Vincenzo Bagnato was born in the village of Bagnara in southern Italy’s Calabrian region on December 15, 1930. He attended school until the age of 10 when he was taken out to fish with his father and brothers to support the family, which he continued to do until he reached 20 and it was time for his National Service.
In 1953, at the age of 23, having served 26 months in the Navy for his Service, Vincenzo returned to Bagnara, fell in love, and married Rosa. A year later their first child, Domenica, was born, followed over the next two years by sons, Richard ‘Dick’, and Paul Bagnato.
In 1960, Vincenzo immigrated to Australia aboard the ship Toscana, along with his brothers Domenico and Rocky. Vincenzo started work on the trawler Isabella Star, and became part owner with his brother Diego four months later. In 1961, his wife and children came to join him in Australia. They bought a house in Woolloomooloo and the family grew to include three more sons; Joe, Ross and Domenic.
The brothers’ time on the Isabella Star was marked by hard work and was not without incident. One night while at sea, a bad storm hit and the trawler began filling with water and sinking. With minutes to spare, Vincenzo ordered his crew to put on their lifejackets and jump overboard into smaller boats in order to row to safety. Two days later they were able to successfully retrieve the boat from a calmed ocean.
After three years, the brothers sold the Isabella Star, and Vincenzo and Diego partnered together to build a larger trawler called the Immacolata Prima. In 1964, this vessel was the first trawler to unload its catch at the opening of the government owned Fish Marketing Authority (later to become Sydney Fish Market). In 1967 Vincenzo and his brother sold the Immacolata Prima and went their separate ways. Vincenzo purchased a trawler named Merimbula and then sold it in 1968. He returned to Italy and with his brother Diego purchased the San Francesco. They worked together until the late 1970s and returned to Australia where Vincenzo purchased a trawler named The San Giuseppe Star.
In 1976, Vincenzo returned to Italy with his family and built a boat named Australia. After three years he bought another boat, also called the Immacolata Prima. Vincenzo was on this vessel fishing for Swordfish near the island of Capri, when a cyclone hit at around midnight. Hearing an SOS from another trawler that was going down in the storm, Vincenzo acted immediately, directing his crew to pull up their nets and steam to the distressed boat. Vincenzo and his crew reached the stricken vessel just minutes before it sank, and risked their own lives by diving into the ocean to save its crew. When he returned to Bagnara, the village and Lord Mayor honoured Vincenzo with a gold medal for saving these lives, and he received a medal from Italy’s General Governor for his heroism.
Between 1976 and 1980, Vincenzo worked the southern and northern summers in Australia and Italy, as a skipper on the John Dory and Elizabeth May. After four years, Vincenzo docked permanently in Australia, where he bought the Seaport in 1982 with his son Paul, and in 1991 bought another trawler, the Antonia. In 2003 Vincenzo was made an Italian Cavalieri (trans. ‘Italian Sir’) by the Italian Government and was presented with a gold medal for his hard work and bravery at sea. This medal was presented at the Italian Consulate in Sydney with great Honours on behalf of the Italian Premier.