Quest for change penned in memoir

By CLOE WILLETTS

Virginia Bilocca, whose mother features in a fascinating memoir The Headscarf Revolutionaries, written by ex-journalist Brian W. Lavery about dramatic changes to England's fishing trawling laws.
Virginia Bilocca, whose mother features in a fascinating memoir The Headscarf Revolutionaries, written by ex-journalist Brian W. Lavery about dramatic changes to England's fishing trawling laws.

Mam said to me 'enough is enough', and with the tone of her voice I knew she meant business
Virginia Bilocca-McKenzie

At 38, Lillian Bilocca put down her filleting knife, wrote a petition, and stormed into action - the tight fishing community where she lived about to witness a fierce battle that would have life-changing effects.

Nearly 50 years on, her daughter Virginia Bilocca-McKenzie left Kapiti for three weeks to celebrate her mother's efforts in Hull, England, where the Lord Mayoress unveiled four plaques at the Hull Maritime Museum, in acknowledgment of Lillian's quest.

As the changing face behind better safety conditions at sea in England, Lillian became the main character behind a recently-released memoir The Headscarf Revolutionaries, written by Brian W. Lavery.

The book, launched on May 26, which would have been Lillian's 86th birthday, details her work in changing fishing trawling laws in 1968.

Lillian's fight for change followed three fishing trawlers sinking in the harsh arctic seas during February 1968, all within three weeks.

From the St Romanus, Kingston Peridot and Ross Cleveland trawlers, 58 men died.

"When Mam heard on the radio of the second trawler sinking, she said to me 'enough is enough', and with the tone of her voice I knew she meant business," said Virginia, who emigrated from England to New Zealand in 1972.

Working at a fish factory at the time, from where she was later fired because of her protesting, Lillian's own son, Ernie Bilocca, was working on a trawler at the time, where he witnessed the Ross Cleveland sink and go out of sight on the radar.

Born in Hull on May 26, 1929, as a daughter of four, Lillian had a fisherman father, before her husband Carmelo Bilocca, Virginia's father, also went on to work briefly as a merchant seaman.

Having gathered signatures for her petition, which was presented to Prime Minister of the time Harold Wilson, Lillian eventually welcomed the help of Mary Denness, Yvonne Blenkinsop and Christine Smallbones, who helped her acquire 10,000 signatures in 10 days.

"That was a great achievement when you take into account that there were no computers or cellphones in those days.

"Mam also drew huge crowds of people to public meetings, and was invited to a meeting with Wilson's cabinet, where they eventually agreed to a long list of requests and demands from her and the ladies."

Having died from cancer on August 3, 1988, at age 59, Lillian left behind a story that has now been told in book form by ex-journalist Mr Lavery.

During the book's recent launch, Mr Lavery shared passages that highlighted the death threat letters received by Lillian during her campaign, together with nasty telegrams from people who thought she was "interfering with a man's domain".

"Mam helped to achieve more in weeks than unions and politicians ever did.

"Mr Lavery, my brother and I were asked to sign copies of the book at the launch, which was a privilege and pleasure.

"My mother did everything from the heart and did what she knew was right, making a gigantic change."

The Headscarf Revolutionaries is available via Amazon.

- Kapiti News

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