My great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother and parents were fishers and fishing has always been a part of our lives.

Jimmy Willis

My great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother and parents were fishers and fishing has always been a part of our lives.  My great-grandfather was Irish and at age 16 was caught in a house acting as a lookout for troopers and sentenced to transportation to the penal settlement at Port Arthur.  Back then the Irish took care of each other and about two years after he arrived in Australia a consortium of Irish in Melbourne arranged to spring about 100 Irish convicts from Port Arthur, my great-grandfather included.  After landing in Melbourne he headed for the Ballarat goldfields and lost an arm fighting in the Eureka Stockade.  When the miners were released after the trial my great-grandfather was given a parcel of land at Killarney on the Victorian coast.  He grew potatoes and onions, and went net fishing for salmon.  Back then, Killarney comprised around fifty Irish families and the local pub was called The Shamrock.

I was born near Tower Hill, Victoria, about 100 yards from where my grandmother, a member of the Gunditjmara tribe, had lived. I was one of eight children, five girls and three boys.  When times were tough, my father would leave the land and fishing to work in the woollen mills at Warrnambool.  As a boy I had a fish round, selling fish from my pushbike with a cart on the back.  Each week, I would try to catch enough fish by Wednesday, in time for ‘fish on Fridays’.   I gave the money to my sisters so they could attend local dances to meet their future husbands.  When I was 13 years old, I left school to fish full-time and help support the family.

At age 15 my mother insisted that I have a trade and I went into the building game.  I apprenticed in Warrnambool and then worked as a subcontractor in Geelong and Melbourne.  Mum gave me good advice; when times have been tough I’ve always had the building trade to fall back on for work.

When I was 18, I had enough money to return to Warrnambool and buy a fishing boat.  My first fishing licence cost me 10 shillings and in 1966 when the Government introduced the decimal currency, the cost of a licence went to $20; $10 for myself as master and $5 each for my two deckies.  I fished mainly for cray.

In 1973 my wife, children and I moved to Kingston.  The cray fishing industry in Warrnambool had gotten really bad, the town was growing and drugs were becoming commonplace; we could see the writing on the wall.  Back then, when you stopped fishing you returned your fishing licence to the Government.  A few years later the Government changed the law on this and today the fishing licence that I surrendered would have been worth millions.

I paid $20,000 for my first South Australian marine scalefish fishing licence, fishing mainly along the Coorong.   Together with fishing, I went trapping and shooting, ran a few cattle and did butchering.  After a while, my wife and I wanted a bit more of a challenge and in 1987 we packed up and moved to Ceduna.

My wife had always wanted to have a fish shop and just outside of Ceduna in Thevenard we found a block with a  fish shop and two houses on it for $35,000.  People would come from everywhere to buy fish and chips and have a nice meal overlooking the Thevenard jetty.  In 2000 we decided to sell the shop and move back to Kingston, where we built a new home overlooking the creek.  My licence still allowed me to fish for cockles and we’d cockle near the Murray mouth, taking the family as crew.  In 2015, my wife developed health problems.  Between surgeries at Flinders Medical Centre, we went on holidays to Point Turton and eventually moved there to live.

I still have some cockle quota and now fish mainly for King George Whiting, calamari and snook.  I have a smart phone and Wi-fi and have taught myself how to use it to do the new Government required prior reporting and other catch reporting.  I fish about 50 hours a week, down from around 100 hours a week; I don’t have to fish that hard but I enjoy it.

I’ve lots of fishing memories, especially out fishing with my daughters who all love to fish.  But one time, a couple of mates and I went out fishing at night in a tinnie, with an old lantern down the bottom for light.  My mate started complaining that his feet felt cold – it was a cold night – and I started noticing that my feet felt cold too.  When we looked down, the tinnie was half full of water because my mate had forgotten put in the bung!

 Suite 27, 6-8 Todd Street, Port Adelaide SA 5015