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Does technology make a difference? Aboriginal and colonial fishing in Port Jackson, New South Wales.


Over 580 fish species are known for Port Jackson, site of the first British colony of New South Wales. When the British arrived in January 1788 they encountered Aboriginal people who gained a substantial part of their diet from fish. Aboriginal fishing technologies (e.g. spears, shell fishhooks and small canoes) were documented by colonial writers. The British brought metal fishhooks, seine nets and larger boats, and after AD1788 fishing was important to both Aboriginal people and colonists. Given the diversity of fish in Port Jackson, and differences between Aboriginal and colonial fishing technologies, our paper discusses archaeological and documentary evidence for the impact of technology on the types of fish caught by Aboriginal people and colonists before and after AD1788. We compare archaeological fish bones from Aboriginal sites in coastal Sydney with those from the Quadrant historical site in Broadway, Sydney, and discuss methodological challenges raised by these kinds of analyses for Sydney regional archaeology. Technology explains some fish bone assemblage variability but colonisation, cultural attitudes, commercialisation and urbanism are also important.

Keywords: Port Jackson, Sydney Harbour, fishing technology, fish remains, Aboriginal, historical archaeology, colonialism


Port Jackson is one of several large estuaries that flow to the ocean through spectacular sandstone clifflines up to 80m high that form the Sydney coastline. The estuaries are drowned river valleys (rias) and estuarine conditions generally extend about 30km inland (Figure 1). Port Jackson, also known as Sydney Harbour, has an area of 45[km.sup.2] and a shoreline of approximately 240km (Stockton 1977:25). Its foreshores and the estuarine reaches of its tributaries are a complex of alternating cliffs, small bays and inlets with sandy beaches, tidal mudflats with mangroves, intertidal rock platforms, and rocky/bouldery areas. The area provides a wide range and abundance of marine resources.

When the British arrived in 1788, they described Port Jackson as being well stocked with a variety of fish. Bradley (1786-92 [1969]:132) listed 'Jewfish, Snapper, Mullet, Mackrel [sic], Whiting, Dory, Rock Cod, leather jackets [sic] and various others'. Tench described the range of fish as being 'from a whale to a gudgeon', mentioning 'sharks of monstrous size, skait [sic], rock-cod, grey-mullet, bream, horse-mackarel [sic], now and then a sole and john-dory and innumerable others unknown in Europe' as well as bass, leatherjacket and snapper (Tench 1789:128-29, 1793:176 [1979:69, 272]). Despite this variety, Tench (1793:176 [1979:272]) described fishing as 'precarious and uncertain'. The variable availability (abundance/scarcity) of fish was noted by most First Fleet journalists (e.g. Phillip 1788 in HRNSW 1892:126-27, 180, 190-91; Bradley 1786-92 [1969]:125; White 1790 [1962:147-48]; Hunter 1793 [1968]:65; Collins 1798 [1975:31, 86]; Tench 1789: 106-107, 128-29 [1979:59, 69]). Fish were reported as 'tolerably plentiful' in summer (Tench 1789:128-29 [1979:69]); though quantities usually caught by the colonists were only enough to supply about 200 persons (Collins 1798 [1975:31]). However gluts could enter the harbour and for a few days fish would be abundant. For example, in January-March 1788 French visitors anchored in Botany Bay caught nearly 2000 snapper in one day (Tench 1789:128-29, 1793:176 [1979:69, 272]), and on another occasion in September 1790, the colonists caught 4000 Australian Salmon (Collins 1798 [1975:112]).


Conversely, fish could be scarce at any time of the year, but particularly during winter and periods of cold weather. Sometimes the amount taken 'was not much more than equal to supplying the people employed in the boats with one pound of fish per man ...' (Collins 1798 [1975:86]), or a full night's fishing in different parts of the harbor would gain only twenty to thirty hauls, with seldom more than a hundred pounds of fish taken (Tench 1793:176 [1979:272]). Fish shortages were recorded in April-May in two years: 1788 (Tench 1789:106-107 [1979:59]) and 1790 (Collins 1798 [1975:86, 89]). These shortages were possibly associated with longer-term El Nino/Southern Oscillation climatic changes, which caused drought in the first few years of the colony (Grove 1997:133-34, 143-45, Table 1). In addition to seasonal and climatic factors, overfishing may have resulted from colonists using seine nets in waters that are relatively unproductive compared to the colder northern hemisphere (Roughley 1957:165), and/or the doubling of the local human population with the arrival of some 1200 people on the First Fleet (Attenbrow 2010b: 83). Some early colonial writers noted Aboriginal people suffered great hardship when fish were scarce (e.g. Phillip 1788 in HRNSW 1892:152-53; Bradley 1786-92 [1969]:107). As discussed below, periods of scarcity were also a major problem for colonists.

