Within 24 hours of anchoring H.M. Bark Endeavour in what is now Botany Bay, Captain James Cook did something that many other early mariners did around the Australian coast. He went fishing.
Fishing for the Past brings together for the first time, text and visual material on the first European fishing forays in Australian waters. It attempts to answer such questions as what fish did early European explorers and mariners catch when they first cast their nets and lines on these seemingly virgin shores? Were they struck by the abundance from Australia’s pristine waters or were there disappointments? Have coastal fish populations sustained themselves over the past 200 to 300 years? And if one went fishing in the same locations today, using similar methods, would the same fish be caught? The answers to these questions are sometimes surprising.
Then there are the human stories. After long voyages, hungry crews needed to be fed. Fish were variously scarce and plentiful, good to eat but sometimes poisonous. On board every ship were the keen fishermen, akin to modern day recreational fishers, catching fish to eat, but also ready with a great fish tale. And on some voyages there were the resident naturalists and artists, recording, sketching and painting each new species found – some familiar, some completely alien.
But of course, the coastal waters around the Australian continent were not completely unfished. For tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Aboriginal people had been fishing these waters with spears, hooks, nets and traps, and gathering shellfish from the beaches, rocks and reefs. These activities were of considerable interest to the early mariners and were therefore also recorded in the same journals and diaries, so by gleaning these records we can learn through these direct links how the original inhabitants of this land fished at the time of first contact.
Dr Julian Pepperell has been an independent marine science consultant, writer and communicator for over 30 years, especially in the field of recreational fisheries. He has written numerous scientific and popular articles on marine fishes, including the book, ‘Fishes of the Open Ocean’ which won the prestigious Whitley Award for Best Natural History and was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s literary awards in the field of Science Writing.
Julian’s expertise in the biology and fisheries science of coastal fish of Australia is a major asset to writing Fishing for the Past, not least because of his insights into determining which species of fish were being described or depicted in seafarers’ journals, and in interpreting the earliest observations and records of fish habitats and catches in a contemporary context. This has resulted in a completely original work that contains many new insights into fish and fishing in Australia’s past.