14 March 2024

Generations of fishermen step up to revive Ulladulla's Blessing of the Fleet festival

| Katrina Condie
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two women on bench

Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet Festival secretary Michelle Babington and president Maria Lavalle at the Taste of the Sea fundraiser. Photo: BOF.

Multiple generations of Ulladulla’s Italian community have come together to ensure this year’s Blessing of the Fleet Festival goes off without a hitch.

While the Easter Sunday event won’t include the popular float parade this year, the festival will focus on the traditional fishing fleet blessing ceremony, which dates back to 1956 in Ulladulla.

With the 2024 festival in doubt, the wife of fourth-generation Ulladulla fisherman Tony Lavalle, Maria Lavalle, stepped up to the committee helm to ensure the event went ahead, and one of the first things on her to-do list was to hold a fundraiser.

And what a night it was! Generations of the Italian community came together with friends and local businesses for an evening of fresh seafood, local wine and live music as they celebrated the Taste of the Sea in February.

Locally caught seafood was prepared by local chefs who donated their time to raise funds for the festival. Guests ate, drank and danced the night away at the Oceanvibe Restaurant overlooking the harbour, while supporting the town’s premier event.

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Maria said the evening was a huge success, with funds raised going towards the Easter Sunday Blessing of the Fleet fireworks display.

She said that while the street parade wouldn’t go ahead, there would be loads of entertainment for locals and visitors to the region, including a procession of local fishermen carrying a statue of St Peter along the wharf to the centre stage, accompanied by this year’s Princesses of the Fleet.

“The festival might not be as big as previous years, but my motto has always been quality over quantity,” she said.

“It’s important to keep the Italian tradition going as the older generations have mainly retired from fishing or passed away, and I want to honour the past and present of the fishing industry.

“I want the younger Italian generations to know their culture and to educate people about the history of the fishing industry. The festival is a celebration of what and who we are, and I’m planning to bring that back.”

Entertainment will fill the harbour precinct with a special performance by comedian Joe Avati.

The popular greasy pole and tug-of-war will take place in a new location on the Ulladulla Sea Pool lawn and the day will conclude with the fireworks extravaganza over the harbour.

Maria said during the COVID-19 restrictions, the blessing event still took place, and now she hopes the festival will bring the community together again with a new flavour.

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“I suppose COVID made it a reality check for me when we continued the blessing of the fleet with no parade, no bells or whistles, over near the pool grassed area for two years in a row,” she said.

“It was the first time we all felt that we had achieved something.”

She said the Italian community came together again this year because she had approached every local fishing family and asked them what they wanted and how they could be involved.

“They haven’t been asked in the past. Having my husband as a fourth-generation fisherman makes it easier to approach them, and most of us are related!” she added.

The 2024 Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet Festival will kick off at 9 am on Easter Sunday on the Ulladulla wharf.

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