Appreciate what you have: Wise Words from Retired Local Seafood Supply Legend & Medal of the Order of Australia Recipient, Victor Paino
My colleague Mannie Shea and I arrived bright and early to visit Fremantle seafood supply legend, Mr Victor Paino, to congratulate him on receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia earlier this year – an outstanding achievement recognising his life-long successful involvement in the seafood industry and his contribution to the local community.
Victor met with us in his 1920s era Fremantle house which he calls his office and upon entering, we were hit with the aroma of delicious, hot, Italian coffee wafting its way through the hallway. The hallway is a gallery of Victor’s lifetime memories – with photos of family, historic memorabilia and achievements hanging on the wall.
“This here”, Victor said pointing to a historic transcript, “is my most memorable moment – suppling continental goods and fish to the Queens Navy Ship in 1966.”
“The volume of business was huge – we used to supply potatoes, dry goods and fresh fruit and vegetables.”
As we walked along the hallway, stopping to listen to Victor explain these significant memories and business milestones we were warmly invited into his kitchen – naturally making us feel at home.
Soon came the tough questions:
“Hot Italian coffee?”
“Home-made fruit cake?”
How could we say no to our gracious host…?!
As I sat sipping my strong Italian coffee (as if I was in an Italian café in the streets of Sicily) I was met with another question:
“Do you speak a bit of Italian Dani? Ciao, come stai?”
I shook my head – “No”, I said, reluctantly, wishing I listened harder during Italian classes.
“Myself, I only speak broken Italian that I learnt as a young man in the fish shop when I used to serve the local Italians there,” he said.
A third-generation Fremantle fisher monger, Mr Paino began working in his family’s retail fish shop as a 15-year-old in 1952. He said the job gave him the opportunity to meet people from many different nationalities – many whom experienced difficult lives. It was these conversations that made him appreciate the life he had.
“It was a different life back then – those days were tough – I saw how hard my parents and migrants had to work.”
“Many didn’t know anyone, let alone the English language. For others they travelled to Australia alone – with their wives and children arriving 2 to 3 years later.”
“Those experiences, through talking to people, are what I appreciate – I am grateful to have seen people who came here with nothing.”
“Today, it is a different life, you’re protected, there is employment, mobile phones – everything.”
“It just makes you appreciate life more – that is how I see it.”
From seafood retail work, Victor soon graduated to driving the truck that transported freshly caught produce from Geraldton and the north, Esperance or Bunbury back to Fremantle, placing ,for example, Snapper on fresh ice to bring it back to the market.
“I had to leave at 2am to arrive in Geraldton by 8am to pick up the fish. Then it was the drive back home again.”
“I drove all around Western Australia – I knew the roads very well.”
He paused and chuckled. “The roads weren’t like today Dani – there was a lot of gravel.”
Between the mid 1950’s and 1960’s, there was an increase in naval contracts and business with passenger ships carrying migrants to Fremantle. Accordingly, the seafood business was soon supplemented with the introduction of and increased sales in overall grocery lines. This increase saw the family run business supply frozen and fresh food, fish and other continental goods to the Australian Navy and ships from all around the world.
It was Mr Paino’s ability to form good relationships and his enthusiasm to work with people from across the world that made him successful in business, travelling to meet key buyers and agents in Japan, Scandinavia and Europe on multiple occasions.
“We built the business up by travelling – I went to Japan, all throughout Europe – it was good, because the people I met along the way started to understand Fremantle, and our culture.”
“We ended up supplying to the New Zealand, English, German, French and the American Navy Ships.”
“I found that when you meet the person one-to-one it is better. That is how you start to form relationships.”
“Try travelling with no mobile phones, no internet – that is travelling,” he said.
By the 1970s, Victor and his brother rapidly grew the small family-run fish supply business now known as Sealanes.
“We had a company – Fremantle Fish Supply for many years but because we were serving many ships – we created the sister company, Port Provedore.”
“Sealanes was a Western Australian company. We bought the name to get overseas agents in Norway, London and Greece etc.”
From a small family run business, to building a seafood and ship provedore empire, this unsung-hero’s success has always been premised on servicing the wider Western Australian community by giving back.
“I was the director of the Fremantle Hospital Medical Research Foundation, I was on the Board of the Notre Dame University and was made a life member of the Australian Shipping Supply Association.”
“People helped me to get me where I am – it wasn’t through my knowledge. I took risks, but people gave me guidance.”
“Because of this, I have always wanted to help others – to give back to the community”, he said full of gratitude.
Still as spritely as ever, Mr Paino now enjoys spending time with his family and friends, reminiscing about the old days over a good cup of hot coffee.
“I was married at 20 and had 4 children by the age of 30. Now have 11 grand kids and recently celebrated my 60th wedding anniversary.”
“What can I say – I am very lucky and still a very busy man!”
Concluding, he laughed, “so who is up for another coffee?”