Rocco Caminiti (also spelled Comminitti and Caminotti) was an Italian who, in 1882 was sailing on a Grafton Steam Navigation Company ship along the New South Wales coast when he either heard or saw that land was open for selection along the Richmond River. In April 1882 he took Antonio Pezzutti back to the area and they selected land close to a creek on the South Woodburn-Chatsworth Island road. This was the beginning of New Italy. Among the other families who arrived to take up selections were the Gavas, among them Catherina or Catherine. She and Rocco Caminiti became the founding parents of the Cam family.
Rocco Caminiti was not one of the group of Italian settlers who made up most of the New Italy community who had been betrayed by the Marquis de Rays and his officials in the New France project, and who arrived destitute in Sydney on the James Paterson on 7 April 1881. However, he did arrive around that time. His 1903 naturalisation certificate states that, a native of Italy, aged 53, he had arrived on the Sanif 22 years before, in 1881. His death certificate (1907) stated he had been born in Galico, Marina, Italy, the son of Carlo Caminiti, engineer, and Lettiria de Pasquale, and had been in New South Wales about 23 years, making his arrival 1884, but his own testimony from the naturalisation certificate is probably more reliable. The death certificate states he and Catherina (Kate) Gava were married in Sydney, NSW, when Rocco was 29 years old. Unfortunately, cross-referencing these details gives a year of birth for Rocco of 1849 or 1850 and, if he married at 29 years of age, this would have been in 1878 or 1879, when neither he nor Catherina were in Australia.
Catherina Gava came to Australia with her family on the James Paterson, when she was 17 years old (that is, she was born about 1864; her naturalisation certificate states 18 July 1865). Her mother, Maria, had been widowed on the voyage, Giovanni Gava having died in December 1880 after the ship carrying the settlers had arrived at Port Breton, New France (located on New Ireland, now a part of Papua New Guinea), one of the many who did not survive the voyage and short stay at Port Breton. The Gavas were from Venice, according to the 1901 naturalisation record of Santo Gava, more precisely Santa Fiora, according to Catherina√≠s 1912 naturalisation certificate. The certificate provides some inaccurate information; for example that she arrived at Sydney on a vessel, the Milan, from Noumea on 2 March 1881; no such vessel arrived in Sydney around that date and she is definitely recorded among the James Paterson passengers- who did indeed come via Noumea who arrived on 7 April 1881.
At NEW ITALY Rocco’s land was centrally located among the acreage taken up by the New Italy settlers, 40 acres opposite the public school site. Children Rosilia and Carlo were born there in 1884 and John in 1886. The next child, Mary, recorded in the Registry indexes as surname, was born in Sydney in 1889, indicating the family had moved there between 1886 and 1889. Further children Joseph (1891), Antoinette (1893), Rocco (1895), Albert (1897) and Thomas (1901) are recorded as born in Balmain, Balmain South or Rozelle, all inner western suburbs of Sydney.
Rocco Caminiti had taken to the sea and become a fisherman, and this was his listed occupation at the time of his death, 25 July 1907, at Lakelands, near Wollongong. It was also his occupation recorded in 1890-91 when he was residing at 43 and 41 Foucart Street, Rozelle, but he was recorded as a greengrocer at 40 Denison Street, Rozelle in 1897, where he remained until at least 1904. Catherine is recorded as a greengrocer at the same address from 1905 until 1912, and at four other addresses in the same street, and in Datchett Street, until 1931*. In 1913 there was a fish shop run by the Caminiti brothers at 675 Darling Street, Balmain, and from 1913-1915 a fish shop under the proprietorship of John Caminiti at 697 Darling Street, Balmain. In 1912, when Catherine Caminiti was naturalised, 3 of her children were married (Carlo 1904, Rosilia 1907 and Mary 1911) and 6 single (John, Joseph, Antoinette, Rocco, Albert and Thomas). All the single children were living with her. Catherine died in 1932 at Balmain.
One of her children pre-deceased her: John had enlisted in the AIF in 1915 at the age of 31 years, and had been killed at Messines, Belgium, on 10 June 1917. His brother, Albert, also enlisted , in 1916, and survived to serve also in the Second World War. A cousin, Anthony Mazzer, also served in the First World War and was awarded the Military Medal for actions in September 1918. By the time of Catherine’s death the firm of Cam and Sons – Caminiti having been shortened to Cam in the meantime was a prosperous fishing business operating out of Sydney, owning a number of ocean-going trawlers. Rocco’s son, Carlo known as Charlie Cam, built up the business in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Second World War eight of Cam and Sons fishing trawlers were requisitioned and converted for military purposes by the Royal Australian Navy. Among them were the Patricia Cam, Mary Cam, Alfie Cam, Olive Cam, Keith Cam and Goorangai.
The Patricia Cam, built locally in 1940, was named after the daughter of Rocco Cam, Charlie’s son. Rocco was a director in Cam and Sons and later established his own successful business, R E Cam and Sons. By the time the Patricia Cam was commissioned the Goorangai had already been sunk when struck accidentally in Port Phillip Bay by the troopship MV Duntroon on the night of 20 November 1940. It had been doing duty off the Victorian coast, clearing mines laid by a German raider that had sunk two ships. All 24 hands were killed. A memorial cairn to the Goorangai and her crew was erected at Queenscliff in 1981. The Patricia Cam was itself sunk on 22 January 1943 off the Northern Territory coast with the lost of another half a dozen lives. The Goorangai and minesweepers and the Patricia Cam are among the Navy ships commemorated by bronze plaques in the gardens around the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. That for the Patricia Cam records under the insignia of the Royal Australian Navy that it was lost in action, January 22nd 1943.
The Cam family prospered again after the Second World War. From among the requisitioned vessels Cam and Sons re-purchased the Olive Cam at least, in 1946, and returned it to work as a fishing trawler. She ran aground in stormy weather and sank south of Eden, on the New South Wales coast, in November 1954. The wreck is now a recognised scuba diving location, as is the Goorangai site, designated a Historic Shipwreck in 1995. The location of the wreck of the Patricia Cam is documented, but is sufficiently isolated for it to be briefly confused in 2002 with the similarly-sized Sanyo Maru, a Japanese pearling ship sunk in a gale in the same waters in 1937. In 1961 the Cam operations were described as a vast business enterprise in the fishing and allied industries, and R E Cam and Sons was advertised as the largest State-wide wholesaler of quick-frozen foods and sole distribution agent for a range of products. However, the business was sold some time later and the name ceased to be identified with a distinct enterprise. Family descendents have now diversified into a wide range of occupations within broader Australian society.