Our Place: Stories of Woolloomooloo - Biographies

Our Place - Stories of Woolloomooloo - Sam Donato Biography

Our Place - Stories of Woolloomooloo - Sam Donato  Biography


Sam was born in 1939 into an Italian family; his father was Australian-born. They lived in McElhone Street. Sam's dad was a fisherman who trawled the harbour: He was there when the Greycliffe went down. “People were always sending him thank you notes on that anniversary.” He saved a lot of people when he was trawling, but occasionally he found bodies: “Dad used to prawn and he’d come up with a couple of bodies, covered in prawns, and so he had to take them to the Water Police at Circular Quay”. During the Depression the family survived by eating spaghetti and whatever they caught in the harbour. They would barter fish for coal. They couldn’t sell prawns, squid or mussels because “people wouldn’t eat it. We couldn’t give them away,  … People had no money”. Sam considered that his father fed everyone in Woolloomooloo, “there was a parcel for everyone”. Sam’s family was the only Italian family left by the time of the Depression, and during WWII, Sam’s father had the only fishing boat allowed to trawl in the harbour – LFB 3 The Maria. The family would have picnics on the beach near Bradley’s Head. Sam’s least favourite job was having to pump out the bilge water from the boat when it rained. Fishing was dangerous, as the fishing boats didn’t have red and green lights in those days: “A coal ferry went straight across and sunk the neighbour’s boat, went straight through … half the crew went down”. When Sam was about 13, the Italian tradition of the Blessing of the Fleet was introduced at Woolloomooloo. Mrs Donato attended to domestic duties and made clothes for all the Italian kids in the area. Sam and his brothers and sisters attended St Columbkille’s and St Mary’s schools, and Sam was an altar boy at St Columbkille’s. During the war the kids were called names, and they didn’t understand the prejudice against the Italians; they learned to fight. The Domain swimming pool, the Police Boys’ Club and the Playground, where Miss Straughan taught sports, provided most important resources for the children.