Fishing at Meekarlba (Honeysuckle) has a history that goes back for millennia. Some of the earliest European images of Aboriginal people in Newcastle show them in pursuit of ma-ko-ro (fish) women fishing with lines from canoes and men hunting fish with a muting (spear) (see images). Spearing was made more efficient with the construction of stone fish traps in the tidal zones along what became Throsby Creek. Stone barriers were constructed so that fish could swim over the top of them at high tide, but became trapped on the land side as the tide fell. They remained in use at least until the mid 1800s.
The names of some of the fish caught by the Awabakal people of the Newcastle area were recorded as wot-ta-wong (mullet), yu-rain (black bream), kur-rung-kum (large schnapper), mut-tau-ra (small schnapper), to-pe-a-ta-ra (flathead), ka-ro-burra (large whiting), tu-rea (bream), pur-ri-mun-kan (salmon), bo-a-ta (catfish), pun-bung (the sea slug or blubber), ka-nin (eel) and bun-run (red sea slug).
Aboriginal people also collected shellfish, creating huge middens over thousands of years as they discarded the shells at their favoured spots. The mud oysters were mokai and the oysters that grew on mangroves were pirrita.
After colonisation, new fishers arrived. Colonel William Paterson was so impressed that he recommended to Governor King in 1801 that the mouth of the Hunter River should become a fishing port. While surveying the river, his crew had used a seine net to secure a great haul of fish, including a 56 pound mulloway. The range and novelty of fish in Newcastle was so impressive that they were portrayed on the beautiful wooden collectors chest completed in 1818 for presentation to Governor Lachlan Macquarie. (See image).
Before the harbour works around Honeysuckle began, areas of shallow water there were reported to abound with mud oysters; and prawns, crabs, crayfish, and lobsters are caught in great number. The work of redesigning the harbour and the Honeysuckle foreshore took their toll on fish stocks. Blasting underwater rocks near the Bullock Island Dyke in the 1880s with dynamite killed many fish, and dredging works disturbed habitat.(see photo) In 1907, the NSW Department of Fisheries noted that fish were not plentiful in Newcastle Harbour.
By the twentieth century, while commercial fishing, including prawning, was undertaken from boats which moored in Throsby Creek, fishing along the Honeysuckle waterfront around to Carrington was largely amateur, enjoyed as a pastime and with the fish as a welcome addition to many tables. Young boys in particular spent a great deal of time dipping a line and not infrequently found themselves in trouble from falling into the harbour. Mrs Jean Roggers, who was born in Carrington in 1922, the eldest daughter in a family of six children, remembered that Throsby Creek came right up to the back fence of their Forbes Street home, north of the Cowper Street Bridge: Oh, we lived in that creek when we were kids. We'd go catching prawns, we'd go to catch crabs, we'd swim. The children fished from the stairs leading down to the water from the wharves to catch tailor, 6 or 7 inches long, for their supper: in those days things were very, very hard. There was a Depression on and at that time my dad was sick, he'd got TB [tuberculosis] and couldn't work.
Men fished on their own or as part of workplace groups, including the Honeysuckle Point Loco fishing club which fished for bream from the Dyke on Saturday nights in the 1910s. Fishing was also a popular activity for couples, including the British migrants who arrived after World War II to work at the State Dockyard and were housed in flats at Carrington. According to one of the women, fishing gave the newly arrived families a chance to get to know one another better, and to talk. The fishing is a real community affair. Others waves of visitors and immigration brought different fishing methods (see photo) and different sea creatures to attention, including the octopus sought by those from Greek backgrounds.
Fishing at Honeysuckle has long had to compete with other uses of the foreshore and has now been banned in many places, but you may still see fishing boats passing on their way in or out from berths along Throsby Creek, and you can walk up to the Commercial Fishermens Co-Operative at 97 Hannell Street, Wickham to see and taste the catch of the day.