By the late nineteenth century, overfishing, pollution and interests in developing commercial fisheries prompted government reviews. The 1880 New South Wales Fisheries Inquiry Commission (FIC) report collected information on over 35 families, and many more species, of edible and commercially important fishes from Port Jackson. Scientific assessments since the 1970s have recorded at least 581 fish species for the Sydney area, representing 143 families (Henry 1984:4, 42; Paxton and Collett 1975), though this includes rare seasonal visitors. Only some species are suitable for subsistence, recreational or commercial fishing. The upper reaches of the estuary, which have lower salinity levels and lower habitat diversity, have fewer fish species than the estuary mouth (Paxton and Collett 1975:3-4).

Multi-pronged spears, shell fishhooks and bark canoes were the main components of Aboriginal fishing technology along the Sydney and NSW south coast. The British brought seine (hauling) and meshing (gill) nets, larger boats, metal fishhooks and related western technologies that remained relatively unchanged until the mid-19th century (Roughley 1957:167; Lorimer 1982; Hoskins 2010:186). Given the diversity and abundance of fish potentially available for capture, differences in Aboriginal and European fishing technology, and changes over time, key archaeological questions concern differences in species caught and the frequency in which particular species were caught by Aboriginal people before AD1788 and by Aboriginal people and colonists after AD1788.

Aboriginal fishing before and at AD1788

Historical documents indicate Aboriginal people fished in many parts of Port Jackson and its tributaries, with the lower estuary perhaps being favoured fishing grounds (Attenbrow 2011). Early colonial images commonly depict people fishing (e.g. Figure 2) and fishing is often described as the main food source of those living along the coast. Although Collins (1798 [1975:456]) wrote that '[t]hose who live on the seacoast depend entirely on fish for their sustenance', others describe a broader range of foods including plants (Bradley 1786-92 [1969]:133; Tench 1789:80-81 [1979:48]). The colonists mentioned the names of many fish that inhabited the estuaries, and recorded the local Aboriginal names for many different species (Attenbrow 2010b:63-64), but they rarely identify the fish species caught or eaten by Aboriginal people. Only bream, mullet, shark and stingray are mentioned (Collins 1798 [1975:137]; Tench 1793:195-96 [1979:287,288]). It was initially reported that stingray and shark were not eaten (Bradley 1786-92 [1969]: 132; Collins 1798 [1975:455]), but in winter 1788, Phillip (HRNSW 1892:192) noted they were eaten when other fish and food was scarce.

Excavated faunal remains indicate that Aboriginal people living around Port Jackson had a subsistence economy based on both marine and terrestrial resources, though it is clear that fishing was an important activity and fish were a dietary component (Attenbrow 2010a, 2010b, 2011). Archaeology also suggests that Aboriginal fishing was focused principally in the lower part of the harbour around the estuary mouth. Thus, the extent to which fishing was carded out and the role of marine resources in the diet varied substantially in different parts of Port Jackson. The principal archaeological evidence for fish caught or eaten in Port Jackson comes from two excavated middens near the estuary mouth--Mt Trefle and Balmoral Beach (Figure 1). Archaeological evidence provides a more comprehensive list of fish caught than the historical accounts (Table 1, Figure 3). Snapper Pagrus auratus and Yellowfin Bream Acanthopagrus australis dominate the identified component of excavated Port Jackson fish assemblages, with Leatherjackets (Monacanthidae) and Wrasses (Labridae) common elements. Snapper and bream are also the commonest taxa in excavated Aboriginal sites in other parts of the Sydney region, and the NSW south and central coast (Attenbrow 2010b:64, Table 7.1).


Traditionally fishing was a gendered activity in the Sydney region: Aboriginal men are described and depicted fishing with multi-pronged spears usually from rock platforms and in shallow waters, whereas women fished from bark canoes using lines with shell fishhooks (e.g. Bradley 1786-92 [1969]:133; Attenbrow 2010a, 2010b, 2011). There are no historical descriptions of Aboriginal people using nets traditionally in coastal Sydney, but they possibly used tidal traps in sheltered bays where they were not seen (Attenbrow and Steele 1995), or used them prior to British colonisation.

Aboriginal and colonial fishing after AD1788

The First Fleet arrived stocked with fishing equipment including 8000 fishhooks, 48 dozen lines and 14 fishing nets (Fellowship of First Fleeters 2009), and fishing was a daily routine. Documents often describe interactions between Aboriginal people and colonists over fish and fishing that involved both Aboriginal and European methods. Such engagements were variably exploratory, cooperative, friendly and/or hostile and embedded in changing power relations as the British settlement began to expand over land, water and resources that belonged to local Aboriginal people, who experienced their rights being transgressed.


