"Fisho Jack" Richardson
'Fisho Jack' was a well known Lake Macquarie character for many years, and anecdotes of his various building projects point to him really being a Jack-of-all-trades.
John Henry Richardson was born in Yorkshire in 1876 into a life of early hardship, his father having died shortly after his birth. He was raised by his mother and grandmother and started working in the mines at age 12 to help support the family. No doubt these experiences helped to shape his "can do" outlook on life.
He migrated to Western Australia as a young man and worked as a caretaker on the goldfields there. He spent a couple of years in New Zealand before moving to Australia and finding work at one of the J & A Brown mines at Minmi. Ever industrious, John ran a fish and chip shop at Minmi between his shifts at the mine, and this is what earned him the nickname of 'Fisho Jack'.
He married Margaret Lindsay at Minmi in 1903, and the couple opened a mixed shop in the area. One anecdote from this time is the family's involvement in the capture of an arsonist in the area, by giving the police permission to set up surveillance in the back room of their house. The Newcastle Herald reported:
"There had been, at that time an unusually large number of property fires, and the one person was collecting the insurance. But no evidence of arson could be attached to him. Two police visited the Richardson home and explained, they believed that the property next door was the next to go up in mysterious flames .. They entered the building by a back door and found the fire setting under a stairway a convenient place for a draught. There was piled in a large heap dry shavings, above which was an ingenious contraption to set it alight."
Jack owned one of the two shops in Holmesville for many years, as well as a picture show in that village. He also bought the first car in the village - a Studebaker.
Jack was involved in many projects around Lake Macquarie one being the demolition of the large chimney at Stockton Borehole Colliery, Teralba. When the chimney was no longer of use, plans were made for demolition, but this was problematic owing to the proximity of other buildings.
" 'Fisho Jack' signed a document to the effect that he would pay for any damages to other pit-top property if the demolition went wrong. His price for the job was said to be ridiculously low and when he arrived on the site to begin work he had only one tool a sledgehammer. He then proceeded to knock a few bricks out of one corner and worked towards another. As he knocked them out he put in heavy timber to take the weight. When he had gone as far as he could removing the bricks he added more heavy timber and props. He then placed firewood in with the timber, threw kerosene on it and started a fire. The timber burnt and the old chimney fell on the exact spot where Fisho wanted it to fall. The Borehole pit management added £10 to Fisho's account for a job well-done."
Five Islands bridge
The people of Teralba and Speers Point lobbied for many years for the erection of a footbridge linking the two suburbs. Numerous public meetings were held in both suburbs from 1912 onwards, with petitions drawn up and presented and much negotiation between the Shire Council and the State Government. It was finally announced in the Newcastle Morning Herald of 22 February 1927, that "The tender of J H Richardson for the erection of a footbridge across the mouth of Cockle Creek , amounting to £1100 was accepted. "
Then on Friday 25th March 1927 that "Mr Richardson, contractor for the Five Islands bridge, has the machinery ready for a commencement. He is now waiting for the piles, which should arrive in the course of a day or so."
Fierce storms in April of that year caused much damage to the construction with many poles being washed away and few being recovered. With the help of his daughter May - then a young girl and a small number of bridge carpenters and decking hands he completed the work .
Boat owner and ferryman
'Fisho Jack' also owned and operated several launches on Lake Macquarie, his vessels being the Swansea, Wangi Pioneer, Oakarua and Toronto. These boats were used to transport workmen to various parts of the lake, for picnic parties and as delivery boats. His service ran between Cockle Creek and Swansea, calling at Boolaroo, Speers Point, Carey Bay, Toronto, Belmont, Pelican and Coon Island. Produce was carried for a shilling a bag and bricks two shillings per hundred, loaded or unloaded. There were many companies running ferries on the lake in those days and competition was fierce - especially on mine paydays every fortnight. Jack and his competitors would almost do battle to get the patronage of the men. As men left the pub, the owners of the launches would grab them by the arm and try to bundle them into the waiting boats
One of his launches carried the building materials for the first house to be built at Valentine (then part of Croudace Bay). Water transport was the only one available then because no roads had been made, and he often took fishing parties outside through Swansea Heads. He is also credited with taking the first batch of native animals to Pulbah Island when it was first established as a native flora and fauna reserve, and built the jetty and the caretakers cottage on the island.
During World War II all boats on the Lake had to be immobilised and locked up in case of enemy invasion. Jack was employed by the Australian Defence Department to oversee all the craft in the Cockle Creek area. At the end of the war he was credited with being the only 'caretaker' on the lake who never lost a craft.
Mr Richardson had a houseboat - which was kept afloat by a pontoon - on which he, his wife and younger daughter, May, lived for many years. Early in the second world war the houseboat was moved on to land near the railway bridge crossing Cockle Creek, and became a local landmark.
'Fisho Jack' died in 1958.
Take a bow Fisho Jack, by Norm Barney - Newcastle Herald 21/11/1998
Anecdotes of Fisho Jack - Lake Macquarie Herald 6/7/1972
Fisho Jack led a life of industry, by Perce Haslam - Lake Macquarie Herald 20/7/1972
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License