Life of a Fisheries Officer, Neil McLaughlan

Collection Highlights | Updated 3 years ago

A dinghy bringing in a turtle
The dinghy bringing in turtle from a hunting trip in the lugger, Watt Leggatt
Photo by Ray Miller, image copyright WA Museum

Ray Miller trained as a carpenter, boat builder and spar maker. In 1951 he worked for the Presbyterian Church at the Wotjulum Aboriginal Mission. The Mission was originally established at Kunmunya in King George IV Sound in the Kimberley.

When the mission failed the Bardi people were consulted to determine a suitable site for the new mission. The Aboriginal crew of the Watt Leggatt (a mission lugger) including Sam Woolagooda, Albert Barunga, and David Mowaldjarli, and others of standing in the community decided to move to Wotjulum. The area seemed satisfactory as it had ‘plenty fish, plenty bamboo, and plenty water’.

In isolated coastal communities the Mission’s boats were the lifeblood and only form or practical transport. It was Ray Miller’s job to maintain and manage these boats.

The Mission boats were usually modified pearling luggers. The Bardi community owned half a dozen large dugout canoes and the men were trained in sailing the Mission luggers and maintaining their engines. The boats were used to go fishing for dugong and turtle meat for the camp.

Miller left after five years and eventually the Wotjulum community were relocated to Mowanjum, Derby and the mission luggers sold. This was a great disappointment to the Mowanjum people because they could no longer get back to their tribal homelands.
 

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