Seine netting produced very large catches compared to more modest results from traditional Aboriginal fishing techniques or angling with metal hooks (Karskens 2009:368-70). Aboriginal people assisted colonists in hauling in seine nets for which they were rewarded with some of the fish (e.g. Hunter 1793 [1968]:65; Collins 1798 [1975:12]). When fish were scarce there was more potential for conflict and on such occasions Aboriginal people demanded a share of the catch (e.g. White 1790 [1962:148]).

Scarcity of fish was thus a significant problem for both Aboriginal people and colonists, but for the colonists it was not just fish; boats and fishing gear also became scarce. Their relative isolation and otherwise limited resources made them reliant on fishing to help fill the gap until their food supplies became better established. Deterioration of fishing equipment brought from England further exacerbated their troubles (White 1790 [1962:147-48]), and it became insufficient to support the intensive fishing that was necessary when fish were scarce. In April 1790 a ship was sent to Batavia for supplies, and while waiting for its return, the colonists turned to local materials used by Aboriginal people to make new fishing lines (Collins 1798 [1975: 86-88, 91). Another problem for Aboriginal people was that convicts stole their fishing gear and other items of equipment. Such items had value as curios to send back to Europe. This theft deprived the Aboriginal owners of the means to collect their daily food and caused resentment and disputes (Karskens 2009: 364).

By the early 1800s circumstances changed significantly as the colony grew. Aboriginal people became increasingly dispossessed of their land, livelihood and traditional culture, but they continued to fish (e.g. McBryde 1989:175-79; 2000:256-59). Metal fishhooks, which were given to Aboriginal people or used in exchanges for Aboriginal items (Phillip 1788 in HRNSW 1892:130; McBryde 1989: 175-79; Attenbrow 2010b:103-104) were used by men as well as women. As early as the 1790s, Aboriginal men such as Balloderry exchanged the fish they caught for items like bread, meat and alcohol (McBryde 2000:256-58,264). By the 1810s and 1820s Aboriginal women still fished from bark canoes but Aboriginal men negotiated with Europeans to borrow their fishing boats each day in return for a proportion of the catch (Karskens 2009:436-39). In 1815 Governor Macquarie provided Bungaree and his group with fishing equipment and boats to catch fish to trade for European items (Bellingshausen 1820 in Barratt 1981:36; Barratt 1981:61-62, 38; Attenbrow 2010b:84). The governor's wife, Elizabeth Macquarie established a European-style village for Aboriginal people at Elizabeth Bay in the early 1820s providing them with a boat and fishing tackle (McBryde 2000:263, Figure 9.5; Karskens 2009:526).

Until the 1850s approximately 75% of the recorded catch of fresh fish supplied to Sydney town was obtained locally by estuarine fishing from the shore or using open boats in the 'home grounds' of Port Jackson (Lorimer 1982:4-5). Throughout the 19th century individuals who fished from boats or the shore (Hoskins 2010: 188) often sold some of their catch. The Port Jackson commercial fishing fleet in 1880 consisted of about 27 small boats using nets and another eight using hook and line each crewed by up to four men (Hoskins 2010: 186). The first wholesale fish market was built only in 1872 at Woolloomooloo (Blainey 2003: 299-300). Development of larger regional and offshore commercial fishing began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as new technologies and infrastructure became available; such histories (e.g. Roughley 1957; Lorimer 1982) are based almost exclusively on documentary evidence.

Analysis of archaeological fish remains

We use archaeological data to explore the potential for research-oriented historical archaeology to produce new and different kinds of interpretation, mindful that materials recovered from archaeological contexts (e.g. fish bones, fishing equipment) need to be at least partly understood in an historical context based on documents.

More is currently known about fish remains from pre-historic Aboriginal sites than from colonial/historical sites. There is a longer history of academic research on Australian Aboriginal pre-history (i.e. before AD1788) whereas most colonial/historical archaeology in NSW has been conducted to comply with heritage legislation and post-excavation analysis of faunal remains is under-developed.

Results from most historical archaeology projects in Sydney are presented in unpublished and variably accessible 'grey-literature' reports and electronic databases. We have no detailed published data about fish remains from historical sites in the Sydney area dated between 1788 and 1830. Karskens' (1999) discussion of fish consumption by late 18th and early 19th century inhabitants of Sydney's Rocks area uses documentary evidence supplemented by Steele's (1999) brief summary of archaeological fish remains. Apart from this, the only detailed published study of fish remains from a colonial period site in Sydney to date is of Quadrant in Broadway, Sydney, near Blackwattle Bay (Colley in press), where consultancy excavations ahead of development revealed working-class housing and industrial areas from the 1830s-1860s (Mider 2004). Other unpublished reports accessed during research for this paper contained minimal and incomplete information about fish remains. Significant gaps in available reference collections (Colley and Brownlee 2010) and the fragmentary nature of archaeological samples are serious impediments for archaeological fish bone analysis. Such gaps may, for example, be the reason for bones being misidentified as species that do not currently occur in Sydney (Table 3), although fish of the same genus are found.

