LISTEN ON                      

On this episode of OzCast, renowned historian Anna Clark takes us through the history of fishing in Australia, from the first accounts of fishing pre-European settlement, through to the monumental events and encounters that shaped the sport we now know today.

Anna has been able to trace records back to the 1700s and walks us through what it used to be like. And she debunks the misconception that James Cook was the first foreign fisherman in Australia with neighbours from our near north making annual pilgrimages well before the English captain sighted Botany Bay on board The Endeavour in 1770.

Anna Clark

Anna Clark is a highly regarded historian based at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. The Professor’s extensive research and writing focus on various aspects of Australian history, which includes the recreational and commercial fishery in Australia. Clark’s passion for fishing is evident in her book “The Catch: The Story of Fishing in Australia,” first published in 2018, and about to be re-released by Penguin.

This book chronicles the earliest known Indigenous fishing practices and the encounters of European settlers with the country’s abundant waters. Clark explores the evolution of fishing techniques, the introduction of trout and fly-fishing, and the ongoing challenges in balancing the needs of commercial and recreational fishers. Through captivating storytelling and illustrations, she captures the enduring allure and cultural significance of fishing in the Australian context.

In this episode, Anna walks us through a number of these major events on the historical timeline of fishing and how it has shaped modern Australia.   

Anna challenges the mainstream misconception that Captain Cook was the first ‘fisherman’ to enter Australia’s waters, highlighting a number of other indigenous cultures who ventured to the Great Southern Land as a source of seafood, from Australia’s First Nations fishers to Makassan trepang fishers.     

She also reveals that the environmental movement is not new in Australia – far from it with a Royal Commission investigating the impact of over-fishing in the late 1800s. 

And she also shoots down the theory that Australia had a seemingly limitless supply of fish when the European colonists first arrived. Yes, they netted huge hauls on occasions but she’s adamant that the fishing ecosystem has always been in a precarious state due to Australia’s unique climate. 

The episode then follows the early colony on its next few months in Australia as they encounter not only new fish and habitats, but the different techniques and methods the First Nations peoples would use to catch their fish.  

Bringing her personal passion for throwing in a line, Anna celebrates the role of women in fishing, and shows how this is one of the biggest changes we have seen in the evolution of fishing.   

Anna details the rapid decline of our waterways since those first few days of European settlement. Habitat degradation, over-harvesting and lack of education punctuate Anna’s accounts of the fishing in this country, but it is not too late if we learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure history doesn’t repeat. 

Like to watch as well as listen? Check out the video of the podcast below.

This OzCast uncovers: 

  • The types of catches that were seen in the late 1700’s.
  • The first time we noticed a declining fishery in Australia.
  • The traditional roles of men and women when it came to fishing.
  • The dynamics between the Indigenous and European settlers.
  • The types of habitats that have suffered most due to Australia’s expansion and urbanisation.


Why Captain Cook was not the first foreigner to fish in Australia’s waters by a long way

Captain James Cook went fishing for the survival of his crew in Botany Bay when he arrived in 1770, but he was not Australia’s first foreign fisherman by a long way. University of Technology Sydney Associate Professor Anna Clark delves into our national fishing heritage, exploring its ancient origins and forgotten tales in her latest book, The Catch: Australia’s love affair with Fishing, which will be released on August 29.  Clark goes on a deep dive into the history of fishing in Australia on the latest episode of OzCast, the official podcast of conservation organisation OzFish Unlimited.  

Find Out More

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Government’s CRC Program and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing. It is also supported by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts.

Image Citations:

  1. Joseph Banks, Banks Papers – Series 36a: Charts and illustrations, ca 1790s, ‘5. Watercolour Illustration of a Group of Aborigines Fishing, ca 1790s – Attributed to Philip Gidley King’, 1803, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, SAFE/Banks Papers/Series 36a (Safe 1/457).
  2. Joseph Swabey Tetley, Natives of New South Wales, ‘12. Aboriginal Woman in a Canoe Fishing With a Line’, c. 1805, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, PXB 513.
  3. Fishing on the rocks at Bondi, 28 December 1936, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, ON 388/Box 063/Item 240
  4. Narrabeen netting, 1938, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, ON 388/Box 060/Item 255
  5. Unknown, Unemployed Men Fishing with Homemade Rods During the Great Depression, c. 1930, National Library of Australia, nla.obj­141685523.
  6. Dennis Brabazon, A Ninety-seven Pound Murray Cod, Caught by a Professional Fisherman Near Collendina Station in the Corowa District, New South Wales, 1924, National Library of Australia, nla.obj­141679505.
  7. J. Bagnell, Spear Fishing. Long Reef, 4 April 1948, 1948, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, ON 388/Box 053/Item 192.