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    South Australia - Sport


    Salt Water Fishing

    (Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning, (Glenelg - A Social History - 1836-1936 - copy in State Library)

    More adventurous anglers walked to Port Adelaide and a shallow muddy creek running near the Custom House where schnapper, mullet, trevally and whiting were caught from the wharf. 'There were no steamships trading to Port Adelaide in those days and the fish were not frightened out of the river and the gulf through the pounding of the propellers and the loud throbbing of engines. On the sandy beaches between Brighton and Semaphore small sole and conger eels were caught by trawling and occasionally hooked and a favourite ground was located off Glenelg.'

    In 1838 while aboard the Buckinghamshire in Holdfast Bay, Nathaniel Hailes recalled that:

    Reminiscing in 1894 Mr John Myers compared the fish trade of 1849 with the 1890s:

    The Glenelg jetty was a favourite haunt for the disciples of Izaak Walton where, at times, they obtained excellent catches of fish. Schnapper of fine size and proportions were caught occasionally, while whiting were not uncommon in season but, as a general rule, the 'tommy rough' monopolised proceedings:

    A few amateurs provided themselves with nets to secure fish for household consumption and, in 1874, they encircled part of a school and snared about two tons, but having nothing in which to stow them let about half the catch go adrift.

    The treacherous sea brought distress upon many fishermen's families and in August 1872 two young fishermen, George Crooks and John H.Yates, left Glenelg bound for grounds off the Onkaparinga River. They got as far as 'Old Man Rock', some six miles north of that river, but the wind being exceedingly strong they put back and as they were passing Field's River a tack rope broke and the sail, curling up, covered the top of the mast and this overbalanced the craft and both men were thrown out. Yates, a good swimmer, had trouble getting his non-swimming mate upon the upturned boat but, having done so, divested himself of most of his clothing and started to swim ashore.

    He took in a large quantity of sea water and was so much bruised and battered by the surf, and from being thrown upon the rocks, that for some time he was unable to move. A farmer named James McKechnie fortunately saw him and taking him upon his back, carried him to the nearest house owned by Mr Freebairn. Yates partially recovered and staggered off to his father's house, two miles distant; the father got up from a sickbed and prepared to set forth in a dinghy with William Cox and John Annington to the scene of the disaster.

    However, Mr Yates, the elder, succumbed and his son took his place and after a struggle against a head wind the rowers reached the boat but were too late for Crooks, after hanging on to the wreck for many hours, was seen by people on the shore to be washed away when a huge wave broke over him. In the meantime news of the disaster had been conveyed to Glenelg where a crew of five men, namely, Messrs T. Shepard, W.H. Kemp, J. LeNeven, A. Martin, J. Spence and J. Previll, rowed to the scene and returned without finding any trace of Crooks, who was the nephew of a local builder and had used the boat for fishing purposes for over two years. His last words to Yates, junior, were, 'Oh, do look after my wife, Henry, if I never reach the shore.'

    This tragedy followed closely upon another boating accident in the gulf when Messrs Haynes and Sugars perished. Accordingly, a public meeting was held at the Lecture Hall, Glenelg, on 12 August 1872 presided over by the Mayor, Mr R.B. Colley, who reported that an amount of about 450 had been promised by citizens for the benefit of the bereaved families.


    When a number of fishermen took up their trade in colonial South Australia they were individually induced to push the capture to extremes without regard to spawners and small fry and the consequence was that the sea coast was denuded of its denizens by the eagerness of the chase. To cite but one instance; in the early days of the colony the whole of the coast line from Port Wakefield to Surveyor's Point was the home of the oyster and there were thousands on thousands there on a natural bed and no sooner was the cupidity of the fishers aroused than cutters cruised in those waters.

    Irrespective of cause or effect, regardless of legislative enactment, the toilers of the sea dredged and dredged until the demand overcame the supply. They paid little regard to the fishery in which they were engaged; in no case was a selection made, but the whole of the fish, great or small, were drafted off to supply the city. The end came and finally not a mollusc was available - not a solitary native oyster remained and the dredgers were constrained to seek fresh fields and pastures new. Coffin Bay, Port Lincoln and other desirable spots then furnished the gourmand with this luxury.