These circumstances remain a challenge for developing regional comparative research but are now being tackled using sustainable digital archives and online data sharing tools such as New South Wales Archaeology Online (2010) and the Australian Historical Archaeology Database (AHAD 2011).

Tables 1 to 3 included all fish identified from key excavations of Sydney Aboriginal sites (studied and/or compiled by Attenbrow 2010a, 2010b, 2011, in press) and from research by Colley (in press, Colley and Brownlee 2010) on fish remains from Quadrant historical site. Table 1 and Figure 3 compare the presence/absence of fish families at Quadrant with selected Aboriginal shell middens from the Sydney region (Figure 1 has locations). Tables 2 and 3 present more detailed information from Quadrant and three Aboriginal shell midden excavations which are well-studied, published and produced large fish samples. Balmoral Beach and Mount Trefle, both located in Port Jackson (Figure 1), were excavated by Attenbrow (1991, 1993) for a regional research project. Angophora Reserve is on the Barrenjoey Peninsula, Broken Bay, with fish remains from a large-scale consultancy excavation analysed by Wood (1992). We have included this site, even though outside Port Jackson, as it is published and has a large and well-excavated faunal assemblage.

The earliest occupation levels at Mount Trefle and Angophora Reserve are radiocarbon-dated respectively to c. 1300 years ago (Attenbrow 1991; Attenbrow and Steele 1995) and 2000 years ago (Wood 1992). When occupation ceased at these sites is unknown. Balmoral Beach fish remains date between ~2730 and ~3280 years ago, as the upper midden layers were lost during 1960s road works. Balmoral Beach data derives only from squares M4, M5 and M8 (Steele 1994). Currently no excavated coastal Sydney Aboriginal faunal assemblages can be positively identified as post-1788 due to lack of chronological resolution.

Balmoral Beach produced the largest number of fish bones (62,205) compared to Angophora Reserve (11,207), Quadrant (9500) and Mount Trefle (5254); only a small proportion at each site was identified to taxon (Table 2). While the identified samples are small, our discussion and tentative conclusions can be tested by future research on existing and new collections.

Four families (Sparidae, Labridae, Monacanthidae and Platycephalidae) occur widely across Sydney coastal sites (Figure 3, Table 1) and are relatively abundant (by percentage of NISP [number of individual specimens]) at Quadrant, Angophora Reserve, Mount Trefle and Balmoral Beach (Table 2). These common taxa all have some robust and distinctive bones that survive well and are easily recognised. Several Sydney species of Sparidae (snappers and breams) and Platycephalidae (flatheads) are abundant, edible and commonly prized fishes that can be caught using several Aboriginal and European methods. Their predominance in pre-historic and historical archaeological contexts, particularly Sparidae, probably reflects real dietary and economic importance, not just differential preservation. The absence of some particular species of these families from archaeological assemblages probably results from limited reference collections (Table 3; see Colley and Brownlee 2010). A higher proportion of snappers or breams (by percentage of NISP) occur at the three Aboriginal sites compared to Quadrant (Table 2). Further research is needed to determine if this pattern results from differential preservation, recovery methods or represents genuine differences in fish caught and consumed.

Labridae (wrasses) have robust and distinctive jaw bones and are also present and/or well-represented overall. Over 40 Labridae species occur in Sydney Harbour (Australian Museum Online 2012) but only two taxa have been identified archaeologically--the large and distinctive Achoerodus viridis (Blue Groper) and Pseudolabrus spp. The FIC (1880: 30-31) describes Blue Groper as good eating and sometimes caught in seine nets, though more usually speared (whether by Aboriginal people or anyone else is not specified). Two other species of Labridae mentioned by the FIC (1880: 31) (Bodianus unimaculatus and Ophthalmolepis lineolatus) have not yet been identified at any Sydney archaeological site, probably due to lack of reference specimens.

Labridae bones are common in Port Jackson Aboriginal sites (Tables 1 and 2). They generally occur in shallow waters in and around rocky reefs and can be easily taken by hooks and lines, spears or traps. First Fleet illustrations show Aboriginal people with hair ornaments made from Labridae jawbones (e.g. Smith and Wheeler 1988: Plate 1). At Quadrant the ratio of Blue Groper to other small Labridae bones was 7:4 compared to 3:10 at Angophora Reserve, 4:15 at Mount Trefle and 34:27 at Balmoral Beach (Table 2). Apart from Blue Groper and two other species mentioned above, wrasses were not considered especially good eating by Europeans according to the 1880 FIC. We might therefore expect to find more bones of small wrasses on Aboriginal sites than at Quadrant. While the sample sizes are small, the archaeological data do not contradict this prediction.

