Lake Macquarie History

Fishing the "Piles"

Kevin McWilliams

My first introduction to "The Piles" as they were called happened around 1940 at the ripe old age of 7. My parents and grandparents had moved from Killingworth around the time I was born nearing the end of the depression, and erected small houses along with 3 other families on land alongside the lake - where the Returned Services Retirement Home is now located at Bolton Point - and they fished the lake for any type of edible fish, crabs or prawns. From there I would walk to and from Fassifern School daily. My parents then purchased a block of land in Prince Street Fennell Bay, and eventually we moved to a house built by my father and his brothers which even boasted electricity instead of kerosene lamps and bathwater heated on the open fire.

photo: awaba house, fennell bay bridge

Already being a fisherman, I was quickly introduced to "The Piles" on the old wooden bridge spanning the lake between Fennell Bay and Toronto. The bridge had been opened to traffic in 1902 and was 114m in length. It was barely enough for 2 cars to pass except that it had a passing area close to the middle where one car would pull over to let the other pass. In the middle were 2 arches built of heavier grade timber, spanning a wider/higher area of 4.8m so that the old ferries and sailing boats could pass under without hitting their masts. Running from top to bottom on opposite sides of each of these arches at a 45 degree angle was a large brace which enabled us to climb over the guard rails on the side of the roadway and shimmy down to the wooden platform to sit on top of the concrete piles driven into bedrock at the bottom of the Lake. We were then able to fish rain, hail or sunshine because we had shelter from whatever direction the wind came.

I spent many hours, days, nights and early mornings on "the Piles" as we locals called them. A light burned in the middle for safe passage of boats, and this was also a tremendous attraction for fish. It was possible to actually slither down the piles with our old hand made wire net scoops and a sugar bag tied at each end with rope and cord or gut lines wrapped around a bottle or piece of wood inside and with just a slice of bread for bait. Soak the bread, knead it into dough, cast toward the light, pick up an unwary taylor and use him for bait, and if you were alone you could send out unweighted lines from each end for bream to 2 kg.

There was a smorgasbord of fish and crabs to be taken because all fish, crabs and prawns which as juveniles had grown up in Salty Creek, Blackalls Bay and Fassifern had to pass through this narrow stretch of land to get into the Lake proper. Bream around 2 kilos, flounder and flathead as long as our sugar bags, beautiful blue swimmer crabs and mud crabs - but for a young fisherman the strength of the muddies was a bit frightening and not as popular as blue swimmers.

In the winter came the schools of taylor and mullet. For the mullet we would fish from the top of the bridge and many rods were lost due to laying them on the bridge while detaching a fish and unwary motorists would drive over and crunch them. The rods were easily replaced from a stand of cane which grew a few hundred yards away.

Just after the War we were entertained with a spectacle of 4 Catalina Flying Boats tied up on the Northern Shore which had been sold to a local man who ran a Zoo up Salty Creek who was supposedly turning them into accommodation.

Of course time rolls on and in 1967 the bridge was replaced with a concrete structure and it is not possible to climb or sit even on the new one but of course fishing from a boat would still produce fish. However no more fishing from "the Piles".