The Ogilvie Years 1934-1941

The Impact of the Great Depression

After the concerted attempts in 1926 to improve the professionalism of fisheries administration and promote development in the industry the collapse of the world economy after 1928 killed the momentum of the movement. A fisheries authority solely dependent for revenue on licence fees could only reflect the impact of the depression on the industry in reduced activities. The interstate trade in fish, already disrupted by the shipping disturbances of the 1920's, was all but extinguished as prices fell to a level which did not even cover the cost of freight. Even crayfish prices fell from 16 shillings to 8 shillings a score between 1928 and 1932. A Hobart fishermen attempted to overcome the problem by leasing the old Council Fish Market to open "a modern fish cafe and retail outlet" on a pontoon featuring live storage. Customers could select a live fish and have it prepared in the cafe if he wished. The oyster fishery suffered but the scallop fishery, now centered in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, became the dominant feature of the industry for the first time.

The collapse of the stock market also affected the membership of the Board.The income of the Ralston Trust fell and forced a reduction in the salary that could be paid to the Professor of Biology. Flynn found the new salary inadequate and resigned to take up a position in Belfast, his departure robbed the Tasmanian fishing industry of its most far sighted policy formulator. When Flynn left the University his position was downgraded from Professor to Lecturer-in-Charge and the University appointed V.V. Hickman to the post. Hickman also took over the position of scientific adviser to the Board. In September 1932, J.H. Hohne, who was Secretary of the Timber Workers Union, resigned. His union reduced his salary for the time he spent on Board business and when the Government found they could not reimburse him he tendered his resignation. The original membership of the Board was now substantially altered. D.C. McLaren had retired and been replaced by W.A. Young, an original member forced to resign for holding an interest in the industry. Clive Lord, of the Museum had earlier replaced Corby. Hohne was replaced by C. Rodway, a Hobart dentist with no specific interest in fishing but a competent amateur boat builder. Another request by fishermen for a representation on the Board was rejected by the Minister at the beginning of 1933.

There was little the Board could do to assist fishermen through the depression. When the Government reduced the proportion of Board revenue going to the Treasury this allowed it to reduce licence fees. Craypot fees were reduced by a third in 1930 and again the next year to bring them to 50% of the level set in 1926. However at the beginning of 1934 the Board was still paying 25% of the licence fees to consolidated revenue; about 250 a year. The Minister refused the request that fees be further reduced by ending this contribution.

With the State Treasury unable to help further assitance was sought in Canberra. At the suggestion of the Board, Premier McPhee sought protection from the importation of New Zealand oysters then competing with Ralph's Bay oysters on the Melbourne Market. The proposed tariff on oysters was supported by N.S.W. growers and soon extended to include imports of barracouta. The Prime Minister rejected the claims on the grounds that oyster imports were small and the Australian-New Zealand Trade Agreement of 1921 required fair treatment for New Zealand trade and there had been no increase in barracouta imports since the new (1933) Agreement. However in October 1933 the Commonwealth had finally acted on a recommendation of the 1929 Fisheries Conference to assist the development of pelagic fisheries. A sum of 20,000 was made available to procure a vessel specially designed for exploratory work on such fisheries.The funds would also allow experiments on fish canning, the testing other methods of preserving fish and a cooperative programme with the States ito study the distribution of fish after landing. The Government assured the Commonwealth that it would co-operate through the Sea Fisheries Board.

The Board under Eric Ogilvie

From the defeat of the Lyons Government to election of the Ogilvie Labour Government in June 1934 little changed in fisheries except for the membership of the Board, but the administration of fisheries entered a new phase in mid 1934 with the election of the Ogilvie Government and the formation of a fisherman's union. This election began an unbroken 36 year rule by the Labour Party and although the union was not the first organisation to represent fishermen it drew them into party politics for the first time.

The Board had now been in existence for eight years, none of its members had any practical experience of the fishing industry and since the departure of Flynn the two scientists, Lord and Hickman, were much more academically inclined than their predecessor. This situation meant the Board was almost totally dependent on Sgt. Tom Challenger for advice on fishing, fishermen and the state of the fish stocks. Although lacking formal training Challenger was a good observer and quick to learn from the scientists with whom he worked. His advice was invariably sound, but he was also the sole specialist fisheries inspector, and his dedicated and fearless enforcement of the regulations resulted in a relationship with the industry that was not always cordial. Thus his advice was often contested for no other reason than a brush between the inspector and a particular fisherman.

On election to Government Albert Ogilvie gave early consideration to the fisheries portfolio. As Premier he could not retain the responsibility for fisheries he had held in government and opposition for almost 20 years but appeared to have had some reservations about passing the responsibility to his half-brother Eric, whom he appointed Attorney-General. On 27 August the new Premier wrote

"It has been decided upon further consideration, that the administration of inland and sea fisheries will remain under the Attorney-General as heretofore, subject, however, to matters of policy in relation to the Tourist Industry being under the control of the Minister for Transport. Some questions will no doubt be important enough to warrant a reference to Cabinet, in which case the Minister for Transport is to take appropriate action as and when required."

The Northern Fisheries Association, which represented salmonid anglers in the Launceston and central north, had been agitating for some time for a restructuring of the whole Fisheries Commissioners, it seemed likely that they may have preferred a link with tourism. The Ogilvie decision did not please them and their continued criticism was to dog the new Minister for the whole of period of administration.

The Tasmanian Fishermen's, Fishworkers and Scallop Dredgers Association.

