Mullet Men

swimming in shark sea
looking for memory
in pink early light
between devil deep
and wide blue sea
— from Strange Fruit by ian curr

Point Lookout on Minjerriba is a poem of wind, of rain, of beautiful rocky outcrops, of whales in winter going north to give birth. Come here in summer with day-trippers and holiday-makers, schoolies, rich kids, surfers and you will miss the wild odd characters that come during the mullet run in June. You will not see fishermen who net the shores of Cylinder, Home, Deadman’s, Frenchman’s and Main beaches in winter and who get only 50 cents a kilo from Markwell Bros who send sea mullet roe and fillets offshore.

Listen to how Simon ‘Jim’ Perry tells the story of how sea mullet spawn:

“The fish start swimming in a circle, they go round and round, others from the school join in, males and females. They swim faster and faster steadily making a vortex like water running out of a sink, then the females are propelled upwards by centrifugal force toward the surface; they are fatter than males and full of eggs. Unlike other fish the eggs are well developed with‘wrigglers’ inside wanting to be fertilised.”

Inside the female there is this yellowy sack full of roe and inside the males a whiter lighter sack full of sperm. Females moult and males melt. This cauldron goes spinning near the continental shelf. Female mullet lay their eggs first and then males start to swim in the opposite direction dispatching their sperm into the water just above the cloud of eggs which are then penetrated and fertilised. This happens layer after layer, at least according to Jim who has never seen it but thinks it is true. ‘The larval stage is brief’ he says as he looks from the Point out to sea beyond widow rock, beyond dune rocks beyond flat rock, far far out. Onetime. I would like to see this happen, I’m thinking. ‘The fingerlings swim home, back to the estuaries their mothers came from to grow and get fat’ Jim muses. ‘And the process begins again’ I say.

Jim’s people have fished these shores for a hundred, nay a thousand years. It was the European branch of the family who set up business in Wynnum and Moreton Bay but you won’t hear this story on the ABC or from the local historian at the State Library of Queensland, at least not the full story.

Oodgeroo – bloodline to country by Sam Watson (right). Oodgeroo was played by Rhonda Purcell (left) and Roxanne McDonald (centre)

In the early 1970s I heard from Oodgeroo about how aboriginal people and dolphins co-operated to catch mullet. Oodgeroo lived in a tin shed at Moongalba on the other side of the island.

Aunty Kath Walker, as she was known then, told the story to a group of students about how the Quandamooka mob would splash their spears on the surface of the water as a signal to the dolphins to bring the mullet into their nets from offshore. In return fishermen would chuck the dolphins a few spare mullet.

I was studying Zoology at the time but I never heard this story from my Professors, Thompson and Stephenson.

Save Straddie

Professor ‘Jumbo’ Thompson at Dunwich on Straddie in the 1950s

Of all the mullett men, Ron is the most unusual. He regards Deadman’s as his beach. Ron has spent more time there than anyone I know, starting on his honeymoon with his wife, June, in month of June, 1959.

You will often see him on the beach or above it having a look for mullett, dart, squire, bream, whiting or tailor but mullett are his favourite fish.

There’s another, Dave Cousins who has been catching fish on Straddie for nearly as long; yet, one day, Ron confided in me: “You know I’m a keen fisherman but Dave is a mad fisherman!

Ron showed me how to catch beach worms. You have to entice them with the burley (dead fish carcass) first and then with your left hand get them excited so they poke their heads above the sand and then pull them out with your right.

Ron is disappointed with the training of the indigenous rangers who, he says, could not explain their clearing of native trees on the foreshore near the old mining quarry not far from Main beach. Knowledge may be lost, not just in our culture, but in all societies.

Always was …

Ian Curr
Nov 2020