    During the first twenty years of the colony's existence oyster lovers rejoiced in the abundance of the tasty mollusc which were 'a valuable element in the pleasure of a visit to the Bay and very conspicuous item in Host Moseley's carte.' In the early 1860s he had an oyster barge moored on the northern side of the jetty and it was reported that the 'molluscs appeared to have thriven wonderfully in the submerged compartments.' Besides oysters the barge was furnished with a few crayfish and shrimps, 'the former of which did well, increasing in size and firmness and the latter multiplied to an extent which had not been anticipated.' Satisfied with his experiment Mr Moseley planned to enlarge his barge which then measured 36 by 14 feet, with a depth of more than a yard.

    By 1845 the excessive removal of oysters from local beds was cause for concern and a complainant pleaded for appropriate government action. Alas, this was not forthcoming. In 1850 the proprietor of the Glenelg Inn, Mr Ward, imported oysters from Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas and attempted to establish an industry at Glenelg but he suffered severely from the depredations of thieves.

    When the falling away of supply was first discovered a Bill, sponsored by Mr C.S. Hare was passed through the Legislative Council in 1853 to encourage artificial beds and, while its provisions were no doubt sound and sufficient from a legal point of view, it was rendered practically useless by the want of knowledge among those who took advantage of it as to the management of beds. These were laid down at Glenelg by Messrs Hansford Ward, Henry Moseley and John McDonald, but the ground was sandy and quite unsuited to oysters as it 'gave them nothing to hold by and as little to live on.' Further, the little chance the oysters had of coming to maturity in such circumstances was destroyed by the careless manner of dredging for them. The unripe ones were not carefully returned to the bed but thrown recklessly on to the living oysters, thousands of which were smothered.

    By 1866 Holdfast Bay was not 'the bivavular Goshen as it once was' for the natural beds had been destroyed through the stupidity and carelessness of the dredgers. A few years previously an attempt had been made to lay down artificial beds 'on the French principle' but failed in consequence of the sites being ill-selected. Recourse was only available from a 'course, flabby article from Port Lincoln' or an expensive import from Sydney. In December 1866 Mr Smith introduced a Bill 'for making oysters grow where none grew before.' It authorised the formation of artificial beds, provided for their protection and prohibited their sale during January, October, November and December. These regulations were frequently broken and the press reminded the legislature that it would be well to bear it in mind when any fresh attempt was made to legislate on the subject of oyster fisheries.

    All this talk was to no avail for by 1870 the plentiful supply of oysters in St Vincent Gulf 'within two or three hours sail of the Lighthouse' had vanished. Many of these beds could have continued to supply the city's needs but for the vandalism of several fishermen who manned cutters and dredged perpetually over the same ground month after month until the beds were completely destroyed. When this was worked out the magnificent supply at Port Lincoln was attacked in the same manner and yet there was no interference with those who were 'killing the goose for the golden egg'; finally, Coffin Bay became prey for the spoiler.

    If any proof were needed of the usefulness of closing an oyster ground after it was 'worked out' it could have been easily furnished in the case of the Orontes Bank, situated on the opposite side of the gulf, about west of Semaphore. In the 1870s oysters were dredged up at the rate of 100,000 per week, but this yield dwindled away until it did not pay to work it - the bed closed itself and remained as such for many years, following which Mr Albert Molineux paid it a visit:.

    When an announcement came in 1901 that the authorities had decided to reopen Boston Bay, following a closure against dredging for about 13 years, the local oyster men were in high glee for the famous Port Lincoln oyster had been gradually, but surely, diminishing. Of course, there had been a time when it was a 'drug in the market' for that was when the oyster fishers scooped them up without a thought for the future with the result that large quantities were transported on to beaches to waste.

    The local toilers were in good heart on the opening day and, with a favourable breeze, six cutters went out to test the water after its enforced rest. Alas, the oysters were not there; not a vestige, alive or dead, could be found, and after three days the total harvest consisted of a quarter of a bag when it was announced that the industry was doomed and the only alternative was artificial cultivation which could ensure a fair supply in a few years 'even if the price would possibly be a luxury rate.'

    General Notes

    The formation of an anglers' association is reported in the Observer,
    17 November 1866, page 5c.