A group of Hobart fishermen wasted no time in seeking the assistance of the new Minister in redressing some of their complaints. Believing their case might receive more serious consideration if they were part of an organisation they sought the assistance of a powerful figure in Labor circles, the Secretary of the Hobart Trades Hall Council, J.H. O'Neill. O'Neill was Secretary of the Council for 40 years from 1927 and "based his power on small unions unable to pay full time officers." Thus the fishermen were another useful little group to strengthen the Secretary's power and would give him the opportunity to cause a long time adversary, Albert Ogilvie, irritation through the relationship between some of the members and the former Minister. O'Neill promptly formed the fishermen into a union entitled "The Tasmanian Fishermen's, Fishworkers and Scallop Dredgers Association" with himself as Secretary. The union only ever seemed to represent a limited number of Hobart fishermen and entirely ignored those elsewhere. Notwithstanding this O'Neill led a delegation to Eric Ogilvie on 3 September on behalf of "Tasmanian fishermen". The delegation addressed the Minister on:

- prices, particularly of scallops;

- farmers engaging in part time fishing;

- child labour;

- lack of inspection, particularly of the quality of fish;

- competition from Victorian fishermen;

Despite the impressive agenda the real object of the delegation was a dispute between the Hobart fishermen and Casimaty Bros., the leading city fish merchants. Gregory and Anthony Casimaty emigrated from Greece in 1905 aged 14 and worked in Sydney fish cafes. His father had come to Australia in 1891 but after five years he had to return home, he urged Gregory to also try his luck here. The brothers arrived in Hobart around 1914 and despite finding it very quiet invested his small capital in a fish resturant with a Mr Galonis. They steadily built their Hobart retail and wholesale business to a position of near domination. Casimaty's, and the other fish wholesalers, had been displaced from their traditional site on Macquarie Point and obtained a city site from the Hobart Corporation. From this central position they were able to expand their retailing. The usual disparity between retail and wholeasle prices fanned the simmering resentment of fishermen. The wholesalers answered the fishermen's claim by letter to the Board reporting that the prices were "fair" - citing that one fisherman had received 650 for 4 months scallop fishing. They denied any widespread purchasing from part-time fishermen claiming they purchased 84% of their scallops from full-time fishermen. Chairman Lord sought reports from various police officers, including Challenger, but the investigation failed to find much evidence to support the fishermen's case. Sgt. Challenger's report was particularly unsympathetic suggesting that the fishermen's claim against part-time scallop fishermen was simply an attempt to reduce competition. The Attorney-General replied to O'Neill in September that there was no substance to the fishermen's claim and in particular:-

- the price of scallops was in fact twice the figure claimed by the deputation.

- quality inspections was the responsibility of the Hobart City Council and it did carry out inspections.

- the Constitution prevented any move to exclude Victorian fishermen from waters near to Tasmania.

However the fishermen had one notable victory, the Minister agreed to recommend to Cabinet that the Act be amended to give fishermen a seat on the Board.

It took two months for O'Neill to obtain a quorum of his members and prepare a reply. The union maintained "that the farmer-cum-scallopers were a distinct menace to the legitimate fishermen" and urged that as licences could be refused under the Transport Act this power should be included in the Fisheries Act. The letter concluded by drawing attention to "the manifestly unfair and biased statements" by Sgt. Challenger. It was claimed that his comments were "quite sufficient to display the bias and prejudice of the officer towards those legitimately engaged in the fishing industry. This attitude of bias and prejudice is also openly displayed by some present members of the Sea Fisheries Board."

The Amendment Act of 1935

During the year following the election of the Albert Ogilvie Government, Jack O'Neill's fishermen's union was not the only group urging amendment to the Fisheries Act, anglers in northern Tasmania were again agitating. Ogilvie's 1925 Act had set up the Sea Fisheries Board and a 16 member independent Commission to manage fisheries in freshwater. The Commission saw its role as promoting the sport of trout angling and its regulations rigidly confined the catching of salmonids to "approved methods". Generally speaking anglers were expected, and in many cases restricted to, the use of fishing rod with artificial lures - either tied feathers, known as flies for their resemblance to the insects which lived on or near the surface of the water, or solid objects which resembled the small fish and other aquatic animals, which constituted the trout's natural food. The sporting angler sought an "almost" even battle with the prey and thus limited his equipment - his aim was the contest not the catch. On the other hand recreational fishermen, (and the commercial fishermen), seeking a big catch to supplement the larder, knew natural bait was much more likely to be successful and a heavy hand line more likely to land the fish. Conflict between these two groups had been a feature of Tasmanian fisheries for over a century. Despite the restrictions on fishing gear catches of trout were such as to convince the Commission that the expensive programme of restocking the lakes continued to be necessary. In 1933-34 750,000 young trout were liberated in Great Lake alone.

Community support for freshwater fisheries came not only for its recreational and sporting value but the claim that it assisted the economy through tourism. Angling bodies maintained that those who could afford a fishing holiday in Tasmanian lakes were "true sportsmen" thus the continued use of natural bait and other "non sporting" methods were not only a threat to trout stocks but also to the tourist industry. Abnormally dry weather throughout 1933 and early 1934 had adversely affected angling and awakened simmering criticism of the Commission. The brew of discontent based on the natural bait question was spiced with the old favourite, north-south rivalry. The Commission had no secretariat and a group of Hobart Commissioners acted as an administrative executive. This southern cabal inevitably fostered episodes of disagreement with the angling bodies in northern and north western Tasmania and a perception of special power in the hands of the Southern Tasmanian Licensed Anglers Association. When the Commission banned the use of natural bait in Great Lake in 1933 it received vociferous objections from some northern areas particularly a branch of the Northern Tasmanian Fisheries Association centred at Deloraine. This group attacked the move as "class legislation" - denying the poor, who could not afford the sportsmen's rod and lures, access to freshwater fish. Combined with the parochial cry of "Hobart rule" this was a potent combination in the election environment of autumn 1934 and prompted the Labour, then in Opposition, to promise assured access for "grub fishermen" and a restructured Freshwater Fisheries Commission with some elected Commissioners.

Immediately on assuming the fisheries portfolio Eric Ogilvie realised he had no direct power to ensure the continuation of live bait fishing.Without disbanning the Commission by legislation he could only hope to convince them to change their mind. He began negotiating with the Commission, and the three regional angling bodies, to restore some grub fishing and to restructure the Commission. The negotiations included sending copies of the draft Bill to the four organisations but he could only get 3 of the 16 Commissioners to support his position. As the provisions of the draft Bill were widely discussed in the press , when Ogilvie moved the Second Reading in the House of Assembly on 22 August his speech contained few surprises. The Bill planned to reduced the number of Commissioners from 16 to 11 and to appointed a member of the fishermen's union to the Board, but made no mention of the promise to allow some natural bait fishing in Great Lake.