Monacanthidae (leatherjackets) bones are also widespread (Table 1, Figure 3). They have solid and distinctive teeth and spines that survive well archaeologically though more friable elements are infrequent. The Australian Museum Online (2012) fish website records 18 Sydney species, but all archaeological examples are only identified to family. Monacanthidae are easily taken using hooks and lines, spears, nets and traps (Hutchins and Swainston 1986). The FIC (1880:36) noted them as good eating but also a serious pest to commercial fishermen as they infested snapper grounds and cut fishermen's lines.

Remains of a further 10 families occur in lesser and variable numbers at both Quadrant and one or more Aboriginal shell middens (Table 1, Figure 3). These include, for example, distinctive headbones of Sciaenidae (Mulloways and Teraglins). The FIC (1880:20-21) listed two species available year round in deeper waters but as more common in summer. They were only taken by hook and line, although young fishes were sometimes caught in seines. In September 1790 Collins (1798 [1975:112]) described 4000 Australian Salmons (Arripidae), weighing on average five pounds each, taken in two hauls of a seine. The 1880 FIC also describes large shoals in harbours round Sydney in late winter. These fishes have fragile bones that are poorly represented archaeologically. They have been identified at Quadrant, Angophora Reserve and sites on Kurnell Peninsula, and are reported from Aboriginal sites elsewhere (e.g. Colley and Jones 1987: Table 2). The 1880 FIC described them as oily and inferior food fish that spoiled quickly and could make people sick. Sharks and rays (Elasmobranchs) have cartilaginous skeletons and only teeth, spines, dermal denticles and vertebral centra survive (Rick et al. 2002:111, 113). Despite their abundance in Port Jackson, only a few remains were found in Balmoral Beach and sites on Kurnell Peninsula (Tables 1 and 2). The few vertebrae and teeth found may represent body ornaments or tool components; shark's teeth were noted as barbs for hunting spears (Peron and Freycinet 1824: Plate 29.9). Only a single small shark tooth was found at Quadrant.

Five families found at Quadrant are absent from Aboriginal sites (Table 1). Atlantic Salmon (Salmonidae) and Ling (Gadidae, Molva molva) bones represent preserved imported northern hemisphere fishes (Colley, in press). The Nannygai (Berycidae, Centroberyx affinis), a deep sea species taken by hook and line in warmer weather, was not a commercial species in the late 19th century. The 1880 FIC reports fishermen only accidentally caught it when targeting snapper, though it was regarded as good eating. Eels (Anguillidae) were also usually caught accidentally when seeking other fishes even though seasonally common in some locations (FIC 1880). Large numbers of jawbones and some other skeletal elements of garfishes (Hemiramphidae) were recovered at Quadrant. During the 19th century, spawning garfishes entered the harbour in late summer in successive shoals, some of enormous size. FIC (1880: 34) described them as 'Sydney's favourite breakfast fish'. Megaw (1968: 17) observed "gare fish" [sic] in an Aboriginal midden at Skeleton Cave, Kurnell Peninsula. Subsequent research by Tsoulos (pers. comm.) has not identified garfishes at this or any other Aboriginal sites at Kurnell and the family has not been identified at any other Aboriginal site in coastal Sydney. Catching slim garfishes shoaling in open waters requires seine or gill nets with small mesh sizes (Roughley 1957:191) which Aboriginal people did not have before AD1788. In this case it seems technology did make a difference to what was caught. A similar argument may apply to sea mullets (Mugilidae) that are relatively well-represented overall at Quadrant (by percentage of NISP--Table 2; Colley, in press). Other than a single bone fragment from Angophora Reserve, mullet bones are absent from the Aboriginal sites (Tables 1 and 2). However, there are historical references to Aboriginal people around Port Jackson catching mullet (Collins 1798 [1975:137]; Tench 1793:195-9611979:287,288]). The FIC (1880:27-8) recorded large shoals of sea mullets were taken in Sydney Harbour in spring, but only ever using seine nets. Current websites, (e.g. Starling 2012) also refer to sea mullet being difficult to catch. The archaeological evidence may be complicated by differential preservation as mullet are oily fish and it is likely that robust vertebrae could survive longer in archaeological contexts than other fragile parts of the skeleton such as teeth and jaw bones (Colley 1987:22; John Paxton, ichthyologist, Australian Museum, pers. comm.). Further research is needed to explain such patterns in the data.

