Blessing of the Fleet

• John and Sam De Ceglie with their sons, both called Joe after their grandfather.

Join Fremantle’s Italian community as they take to the streets for the 70th year to celebrate their faith and culture with the annual Blessing of the Fleet: Sunday October 28, 2018

A special anniversary

FREMANTLE’S iconic Blessing of the Fleet turns 70 this year; a big occasion the fleet committee has marked with the launch of a stunning history of the festa.

Written by Susanna Iuliano and Maria Amato-Gorman, Blessing of the Fleet: A History of Fremantle’s Festa beautifully captures all aspects of the celebration in a series of short and poignant vignettes.

Accompanying the text are glorious photos from the first festival in 1948, right through to today’s generation carrying the two statues of the Madonna through the streets of Fremantle last year.

There’ll be copies of the book available for purchase during the festival, which is being held on Sunday, October 28.

This year there’ll also be a new market in front of the Shipwreck Museum to keep visitors entertained and well fed during the day.

Run by former Freo councillor Georgie Adeane from 10am to 6pm, it promises to mix the fun of the Sunset Markets, the colour of the Fremantle Festival and the spectacle of the procession.

Another new initiative is an opera singer who’ll emphasise the Blessing’s religious importance by performing a rendition of Ave Maria as the Madonna statues are taken by the fisherman from the procession to be loaded onto the St Gerard and Maddalena for their tour around Fishing Boat Harbour.

The procession starts at 2pm from St Patrick’s Basilica, and the evening concludes with the traditional fireworks at 8pm.

Bonds of brotherhood

FATE seems to have been waiting for the biggest of occasions to give Sam De Ceglie his day in the spotlight.

After nearly half a century watching other skippers getting chosen to ferry the two statues of the Madonna around Fishing Boat Harbour, Mr De Ceglie was delighted when his boat Maddalena won the annual lottery to carry the statue of the Madonna di Capo d’Orlando this year.

“I’m really thrilled, especially on the 70th anniversary,” Mr De Ceglie said.

Adding to the celebration, Mr De Ceglie will be sharing honours with his brother John, who’ll be carrying the Madonna dei Martiri on his boat the San Gerard. It will be his eighth procession around Fishing Boat Harbour, but the first time with the larger statue.


The pair have been fishing for around 60 years, but their great grandfather Giovanni was a real pioneer of the industry, fin fisherman around Fremantle in the early 1900s.

During the Second World War their father Joe’s boat was confiscated along with much of the Italian fishing fleet, and he spent several years interned on Rottnest Island and down in Harvey before the war ended and he was able to resurrect his career.

“They were all plank boats at the time with a mast and a sail, though we did have an engine,” John remembers of his early days on the sea.

“There was none of these computers or GPS; you only had a compass,” he says with a wave towards his brother’s modern bridge.

His son Joe recalls the hard work of the early years: “They used to be away for seven months, living on the boat without showers, living off the sea, working out of Lancelin, Jurien and Shark Bay for the snapper,” he says.

These days Sam and John have handed the wheel over to their sons, both called Joe after their grandfather, but still travel up to Lancelin as camp cooks.

Sam’s son says these days life’s a bit easier, with crayfish quotas ensuring steady work, and their families having more opportunity to visit in Lancelin.

They say the Blessing of the Fleet has always been a big part of the extended family’s year, as they’d all gather in the back of one of their boats for a big feed and to watch the fireworks.

But then it’s back to work. Their boats had just come off the slip this week and the season starts pretty much as soon as the festa is over.

John’s son says he still loves his time on the sea: “It’s the only life I’ve known,” he laughs.

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