This Bill occupied the Parliament for longer than any other piece of fisheries legislation before or since. It resulted in a meeting of managers and an embarrassing defeat for the Government but in the torrent of debate not one word was said about three of the clauses which eventually altered the nature of commercial fishing in Tasmania. The Bill encouraged the extension of the trade union movement to the fishing industry; it gave commercial fishermen an executive role in the management of sea fisheries for the first time; and f even greater importance it allowed the restriction of access to sea fisheries, through the refusal of to issue a licence, for the first time. The first change failed to blossom and the second would have come eventually but infringing the right of persons to freely take swimming fish established by Magna Carta by the refusal of a commercial fishing licence, was not widely enshrined in Australian law until the 1970's and is still shunned in some countries with a base in English law. Yet the Members of the House of Assembly were too concerned over the use of worms to take trout to give it a mention! The Parliament confined itself almost exclusively to an amendment to allow grub fishing.

The debate began the Minister Eric Ogilvie claiming that there had been "a great deal of dissatisfaction among fishing interests" but all the members of angling bodies could do was to criticise each other. He defended the Government's record claiming the grant of 600 for inland fisheries compared favourably with support in New South Wales and New Zealand. In response to an interjection from C.E. James, Ogilvie revealed his irritation over the past year's negotiations.

"I have never met such a disgusting type of individual in my Ministerial experience as among fisheries" and later "There were certain individuals who were interested in a campaign of lying and misrepresentation.".

This intemperate outburst was roundly criticise by the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Walter Lee, the press, angling bodies and later, in the Legislative Council, it probably contributed much to the Government's ultimate humiliation. Lee began the debate for the Opposition and foreshadowed an amendment to reduce the number of Commissioners to 6, his supporters followed that line and also urged that inland fisheries should be associated with the Tourist Department rather than Police. After several hours the debate was adjourned and resumed on the evening of 27 August when the second speaker of the evening, McGrath, suggested that regulations of bag limits should allow live bait fishing. The next three speakers were all sympathetic to some live bait fishing with bag limits or in restricted areas. Although Pearsall attempted to engender interest in sea fishing the House was settled on discussing only three matters - the number of Commissioners, a technically qualified director of both the sea and inland fisheries bodies and grub fishing.When the Bill reached the Third Reading stage Lee moved his amendment to reduce the Commissioners from 11 to 7 ( not the six he had foreshadowed) but this was easily defeated 16 to 7. The Opposition gained some minor changes but lost the move to link inland fisheries to Tourism.

The controversial Labour member George Becker then sought an assurance from Ogilvie that when the regulations were framed they would curtail Commission's powers "to prohibit grub fishing." Ogilvie was unable to give the assurance as the Commission was independent but proposed another amendment to the Bill that would require all regulations to satisfy "the Governor for adequate allowance for fishing with natural bait." Perceiving an opportunity to embarrass the Government, or at least win the approval of the Deloraine fishermen, Lee moved to further limit the Commission's powers to restrict grub fishing. Debate on "grub fishing" continued late into the night and eventually Lee withdrew his amendement, the other related amendements were defeated but Ogilvie's proposal was passed. The consequences of this Bill becoming law were substantial for the anglers. Their Commission, hitherto independent, would have a Government veto over regulations on the nature of trout fishing.

The amended Bill went to the Legislative Council with the supporters of trout angling well primed for battle. Tasman Shields, a Commissioner, immediatetly moved that Ogilvie's amendment on grub fishing be deleted and his motion was agreed to by 8 votes to 6. With the threat repulsed the Bill was returned to the House of Assembly. The Minister moved that the House disagree with the Council's amendment, and was supported by Lee but anglers were not without support. Henry Baker, the former Minister, warned that grub fishing would have disastrous affects on Great Lake. "Thousands of pounds had been spent on building chalets and roads, and the Government was now prepared to embark on a policy that would ruin the Great Lake so far as tourists were concerned." he said. The debate was adjourned for almost a month and on 25 September and the House voted to oppose the Council on the grounds that "adequate provisions should be made for fishing with natural bait, particularly in view of the fact that a large number of taxpaying anglers desire it." The justification of the amendment on the grounds of popularity strengthened the resolve of the opponents of grub fishing in the Council and they again refused to accede to the Assembly's wish. A move to compromise was norrowly lost by 1 vote. Amongst the three reasons sent to the House of Assembly was "that the proposed amendment would make the question of natural bait fishing a political one." The Assembly took strong exception to the Council's attempt to put themselves above politics its reasons were, "a reflection on the intelligence of the House" said Sir Walter Lee piously. George Becker was nearer the mark with his comment that "we are (not) any greater vote catchers here than they are in another place." The Parliament was deadlocked.

At a meeting of managers the Government decided to quickly limit its losses and abandon support for the "working man's pastime", and conceded. When the House resumed Lee took pleasure in "congratulating the Government on having a Legislative Council which saved it from itself." He reminded the Premier of his election promises on natural bait fishing and that as his original Bill contained no such measure he should be satisfied with an Act consistent with the Bill. Whilst the Premier attacked Lee for hypocrisy reminding the Opposition that it they who had promoted the natural bait amendment ( although in its final form the amendment stood in the name of his brother, the Minister Eric Ogilvie) he could but admit that the Government could not afford to lose the whole Bill "on which they had spent 10,000" but would have liked to reveal what took place at the meeting of Managers.

