Seascapes of ‘Submarine Squatters’: Commercial Dugong Fisheries of North Queensland


Submarine squatting, dugong fishing on the Queensland (Australia) coast during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a poorly understood livelihood. This study provides a fine-grained interpretation to expand our knowledge of the operation of commercial dugong fisheries through the practices of two commercial dugong fishers, John Lionel Ching and Daniel Dewar, operating in the Newry Island Group. Archaeological surveys of the Newry Island Group and nearby Stewarts Peninsula have highlighted the ephemeral nature of the commercial dugong industry in the seascape today. Despite this ephemeral landscape, contextualising the archival and archaeological research within a seascape framework has enriched our understanding of the daily lives of the commercial dugong fishers. It is important to acknowledge that a seascape approach is rarely applied to non-Indigenous archaeological contexts in Australia. The seascape approach used here has been successful in encompassing Western systems of maritime knowledge.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8

Change history

  • 14 January 2020

    The article Seascapes of ‘Submarine Squatters’: Commercial Dugong Fisheries of North Queensland, written by Timothy Russell and Madeline Fowler, was originally published electronically on the publisher’s Internet portal (currently SpringerLink) on December 23, 2019, with open access.


  1. Anderson RJ (2016) Beneath the colonial gaze: Modelling maritime society and cross-cultural contact on Australia’s Southern Ocean frontier—the Archipelago of the Recherche, Western Australia. Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia

  2. Ash A (2007) The maritime cultural landscape of port Willunga, South Australia. Flinders University maritime archaeology monographs series, number 4. Shannon Research Press, Adelaide

  3. Ash J, Manas L, Bosun D (2010) Lining the path: a seascape perspective of two Torres Strait missions, northeast Australia. Int J Hist Archaeol 14(1):56–85

  4. Barber I (2003) Sea, land and fish: spatial relationships and the archaeology of South Island Maori fishing. World Archaeol 35(3):434–448

  5. Barker B (2004) The sea people: Late Holocene maritime specialisation in the Whitsunday Islands, central Queensland. Pandanus Books, Canberra

  6. Bennett G (1860) Gatherings of a naturalist in Australasia: Being observations principally on the animal and vegetable productions of New South Wales, New Zealand and some of the Austral Islands. John Van Voost, London

  7. Bennett K, Fowler M (2016) Rich pickings: an analysis of opportunistic behaviour at Rangitoto Island, Aotearoa/New Zealand. J Marit Archaeol 11(2):179–196

  8. Blackwood R (1997) The Whitsunday Islands: An historical dictionary. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton

  9. Brisbane Courier (1873) Telegraphic. 31 January, pp 2

  10. Brisbane Courier (1878) The national association. 2 November, pp 5

  11. Brisbane Courier (1886) Country mails. 2 September, pp 3

  12. Brisbane Courier (1887) Wide Bay dugong fishing. 1 July, pp 2

  13. Brisbane Courier (1889) The late Melbourne exhibition. 1 November, pp 3

  14. Brisbane Courier (1893) To-day. 7 November, pp 5

  15. Brisbane Courier (1894) Sugar Works Guarantee Act. 7 November, pp 4

  16. Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (1893) Advertising. 8 November, pp 3

  17. Burningham N (1994) Aboriginal nautical art: a record of the Macassans and the pearling industry in Northern Australia. Gt Circ 16(2):139–151

  18. Cairns Post (1911) The Cairns show. 21 September, pp 3

  19. Capricornian (1887) Wide Bay dugong fishing. 2 July, pp 28

  20. Christie A (2013) Were the communities living on the East African coast also ‘maritime’ communities? An archaeological perspective. In: Ford B, van Duivenvoorde W (eds) Perspectives from historical archaeology and ACUA proceedings no. 7: Maritime archaeology. Society for Historical Archaeology, Germantown, pp 162–172

  21. Cooney G (2003) Introduction: seeing land from the sea. World Archaeol 35(3):323–328

  22. Crouch J (2008) Reading between the lands: Toward an amphibious archaeological settlement model for maritime migrations. In: David B, Thomas J (eds) Handbook of landscape archaeology. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, pp 131–140

  23. Daily Mercury (1931) Cruise among islands. 4 June, pp 2

  24. Daily Mercury (1934a) Death of elderly man. 2 August, pp 8

  25. Daily Mercury (1934b) Family notices. 3 August, pp 6

  26. Daily Mercury (1939) The Dora Dora blacks. Thrilling story of their capture. 24 April, pp 6

  27. Daley B (2005) Changes in the Great Barrier Reef since European settlement. Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University