Nine families occur only on Aboriginal sites (Table 1, Figure 3) including Latridae, Cheilodactylidae, Plotosidae and Moridae mentioned in the 1880 FIC as good eating but as not commercially important. Odacidae (Weed Whitings) have recently been reclassified as a Sub-Family of Labridae (Australian Museum Online 2012). Luderick Girella tricuspidata (Family Kyphosidae) is a common and edible angling fish in NSW, though not mentioned by the 1880 FIC. Balistidae, Scorpaenidae and Diodontidae are small bony species with distinctive spines and scutes that survive well. They are unsuitable for human food and Diodontidae is classified as dangerous as it has highly poisonous flesh (Hutchins and Swainston 1986:13). These bones may represent stomach contents of other animals.


Technology clearly makes a difference to fishing but other relevant factors include cultural attitudes to fish, colonialism, commercialisation and physical impacts of urbanism on fish ecology and maritime environments. We assume, though we do not know, that remains from a site dated before AD1788 represent fish caught locally. Fish from Quadrant were more likely caught from a much wider area and purchased from commercial vendors. Fishing in nearby Blackwattle Bay would be less likely during the 19th century because of pollution by viscera from local meatworks which attracted great numbers of sharks and leatherjackets which were reviled by the public (Hoskins 2010:181-83).

Different kinds of evidence can inform us about different aspects of fishing. For the millennia before AD1788, archaeology provides the only scientific means of understanding the history of Aboriginal fish and fishing. From the late 18th century an increasing amount of documentary information is available about Aboriginal and colonial settler fishing practices and fish ecology that can be used to further contextualise archaeological fish remains and other material evidence recovered through excavations.


The Port Jackson Archaeological Project was funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Mosman Municipal Council and Australian Heritage Commission. The Quadrant fish analysis was funded by DMA Archaeology and Heritage, Australand Holdings and a University of Sydney Faculty of Arts Research Support Scheme grant. Thanks to: Mark McGrouther (Australian Museum) for advice on fish nomenclature; numerous volunteers who assisted Attenbrow's field and post-excavation research; Colley's research assistants (Chloe Weir, Susan Casey, Annika Korsgaard and Melissa Carter); Dana Mider (Director of the Quadrant excavations); Martin Gibbs for suggesting useful references; and Diana Tsoulos for information about excavated fish remains, especially garfishes, from sites on Kurnell Peninsula.


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Steele, D. 1994. A Report on the Animal Bone Assemblage from Balmoral Beach, Sydney. Report prepared for Dr V. Attenbrow, Australian Museum, Sydney. Accessed 1 May 2012

Steele, D. 1999. Animal bone and shell artefact reports. In: Godden Mackay Heritage Consultants, The Cumberland/Gloucestershire Street Site, the Rocks. Archaeological investigations report. Volume 4. Part 2. Specialist Artefacts Reports. Sydney: Godden Mackay Heritage Consultants.

Stockton, E.D. 1977. Middens of the central coast, New South Wales. Australian Archaeology 7:20-31.

Tench, W. 1789, 1793 [1979]. Sydney's First Four Years. Sydney: Library of Australian History in assoc, with Royal Australian Historical Society.

White, J. 1790 [1962]. Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. London: J Debrett, Piccadilly. Chisholm, AH (ed.) (Republished Sydney: Angus & Robertson in assoc, with Royal Australian Historical Society).

Wood, V. 1992. Appendix I: Excerpt from Angophora Reserve Rockshelter: A faunal analysis. In: McDonald, J., The Archaeology of the Angophora Reserve Rock Shelter, pp 149-76. NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Sydney.

SC: Sarah Colley, Department of Archaeology, SOPHI, University of Sydney, NSW 2006. sarah.colley@sydney,; VA: Australian Museum, 6-8 College Street, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia; Affiliate, University of Sydney, NSW 2006.
Table 1. Fish families recovered from Quadrant and selected
Aboriginal shell middens in coastal Sydney. See Attenbrow (2010a:
Table 1) for sources. Key: QD = Quadrant, AR = Angophora Reserve,
BB = Balmoral Beach, MT = Mount Trefle, WL = Woollahra, MB4 =
Milk Beach, CC = Collins Cave, BH = Balls Head, CS = Cumberland
Street, SL = Sugarloaf, CY = Cammeray. Data from several
Aboriginal sites in the Royal National Park and Kurnell Peninsula
(RNP/KP) (Attenbrow, in press) are combined here. * = present.

