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The Galati family:
50 years of Fremantle heritage

Ron Davidson

Davidson, Ron 2010, 'The Galati family: 50 years of Fremantle heritage', Fremantle Studies, 6: 88-92.

In 2008 the Galati family celebrated its 50th anniversary of running delicatessens in Fremantle. The colourful Galati & Sons, overflowing onto crowded Wray Avenue, just shouts Fremantle and the Galati family heritage as you stroll by. The two sit together comfortably - as they have done for half a century. Indeed, in 2007 a glossy travel magazine, Travel Australia, included Galati’s shop in its Five Favourite Fremantle places with particular reference to the trays loaded with $99 a kilo ripe tomatoes; the sign was meant to say 99 cents.

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Galati’s Shop, Wray Avenue, c 2008. (Galati family)

This is a very Fremantle migrant family story, but with a difference. Italian families often started with husbands arriving first, working and saving. The family followed often many years later. In 1950 however Antonino Galati, young and handsome, arrived to join his aunts and uncles who ran a market garden on the outskirts of the city. His aunts, Angela and Rosaria Galati, saw him as a strong worker who could help them grow vegetables and work with their husbands in a limestone quarry at Munster. Back in Capo d’Orlando there were murmurs in the family that Antonino might be exploited by his canny aunts. In 1958 his aunts opened a humble fruit, vegetables and grocery shop at 91 South Terrace. It was still the golden age of the corner deli now, sadly, almost gone.

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Antonio and Vincenzina Galati both came from Capo d’Orlando in Sicily. (Galati family)

In the fifties there were few cars or telephones around working class Fremantle. Antonino drove around taking orders for vegetables and groceries on Tuesdays and delivering them the following Thursdays. The savvy aunts reciprocated by teaching him some elements of business for which they had shown a particular flair. One morning Antonino sights Vincenzina Giuffre, the 18 year old daughter of Salvatore and Carmela from Capo d’Orlando, who arrived in 1956 and also worked a market garden. She was covered in mud and standing in one of her parents’ fields, picking cauliflowers. It was love at first sight but the Sicilian rules of courtship were strict. A visit to the pictures often meant bringing along Vincenzina and a number of her siblings.

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Antonino and Vincenzina were married in Fremantle in 1962. (Galati family)

They marry in 1962 and live at the back of the shop with their young children Rina and Santo who have to use a small plastic swimming pool as a bath. A neighbour provides the parents with a shower. In 1967 Antonino and Vincenzina decide to open their own deli when a modified house-deli becomes available in nearby Wray Avenue. They move there with their two young children. The business expands rapidly with Croatians, Yugoslavs, and Portuguese as well as Italians providing produce for the shop, often from suburban back yards. The Italian backyard vegetable garden is part of an important and ongoing cultural tradition. The clientele are mainly Italians and other Europeans but this will soon change. The Galatis want a bigger shop and start planning one. It has three stories of living space behind the shop. The chair of the City’s planning committee, Don Whittington, believes that is too big. He takes Antonino to Fremantle Town Hall then up three floors. Antonino is breathing heavily at the top of the climb and agrees to a two storey mansion.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s there is an influx of new Fremantle residents who are looking for ethnic ingredients and very fresh fruit and vegetables. Many Italian families move to new suburbs which are sometimes developed in the original market gardens. They believe they have not come all the way from Italy to live in wood or stone houses like they had in Sicily. Meanwhile the number of adjacent boarding houses - where up to ten drunks might doss on any night - is dwindling. The houses are being purchased by new Fremantle people. The range of produce increases dramatically, with a large range of imported cheeses and other gourmet products becoming available. The America’s Cup in 1987 sees the Galatis being contracted to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for the winning American entry Stars and Stripes.

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Vincenzina Galati. The shop had an extensive range of fruit and vegetables. (Galati family) Antonio in their Wray Avenue shop displays some of their small goods stock (Galati family)

However, tragedy strikes the family in 1988 with the death of Antonino Galati A pall falls over the entire area which takes years to lift; but gradually the deli resumes normal functioning, with Antonino’s picture featuring prominently as he watches over the continuing family activities which include feeding the local police and firemen.

Over the years the Galatis have extended the buildings, culminating in the present shop in 1995. At the same time Vincenzina Galati emerges as the strong leader of the family, consisting now of her children Rina, Santo and Salvatore and her daughters-in-law Frances and Diana. Extended with the children coming home from school at lunchtime, family members bring garlic grown in their backyards, potted herbs and boxes of luscious fresh black figs, while the well-known rebel potato grower, yet another Galati relation, provides potatoes. And tomatoes - the shop becomes a hive of community activity during the traditional Italian tomato preserving season when 10 tonnes of tomatoes are sold each week and the tomato tray becomes a favourite gathering place. Staff, which originally totalled one, now number 20. In the early days the children came home from school at lunchtime to help with the shop.

Mrs Galati has also established a widespread reputation producing a range of delicacies, made in the shop and much sought after. Her arancini in particular are widely recognized as being the best available anywhere, and bring customers from all over the Perth metropolitan area; the Galatis sell 2000 of them every week. Each of the six ingredients requires individual cooking by Mrs Galati. Her pickled artichokes are another favourite.

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Salvatore Galati, 2009 (Galati family)

The Galati family and its deli have become iconic. It would be hard to imagine Fremantle without them. Recently, they reinvented themselves with a bulk food shop at the Stock Road markets. Here they meet the children and grandchildren of the original customers at 91 South Terrace which is run by Mrs Galati’s sister Ina.

Mrs Galati and son Salvatore received a standing ovation when they they came on stage at the Fremantle Town Hall to receive the coveted Spirit of Heritage Award for 2008, nominated by the Fremantle Society which is more usually associated with built heritage. Daughter Rina was in the audience along with many other family members It was Santo’s job to shut the shop.

The information in this paper comes from interviews with Galati family members. The tapes are held by the author.

Fremantle Studies Day, 2008


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