan Katnic (Jnr.) Longo Anicich and Hugo Mandich were conscripted, where as the older fishermen such as Josip Katnic and Ivan Katnic (snr) had special identification cards which allowed them to fish along the coast. Some of the fishermen conscripted were allowed to fish for the army.
After the War the scarcity of and consequent high demand for fish led to a confrontation between the fishermen (most of the interned fishermen had returned to the industry) and the wholesalers. There were attempts to regulate the industry and a new pricing schedule through which the wholesalers were entitled to charge fishermen a ten percent commission for their services was introduced.
This confrontation led to the formation of the Fremantle Fishermen’s Co-operative after an inaugural meeting in the Trades Hall on the 9th August, 1947. The formation of the Co-operative significantly changed the marketing of all types of fish.
In addition to this, as mentioned earlier, the marketing and selling of crayfish (rock lobster) overseas particularly to the American market made fishing a very lucrative industry so that, over the years, many not previously involved in fishing, invested heavily into boats and equipment and joined the industry. The changes that took place are well reflected in a statement by Peter Jakovich (a former crayfisherman) :
Before, if your heart was in fishing you could buy a boatt. Today, how can you be a fisherman- you need to borrow three million to get into the industry and the interest will kill you. You need to inherit it or be big business.
Many Croatians have made these huge investments and continued in the industry.
THE NOVAK FAMILY
The respective families of Spiro (snr) and Petar (snr) Novak were pioneers in both market gardening and fishing in the Fremantle area. Being the eldest son Spiro(snr) was required ,at a very early age, to work and support his family in Vela Luka on the island of Korcula, Croatia and so was the first of his family to come to Western Australia.
In Croatia, Spiro’s father had two small cargo boats respectively named ‘Hvala Bogu’ (Thank God) and ‘Gospa od Zdravlja’(Angel of Health) which he used to carry wine , bricks , sand any other materials along the Croatian coast. It was at this time that Spiro, as a ten year old, gained experience on boats, working under the supervision of his grandfather, as a deckhand on the boats while his father was involved in WW1.
Spiro (snr) migrated to Western Australia in 1924 with the intention of staying a short time, earning a little money, and then on returning home, with his earnings, buying a motor for one of the boats.
On his arrival Spiro stayed at Andy Zemunik’s for a short time and, while there became a close friend of Jack Rocchi, a South Fremantle Club footballer and the Club’s first Sandover Medallist. He also befriended many Croatian fishermen in Fremantle who advised him to go into bush clearing and sleeper cutting in the South West if he wanted to make money so he spent the next few years in the Harvey Brunswick area doing just that.
In 1928 Spiro bought a 3 acre plot of land in South Coogee and while working in the limestone quarries began clearing his land and making it suitable for market gardening. Typical of many Croatians developing land in the area he worked in the quarries during the week and then cleared the land in his spare time. Spiro formed a partnership in a quarry in Hilton Park with Ante Zuvela . This partnership lasted three years during which time and as partners they supplied much of the limestone for the retaining wall on the foreshore of the Swan river near where the University of WA is located.
Many changes occurred in the life of Peter Novak over the next few years. He married Katarina Separovich in 1933 and they had a daughter, Joyce, born in 1937 and a son Denis in 1944. In 1934 he sold his market garden in South Coogee and bought another plot of land in Spearwood (4.5 acres) which he again cleared and turned into a market garden in his spare time while working throughout the week in his quarry. Also in 1937 he was joined by his brother Petar and then Petar’s wife ,Vica, and son Spiro (jnr) in 1938. They had a son Petar(jnr) in 1940.
The two Novak families lived together for a period of three years with the two brothers working in the quarry throughout the week and in the market garden on the weekend. During this time they did some part-time fishing in the Cockburn area and sold the excess of their catch in Fremantle.. Petar(snr) and his family then bought 5 acres of land in Spearwood which they developed into a market garden.
With the development of the crayfish industry, the two brothers decided to go fulltime into fishing and in 1949 formed a limited liability company -Manoperna Fishing Industries Pty. Ltd- with George Damjanovic- Napoleon, Ivan Barney Percich, Marko Separovich, Carlo Miragliotta and Emmanual Andrea Manolas the boatbuilder with solicitor Slavko Marian the secretary. The company built a fishing vessel the ‘Proton’ which was launched on November 29, 1949. Excerpts from an article in the West Ausralian on November 30 are as follows:
“The launching of the fishing vessel Proton at North Fremantle yesterday from the yards of Emmanuel Andrea Manolas marked another stage in the development of the State’s deep-sea fishing industry. An auxiliary ketch, 62 feet long with a breadth of 16.5 feet and a draught of 7 feet when loaded…….