Family/Class        Common name                 QD   AR   BB   MT

A. Dominant and/or abundant at Quadrant and
at all or most Aboriginal shell middens.

Labridae            Wrasses                     *    *    *    *
Monacanthidae       Leatherjackets              *    *    *    *
Platycephalidae     Flatheads                   *    *    *    *
Sparidae            Snappers & Breams           *    *    *    *

B. Found at Quadrant and some Aboriginal shell
middens. Variably abundant but not dominant at
any site.

Arripididae         Australian Salmons          *    *    --   --
Carangidae          Trevallies                  *    *    --   *
Elasmobranch        Sharks, Skates and Rays     *    --   *    --
Lutjanidae          Coral Snappers, Fusiliers   *    --   *    --
Mugilidae           Sea Mullets                 *    *    --   --
Pleuronectiformes   Flatfishes                  *    *    --   --
Pomatomidae         Tailors                     *    --   --   --
Sciaenidae          Mulloways                   *    *    --   *
Serranidae          Rockcods and Seaperches     *    *    *    *
Sillaginidae        Whitings                    *    --   --   *

C. Variably abundant at Quadrant. Absent from
Aboriginal shell middens.

Anguillidae         Freshwater Eels             *    --   --   --
Berycidae           Nannygai                    *    --   --   --
Gadidae             Atlantic Cods               *    --   --   --
Salmonidae          Atlantic Salmons & Trouts   *
Hemiramphidae       Garfishes                   *    --   --   --

D. Infrequently found at some Aboriginal shell
middens. Absent from Quadrant.

Balistidae          Triggerfishes
Cheilodactylidae    Morwongs                    --   *    *    --
Diodontidae         Porcupine fishes
Kyphosidae          Drummers                    --   --   *
Latridae            Trumpeters                  --   *    --   --
Moridae             Morid Cods                  --   --   --   --
Odacidae            Weed Whitings               --   --   *    --
Plotosidae          Eeltail Catfishes           --   *    --   --
Scorpaenidae        Scorpionsihes

Family/Class        WL/MB4/CC   BR/CS   SL/CY   RNP/KP

A. Dominant and/or abundant at Quadrant and
at all or most Aboriginal shell middens.

Labridae                *        --       *       *
Monacanthidae           *         *      --       *
Platycephalidae         *        --      --       *
Sparidae                *         *       *       *

B. Found at Quadrant and some Aboriginal shell
middens. Variably abundant but not dominant at
any site.

Arripididae            --        --      --       *
Carangidae              *        --      --       *
Elasmobranch           --        --      --       *
Lutjanidae             --        --      --       --
Mugilidae              --        --      --       --
Pleuronectiformes      --        --      --       *
Pomatomidae             *        --      --       *
Sciaenidae              *        --      --       *
Serranidae             --        --      --       *
Sillaginidae           --

C. Variably abundant at Quadrant. Absent from
Aboriginal shell middens.

Anguillidae            --        --      --       --
Berycidae              --        --      --       --
Gadidae                --        --      --       --
Hemiramphidae          --        --      --

D. Infrequently found at some Aboriginal shell
middens. Absent from Quadrant.

Balistidae                                        *
Cheilodactylidae        *        --      --       *
Diodontidae                                       *
Kyphosidae                                        *
Latridae               --        --      --       --
Moridae                 *        --      --       *
Odacidae               --        --      --       --
Plotosidae             --        --      --       *
Scorpaenidae                                      *

Table 2. Archaeological fish remains from Quadrant (QD),
Angophora Reserve (AR), Mount Trefle, (MT) and Balmoral Beach
(BB) (reported by Steele 1994 only). Total number of fish bone
fragments recovered (identified and unidentified) and fragment
counts (Number of Identified Specimens--NISP) by Class/Family or
other major significant taxon group. Kyphosidae (Drummers) were
previously Girellidae. See text for sources and further context

                    QD           AR           MT           BB
Family or Class     NISP (%)     NISP (%)     NISP (%)     NISP (%)

Sparidae--          877 (55.3)   371 (91.2)   230 (76.1)   1589 (81.1)
  and Breams
Hemiramphidae--     299 (18.8)   --           --           --
Mugilidae--Sea      150 (9.5)    l (0.2)      --           --
Platycephalidae-    126 (8.0)    5 (l.2)      6 (2.0)      10 (0.5)
Kyphosidae--        --           --           --           125 (6.4)
Monacanthidae--     27 (l.7)     2 (0.5)      32 (10.6)    38 (l.9)
Labridae--          7 (0.4)      3 (0.7)      4 (l.3)      34 (t.7)
  Achoerodus sp.
  Blue Groper
Labridae--Other     4 (0.3)      10 (2.5)     15 (5.7)     27 (l.4)
Anguillidae         25 (l.6)     --           --           --
Salmonidae          23 (1.4)     --           --           --
Serranidae          14 (0.9)     1 (0.2)      7 (2.3)      123 (6.3)
Sillaginidae        9 (0.6)      --           3 (l.0)      --
Gadidae             8 (0.5)      --           --           --
Plotosidae          --           5 (l.2)      --           --
Arripididae         3 (0.2)      l (0.2)      --           --
Berycidae           4 (0.3)      --           --           --
Carangidae          1 (0.1)      2 (0.5)      1 (0.3)      --
Pleuronectiformes   3 (0.2)      1 (0.2)      --           --
Sciaenidae          1 (0.1)      1 (0.2)      2 (0.7)      --
Cheilodactylidae    --           3 (0.7)      --           3 (0.2)
Lutjanidae          3 (0.2)      --           --           --
Pomatomidae         2 (0.1)      --           --           --
Elasmobranch        1 (0.1)      --           --           l (0.1
Latridae            --           l (0.2)      --           --
Total NISP (%)      1587 (100)   407 (100)    302 (100)    1959 (100)