A Fisherman Joins the Board

The Act became law on 18 October 1935 and Eric Ogilvie set about establishing a new Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Commission by appointment and through elections in the angling associations. Despite a personal approach from the Minister Tasman Shields refused appointment on the advice of the Northern Tasmanian Fisheries Association. The new Act provided for changed representation on the Sea Fisheries Board but no increase in the number of members. The Minister was saved from an embarrassing decision by the resignation of Hobart ship's chandler J.G. Turner, but it was late November before he wrote to the Secretary of the Tasmanian Fishermen's, Fishworkers' and Scallop Dredges Association asking him "to submit...the name of a person who, in the opinion of your Association would make a suitable representation." On the 10 December the Secretary Jack O'Neill provocatively nominating Patrick Appleton. Appleton had been convicted in 1926 of having used abusive language to Inspector Challenger; evidence was given that Appleton called the Inspector "a liar, a squib and a crawler." Appleton's abuse included the Attorney-General (now Premier) Albert Ogilvie - "You (Challenger) and Ogilvie are a pair of grafters." Ogilvie had personally prosecuted the case and was later accused of persecuting the fisherman. Challenger admitted that he and Appleton were not friends and alleged during the hearing that the defendant persistently refused to comply with the regulations, was irresponsible and mentally deficient.

The nomination suited the Board no better than the Premier. Lord urgently wrioe to the Minister suggesting a way out by reminding him that the new Act provided only for a person to represent the Association not a nominee of the Association. It was the prerogative of the Government to select the representative, was his advice. Lord also prompted the Minister to investigate the bona fides of the Association and reminded him of rival fisherman's organisations like the Tasmanian Fish Co-operation Pty. Ltd. of Dunalley which represented cray fishermen. After acknowledging O'Neill's letter nominating Appleton, Ogilvie was given a better opportunity when he received a letter from R.A. Smith claiming that an earlier meeting of the Association had nominated him to be the representative and he was therefore surprised to hear of Appleton's nomination. On making enquiries he had been assured by the chairman of that meeting that Appleton's nomination had not come from a regular meeting. in his letter Smith said that "the chairman" refused to put his views in writing but understood that "Appleton's nomination arose from an interview by the Secretary with two or three other members of the Association." Ogilvie asked Lord, as Commissioner of Police, to make "discreet enquiries." Lord asked Challenger, his only fisheries officer, to make the enquiries - perhaps not an entirely unbiased investigator, and not likely to be as discreet as the Minister might have hoped. Challenger's reported that Smith had been nominated at a proper meeting, also attended by Appleton and O'Neill, and chaired by the President, V C (Bill) Williams. Challenger reported that O'Neill had nominated Appleton because "he was unable to get in touch with Smith....many fishermen felt Appleton was not a suitable person but Smith was of excellent character." Ogilvie interviewed Smith and then took Challenger's report to Cabinet together with a letter from scallop fishermen in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel objecting to Appleton who was "bitterly opposed" to their participation in the fishery. Ogilvie wrote to O'Neill on 16 January informing him that Cabinet had rejected Appleton "in view of his record" and appointed Smith to the Board.

O'Neill responded "by direction of a resolution of the members" stating Smith was not now in the industry being a traveller for a hardware firm and thus cannot be a member of the Association and if Appleton was not suitable the Association should have been asked for another nomination. The Government stood firm and Ogilvie finally abruptly told the Association the Act provided for the Governor to appoint their representative and "your Associastion was consulted only as a matter of courtesy. Cabinet understood that Mr. Smith was nominated by a duly convened meeting of your Association and considered him a more suitable nominee than Appleton." Appleton's Irish ancestry probably predisposed him to clash with the fisheries authorities yet he remained a well known fishermen in Hobart for many years. He was probably the last fisherman to use rings to catch crayfish commercially, having vehemently opposed the introduction of pots he refused to have them on his boat. His vessel Olive May was said to be the first scalloper to use a winch. His son Bert joined his father on the Olive May in 1934, aged 12, and Pat died four years later. Bert took over the responsibility continued fishing in it for fifty years. Although O'Neill responded by expelling Smith from the Association, he remained a member of the Board until August 1937 when he resigned and the Government accepted the Association's next nominee, V.C. Williams, as his replacement.

The membership of the Board remained constant for the remainder of its life save for the appointment of Dr. Joseph Pearson after the death of Clive Lord, and the retirement of Col. Lord at the end of 1940. Pearson was a very well qualified biologist who had been Director of Fisheries in Ceylon and had come to tasmania as director of the Museum. His long and distinguished career in Ceylon. From 1910 to 1933 he undertook the foundation surveys of the island's fishery resources, established a Fisheries Department, and served as its Director until his retirement. His work is recorded in many publications, particularly in the Bulletin of Ceylon Fisheries. V.V. Hickman did valuable work particularly on the biology of crayfish but Sgt. Challenger remained the only full-time officer.


Fowler's Initiative

During the 1930's the development of fisheries was dependent on a few Commonwealth initiatives. The State had almost no resources to either support development projects or provide basic information that could reduce the risks in their eatablishment. But the spirit of Herbert Gepp had forged a co-operative outlook between the Commonwealth and the State Fisheries Authorities that was to survive for another 30 years. Although Gepp had left the fisheries scene his assistant Stanley Fowler almost single handedly carried the development torch until 1942. His work was the more remarkable for having to operate in an environment of tardiness and outright ineptitude in CSIR from 1933 to 1937. Following the Government's decision late in 1933 to make 80,000 available over four years to acquire a pelagic fishing research vessel it took CSIR almost three years to finalise plans and it was almost five years before the vessel was ready.

Fowler did not wait for the vessel but decided to use the latest technology to further the development of the pelagic resources off south eastern Australia. Early in 1936 he sought to define the pelagic resources from the air rather than from the research vessel. He personally negotiated an arrangement with Air Vice Marshall Williams and the Air Board for the use of a Seagull amphibian, free of charge, to evaluate aerial surveying and photography of fish schools and fishing ports. With a photographer from the Department of Commerce using cine and still cameras, they spent six weeks from October 21 to December 1 flying off the coast from Sydney to Hobart. The Sea Fisheries Board was an eager supporter of the project positioning the "Allara" with Tom Challenger in charge in Bass Strait to provide ground truth for the aerial observations; the aircraft and vessel being linked by radio. As neither New South Wales nor Victoria possessed a sea going vessel the assistance they could provide was more limited.

