True Tales of the Trout Cod:
Aboriginal management

Aboriginal stone fishery

Many early historical accounts written by European explorers and settlers described the fishing practices of aboriginal people in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. Ethnologists concluded that they were a nomadic hunter-gather people living a subsistence existence, moving from place to place as resources became available or were depleted. A number of historical accounts, however, suggest a different assessment and indicate that some aboriginal groups actively managed the native fishery and the aquatic environment.

Aboriginal Science: Fish-traps and Fish-balks

Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 1933 (article excerpt)

As I stood in the bed of the creek looking down at the dry saplings with their interlacing of desiccated twigs, I suddenly saw some bones, snow-white and unlike any I had ever seen before. I picked them up to examine them.
“What a strange backbone for a snake” I said; “I never saw one like that before!”
“That is not a snake” my father replied looking up from the fire. “Those are fish bones”.
“But how can they be fish bones when there is no water here?” I protested.
“This is an old fish-trap that we are burning,” answered my father.
Then he went on to explain about the smaller fish-balks. And as I poked about among the debris I found not only more bones, I found bleached scales, and some of them still a little blue.

– Mary Gilmore.

Locations of historical accounts of Aboriginal fishing structures and conservation areas

Download the chapter

Learn more about the history of Aboriginal management from the True Tales of the Trout Cod book chapter.