November 26, 1987

Article at The Sydney Morning Herald

NEWS | Vasco da Gama wasn't only pioneer Portuguese

Doyle's Seafood Restaurant: Watson's Bay has a long Portuguese history


 The role of Portuguese mariners in developing Watsons Bay has been raised from the obscurity of a watery grave by two local historians.

Vince Marinato and a friend, Mr Frank Baron-Kreffel, have been researching the history of Watsons Bay for a book. Using the extensive memoirs of Vince's father, film maker Thomas Marinato, they have come across the unsung Portuguese settlers. 

"It wasn't until Frank and I were doing this book that we became aware the Portuguese played such an important part in the history of Sydney Harbour,"Vince Marinato said.

Between 1827 and 1870, as the new Sydney town grew, some 35 to 40 Portuguese families settled in the Watsons Bay area. Most were marin ers who came to crew six-man longboats and to fish.

They piloted ships through the Heads. In 1868 the Portuguese pilots joined in rioting in Sydney town over the lack of safe navigational aids in the harbour. The absence of channel markers at the Heads was blamed for many shipwrecks. The wrecks cost the Portuguese lives when they rushed out in their longboats to the stricken vessels.

Today many of their descendants are still involved in maritime industries, notably the Sydney Port Manager, Mr Eric Silva. He has traced his origins back to seamen who settled Watsons Bay in the 1850s.

"One of my great grandfathers, born in the Azores, came here in an American whaling ship and jumped ship," he said. "My father was actually born at Macquarie Light - his father was assistant lightkeeper there."

Mr Silva's father went on to be the signalmaster at South Head, while he worked up the ranks of the Maritime Services Board to become port manager five years ago.

The history of Portuguese involvement in Watsons Bay was probably forgotten because the area came to be dominated by Irish and Anglo-Australians.

But in 1988 the Portuguese connection will be officially honoured at a Bicentennial Regatta on March 5 and 6 at Watsons Bay. The Portuguese Consul in Sydney will exchange plaques with Watsons Bay, declaring it the sister town of a village in Portugal.

"The consul staff were more surprised than I was when I told them how involved the Portuguese had been in the area," said Vince. "They thought there was only Vasco da Gama and immigration in the 1950s. Suddenly, Portuguese found they had a tremendous affinity with the creation of Australia."

The part played by Italians was also lost in the past.

In 1883 Vince's grandfather, Mr Michael Marinato and his six brothers, helped build the Brooklyn Bridge in New York before settling in Watsons Bay.

The family established the first open-air restaurant in Australia, the Continental Tea Gardens in Watsons Bay.

In the early years of this century it became the "place to be seen" with tables reserved for Billy Hughes, Banjo Patterson, Admiral Jellicoe and the then Prime Minister, Joe Lyons.

Today the marble-top tables are scattered throughout Australia, given by the Marinato family to their valued customers. The family sold the restaurant in 1968 and it is now Doyle's Seafood Restaurant.