Sepia Saturday: Colonial Fishing Days


Sepia saturday 253This Sepia Saturday has three young men relaxing at their leisure on the creek bank after a spot of fishing with their flimsy fishing rods. It brought to mind many similar scenes that would have occurred in colonial Queensland beside creeks and waterways throughout the countryside. I could well imagine my Kunkel great-grandparents, and perhaps their children, dropping a line into the Fifteen Mile Creek which bordered the property owned by George and Mary Kunkel at Murphy’s Creek. Jack Kinnon and grouper

But those images exist only in my imagination, whereas this real-life image is a more confronting, and to my mind, less pleasant aspect of colonial life. Once again we have a fishing trio with a 517 pound (about 234kgs) giant grouper which had been caught circa 1900-1910 by our fishermen, Frank Anderson and Jack Kinnon snr. The battle was uneven as they were using a tailor-made hook and a chain “line” wrapped around a 44 gallon drum. The fish is about 5.5ft (167cms) so it would have been very old, and was almost certainly swimming in the waters off Queensland well before the arrival of the white man. It makes me want to weep every time I look at this photo, and yet it’s also the story of our colony. How ironic that the giant grouper is the aquatic emblem of Queensland and how unsurprising that it is a threatened species.

As an antidote to the imbalance of the fish vs men image, let me tell you the tale of a young lad, Jack Kinnon jnr, fishing with his grandmother, Bridget Connors (daughter of George and Mary Kunkel). I included this passage in my book Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Story.

This is Bridget Connors sitting on the running board of her car. I can imagine her with the same contented expression sitting by the pond fishing.

This is Bridget Connors sitting on the running board of their car. I can imagine her with the same contented expression sitting by the pond fishing.

At the time there was a butter factory on the Mary River where it ran through Tiaro. The buttermilk run-off from the factory flowed into a small pond of the river with which Bridget was very familiar. She knew the mullet loved to come and feed on the buttermilk and get fat. So off they’d go, the old lady and the young boy, with their bamboo rods, cork floats and tiny hooks with bread threaded on for bait. They’d sit by the pond quietly waiting for the fish to bite and when the float disappeared below the water they’d reel in their catch of the day, a plump mullet. Bridget got a great thrill from catching the fish but Jack’s pleasure was diminished slightly by the need to scale and clean the fish.

Are you feeling relaxed now? Why not drop your fishing line and wander off to see where other Sepians went fishing this weekend.

22 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday: Colonial Fishing Days

  1. That grouper is HUGE! Wow. As for scaling, cleaning, & fileting the fish, I’m with Jack. I cook ’em, but I don’t do that other stuff. We have a great neighbor who loves to fish & he’s always bringing some of his catch over – already cleaned & deboned. So thoughtful.

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  2. I certainly agree with your sentiments about that huge groper, and I always wonder about the practice of fishing as a sport, ie. for the thrill of the catch – fishermen may enjoy it but not the fish, even if they are released afterwards.

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    • Yes she has a similar expression to her own mother’s which is on the cover of my book. Thanks for the comment on her fishing story…I was so fortunate to be told these stories.

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    • I can see your point Wendy but I suspect it would have been quite healthy from swimming around in pristine waters for decades…no pollution etc. I just can’t see the rationale behind hunting them down.

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