Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview With a Fisherwoman #3

When she was two years old and living on the island, her father would put her in a wicker basket and lower her on a rope down the long walls of granite to the groper hole. 
He was a strong man and a lighthouse keeper. 

He would climb down after her and together they berleyed up crabs and abalone roe.
Some of the groper were as big as he. He’d climb back up the rock with the tracer over his shoulder, hauling the creature out of the sea.
“We used to eat fish every day, and rabbits. Loads of rabbits on Eclipse Island. The Kestrel only came out every few weeks with supplies, firewood, kero, flour, all that stuff, so we ate whatever was around.”

As a family they worked sharking at Hammelin Bay and rarely went past the little island for prey. It has always been a popular holiday spot and I think netting is now banned there. “So many sharks! Right where everyone swam and mucked about.” She showed me a photograph of her as a kid, surrounded in shark carcasses slung from racks and lying in the sand at her feet.

Black and white photographs of huge sharks, the images peeled at the edges, sometimes a date, names and other details neatly typed on a separate piece of paper and glued carefully beneath the fish – I see these pictures often when talking to older fishers. 
Far from macho posings, the commercial fishers tended to take pictures of women wearing shady hats and aprons, or children with bleached, wild hair sitting astride a monster that they hooked off the beach or dragged out of the salmon net. Women and their daughters have always been part of the action.

“I was snigging salmon up the beach when I was two years old,” Ms Mer tells me proudly.

Image: Mulloway. Robert Neill. 1841.


  1. I've chucked a picture of the mulloway (or the 'Kingy') onto this post. I doubt they swam around out at at Eclipse Island, being an inlet and river critter. But, what a great fish pic ...

  2. Such a stark difference from the outback :) Miss it a bit. Great read :)

  3. So jealous, I wanted to grow up on Eclipse Island like that. Well I do know that I know you could!

  4. I love the way you write.... economical yet painting a picture

  5. Beautiful photo. My friend Julian collects books and plates of early fish. Some of them are exquisite. Unfortunately he doesn't put any of them on line but he has published a beautiful book of his own.

    Nice interview especially the first section. I felt as though I'd travelled back in time - your style and her story.

  6. Petey! Hello there!
    Thanks Seashell and John. Mr Hat, I just had a look at Julian's website. Lovely stuff, thanks for the link.

  7. Lovely blog, Sarah. Came across your site a couple of years ago; researching early illustrations of Australian fish for a book I'm writing. Saw Robert Neill's 19th C paintings on your blog and guess what? I was able to examine his actual notebook with these paintings in the Museum of Natural History in London in March this year. Actual scales from the fish stuck on the paintings. Fantastic to see, and have included quotes from his notebook in my book.

  8. Hello Julian, thanks for following and commenting. How exciting to see Neill's fish pics for real!
    We should keep in contact. I'm part of a working group trying to produce something with those paintings. They are a fascinating look at the collision of cultures in King George Sound and make a good environment for a modern day conciliation of Nyoongar and Wadjela around here.

  9. Fanatastic account, so vivid :-)

  10. Thanks Nat. I'm gonna head out for another visit methinks ...