This project was one of the first to use of aircraft support of fisheries research. The difficulties and excitement of this exercise in a primitive aircraft in unfavourable weather is a story that should have been told in detail. The first trial proved that fish schools could be mapped but the identification of the species in the school was not easy. Tom Challenger was greatly impressed by both the technique and the potential of the fishery. Not even the stitled language of the police sergeant's report to Col. Lord could hide his excitement. Still photography was successful but cine photography, a hoped for quantative technique, proved wasteful. Nevertheless Fowler wanted another trial of this technique in February when other species should be present in the waters of eastern Bass Strait.

"A Marine Klondike"

At the end of January 1937 a fisherman, George Bridge, caught two large fish which Lord sent to Fowler. The fish proved to be bluefin tuna, an excellent canning fish, and the discovery heralded a period of exceptional optimism.The enthusiasm generated by Fowler's venture had an immediate impact - several expressions of interest from private companies were received by the Board before the end of the year. The Commonwealth Government agreed to another survey and the Board eagerly offered the "Allara" and Sgt. Challenger. The Premier glowingly reported the prospects when Parliament resumed, the Mercury headlined his comments. - "Marine Klondike". Albert Ogilvie was entitled to bathe in the favourable publicity after spending so long in creating an environment in which Tasmanian fisheries could develop. Sadly just as a major fishing industry seemed to have arrived both Albert Ogilvie and Joseph Lyons died. The publicity also attracted game fishermen to the St. Helens area - Eric Ogilvie and Lord took a first hand look at this new fishery in March with two leading Melbourne game fishermen. The prospect of game fishing stimulated another burst of enthusiasm for fishing as a tourist attraction appeared in Tasmanian newspapers.

As with many so called "fishery discoveries", before and since, much of the information was more of a rediscovery rather than a revelation. As soon as Fowler had completed his first flight, E.E. (Dick) Andrews, a fisherman of St. Helens and late Senior Inspector of Fisheries, was able to advise the Board that fishermen were aware that "skipjack arrive off St. Helens in the first week of February and stay for three months", they are found "in the southerly warm current a quarter of a mile wide, 5 miles off shore and are found only in this water extending as far south as Schouten Island."

The tuna resource needed confirmation by further surveys and despite the local enthusiasm to capitalise on the new opportunity, the Board, shackled by lack of funds, could only advance at the slow pace dictated by the Commonwealth. That pace of CSIR was at at "mark time" while a chief of the new Division was appointed. After a wide search by Professor Dakin, Dr. Harold Thompson formerly of the Canadian fisheries laboratory in Nova Scotia, was appointed to take charge of the CSIR fisheries programme. The transfer of authority from Fowler to the new director further slowed the impetus. It was now five years since the Commonwealth announced that it would acquire a vessel and twelve years since the Gepp and Flynn urged the second national fisheries conference to support a major effort to utilise pelagic fish resources. Immediately Thompson arrived Lord wrote a letter of welcome which the new chief answered with an acknowledgement of past co-operation and a pledge to continue the joint work. The commissioning of the long awaited CSIR vessel, called "Wareen", in May 1938 allowed Fowler to catch and land fish in substantial quantities for the first time. Thompson's first task was to prepare a cruise programme for the vessel. The vessel proved to be very effective and the Division was able to keep it at sea for some 300 days a year until it was requisitioned by the navy for war service. The "Wareen's" first cruise left Sydney and terminated in Hobart on 17 May and successfully caught tuna.

The Board advised the Government that in order to full economic advantage from the resource it would be necessary to establish a tuna canning industry and steps should be taken to secure this development . As an incentive they recommended a bounty for the first 2000 tons of tuna marketed from Tasmania and estimated that given a sliding scale of 8 a ton for albacore down to 4 for "bonita", the total cost would be not more than 16,000. They believed that by the time 2000 tons had been produced the industry would be "well established"; the Premier and the Minister agreed to the scheme. The Mercury perceptively questioned whether Tasmania or another State would eventually be the beneficiary of the resource, Victorian newspapers began to report the prospects in June. The Mercury and the Examiner urged the Government not to delay in an editorials on 16th June. Ogilvie visited Melbourne that month and returned confessing surprise at the interest there in the establishment of a tuna cannery . The Board's attempts to consolidate the development was not helped by derogatory comments on the quality of tuna by some Hobart fishermen and fish processors. Ogilvie acknowledged this in a letter to Lord in June referring to a persistent rumour...that tuna is a coarse food fit only for what are termed "dagoes", further, that there is no market for it." Cabinet asked the Board to obtain information from overseas to counter these claims. In Lord's reply setting out the potential value of a tuna canning industry he added that he personally found tuna to be of "first quality" and questioned whether the term "fit only for dagoes" was in fact derogatory. "I have not heard it seriously contended that Britishers are greater epicures than the so called "dagoes" or that we excel in the culinary art. "Fit only for dagoes" may indeed by the highest compliment that can be paid to this splendid fish."