    "Fishing Excursion" is in the Express,
    10 and 13 August 1872, pages 3a and 3c.

    "Fishing for Tommy-Rough" is in the Observer,
    8 August 1874, page 8a.

    "Fish-Killing by Dynamite" is in the Observer,
    11 May 1878, page 3c.

    "Trout, Carp, Tench and Perch" is in the Register,
    28 July 1886, page 7b.

    Reminiscences of fishing in the 1870s are in the Observer,
    2 November 1901, page 3d.

    The introduction of trout ova into local streams is discussed in the Observer,
    18 September 1880, page 494c; also see
    29 October 1881, page 8c,
    23 October 1903, page 4c.

    "Trout for SA - Stocking the Rivers" is in the
    1 August 1916, page 6f,
    13 January 1923, page 35,
    "Trout Fishing" in The Mail,
    10 February 1923, page 7g,
    "Stocking South Australia's Streams" in the
    9 January 1923, page 6h,
    "Stocking Streams and Reservoirs" on
    23 July 1924, page 13c,
    "Trout in SA Waters" on
    31 July 1926, page 15g.

    "Going Fishing" is in the Observer,
    6 January 1883, page 41c.

    A proposal for the formation of an angling club is in the Register,
    19 October 1881, page 6d.
    Information on an angling club is in the Express,
    23 March 1901, page 4e,
    11 December 1902, page 4f.

    "Fish Destruction" is in the Register,
    31 January 1883, page 1e (supp.).

    "Fish and Fishermen - An Anglers' Grievance" is in the Express,
    12 August 1901, page 2e.

    An anglers' picnic is reported in the Register,
    15 January 1903, page 4g.

    Reminiscences of fishing in the early days are in the Observer,
    22 June 1907, page 51a, 13,
    20 and 27 July 1907, pages 52, 52 and 49,
    18 January 1908, page 41a.

    "Fishing - Memoirs of a Nonagenarian" is in the Register,
    16 August 1909, page 6f,
    "Is Jetty Angling Doomed" on
    3 April 1914, page 9f,
    "Jetty Fishermen" on
    19 June 1914, page 12a,
    30 September 1915, page 5a.

    "Fishing's Charm - Where Best Catches Are Made" is in The Mail,
    20 January 1923, page 7a.

    "Our Fishing - The Pros and Cons" is in the Register,
    15 October 1921, page 11f.

    "Stocking SA Streams" is in the Register,
    9 January 1923, page 6h.

    "Stocking Streams and Reservoir" is in the Register,
    23 July 1924, page 13c,
    9 August 1924, page 16c.
    also see Register,
    26 June 1925, page 11g.

    Catching "bungums", a prized fish bait, at Port Noarlunga, is described in the Register,
    21 May 1923, page 9e.

    Photographs of a fishing excursion to the Sir Joseph Banks Group are in the Chronicle,
    12 January 1924, page 31.

    "Fish and Fishing" is in the Observer,
    9 August 1924, page 16c.

    "Fishermen and Fish Stories" is in The Mail,
    18 July 1925, page 18c,
    "Fish and Where to Get Them" on
    12 December 1925, page 3a.

    'Trout in SA Waters" is in the Register,
    31 July 1926, page 13g.

    "The Gentle Angler" is in the Advertiser,
    31 July 1926, page 12h,
    "Illegal Fishing - Complaints by Amateurs" on
    28 November 1928, page 18e.

    'Holiday Fishing - Where Fish Will Bite" is in the Observer,
    22 December 1928, page 42c.

    "Sunday Fishing Wicked?" is in The News,
    19 January 1932, page 2d.
    Also see Religion.

    "The Ways of Fish and How to Catch Them" is in The News,
    17 September 1934, page 4e.

    "Thrills of Fishing From the Reef" is in the Chronicle,
    11 April 1935, page 50,
    "In Praise of the Murray Cod" is in the Chronicle,
    25 July 1935, page 51.

    "Spearing Fish by Torchlight" is in the Advertiser,
    4 May 1935, page 11c.

    "Need for Fish Hatchery" is in The News,
    21 August 1936, page 10e,
    "In Search of Trout" on
    22 September 1936, page 6e.

    "Control of Anglers" is in the Advertiser
    19 April 1937, page 22c.

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