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.