In memory of Jack Salvemini, 29th November 1968 to 1st November 2005.

Lee Salvemini

My family started fishing in South Australia in 1900, when my grandfather came out from Italy at the age of 16.  After twelve years of fishing here he went back to Italy to get married.  When my father was born in 1914 grandfather was ready to come back to Australia but instead got caught up in WWI, serving for Italy.  It wasn’t until 1920 that grandfather was able to return, leaving his family in Italy and moving to Port Pirie.  In 1926 grandfather managed to bring my father out to Australia but it wasn’t until 1932 that he was able to get the rest of the family out.  When my father arrived in Australia he was 11 years old and, because grandfather wouldn’t trust leaving him with anyone, he took my father out fishing with him.  In 1940 the family moved from Port Pirie to settle in Port Adelaide and during WWII grandfather was interned.

I was born in 1945 and during school holidays would go fishing with my Dad.  When I was 13 my father became seriously ill.  He couldn’t go fishing and so I took over, two days at school and then five days fishing.  In 1960, when I turned 15, Dad was hospitalised and I had to look after the family, seven children and Mum.  I had to learn quickly! The first night I went fishing I only caught about 2 dozen fish and came back home and cried.  But things did get better as I ‘learned the ropes’.   Although my father had wanted me to work in the sugar industry at Port Adelaide, when he finally got out of hospital after three months, he agreed to let me stay on, fishing with him.

I advised Dad that we needed better equipment and he agreed.  In 1963 we built the boat, the St Anthony for 6,000 pounds and in 1974 we lengthened and added to it for an additional $21,000.

Up until 1974, we fished from Pt Adelaide along the coast to Kangaroo Island and sold directly to the public at the Port Adelaide docks.  By that time, my brother Mick had joined us and when the St Anthony was on the slip we would fish from three small boats.  While I was working on the St Anthony, Tom Bascombe, a prawn boat owner, approached me to skipper his boat, the Serena Star, but I wouldn’t leave me Dad.  In 1974 Tom’s skipper ran up the back of a police car, under the influence, and then disappeared.  Tom was without a skipper and I offered to help out for a couple of weeks, with Andy Franks helping me to learn the prawn ropes.  I ended up skippering for a month and then Tom convinced me to stay on.

In 1976 offered me the opportunity to buy Serena Star for $110,000.  Another fisherman offered Tom $200,000 but he said no, it had been sold and kept his word to me.  I brought in Dad and Mick to purchase the boat, we fished for prawns for six years and then sold the boat to Jerry Sarunic, a Croatian, and bought the Turton Star.  We took up net fishing for gar and shark fishing, and only stopped selling fish directly to the public in 1978.

in 1984 we got the chance to repurchase the Serena Star.  There were now three partners, Mick, Jerry Serunic, and me.  After a few months fishing, Mick and I realised we could handle the vessel ourselves and, as Jerry was getting too old to work the nets, he served the grappa while we worked!

Under a new Director of Fisheries, Richard Stevens, there was a buyback in the prawn industry in 1987 with the deal being that within a ten-year period the thirteen licence holders who remained in the industry had to pay for the six who had left.  Under this arrangement we couldn’t afford to stay and were given $730,000 for our licence, our boat and equipment, to get out of prawning.

Experienced fishermen told the Government that what they were proposing wouldn’t work, and it didn’t, and the buyback didn’t result in the fishery prospering.

With the proceeds from the buyback, we bought another boat, the Dalrymple Star, an old prawn boat built by the Gill brothers in Stansbury.  We started fishing in October 1987 but in July 1989 the boat caught fire.  We had a load of fish on board, the boat wasn’t insured, and once the dust had settled we had to start off from scratch.  We created a convoy of three boats that we took to Kangaroo Island to fish, staying for three months, but couldn’t make it work.  Then we bought the Silver Spray, a 40-foot ex-navy boat, but it wasn’t suitable for fishing.  We ended up fishing locally from Port Wakefield, in 18-foot net boats.

Our record for gar was 3.2 tonne, in 1997.  Back then, you could fish for small sized fish but we wouldn’t.  This meant that when the Government brought in a ‘point’ system of management, we missed out because we would only target the large prawns and fish.

In 2004 I retired and transferred my licence to my other brother, John.  Mick is still fishing and has two boats, one boat set up manually because he likes to keep fit.

With Mick’s grandson, it will be six generations of Salvemini’s fishing in South Australia.

In 2005 my wife and I lost our son, Jack, who was a shark fisher.  He was working as a deck hand off Eucla on a boat owned by The Fish Factory.  To this day, the actual circumstances of what happened have never been properly disclosed.

 Suite 27, 6-8 Todd Street, Port Adelaide SA 5015