Yesterday I gave you the very impressive menu of a dinner held by the Victorian Acclimatisation Society (of Australia) in 1864. As I said in that post, one of the aims of Acclimatisation societies was the dissemination of knowledge on natural history subjects. In 1862, a lecture was given to members of the Victorian Society by George Bennett: his topic was Acclimatisation: its eminent adaptation to Australia. In his talk, Bennett described an interesting fishing technique employed by the indigenous people of the area around Brisbane, in the state of Queensland. (The ‘porpoises’ he mentions are actually dolphins.)
But the most extraordinary method of fishing among the aborigines is that related by Mr. Fairholme, of their fishing for mullet aided by porpoises:- "Near the deserted Pilot Station, at Amity Point, near Brisbane, Queensland," he says "some of the natives may constantly be found during the warmer months of the year fishing for mullet." In this pursuit they are assisted in a most wonderful manner by the porpoises. It seems that from time immemorial a sort of understanding has existed between the blacks and the porpoises for their mutual advantage, and the former pretend to know all the porpoises about the spot, and even have names for them. The beach consists of shelving sand, and near the shore are small hillocks of sand on which the blacks sit watching for the appearance of a shoal of mullet. Their nets, which are used by hand, and are stretched on a frame about four feet wide, lie ready on the beach. On seeing a shoal several of the men run down, and with their spears make a peculiar splashing in the water. Whether the porpoises really understand this as a signal, or think it is the fish, it is difficult to determine, but the result is always the same; they at once come in towards the shore, driving the mullet before them. As they near the edge, a number of the blacks with spears and nets quickly divide to the right and left, and dash into the water. The porpoises being outside the shoal, numbers of fish are secured before they can break away. In the scene of apparent confusion that takes place, the blacks and porpoises are seen splashing about close to each other. So fearless are the latter, that strangers, who have expressed doubts as to their tameness, have often been shown that they will take a fish from the end of a spear when held to them. The oldest men of the tribe say that the same kind of fishing has always been carried on as long as they can remember. Porpoises abound in the bay, but in no other part do the natives fish with their assistance.
Mullet is a widespread fish in Australian waters, and cookery books and newspapers in the new colonies quickly adapted them into well-known recipes from ‘home.’
Clean a mullet carefully (by carefully I mean with as little water as possible, drawing out the interior and wiping the inside with a clean damp towel: it is a mistaken idea that a large quantity of water is necessary, since it takes away from the delicate flavour and makes the flesh flabby and sodden); next prepare a stuffing of 3oz of grated bread crumbs, ½ oz suet, 1 dessertspoonful of chopped parsley, small part oiled onion, finely minced, a pinch of sweet herbs moisten with half an egg and some milk. Put this into the fish, tie a string round the tail, and then pass it round and round the body in a series of slip knots till the head is reached. Then put the fish in the same position it assumes when swimming on a greased baking tray, brush over with the remainder of the egg, sprinkle with pepper and salt and bread crumbs, little pats of butter here and there, bake from half an hour to three quarters [of an hour]; baste occasionally with the butter that drops into the tray.
Australian Town and Country Journal, 24 April 1880.