No. of              7913         10800        4952         60246
Total NISP +        9500         11207        5254         62205
% Total             16.7%        3.6%         5.7%         3.1%
  Identified to

Table 3. Representation of key species and families in
archaeological samples from Quadrant (QD), Angophora Reserve
(AR), Mount Trefle (MT) and Balmoral Beach (BB). See text for
sources. For information about food values see Colley (2010).
Colley and Brownlee (2010) list further reference collection
data. *** = not a currently recognised Sydney taxon.

Scientific and                               1880s        QD     AR
Common names                                 food value   NISP   NISP

Family Sparidae--Snappers and Breams

Acanthopagrus australis, Yellowfin Bream     Excellent    13     19
Acanthopagrus butcheri, Black Bream ***      Good         --     5
Acanthopagrussp.                             ?            10     1
Dentex tumifrons, Yellowback Bream           Good         --     --
Pagrus auratus, Snapper                      Excellent    52     346
Rhabdosargus sarba, Tarwhine                 Good         9      --
Sparidae not further identified              ?            793    --

Family Platycephalidae--Flatheads

Platycephalus bassensis, Sand Flathead       Good         --     --
Platycephalus fuscus, Dusky Flathead         Good         74     --
Platycephalus laevigatus, Rock/Glass/Black   Good         --     --
  Flathead ***
Platycephalidae not Further Identified       ?            49     --
Platycephalus richardsoni, Tiger Flathead    Good         --     5
Platycephalus sp.                            ?            3      --
Thysanophrys cirronasus, Rock Flathead ***   Okay         --     --

Family Labridae--Wrasses

Achoerodus gouldii, Blue Groper ***          Good         --     3
Achoerodus viridis Blue Groper               Good         --     --
Achoerodus sp.                               Good         7      --
Bodianus unimaculatus, Pigfish               Good         --     --
Ophthalmolepis lineolatus, Maori Wrasse      Okay         --     --
Pseudolabrus tetricus, Purple Wrasse ***     ?            --
Pseudolabrus sp.                             Low          --     10
Labridae not further identified (40 Sydney   Low          4      --
  species known)

Scientific and                               MT     BB
Common names                                 NISP   NISP   Reference

Family Sparidae--Snappers and Breams

Acanthopagrus australis, Yellowfin Bream     43     90     Okay
Acanthopagrus butcheri, Black Bream ***      --     --     Poor
Acanthopagrussp.                             --     --     --
Dentex tumifrons, Yellowback Bream           --     --     None
Pagrus auratus, Snapper                      158    158    Good
Rhabdosargus sarba, Tarwhine                 4      147    Okay
Sparidae not further identified              25     1284   --

Family Platycephalidae--Flatheads

Platycephalus bassensis, Sand Flathead       --     --     Okay
Platycephalus fuscus, Dusky Flathead         6             Good
Platycephalus laevigatus, Rock/Glass/Black   --            None
  Flathead ***
Platycephalidae not Further Identified       --     --     --
Platycephalus richardsoni, Tiger Flathead    --            Okay
Platycephalus sp.                                          --
Thysanophrys cirronasus, Rock Flathead ***   --            None

Family Labridae--Wrasses

Achoerodus gouldii, Blue Groper ***          --     --     Okay
Achoerodus viridis Blue Groper               4      34     None
Achoerodus sp.                               --     --     --
Bodianus unimaculatus, Pigfish               --     --     None
Ophthalmolepis lineolatus, Maori Wrasse             --     Poor
Pseudolabrus tetricus, Purple Wrasse ***     2      --     Good
Pseudolabrus sp.                             --     --     Good
Labridae not further identified (40 Sydney   15     25     Poor
  species known)
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Author:Colley, Sarah; Attenbrow, Val
Publication:Archaeology in Oceania
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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