The abundance of the local seafood of this region of the Wide Bay has played a huge part in the lives of the Wheeler Family.
My great-grandmother was a full-blood Aboriginal woman from K’gari (Fraser Island). Every winter when the caboonya (mullet) arrived in the surrounding waters, other tribes were invited there to share the abundant food supply. The men fished with scoop and tow row nets, while women and children used hand lines made from vine fibre. They fished in the gutter between K’gari and Little Woody Island.
In the 1800s my great-grandfather and grandfather were fishermen, hunted dugong and turtle, and worked oyster banks in the Great Sandy Straits. In 1910 my grandfather set up a dugong station at Traveston, later renamed Burrum Heads, to process them for their oil.
Our family lived at Urangan and as soon as my father was old enough to leave school he became a professional fisherman. When my brothers and I were big enough to push dad’s dinghy with a stake stick, we accompanied him to Pulgul Creek. Dad hooked for crabs while my eldest brother or I pushed the dinghy along beside him. Hooking for crabs is illegal today.
During winter Dad would climb a tree at the test house (near the now Fishermen’s Park Urangan Harbour ) to watch for the caboonya to come past Booral towards Urangan. When they were close enough to the beach, he would row his dinghy out and shoot the net around the fish and we kids would help pick up the fish as the men pulled the net in. Our greatest treat was when my grandfather went up high on the beach and dug a hole, lit a fire, and cooked the fish for our breakfast in the coals. One of my brothers fished professionally for a while.
Today two of my sons are 5th generation professional fishermen. It is still hard work involving long hours away from families.