Ogilvie made a long statement highlighting the developments in fishing, the co-operation with CSIR and the potential for future growth. He praised the Board for its role in these achievements and promised further Government assistance. Despite the encouragement Tasmanian investors declined to take up the Government's offer and Ogilvie and the Minister for Lands and Works (Major Davies) were forced to look elsewhere. They opened negotiations with Metropolitan Ice and Fast Food Co. Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne for the establishment of a freezing and canning factory at Lady Barron on Flinders Island. These discussions bore fruit and the factory was opened by Col. Lord on 27 April with great ceremony. H. Jones & Company were actively interested in canning fish but unfortunately the tuna catches peaked at the same time as the fruit, the mainstay of its operations. Jones & Co. agreed to test can 90 tons of tuna but they were surprised to discover that there were no vessels to catch the fish! A Hobart fisherman B.T. Cuthbertson agreed to refit his vessel "Weerutta" and the Government granted 350 to cover the cost of insulating the fish hold, much of the remaining costs were reputably met by H. Jones & Co. The "Weerutta's" first tuna cruise commenced on the 9 May 1939 and she returned a week later with a ton of bluefin tuna caught off the south east coast. An officer from CSIR assisted in the first cruise and its success was widely publicised. The fish was canned and Ogilvie took much pleasure in hosting a luncheon for the Premier, E. Dwyer- Gray, where the new product was the centre of attraction. Jones & Co. canned a total of 12 tons and received high praise from the market for the product. The second cruise yielded over 1/2 ton of bluefin but revealed that the "Weerutta's" petrol engine was not powerful enough and a new diesel engine was needed. Lord urged the Government to provide the 800 needed as Cuthbertson could not, and Jones & Co. would not, meet the cost. He felt that as the war would undoubtedly increase the demand for canned fish such a loan would be safe. Ogilvie referred the request to Cosgrove as Minister for New Industries and the Treasurer (Dwyer Gray). But with the death of Albert Ogilvie the ability of the Government to act quickly in order to seize a development opportunity was gone. Lord was already concerned that a tuna fishery was beginning in South Australia and on the 19 October he suggested that as the Government could not find the 800 the Agriculture Bank Act should be amended to permit it to lend money for fishing. A month later Ogilvie also exhibited concern over the delay when a press report suggested that the tuna fishery may be centred in New South Wales. He asked Lord to check with Jones & Co. on "the position of the industry in Hobart." Lord confirmed that recent discussion with Fowler in Melbourne centred on prospects in New South Wales and plans to build a new tuna cannery at Narooma. Mainland fishermen had been told by Jones & Co. that they could not accept tuna until May, but would still take Cuthbertson's catches. The vacuum left by jones & Co. was filled by rivals interstate.

With the State Government seemingly unable to overcome the problem of a lack of tuna fishing boats Lord attempted to obtain Commonwealth assistance through CSIR. He impressed on Rivett that the Tasmanian Government had supported the development of the fishery but now it required loans to fishermen so they could acquire suitable boats. Ogilvie forwarded Lord's report to Dwyer Gray and urged him to directly approach the Federal Government in support of the CSIR recommendation.

By January 1940 the Mercury was referring to the tuna fishery as "Tasmania's last chance" but the problems of the "Weerutta" continued. The Government's plan that the "Weerutta" would demonstrate the viability of the tuna fishery around Tasmania was in trouble. The factory on Flinders Island was also in trouble, for lack of supplies. Cuthbertson was disillusioned with the venture and wanted to convert his vessel to a trading ketch. Ogilvie was anxious to keep the "Weerutta" fishing; the withdrawal of the only effective tuna fishing vessel in Tasmania would be proof to his detractors that the Government had failed to take advantage of "the marine klondike" Robert Cosgrove, now Premier, wrote to the Flinders Island Trading Company on the 26 February 1940 expressing disappointment at their difficulties and suggesting that they buy the "Weerutta". The summer of 1940 again produced good catches and the canned fish produced by H. Jones was well received in Melbourne. Lord now doubted that the "Weerutta" would ever solve the problem and wrote to his Minister on the 6 March judging Cuthbertson "an unsuitable man as a fisherman." The position at Flinders Island had become so serious that Lord feared the factory would be closed. Despite the attempts of Lord and Fowler through CSIR and H.C. Barnard MHR for Bass in Parliament, no Commonwealth aid to increase the fleet was forthcoming; with World War II only six months old Canberra's attention was focussed elsewhere.

In May another meeting was held between the Board and Cuthbertson's legal representative, Nick McKenna. This canvassed all the options including ways the Government might operate the vessel. By now Eric Ogilvie had lost interest and declined to act and declared the matter to be the responsibility of the Minister for New Industries, now Tom D'Alton. Ogilvie then agreed to give Cuthbertson the engine bought for the vessel if in return he would continue to fish for tuna around Tasmania: it was Ogilvie's last significant decision as Minister for Sea Fisheries. The Mercury continued to actively support the tuna fishery and the Flinders Island venture in particular. The paper commissioned a special investigation by Francis Yew which was published in January 1941. The Commonwealth was still not prepared to assist and eventually decided to pass the problem on to the Tariff Board.

The Board Under Attack

In addition to the attempts to develop the tuna fishery the pre-war period saw other changes including the growth of scallop fishery. Fishing for scallops had begun around 1914 with small boats dredging in the Derwent Estuary. With the development of the D'Entrecateaux channel beds annual catches grew from 7 million in 1934 to 18 million in 1938. The scallops were marketed with the roe attached and thus a brightly coloured full roe improved both the appearance and weight of the scallop. The roe filled during the winter and fishing was prohibited until the roe had started to fill. Towards August the roe was usually full and likely to burst during processing, fishing was usually halted at this point. The adherence to this pattern of harvesting created a distinct season with vessels leaving other fisheries to harvest scallops and casual labour, idle after the fruit season congregated to fish or process scallops. The regulated dates opening and closing the scallop and lobster seasons formed the axis of the fisherman's life.beginning lobster fishing at the start of November and as summer ended gearing up for scallops. Some returned to lobster for a month or two in mid June others remained scalloping until the spring gales signalled the end of the year. September and October were devoted to annual maintenance.

The scallop season was keenly awaited by Hobartians and as the date of the opening approached newspapers speculated about the season and the likely price of the delicacy. The scallop publicity in March and April was encouraged by processors and retailers and inevitably lead to a round of matching political activity. More than one Minister for fisheries felt complelled to personally participate surveying the beds to acquaint himself fully with prospects for the forthcoming season. The pressure to supply the market combined with the limited skills of some of the casual labour brought problems.

