Go on Bird

A Frank, No-Holds-Barred, Minimally Edited Conversation with John Brierley and Andrew ‘Sam’ Nye

‘It really is genocide… our culture of fishing is being taken away from us’ – John Brierley

‘We should have had input into every decision that was made about South Coast fisheries’ – Andrew ‘Sam’ Nye

On October 18 2014 on Candlagan Beach near Broulee Island, a protest for the restoration of Aboriginal fishing rights will take place. (For further information contact John Brierley on 0419475645 or john.brierley@hotmail.com) In the lead-up to that protest, in this hour and a half long interview, John Brierley and Andrew Nye reflect on the history of NSW South Coast Aboriginal Fishing. The conversation, which was recorded in John Brierley’s kitchen in Moruya on October 1, 2014, ranged from history, to licencing, to the issues of selling fish and developing an Aboriginal South Coast fishing industry.

Much like the Iroquois who kept the first settlers in America alive through their first winter, it’s a story that begins with the Yuin people keeping the first non-Indigenous community alive by bartering food – primarily fish. There were many twists and turns. Aboriginal people managed the NSW South Coast fisheries very well for thousands of years. After settlement, John and Andrew think it may have been a mistake for South Coast Aboriginal fishers to accept a licence. Once Aboriginal fishers accepted a fishing licence, it meant they started to lose their role as managers of the fisheries.

Now, the tragedy is that family members and young people are being restricted from participating in the fishing industry and the restrictions are creating a situation where veteran fishers like John and Andrew are finding it impossible to continue. The Aboriginal community were divided by the selective allocation of licences. John and Andrew say that the principles of Aboriginal law were fundamentally broken by the new management system. Instead of taking a little of everything, the licence endorsements were species specific. It meant fisherman hammered the species they were endorsed to catch. The way in which John and Andrew see it, the Aboriginal community should have their rights to fishing restored without the need for licences. They would be happy to take out beach fishing insurance and a permit to sell fish but other than that the Aboriginal community should have the right to manage the fisheries of the South Coast.

Looking to the future, John and Andrew see that there must be an Aboriginal management system of Aboriginal fishers in which at-risk species like abalone, lobsters and garfish are regulated by a quota enforced by Aboriginal Elders. They see that an Aboriginal co-op could regulate all catches and that it should be Aboriginal Elders who enforce the plan through traditional authority with a potential recourse to the courts if necessary.

Story contributed by Peter Botsman from ISX. Published in 2022.