A brief introduction to Indigenous fishing
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, fishing is as natural and as necessary as breathing. It forms part of the deep cultural and spiritual connection many communities have with their waters and marine resources. Whether saltwater or freshwater, fishing is a matter of cultural practice and is informed by traditional knowledge.
The right to fish
Laws on where and how people can fish differ across the country. In recent years most states have recognised Aboriginal rights to fish in some way. Native title has played an important role in securing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights to access and manage their traditional fisheries free from regulation.
Researching Indigenous fishing values
Between October 2015 and July 2017, AIATSIS conducted the largest research project into Indigenous fishing values to date. We worked with Aboriginal organisations based in three regions: the Far West Coast of South Australia, Northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and the South Coast of New South Wales. Explore the project in further detail, or click on the cards below to learn more about our case studies.
South Coast, New South Wales
Archaeological evidence shows Aboriginal people have lived in this area for at least 20,000 years, long before the sea reached its current level 6000 years ago. If the history of Aboriginal fishing on the south coast could be summed up in one word, 'adaptation' would be a good choice.
The Crocodile Islands, Northern Territory
The Yolŋu of the Crocodile Islands have had sea-focused livelihoods for millenia. Using djimbililka (bark canoes) and lipalipa (dugout canoes) they travelled with the winds from island to island, catching with spears and fish traps the seafood that each season brought.
As a continuous practice spanning thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fishing has been well documented in the archival record, particularly in material held in the AIATSIS Collection.
People often think of archives as collections of sepia photographs, decaying films and dusty papers about a distant past. But archives are living things, constantly growing to reflect changes in society and the way people think.
If you would like to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fishing practices, have a look for further resources in our Collection.