The History of Bêche-de-mer Fishing in Queensland Waters and Adjacent Islands
Paperback, 160 pages, $32.95
Bêche-de-mer is an edible sea creature used to make soup. These
primitive sea creatures are a popular food in several Asian cultures,
especially Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisines. During the
colonial period of Queensland’s history, Aboriginals were employed to
harvest the animals at low tide amongst the coral reefs of Torres Strait
and the Great Barrier Reef. Many hands were required to hunt the
exposed reefs and shoals, to wade the rock pools and dive the shallow
waters of the fringing reefs.
After a day of harvesting the animals, the work parties would return
to the employer’s bêche-de-mer station, located on the nearest island,
and begin the equally labour-intensive process of bringing the product
to a marketable condition so that it might be sold in Hong Kong.
These island work camps or “sit-down country” proved to be locations
of dissatisfaction where the Aboriginal workforce would, it appears,
acutely experience or develop an intense feeling of isolation and
disgruntlement through pining and fretting for their tribal country.
Consequently, the imperative to return to their tribal haunts and
habitats, drove them on occasion to steal vessels and even to murder
their overseers. Employing Aboriginals or Binghis, as they were known,
proved to be a challenging task knowing that their unpredictability
might at any time lead to an outburst of violence, which would not only
terminate the contract of labour but also the life of the employer.