The skills that got away

Anthony Santaromita has just retired from the fleet, but has provided McKendrick with a swag of material and will be helping pass on his skills. Photos by Sandy McKendrick

AN exhibition paying homage to Fremantle’s fishing community, as well as trying to preserve some of their dying arts, will headline a bumper local contribution to the Australian Heritage Festival which opens this weekend.

Fish Shack Exhibition will take over the B-Shed on Victoria Quay, with everything from fishermen showing how to make sticky cray pots and mend their nets in traditional methods to artworks and a real(ish) fishing shack with a coffee machine to reflect the importance of the Italian community to the local industry.

The exhibition was the brainchild of local artist Sandy McKendrick.

“This started off because I was a teen in Freo and one of the reasons I loved living here was because it was an active port,” McKendrick says.

As she started exploring whether that love could be channeled into an exhibition, she discovered the fishermen were glorious storytellers and the idea took off.

“This has given me a gorgeous opportunity to stick my head in and speak with the fishermen and they have all been really generous with giving information and their resources.”

Artist Sandy McKendrick on an old Fremantle Fish Supply delivery bike.

But she also discovered celebration wasn’t the only thing on their minds.

“Over the last few years a lot of the skills from the fishing industry, from stick pot making to net mending have been dying out and a lot of young people had no idea that they were so big here,” McKendrick says.

She’s collected enough nets to trap a blue whale, but instead will drape them around the exhibition so they old blokes can demonstrate how to mend them. There’ll also be workshops on how to make the best, most reliable mats from recycled crayfish lines, which spend their working life under tension and drenched in salt water so they’re virtually indestructible.

Splicing and whipping exhibitions will reveal how to turn old rope into bracelets or quoits.

McKendrick says she’s also keen to build up her collection from stories and materials provided by the community itself.

“We’ve got a big screen of sailcloth and a great big map of the Mediterranean and beyond, so people can go and write a letter or a story about the many places they come from,” she said.

While she’s already been given a treasure trove of photos, she’s hoping to get more and will be bringing a scanner along so they can be added to a rolling display.

The Mendolia family boat; they’ve been integral to the growth of the fishing industry and will be providing the exhibition’s food.

“Another of the things I am doing is in the middle of B-Shed there’s a ticketing office, and I’m turning it into a fish shack with a coffee machine, and I hope the fishers and their families can come in so that I can sketch them.

“There isn’t really a place where they can come and talk about what they’ve done.”

Fish Shack Exhibition was due to open yesterday (Friday April 16) and will be running until May 2 in B-Shed.

Other events lined up for the Australian Heritage Festival include a look at Fremantle through the historic films of much-loved former mayor Sir Frederick Samson. Produced by local mixed media gurus Genrefonix in collaboration with the Samson family and the City of Fremantle, the online collection is a fascinating look into life in Fremantle, from troops marching through the city on their way to war to visiting dignitaries 

to the Samson family’s quiet moments. There’s also a walking tour by local historians Mike and Joy Lefroy, which can be booked through https://www. freddysfilms.com.

There’s also a street art walking tour, the WA Dragon Boat Festival, an exploration of how to ‘read’ a museum, and exhibitions of everything from the Chinese community in WA to the rampaging and often misunderstood Vikings.

It’s all up at https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/ahf

by STEVE GRANT

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