Our Place: Woolloomooloo Interviews

Our Place - Woolloomooloo - Sam Donato b. 1939

Sam was born in 1939, his father was Australian-born Italian and the family lived in McElhone Street, Woolloomooloo. Mr Donato was a trawler fisherman in Sydney Harbour: He was there when the Greycliffe went down. “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. 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’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. 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.. 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 Council run playground where Miss Straughan was a supervisor were important places for the children of Woolloomooloo.

Caveat: This video was shot on a Sony Hi 8 video recorder. It was not until 2010 that we could get the analogue tapes digitised. Despite careful storage in the intervening period there has been some deterioration in quality. While we have retained the original .mov files from the original digitization in the SRA Archive, by necessity uploaded here are .mp4 files. The video is raw and unedited, a primary source document recording the occassion.