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Fremantle Fishermen's Cooperative

Mews Road

The former FREMANTLE FISHERMENS COOPERATVE SOCIETY LIMITED building at 47 Mews Road undergoing a $2 million refurbishment for the America's Cup. The Co-op moved its lobster and seafood handling operations to Coogee. Architect Richard Longley retained the original facade of the building. The redevelopment took four months to complete and the complex was officially opened on 3 November 1986. At the time the ground floor housed a gift shop, fast food outlets (fish and chips, McDonalds and Chicken Treat), ice cream parlour and a coffee shop, while the upper storey was let to the exclusive Ansett Golden Keel Club so that members and guests would have a first class vantage point for viewing the America's Cup races. Brent Sumner photo (cropped) and note (edited) courtesy of the Fremantle Library Local History Collection no. E000325.

Bathers Beach House, in the former Fishermen's Co-op. Google Maps snap 2020.

Excerpts from Sally May's 1991 paper

... July 1997 marks fifty years since the Italians formed the Fremantle Fishermen's Co-operative, a commercial enterprise that, for the first time in the history of the fishing industry, gave the fishers control over the sale and distribution of their produce and passage to a secure livelihood. ...

By 1898, there were at least 150 Italian fishers fishing in Cockburn Sound, divided into two main community groups sharing a co-operative working relationship. One group comprised about 60 Sicilians, mainly from the village of Capo d'Orlando; the other group comprised about 50 Apulians, nearly all of whom originated from the village of Molfetta. ...

In 1947 a variety of issues developed into a watershed. On 1 July the fishers went on strike for three days to draw attention to the injustice of the govemment's price schedule. During this time they met and agreed to form a co-operative, similar to those formed by market gardeners and wheat growers for the purpose of selling their produce co-operatively and cost-effectively. The guiding force was Paddy Troy, a communist and the Secretary of Fremantle Trades Hall. ...

With the Fish Market closed and the prospect of the Government revoking the price schedule, fishers became anxious that the old market monopoly would be re- established. At the end of the three day strike, the fishers returned to fishing. Returning to Fremantle, the closed Fish Market building represented both a threat and an opportunity. Frank Del Rosso called on two of his colleagues, Sergio Cappellutti and Frank Iannello to go with him to see the auctioneer to try to get him to sell the lease to the fishers. Willis, who was by now an invalid, offered to sell the lease at a price that was beyond the reach of the fishers. Determined that they should have control over the sale of their produce, the three men broke into the Fish Market and Del Rosso began to auction the fishers' catches. Although technically in breach of the law, occupation became nine-tenths of the law. Unofficially encouraged by the Fisheries Department, investigations into the situation were protracted, leaving the fishers free to continue conducting their own auctions. From then on they maintained control over the auctioning of their fish, breaking the Council's monopoly on auctioning and the wholesalers' monopoly on bidding. The inaugural management committee of the Fremantle Fishermen's Co-operative, comprising Frank Iannello, Sergio Cappellutti, Ugo Mandich, Frank Sidoti Senior, L. Sparks, Peter Casserley, Frank Brozevich and a Fisheries representative, Ben Saville, held its first official meeting as a legally incorporated co-operative on 9 August 1947.

At the outset the Co-operative sought representation of Italian, Croatian and British interests on the management committee and thereby enlisted the support of the fishers within these groups. The Co-operative's first task was to acquire the lease on the Fremantle Fish Market. Although they were never granted a long-term lease, the Co-operative's occupation of the Fish Market was secure. Members of the Co-operative purchased shares in the company and were encouraged to sell their fish through the Co-operative's Fish Market, where members contributed a penny for every pound of fish or crayfish sold. After several years' struggling to cultivate the loyalty of the fishers and build up its finances, the Fremantle Fishermen's Co-operative enjoyed a meteoric rise in fame and fortune. Thirty years later, the Co-operative was turning over $32 million per annum, and in the 1980s was winning Asian export awards for the company's high standards and efficiency. The benefits of the Co-operative were also enjoyed by the fishers, who had risen from blue-collar businessmen to ‘Lords of the Sea'.

References and Links

May, Sally 1999, 'The Italian fishermen of Fremantle: from blue-collar businessmen to lords of the sea', Fremantle Studies, 1: 47-65.

May, Sally 2007, 'People, places and spaces: reflections on the immigrant composition of Fremantle's fishing industry'Fremantle Studies, 5: 30-39.

See also: Fishing Boat Harbour.


Garry Gillard | New: 30 January, 2020 | Now: 31 January, 2020