Fish, maugro

The Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney had their own names for the different species of fish, some of which were recorded by First Fleet officers. The general name for fish was maugro.

Snapper head bones

Snapper head bones
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

Only two of the fish seen caught or eaten were named by the British colonists - these were bream and mullet. Colonists noticed that people did not appear to like eating stingrays and sharks, though these fish may have been eaten at times when other fish were in short supply.

The people around Sydney Harbour had their own names for the different species of fish, some of which were recorded by First Fleet officers. The general name for fish was maugro.

  • Karóoma - black bream (probably Yellow-Finned Bream, Acanthropagrus australis)
  • Caroom-a - black fish (probably Yellow-Finned Bream, Acanthropagrus australis)
  • Waaragal - mackerel (possibly Blue Mackeral, Scomber australasicus)
  • Ca-gone - 'toad fish which they say is poisonous'
  • Bado-berong - 'a small fish like a tadpole with two feet'
  • Murray-naugul - flathead
  • Cow-er-re - large flat head
  • Mul-lin-a-gul - the small flat head
  • Wal-lu-mai - snapper
  • Wa-ra-diel - mullet large sort
  • Ma-ro-me-ra - the Zebra fish
  • Ba-rong - the prince fish
  • Go-ray Ta-ra-wine - unidentified, but possibly Tarwhine Rhabdosargus sarba
  • Beragallon - unidentified
  • Moo-row-ul - unidentified
  • Boorroo-naga-naga - unidentified
  • Wallo-mill - the Bullheaded Shark
  • Gin-nare - the shovel-nosed ray without a sting
  • Te-ring-yan - another sting-ray

The archaeological record shows a variety of fish were eaten in the coastal zone. Snapper and bream are the most commonly identified fish remains in coastal middens, though mullet, flathead, groper, morwong, Tarwhine and leatherjacket are also present as well as, Yellowtail Kingfish, Australian Salmon, Trevally, Luderick, Wrasse/Parrot fish, Whiting, Flounder, Catfish, Mulloway, Wirrah and Rock Cod.The archaeological evidence from Sydney Harbour and its tributaries suggests that less fish were eaten along the estuarine reaches of its tributaries than near the Harbour mouth.

Watkin Tench recorded the following method of preparing fish:

'by throwing the fish, exactly in the state in which it came from the water, on the fire. When it has become a little warmed they take it off, rub away the scales, and then peal off with their teeth the surface, which they find done, and eat. Now, and not before, they gut it; but if the fish be a mullet, or any other which has a fatty substance about the intestines, they carefully guard that part, and esteem it a delicacy. The cooking is now completed, by the remaining part being laid on the fire until it be sufficiently done' (Tench 1793:196).

The only fish the colonists noticed Aboriginal people eating along the Nepean-Hawkesbury River was mullet although many other species inhabit that river.

Dr Val Attenbrow , Principal Research Scientist
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