Visual history remembers the heroes

Committee member Mr Servillo and fireworks man Mr Casella.

MARY FEDELE well remembers the day she presented flowers to prime minister Robert Menzies’ wife Pattie at the Blessing of the Fleet, though she insists it was no big deal.

It was October 1960, and back then she was Mary Rotondella – Joe’s little sister and along with all the other young girls excited by the annual event.

“I think it all came about because that year, or maybe the year before, I had been in a production at school – I had been Bernadette – and I’d done a good job and Joe Minervini who was the president of the blessing committee said that I would be suited to present the flowers,” Mrs Fedele recalled to the Herald this week.

• Mary Rotondella (now Fedele).

“It was no big elaborate thing; where the procession finished I did a curtsy and gave a little speech before giving her the flowers.”

It might not have seemed much, but the gesture touched Mrs Menzies, who wrote to the young girl afterwards thanking her and saying she would remember the event for a long, long time after.

A copy of the letter and a portrait of Mary from the time are included in a Blessing of the Fleet exhibition which is being held at the WA Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay until December 4. It charts the history of the event from the very first procession 69 years ago, to last year’s cracker.

It’s being organised by Little Italy by the Sea creator Nella Fitzgerald, who says it’s a way of sharing the stories and recognising the pioneers of Fremantle’s Italian community as heroes.

“The 1950s diaspora was the largest mass migration of people from Italy and they will never be forgotten,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“We are just letting them know they are all heroes; it’s not about if you have made a lot of money or are well known.”

Mrs Fedele says back then the festival was still the highlight of the year.

She says she’s kept the tradition by taking her grandchildren along to the procession every year, making sure they stop off at the Capri restaurant for their traditional lunch.

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