The Board received three petitions, in September 1934, May 1936 and 1939 claiming that "cocky farmers" be refused licences to prohibit them from supplementary part-time shore employment with fishing. In 1939 Lord advised that the Board has no power to refuse licences; it had not used the power granted in 1935 to gazette regulations for this purpose. Ogilvie responded with a expression of sympathy for the position of fishermen but "the principle was quite wrong and it would surprise me if Parliament would agree to any such proposal.....The matter was well thrashed out a few years ago and I see no great reason to alter the decision ... the circumstances have not altered." The Minister's response suggests that the power granted in 1935 was only to be used to refuse licences to individuals and not to restrict the number of fishermen in general.The right of commercial fishermen to hold other jobs was steadfstly manintained by Tasmanian Labor Governments despite their generally adherence to the principle of "one man-one job".

The demand for scallops led the Board to consider opening the season 2 weeks earlier and reducing the minimum size of doughboys to 2 1/2 inches. In what was to become a familiar pattern over the next decade, the 1939 scallop season opened with a big increase in fishing effort. By the end of May the Minister, worried by press reports of waste, half the scallops being found dead and scallops being marketed without any significant roe, sought the advice of the Board. Dr. Pearson advised that the very mild autumn was probably the cause of the delayed formation of the roe and quality should improve later in the year.


A campaign from the north on the administration of inland fisheries continued to pester the Minister; the northern anglers, and the Examiner , the alleged southern dominance of the new Salmon & FreshWater Fisheries Commission. By the end of 1939 the Board and the Minister were being attacked for the "loss of tuna fishery" to other States and the poor quality of scallops. There was also a shortage of fish in Hobart which was also laid at the door of the Sea Fisheries Board. It was also alleged to have allowed Casimaty Bros to have a monopoly in the wholesale trade in fish and failed to control their new danish seiner "Nelson" which was accused of "systematically cleaning out fish in the Derwent". In 1935 Casimaty had gone to New Zealand to investigate importing crayfish. On visiting Port Lyttleton he had been impressed by danish seining. He discussed the construction of a 50 ft vessel with the Hobart builder Harold McKay. To address the shortage in supply of table fish the Board had encouraged the firm to build thevessel and equip it with a danish seine as they could see that this method of trawling well suited to fishing in the reef studded waters of Tasmania.

The Heerey Enquiry

The growing discontent of Hobart sea fishermen was collated by Francis Xavier Heerey, Labor MHA for Dennison, and expressed in Parliament in December 1939. He called for a Board of Enquiry and set out three "charges" in a letter to Ogilvie on 29 January 1940:

(1) Trawling in bays and various parts of the Derwent Estuary by the trawler "Nelson".

(2) Lack of proper marketing facilities and complaints regarding the control of the present market;

(3) General.

Apart from the first, the vague grounds reflect general discontent with the administration. The second charge had been investigated by the Flynn Royal Commission, and the evidence that would be presented to support it was remarkably similar to that given 24 yeras before. The first charge once again reflected the reactionary attitude of Hobart fishermen which had been recognised by Saville-Kent 50 years before and delayed the introduction of crayfish pots until 1926. In fact the underlying pressure for the enquiry was jealousy of the success and outlook of the Casimaty brothers.

Ogilvie met Heerey and promised him that if he made the charges in writing they would be submitted to the Board for investigation; alternatively he could meet the Board and discuss them. Heerey chose the latter but after meeting Lord, he reaffirmed his demand for an independent enquiry. Ogilvie wrote to him on January 23 and rather precipitously agreed to an enquiry chaired by a police magistrate assisted by a member of the Board and a fisherman nominated by Heerey; on the same day he informed his Cabinet colleagues. Why did Ogilvie agree to a public enquiry which could result in negative publicity for the Board and the Government? Although the he apparently believed it would only last "a few days", a glance at previous enquiries should have warned him that it would probably be long and accompanied by considerable publicity.

Heerey was a Hobart publican and clubman who served one complete term in parliament from 1937 to 1941 and a year in 1945-6 on a recount after his defeat in 1941. At the time of the enquiry he was government whip and secretary of the parliamentary labour party, but there seems no obvious reason for Ogilvie to so readily agree to have his own administration openly investigated at the request of one of his own side. If it was "an error of judgement" perhaps his rapid resignation is more easily understood.

Heerey's charges stemmed from a petition "signed by 46 fishermen" which Ogilvie took to Cabinet on 31 January, after he had told Heerey he would hold an enquiry. The possible adverse consequences were quickly seen and it was decided that the Premier(Cosgrove) and Treasurer(Dwyer-Gray) should interview Heerey before "making a decision". The Cabinet's action seems like an attempt to head off the enquiry that Ogilvie himself said had no substance and that the claims had been dealt with some years ago (presumably he meant in1934). Heerey "unfortunately bought into a very old feud" said an Examiner editorial, referring to the matters as a "the well worn subject". The proposed enquiry was further discussed in Cabinet on the 20 February, where it was decided that, in view of the Minister's commitment, the enquiry to go ahead and it was publicy announced that day.

The membership of the Board of Enquiry reflects an attempt from all sides to impartially examine the charges. The Chairman, Colonel Clark, was determined to exercise authority and to see that legal principles were observed. On several occasions he clashed with Mr. Heerey and witnesses for treating the hearing as a extension of his court; Heerey accused the Chairman of "bullying" witnessses . Despite Ogilvie's original proposal no member of the Sea Fisheries Board was appointed to the enquiry although Andrewartha assisted them. S.E. Burgess was the Government's nominee, and the industry "chose" a Hobart City alderman, A.J. Beck, to represent them although there appears to be no obvious link between him and the industry.

As the enquiry began in the Hobart Police Court on the 7th March 1940 Heerey's opening remarks confirmed his intention that the exercise was aimed at the alleged monopoly of Casimaty Bros. and their association with the other major retailer W.G. Bowtell. In the light of this N.E. McKenna was permitted to represent them; later T.H. Lane received similar status on behalf of fishermen subpoenaed to give evidence.

