Booralee: the lost fishing village of Botany

Document Type


Publication details

Smith, J 2005, 'Booralee: the lost fishing village of Botany', paper presented to Once perilous now safe: Landscapes of Exile third symposium, Byron Bay, NSW, 26-28 July.


On the very north-western corner of Botany Bay, centered around Booralee Street in Botany is an industrial site that now covers what was Fisherman’s Village or Fishing Town, as it was known from approximately 1840 to the early 1950’s. From the mid 1950’s the area was zoned as industrial and the fishing community was gradually shouldered out until the last two professional net fishermen retired in the late 1970’s.

In the last few years I have headed up a cultural heritage retrieval project between the City of Botany Bay Council and Southern Cross University focused on the Booralee Fishing Town. It commenced as an oral history project that attempted to map the culture and lifestyle of this two or three hundred strong community in the context of the ironic history of Botany Bay in white Australian lore. In all official white history Botany Bay is marked as a place of arrival and beginnings, but for those of us who were raised in Fisherman’s Village from the late 1940’s it was a site of deterioration and environmental degradation. It was a place for leaving, not arriving.

The strategy employed in the project is to use the oral history and cultural retrieval of this dynamic community to produce an interface of creative arts responses in visual art and creative writing. Thematically the aim was to take an overwhelming sense of loss and explore means of turning it into a community investment into its cultural future.

This paper will describe the development of this project and some of the ongoing outcomes. These span artistic, social and political foci. It will include examples of creative outputs and examine ways in which these are being used to provide strategies for the local community to know something of the ground on which it now stands as well as providing tactics for investment in its cultural future. One component of the project, a drawing project carried out through a series of primary school workshops has recently won the Australian Innovative Drawing Award, hosted by Macquarie University.