Wild Catch

until 2 August 2020

Over 100 species of abalone can be found around the world, and it has been a traditional food supplement valued by all first nation peoples that have had access to it.  The growth of Australia’s abalone market was initially influenced by the migration of Chinese to the Australian goldfields, and later in the early 1960s as natural resources in other countries became overfished.

In late 1963, a concentrated effort in the commercial abalone fishery started on the Far South Coast of New South Wales.  These waters proved extremely attractive for divers to make big earnings, and it wasn’t long before abalone stocks became vulnerable to overfishing.  Today, the commercial abalone fishery is a tightly regulated industry with a concern by all involved to ensure the longevity of the species, its natural environment and its long term availability for future generations.

Abalone divers have been described by some people as having a unique character that enables them to enter  and withstand the cold depths of the ocean in order to harvest by hand one of the world’s most unusual delicacies.  Wild Catch explores the unique underwater ‘office’ of the abalone diver and the intriguing mollusc that has been a prized catch for thousands of years.

Title image:  Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Mrs K Luobikis.


Watch some of the local stories about the industry which has been called a ‘colourful’ chapter of Eden’s fishing history.


BJ Cruse is Chairman of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council. He shares the importance of ‘Walkun’ or ‘Mutton Fish’ to local Aboriginal people, the need for conservation and his experiences of the commercial wild harvest abalone industry.

John SMYTHE has been a commercial abalone diver on the NSW Far south coast for 43 years.  He describes getting into the industry, the styles of boats used, and their evolution as a result of changes in the abalone industry.


Dennis ‘Tas‘ WARN was in Eden at the very beginning of the abalone diving industry in 1963-64.  Tas describes his experiences of the early days of the industry.

The Lucas Family has been associated with Eden’s fishing industry, particularly the abalone industry from the mid 1960s.  Here they reminisce about the entire family being involved, including the children.

Karen Luobikis’ road trip around Australia came to a halt with a broken down car and eventuated in her becoming a deckhand for her future husband, Dennis. Beverley Illes followed her husband, Alex, down to Eden and also worked on board. They describe the hours, conditions and lifestyle of women working at the peak time of the local abalone industry.