From the Barwon River to the Big Screens: How Kayla Brown is doing her Gamilaraay Peoples Proud 

Beginner’s luck? First-cast Charlie? Good luck charm? These are often the phrases that get passed when someone new to fishing jumps aboard a friend’s boat and snags the fish of the day.  

For Kayla Brown, a proud indigenous woman from the Gamilaraay Country, and a member of the OzFish Hunter Chapter, these phrases are far too familiar. Over the last five years, Kayla has built a remarkable reputation for catching fish, in both salt and freshwater, that leave her co-anglers left stunned.  

With this week marking Reconciliation Week in Australia, we sat down with Kayla to chat about some of her top fishing experiences, and how she would like to see the Indigenous culture better represented in the fishing industry.     

What inspired you to get into fishing?  

Growing up, it didn’t matter whether it was a family holiday, a weekend get-together or just a free afternoon, a rod and reel were never far away. We would often gather on Gamilaraay Country and spend the afternoon down at the Barwon River chasing Goodoo (Murray Cod).

Fishing was a chance for everyone to come together and catch up, and if we caught something, then that was just a bonus. For me, there wasn’t a ‘first fish moment’, or time when it clicked, fishing has been something that has always been part of my life.

You have caught some amazing fish over the years, what is your top three most memorable captures?  

20kg Mulloway  

Up until last year, a lot of my fishing had been focused on freshwater or estuarine species, where that be flathead, bream or Murray cod.  Mulloway was a fish that only ever came across every now and then, and when it did, they were often quite small. When Michael Guest and Jonathon Bleakley contacted me to go fishing on Michael’s national TV show, Reel Action TV, with the target species being mulloway, I was over the moon.  

The goal for the show was to beat my PB, which was sitting at 67cm, by soaking live baits along the edge of the rock wall in Newcastle Harbour. I was confident we would catch a fish, but when the rod went off after about 15 minutes of fishing, the last thing I expected was for a 20kg Mulloway to pop up along the side of the boat.  

95cm Flathead  

Every year, the family and I fish in the Putt Bennet Family Fishing Festival on the mid north coast of NSW in a little town called Mylestom. There are about 12 target species, but flathead are always high on our priority list. On the last day of the competition, Dad and I were drifting live baits along a creek mouth hoping for a flathead. Still learning my trade, I questioned the size of the bait dad was using, but he was confident it would produce, and produce it did! We soon found ourselves connected to a 95cm flathead, which in a competition, seems like 130cm! The fish took out the largest flathead for the competition, and that year I was lucky enough to win best female angler.  

127cm Murray Cod 

I think all avid cod anglers will agree that river and impoundment cod are different. Unlike their wild river counterpart, impoundment cod seem to grow bigger, have wider shoulders, and carry an extra few kilos. I always wanted to catch a big cod, but 127cm was certainly not where I expected to start. The family and I headed out to Copeton Dam for a weekend, where we planned to throw spinner baits up against the bank and work them back to the boat. I can remember casting this mega black and red spinner bait into a likely looking snag and thinking, “this lure is way too big for a cod”. Much like with the flathead, I was again proven wrong, with a heavy weight loading up on the line and an enormous cod surfacing a few minutes later.  

You’re a proud indigenous woman Kayla, what’s this mean to you and your family? 

Being a proud Gamilaraay woman is a part of my identity that brings me immense pride, joy and passion. I am privileged to be part of a culture that is so diverse, rich and is the oldest surviving culture in the world. I have a significant amount of pride in the power, resilience and strength my people have shown, and continue to show.  

What does reconciliation week mean for you?  

Whilst it is still a very special week in the calendar, for me it is a reminder of how every week of the year should be spent. We can all play our own individual role to strengthen relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the wider Australian community, and this week is a chance to start those conversations or make that action plan, if they haven’t already done so. For me, this week is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about our shared culture and history, which is incredibly important when it comes to the future of our younger generations. Every year I want to become one step closer to achieving reconciliation in Australia.  

Is there anything you would like to see happen in the fishing industry to better acknowledge the indigenous culture? 

Absolutely. I would love to see all recfishers acknowledge the traditional country they are fishing on through taking the time to understand the traditional totem that belongs to that area. A totem is the spiritual emblem that is inherited by members of the clan, and it is important that anyone who is benefiting from that land, where that be fishing or just recreational boating, understands the connection.  

If you’re fishing on Birip Country for example, which is in the Taree Region, the shark holds cultural significance to the custodians of the Birip Nation. Recognising and acknowledging this shows respect to the traditional owners and acknowledges those who previously occupied the land.  

At a minimum, I would love to see all fishing TV shows and outdoor programs begin the show with an acknowledgment to country. With so many people engaging in the content, I think this would be a great way to normalise the practice of showing respect, regardless of where you are fishing or what fish you are chasing.