Australia in the 1770s


In the 1770s, fish and other seafood formed a large part of the diets of Indigenous groups along the coasts. Captain Cook observed groups of Gweagal people fishing from boats at Botany Bay. The Gweagal people used spears and nets to catch fish. Eels and fish were caught in the rivers and were part of the diet of the inland clans as well as those who lived along the coastline.

Fishing was a joint occupation of men and women. In the Port Jackson area, the bark used was from the cabbage tree palm or fan palm. During the day and if they were fishing at night, Gweagal people used white clay placed at the bottom of the canoe to hold a burning firestick. This would keep them warm in winter and was used for cooking the fish. Young children would sometimes accompany their mothers when fishing, sometimes sitting on their shoulders while they fished.

When the British left Botany Bay, they took with them between 40 and 50 fishing spears. Joseph Banks (1743–1820) described the spears as being between two and five metres in length with a four-pronged head made of very sharp fish bones with a green-coloured gum smeared on them. These four-pronged fishing spears were used mostly in the north and south-east of the continent.

Men were more likely to fish in the winter months when it was more difficult, when the fish moved to deeper waters. Captain John Hunter (1737–1821) described in his journal seeing a man lying motionless across a canoe with his face and fishing spear in the water waiting for fish. He wrote that, once they took aim, they seldom missed their target.

A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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