Coorong and Lower Lakes: Oral History of Gary Hera-Singh


Coorong and Lower Lakes: Oral History of Gary Hera-Singh


An interview in two parts with Gary Hera-Singh.

Gary is a commercial fisher in the Lower Lakes and Coorong Fishery for 28 years; a third generation fisher on his father’s side, and a fifth generation fisher on his mother’s side (lineage to the Rumbelow family, and whalers from Victor Harbour, South Australia). His family came to the Lower Lakes in the 1930s. Gary lives and grew up in the Meningie area, four-hundred metres from Lake Albert. Gary discusses the three different habitats – marine, estuarine (the most productive system), and fresh water. He recalls life as a youngster working at his grandfather’s fish processing business. He has not been able to fish commercially in the Coorong south lagoon for 20 years due to hyper-salinity, and is concerned about the government’s targeting of commercial fishers and fisheries rather than habitat degradation. The low-tech, high physical-input nature and rotational harvesting of the fishing industry is a factor in its sustainability. The Lower Lakes and Coorong Fishery incorporates Lake Albert, Lake Alexandrina, the Coorong from Goolwa to Salt Creek, the ocean from Goolwa Beach Road to outside Kingston. The Coorong relies on Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.

Gary talks about: differences in fishing over 80 years from family history and personal observation ‘every year was different’; history of the Coorong and Lower Lakes Fishery, documented since 1854; the commercial fishing industry in Meningie (including when the coastal road through Meningie and Coorong was main route to Melbourne from Adelaide); history post World War II, including native vegetation land clearing; changes in licensing, which were freely available until mid-1970s when zoning occurred; commercial fishing registration, which influenced fishing behaviour (return on investment) due to administrative load; monthly ‘Catch and Effort’ data reported to government; health of region before construction of barrages 1935-40; the reduction in estuary size of Lake Alexandrina; changes to fish ecology separating salt from fresh water; changes to flood patterns; declining river flows; water extraction; degradation of habitat and lifecycles of estuarine-dependent species; bait fish industry (rock lobster market); the chain affect of water hyper salinity in the South Lagoon on species; brine shrimp – evidence of salinity and system collapse; rate of water release from lakes into the Coorong and sea; high percentage of carp in Lake Alexandrina; ground and surface water flows; 1981 closing of the Murray mouth; acid-sulfate soil; fishery closures in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia; Riverland Fishery (most sustainable model); importance of fish ways to their movement upstream; certification in 2008 of the Lower Lakes and Coorong Fishery; parallels in fishing methods with historical methods; traditional knowledge transfer, Ngarrindjeri peoples.

Gary also discusses the flood of 1956, and a severe drought in the last five years where water levels dropped a metre below sea level.

Other fish mentioned (unspecified species): Australian Salmon, soft-mouthed Hardyhead. Gary discusses an interesting relationship between Dandelion plants and fish movement.

Other mentions: President of Southern Fisherman’s Association (Gary has historical minutes of meetings); Murray-Darling Basin water management plan; Department of Environment; Department of Water; Riverland Fishery (South Australia); Fisheries Act; Marines Stewardship Council Certification; World Wide Fund for Nature, Scheme of Management; Department of Fisheries; South Australian Research Development Institute.


Heather Goodall
Jodi Frawley


University of Technology, Sydney


Murray-Darling Basin Authority
NSW Department of Primary Industries - NSW Fisheries


Copyright University of Technology, Sydney



Access Rights

Open access



Hamish Sewell


Gary Hera-Singh


Part 1 01:27:41
Part 2 00:35:36

Item Relations

This Item Is Part Of Item: The Coorong and Lower Lakes
This Item References Item: Ngarrindjeri
This Item Was Created By Item: Prof. Heather Goodall
Item: Dr Jodi Frawley
This Item Has Provenance Information Item: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (ATSIDA)
Item: State Library of New South Wales
This Item References The Subject Item: Mulloway
Item: Black Bream
Item: "Talking Fish" Radio documentary, Hindsight, ABC RN
References This Item

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