DANIEL SANTICH can’t remember the first time he saw Fremantle’s Blessing of the Fleet; it’s always just been part of life.
His “nonno” Nick Visaggio has been secretary of the Fishing Fleet Festival Association since 1969 and Daniel’s part of a new generation hoping to keep the tradition strong.
“I always walked alongside Nonno, or walked with the queen, with my little sister, my brother,” he says.
“Mum and dad were always there watching with Nonna as well.”
Now a barista at uber-hip coffee corner Blink in Freo’s West End, Daniel says the festival has helped keep a connection to his family’s Italian roots.
It’s not the only tradition that’s stuck.
“Sunday dinner for us; without a doubt you have to be there 6 o’clock, Nanna and Nonno’s house at the kitchen,” he says.
“Just all those little things like picking up Nonno’s recipes; learning the way he makes his olives, he makes focaccia, the sausage – all that sort of stuff before you lose those traditions.
“You hear of families that don’t even sit down at the table any more,” he says as though it’s almost inconceivable.
This Sunday he’ll march alongside his grandfather in the procession from St Patrick’s Basilica down to Fishing Boat Harbour from the sidelines, but his mind’s always cast back to when he was dressed in Nonna’s costumes to accompany the queen.
“Sunday comes along and you’re all excited in the morning – ‘oh yes, you know, we’re walking’.
“If we were dressing up or we were part of it, we were nice and early at the church.
“You run amok outside in the gardens, and then you kind of know as soon as you enter the church, it’s ‘all right, sit still, be quiet, listen for the mass’.
“Then we’re good to go again when the parade kicks off.
“Sometimes you have no idea what’s going on, but you know it’s important to your grandparents and your parents, so you sit and listen.”
Daniel’s close connection to his grandfather is a running thread through the interview and is obviously a driving force in his passion to keep the tradition going.
“I listen to Nonno talk about it and for him, the Blessing of the Fleet is everything; it was part of how he made his living, part of how he raised his family, and a part of how, when he first came to Australia and joined this society, he made a completely new family from nothing.
“My grandfather fished in Lancelin for a long, long time.
“After Nonno finished as a professional fisherman he was at the co-op at the North Mole.
“I have some really vivid memories of going there and seeing the crays in the tank and the big, giant legs that would fall off the monsters.”
Daniel’s own family only dropped lobster pots recreationally, “being up at the ridiculous early hours of the morning” to head out on the boat.
But he loved his time aboard the boats during the Blessing, particularly as his grandfather’s influence ensured a ride up with the statue of the Madonna.
“It was exciting; a little rest after the long walk; winds blow in your face because you’re surfing the harbour,” he recalls.
“One year it was very rough and everyone was just rocking around trying not to throw up, but the rest of the time it’s a lot of fun; you’ve got the flags, the dignitaries, the Madonna, the harbour packed.
“Then you get off the boat and you walk all the way back to church and have a laugh,” Daniel says.
For the Madonnas
FREMANTLE’S Blessing of the Fleet displays the local Italian community’s devotion to Madonna di Capo d’Orlando and Madonna dei Martiri for a bountiful fishing season.
This year’s festivities take place tomorrow, Sunday October 27.
Firstly, there will be a solemn Mass in honour of the two Madonnas at 9.45am at St Patrick’s Basilica in Adelaide Street, Fremantle, celebrated by Archbishop Barry Hickey.
The big procession leaves the Basilica at 2pm, winding through the streets of Freo to arrive at Fishing Boat Harbour for the 3.30pm blessing.
There’s a fireworks display to end the blessing, before everyone heads back to the Basilica for a final service.
Then there’s a big evening fireworks display at Fishing Boat Harbour from 8pm. It’s all free and a great day for the whole family
by STEVE GRANT