Lake Macquarie History

Fishing Styles on the Lake

Kevin McWilliams

My family moved from Killingworth to Bolton Point in the early 1930s when the Depression caused widespread unemployment in the coal mines and my grandparents built a small shack on the edge of the lakeside reserve where the RSL Aged Care Home now stands. There was a community of about 6 houses there. Including several uncles and my parents who owned a small home just opposite where the fig tree still stands. Many summer afternoons and evenings were spent under the fig Tree waiting on the "Southerly" to arrive and cool things down.

photo: mcwilliams home at bolton point

Of course there was no sanitation, and drinking and washing water was from a galvanised tank which filled with water drained from the roof, and lighting was from a kerosene lamp on the table because there was no electricity. Ice would be delivered by horse and cart or a truck heralded by loud shouts and bells ringing. In many places around the Lake, Fridays would bring loud shouts of “Fisho, Fisho” and fresh fish and sometimes prawns would be available from his truck.

Our house interior was lined with brattice. A heavy type of bag material used in coal mines to funnel air - and which obviously had come from a coal mine - and on which was stuck old newspapers with a paste made from flour and water to keep draughts out. Heating, cooking and bathwater came from heating on an open fire in the kitchen and one of my afternoon chores was to walk into the bush and retrieve sticks and pieces of wood for the fire. Washing clothes was a family affair with a large copper tub set up outside my grandparent’s house and stoked with wood.

The main reason we had moved to the Lake from Killingworth was literally to live a better life and eat better. Fishing became our main pastime and food source. I can remember walking into the Lake in the afternoons holding a baited wire netting fish trap above my head, and when I got out to where the water was up to my neck I would throw it out as far as possible, and go back and collect it next morning. It always seemed to have several leatherjackets trapped which were good food. Or walking the foreshore looking for blue swimmer crabs, or setting a crab trap - which consisted of long strands of hair removed from the tails of pit horses - and which was tied in a loop and fastened to an object such as an old bike wheel which was baited and left for unwary crabs to entangle themselves.

My family owned an old 16ft/5m sailing boat, and this became the mainstay of Lake fishing. We would dig bloodworms in front in the bay and use them for whiting, bream and flathead which were in abundance in the Lake or haul a net for prawns or venture down to the Channel. I can remember my father telling me that they would get boxes of big whiting or prawns with the aid of the either kerosene lamps or carbide lamps used in the mines. Sometimes they would have to row back from Swansea to Bolton Point when there was no wind. Whenever possible, depending on the size and abundance of their catch, they would load up the horse and sulky and take the excess to the 2 hotels at Teralba on a Friday pay afternoon and get extra money - and probably of course discuss the ones which got away over a few schooners.

photo: fishing on the lake at bolton point

My father also told me that professional fishermen would also net huge shoals of salmon and keep them surrounded with their nets so as to keep them alive as long as possible waiting on a better price at the markets. Also, wintertime would bring out the old wooden boats with the single cylinder motor which would putt-putt their way slowly towards schools of tailor - which would be identified with crowds of seagulls diving and twisting among them - and a cord line would paid out over the rear usually with red and white feathers attached to catch these voracious fish.

Of course, wartime laws required that all boats were confiscated and dragged ashore in the park at Bolton Point and I still remember 100s of these boats sitting on dry land in the park as I walked to school at Fassifern each day. It was decided to have the boats in one location so that in the event of an invasion during the war they could all be burnt to the ground to ensure they did not fall into Japanese hands. Wooden boats which are left out of the water, dry out and deteriorate very quickly and become worthless. Our boat was never returned. Professional fishermen were also working the Lake for many years and could be seen setting their huge lengths of net and hauling in many fish and could always be identified by the large amount of birds flying around waiting to gorge themselves on the leftovers.

Another style of fishing which was evident in the Lake when we lived at Bolton Point was used by the Air Force who had their large base at Rathmines. There they serviced and maintained their fleet of Catalina and amphibious aircraft. One of these type of Aircraft was called a "WALRUS' which was a very slow moving craft with pusher type propeller at the rear of the wings instead of at the front. Their fishing was not to land on the water and drop a line over the side of their floats but to drop a charge such as a small bomb or hand grenade in the water while flying over at low speed. The resulting explosion would bring fish of all shapes and sizes - obviously concussed - floating to the surface, and of course the plane would land and they would scoop up sufficient for their needs and take off again. Being very young I have no knowledge of whether this type of fishing was frowned upon by the locals. I tend to think that getting fresh fish for ‘Our Boys’ by any means was designated as a good deed for the war effort, and it certainly did not harm the fishing in any way because many stories are told of the great catches still being taken from our Beautiful Lake Macquarie.