The vessel and gear, both of which are fully paid for are valued at 14000 pounds ($28000). The skipper will be C. Miragliotta. Fishing will be carried out between Fremantle and Geraldton during the crayfish season and later between Geraldton and Onslow for other fish…….” The Western Australian, New Vessel Launched, Wed., Nov. 30, 1940.
The fulltime involvement of the Novak brothers in fishing industry led to the dissolution of the partnership between Spiro (snr) and Ante Zuvela and also for the need for their respective families to run their market gardens.
The ‘Proton’ operated at Cervantes during the crayfish season (November to March) where it was used both as a ‘catcher’ and ‘processing’ boat (one of the first boats to have a processing license) and then after a break of one month it was taken up to Shark Bay for the schnapper and dhufish season. The advantage of a freezer boat was that up to 15 ton of fish ( crayfish or schnapper/ dhufish) could be processed or caught before the need arose to leave the fishing grounds to sell the catch.
In 1953 the ‘Proton’ was one of four boats (the others were the ‘Kingfisher’, ‘Eureka’ and ‘Sanoma’) that, on behalf the Department of Fisheries, did an exploratory survey lasting 6 weeks, of the Montebello Islands to ascertain the potential of the region in regard to fishing.
The original partnership formed in the building and commissioning of the ‘Proton’ was dissolved after 3 years (1953), with Peter (snr) continuing with the family interest in market gardening and Spiro (snr) forming a new partnership with Carlo Miriaglotta, ….Tomba and Joe Sadotti in the boat. This parnership continued for 9 years during which time it had purchased the ‘Kingfisher’’(a 68 footer – 20.7m) and the ‘Wendy’(a 60 footer –18.3m).
The fishing tradition of the Novak family which started with the involvement of Spiro (snr) and Peter (snr) continued over a forty year period. Peter (snr), even after his withdrawal from the partnership with the ‘Proton’, continued fishing for many years. In addition the respective sons of Spiro (snr) and Peter(snr) , Denis and Peter(jnr) worked in the fishing industry. Denis fished for 15 years and Peter (jnr ) became a boat builder and, working part- time, was involved in the building of Australia II and IV. and also the Endeavou.r During this time he was also working in his family’s market garden.
The Novak families certainly made a major contribution to fishing industry in Western Australia particularly post 1950.
THE DRUSKOVICH FAMILY
Nikola Druskovich first came to Western Australia from Racisce, Korcula in 1936 and joined his father, Ivan, who had migrated in 1928, on the Woodline. A diesel mechanic with ‘Jadrolinija’ when in Croatia and with an interest in sailing, after a few years, Nikola moved to Fremantle where, while working in a quarry to earn a living he bought a share in a sailing boat with his friend Pasko Radich.
Nikola’s stay in Western Australia was relatively short and, in 1945, he returned to Split, Croatia where he met and married Stanka Tesija They bought an apartment in Split where there two sons Len (1949) and John (1953) were born.
Again, in search of a good living, Nikola and Stanka migrated to Western Australia in 1960 leaving their two sons with relatives in Split for 5 years over which time they were able to raise enough money to bring them to Australia.
On his arrival Nikola went into the crayfish industry and fished mainly in the Greenhead region during the period 1960 to 1975. His son, Len, worked with him for a short but did not continue in the industry.
Nikola and Stanka returned to Split via France where they bought an 11-metre yacht (named ‘Alan Steven’ after the grandsons) and sailed it to Split.
It was in the Northern Hemisphere summer of 1986 that Nikola realised a lifetime dream. Selecting two applicants from a list of three hundred, to act as crewmenon his yacht, he sailed ten thousand kilometres through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Miami. The trip, which took sixty eight days, exemplified the seafaring skills of Nikola and typical of those possessed by Croatians generally.
OTHER CRAYFISHERMEN POST 1947
Alan Andrijich and son Wayne Greenhead
Ante Ukich, son Ray , grandsons Raymond, Robert,and Michael
Peter Stancich, son Peter grandsons Peter- Luke and Mark Safety Bay 1964 to present Glenys Lee
TRAGEDIES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY
The strong winds and heavy seas that do prevail off the Western Australian Coast and also the treacherous nature of the coastline has led to the death of men and women of all nationalities at sea. A list of Croatians lost at sea is given below:
- Kosic, T. Landalic, T Katnic M. Parentich, G. Barbarich. S Katnic Vladich