GONE FISHIN': Sunshine Coast author Julian Pepperell.
GONE FISHIN': Sunshine Coast author Julian Pepperell.

Fishing history reeled in by local author

DID you know one of the first things Captain Cook did after he had steered the Endeavour into Botany Bay, was to go fishing in a small wooden boat?

As many men are wont to do.

And he caught a lot of fish. He went out again the next day in his little wooden boat and caught nothing.

These are the vagaries of fishing, brought alive by Sunshine Coast author Julian Pepperell in his new book Fishing for the Past.

"I've had a long interest in what it would be like to be the first person to come into a bay or estuary on the Aussie coast," he said. "The first people to arrive here would have carried fishing gear. They would always go fishing to catch something to eat. On the west coast it was William Dampier, and there were lots of French voyages in Tasmania. They all kept diaries. I read all of those in detail, journals of the officers and crews.

"We assume the waters were pristine and untouched but the Aboriginals had been fishing for 10,000 years, although a light-touch of fishing."

With a background as a fish biologist and fisheries scientist along with an unrelenting passion for knowledge of Australian coastal waters, Julian Pepperell has drawn out the earliest written and visual accounts of fishing around the Australian coast by the first Dutch, English and French explorers.

He wanted to know what fish these men caught, when they first cast their nets and lines on our shores. Were they struck by the abundance of the waters? "Everyone has a picture of an idyllic past and think fish just jumped into boats and on some of these early voyages they did catch a lot of fish," Julian said. "Captain Cook went with the men in a rowboat, cast a big net about 100 metres long with two ropes on the end. Five or six men were on the end of the net, hauling slowly. The first time, they caught enough fish to feed all the men on the boat, about 140 kilos which sounds like a reasonable catch, it took three of four hauls on the boat. The next day they caught nothing. That was an example of the vagaries of fish in Australia."

 

Drawing 29 from the Watling Collection titled 'A New South Wales native sticking fish while his wife is employed fishing with hooks and lines in her canoe' by Port Jackson Painter, 1788-1797.
Drawing 29 from the Watling Collection titled 'A New South Wales native sticking fish while his wife is employed fishing with hooks and lines in her canoe' by Port Jackson Painter, 1788-1797. NHM Images

During his research Julian uncovered many human stories.

"On board every ship were the keen fishermen with a great fish tale," he said. "And there were the resident naturalists and artists recording, sketching and painting each new species found, some familiar, some alien.

"There are gruesome tales - William Dampier finding a 'hippopotamus' in the stomach of a tiger shark (a dugong) which 'stank extremely', a gripping account of the first recorded shark attack on a European in Australian waters, and Flinders discovering a seal in the stomach of a great white shark."

The book is illustrated throughout with an extraordinary selection of contemporary paintings and drawings, including first drawings and paintings of Australian fish by Europeans and the earliest European depictions of Aboriginal fishing tools and methods.

 

Julian Pepperell's new book 'Fishing for the Past'.
Julian Pepperell's new book 'Fishing for the Past'.

"It is fascinating to put yourself back in time," Julian said. The French would have had their common names for fish they used 250 years ago, names from Europe.

"I went to the Museum of Natural History in France. Great set of visual stuff from the first fleet artists from 1788 to 1790s, some done by forgers, people who could forge money, so they were very good artists. They painted lots of birds and flowers and some fish. That's how we know what fish species they were catching."


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