2004/105/1 Saltwater fishing reel and attached wooden rod butt, metal/ plastic/ cotton/ wood/ rubber, used by Mrs Patti Spurgeon, reel made by [Taca Bon], rod made by Wm Southam, Sydney, Australia, 1950-1952
This saltwater fishing reel and rod document the sport of big game fishing that has minimal representation in the Museum collection. Its significance comes from its use by amateur female angler Patti Spurgeon, at a time when few women participated in such an elite and physically demanding sport.
In the 1940s big game fishing was an exclusive sport with few female participants. The cost of renting a fishing launch was prohibitive, and the task of single-handedly bringing in a large fighting fish physically demanding. The contest between fish and angler can last several hours, and assistance by a person other than the angler invalidates the catch. A successful big game angler must have skill, endurance and strength. Spurgeon was a big game angler from the late 1940s, and so at the forefront of increased female participation during the 1950s. This trend is evidenced by the inaugural 'For the Girls' column in the March 1953 issue of "Outdoors & Fishing". The magazine's club pages document record fishing catches, often by women, and show how female participation rates in hunting sports like fishing were rising.
The rod butt is also important as an example of quality, Australian-made split cane rods produced around 1950. The rod was made by well-known Sydney-based rodmaker William Southam. Fisherman and author Zane Grey was reputedly impressed with the quality of the Southam cane rod used during his visit to Australia in 1936.
This object also has the potential to communicate the development and popularity of big game fishing in Sydney, as well as the promotion of NSW as a game fishing tourist destination, and weekend and leisure activities.
Big game fishing began in California, with the first successful capture of a bluefin tuna using a rod and reel at Catalina in 1896. Although the news of this catch excited interest in Sydney, the development of the sport was hampered by a lack of information about the habits and habitat of local big fish. In 1895 the Amateur Fishermen's Association of New South Wales (AFA) was founded in Sydney, and the first tuna caught on rod and reel, by F M Harpur in Middle Harbour, Sydney, in 1900.
During the early decades of the 20th century game fishing remained the sport of enthusiasts, who mainly fished out of Port Stephens. This changed with the visit to Australia of fisherman and author Zane Grey in 1936. Grey single-handedly boosted the profile of the sport and Sydney as an international fishing destination. Grey's capture of a world record tiger shark created national headlines and enormous public interest. During Easter 1936 over 3,000 people visited Watson's Bay to view Grey's world record shark.
Australia's sesquicentenary celebrations included the Big Game Angling Contest that ran from 1 January to 23 April 1938. The major trophy for the largest game fish caught during the competition was valued at £500. This was won by Mrs A W Sams of Milton, NSW. Some indication of the female to male ratio of big game anglers in 1938 may be gained from a review of the contest which stated 'It was not that the women entrants in the competition lacked the necessary skill, endurance and experience but rather that they were in such a huge minority; they were probably outnumbered by male anglers by at least fifty to one.' ('Big-game Angling Contest', "Walkabout", June 1 1938, p43, see file) The Contest did much to boost the profile of the sport and Australia's reputation as a big game fishing destination. World War II was a major setback for the sport in Australia, but by the 1950s the sport was becoming well established, particularly in northern Queensland.
Today fishing is a major recreational pastime for many Australians, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics "Year Book Australia 2003" estimating that 'over five million Australians take part in recreational fishing in Australia as a leisure activity.'