In brief Heerey's case was that :

(1) the operation of the Nelson threatened the existence of the stocks of trawl fish and such a boat should not be allowed to operate within three miles of the shore of estuaries and bays;

(2) there should be an open market and all fish supplies for Hobart should pass through it;

(3) the Casimaty organisation received favoured treatment from the Sea Fisheries Board;

(4) the power to confiscate unlicensed boats was too drastic and investors would not risk the financing vessels;

(5) "the financing system" in which fish buyers advanced operating capital for gear and fuel return for first offer of the catch had resulted in the industry getting into "one pair of hands."

The Board of Enquiry took evidence from 61 witnesses and sat for almost two months. Predictably the Chairman sought and received two extensions but in April he was refused permission to take evidence outside Hobart and urged to conclude the enquiry. Each day the proceedings were reported in the newspapers - particularly the Mercury. Both Andrewartha and Challenger gave evidence on behalf of the Sea Fisheries Board and explained that more than two years ago when Casimaty's were planning the "Nelson" they sought approval from the Board and received every encouragement to introduce the danish seine technique. With minor exceptions they had adhered to the conditions set for its operations. Challenger, in evidence, referred to the claim, that one small danish seiner was the cause of the scarcity of fish, as "ridiculous." Andrewartha suggested that there were other causes for the shoratges and Challenger named the industrialisation of Hobart as one reason.

The "financing system" enables fishermen to conduct their business virtually without operating capital. Money is advanced for fuel, gear, bait and food and deducted from payments made for the catch. This interest free service was provided by all processors from around 1920 to at least 1985. Greg Casimaty estimated that he had advanced 40,000 between 1920 and 1948. It is difficult to imagine how fishermen could have been advantaged by any alternative arrangement.

The Report of the Enquiry was handed down on the 15 May and found:

1) On the claimants

Of the 45 petitioners only 26 were real people (the remaining signatures were from the same hand) and some of those were not engaged in the fishing industry;

2) On the operations of the Nelson

There was no fault with the management of trawling by the Sea Fisheries Board but recommended that the regulations should be amended to apply a minimum size of 3 inches to the "bunt" of the danish seine and seining in the Derwent and D'Entrecasteaux Channel be prohibited. There was no evidence to support the suggestion that Casimaty's got favoured treatment;

3) On marketing.

They concluded that even if a fish market were re-opened many fishermen would not support it. "It would be doomed to failure". If suburban fish mongers had difficulty in obtaining supplies of fish they should consider a co-operative approach to fishermen. A central depot for scallops was not advisable.

Hobart fish shops are regularly inspected by Council Health Inspectors but shopkeepers should also take the advice of a recent CSIR pamphlet. In particular there was room for vast improvement in the conditions of the rear of Bowtells and Casimaty's shops in Elizabeth Street. The Government should examine its policy regarding fish and poultry cleaning as a "noxious trade".

Fishermen could still obtain space to operate an open market if they wished.

A suitable shed should be provided at Victoria Dock for export packing and exporters should comply with CSIR recommendations.

Tasmanian marketing officers should report on the marketing of fish;

4) On the scarcity of fish

The Enquiry had no definite opinion could be found as the reason for the scarcity of fish, but greater efforts might be made to encourage the exploitation of seals!

5) In addition it was recommended that crayfish pots should be confined to licensed persons and scallop dredges be used by amateurs only if licensed. Nets used by persons other than licensed fishermen should be licensed and tagged.

The Report was considered a disappointment by the newspapers. A Mercury editorial said "With all due respects to the sincerity of Mr. F.X. Heerey MHA it may be said that the fireworks promised as a result of the fishing industry enquiry resulted only in the production of a damp squib." , but the editor absolved Mr. Heerey of blame saying he "acted in the public interest" but his information was not reliable. The Advocate reported that the enquiry had found "not a tittle of evidence" to support the allegations against the Board. Perhaps the electors of Denison were also disappointed and declined to give Heerey a second term as their representative.

The Casimaty's had sent the Nelson and their second vessel Margaret Thwaites to Sydney during the enquiry. Whilst fishing there the skipper, Victor Vauges,a New Zealander specially recruited for the Nelson, was lost overboard. "This made me lose all heart I had in seining" he told the Fisheries Newsletter in February 1948.

The End of the Ogilvies

The Ogilvie years came to an end with one of the more extraordinary event in the history of public administration - the resignation of a Minister to become a public servant! In July 1940 Eric Ogilvie, Attorney-General and Minister for Education as well as Minister for Fisheries, a member of parliament for 12 years and a Minister for six, brother of the late Premier, accepted the position as Industrial Registrar and head of a new Department of Labour & Industry. Whilst the Opposition cried "political jobbery" the Government proclaimed Ogilvie's wide experience as a Minister and and official of a number of unions, made him "the best man for the job". Nevertheless, the suggestion in the Legislative Council that "the Government wanted to get rid of him" has irresistible appeal. When Robert Cosgrove had taken over leadership from Edward Dwyer-Gray seven months before, in an arrangement made after Albert Ogilvie had died, it seems likely that his brother's departure from parliament to a permanent position in the public service was part of the arrangement. The former Premier Sir Walter Lee summarised the departure of Eric Ogilvie as follows:-

"if a civil servant had been denied the right of applying for the position because it was thought there was not a suitable man in the Service, that was an insult to the Service. If it had been decided that Mr. Ogilvie was the only member of Cabinet qualified for the position, that was an insult to Cabinet. The alternative was that he had been the Minister who could best be spared. The Government was anxious more or less to get rid of Mr. Ogilvie and made an opportunity out of the creation of this Department. It had been reported that he was to be made Commissioner of Police but I am told the Government dropped that proposition because it was afraid there would be a great outcry."

James McDonald was appointed Attorney-General and therefore became Minister responsible for Fisheries, but events were already in hand that would make Thomas De Largie D'Alton Minister for Fisheries. D'Alton probably could have stopped the Enquiry into the Board and may have allowed it to continue to bring the regime of Ogilvie and the Board to an end. It is also possible that Ogilvie's very ready agreement, in writing, to Heerey's request for an enquiry without consulting his colleagues may have confirmed them in a course to have him leave the Government.


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