  28. Darling Downs Gazette (1887) Sub-marine squatting: The dugong fishery. 8 August 8, pp 3

  29. Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (1877) Centennial exhibition at Philadelphia. 2 May, pp 3

  30. Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (2013) Mackay islands protected areas and adjoining state waters management statement 2013. Queensland Government, Townsville

  31. Duncan BG (2000) Signposts in the sea: an investigation of the shipwreck patterning and maritime cultural landscapes/seascapes of the Gippsland Region, Victoria. Honours thesis, James Cook University

  32. Duncan BG (2004) Risky business, the role of risk in shaping the maritime cultural landscape and shipwreck patterning: a case study application in the Gippsland region, Victoria. Bull Austral Inst Marit Archaeol 28:11–24

  33. Duncan BG (2006) The maritime archaeology and maritime cultural landscapes of Queenscliffe: a nineteenth century Australian coastal community. Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University

  34. Firth A (1995) Three facets of maritime archaeology: Society, landscape and critique. Accessed 10 Sept 2018

  35. Folkmanova V (2014) The divided history of dugong oil: the cross-cultural circulation of an Indigenous medicine in 1940s Queensland. Health Hist 16(2):24–43

  36. Folkmanova V (2016) The oil of the dugong: towards a history of an Indigenous medicine. Hist Aust 12(3):97–112

  37. Ford B (2011a) Introduction. In: Ford B (ed) The archaeology of maritime landscapes. Springer, New York, pp 1–10

  38. Ford B (2011b) The shoreline as a bridge, not a boundary: Cognitive maritime landscapes of Lake Ontario. In: Ford B (ed) The archaeology of maritime landscapes. Springer, New York, pp 63–80

  39. Fowler M, Roberts A, McKinnon J, O’Loughlin C, Graham F (2014) ‘They camped here always’: ‘archaeologies of attachment’ in a seascape context at Wardang Island (Waraldi/Wara-dharldhi) and Point Pearce Peninsula (Burgiyana), South Australia. Aust Hist Archaeol 32:14–22

  40. Gibbs M (2003) Nebinyan’s songs: an Aboriginal whaler of south-west Western Australia. Aborig Hist 27:1–15

  41. Gibbs M (2010) The shore whalers of Western Australia: historical archaeology of a maritime frontier. Sydney University Press, Sydney

  42. Gojak D (1998) An historical and archaeological overview of the whaling industry in New South Wales and Norfolk Island. In: Lawrence S, Staniforth M (eds) The archaeology of whaling in southern Australia and New Zealand. Brolga Press, Gundaroo, pp 11–20

  43. Gosden C, Pavlides C (1994) Are islands insular? Landscape vs. seascape in the case of the Arawe Islands, Papua New Guinea. Archaeol Ocean 29:162–171

  44. Goulburn Herald (1884) The dugong. 29 May, pp 4

  45. Granville P (2018) The enigmatic Ebenezer Thorne. Highgate Hill and its history: stories from the past—a local history gleaned from the newspapers. Accessed 28 Aug 2018

  46. Grave P, McNiven IJ (2013) Geochemical provenience of 16th–19th century C.E. Asian ceramics from Torres Strait, northeast Australia. J Archaeol Sci 40(12):4538–4551

  47. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (2017) Guidelines: Historic heritage assessment—other places of historic and social significance. Australian Government, Canberra

  48. Hayward P (2001) Tide lines: music, tourism & cultural transition in the Whitsunday Islands (and adjacent coast). The Music Archive, The Pacific Press and Southern Cross University, Lismore

  49. Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (1876) Dugong fishing in Queensland. 16 September, pp 11

  50. James K (2002) Wife or slave? The kidnapped Aboriginal women workers and Australian sealing slavery on Kangaroo Island and Bass Strait Islands. Honour’s thesis, Flinders University

  51. Kostoglou P, McCarthy J, Paay J, South Australia State Heritage Branch, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (1991) Whaling and sealing sites in South Australia. State Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide

  52. Lane P (2006) Oral histories and Indigenous archaeology: an Africanist perspective (comments on Charlotte Damm (2005): archaeology, ethnohistory and oral traditions: approaches to the Indigenous past. Norwegian Archaeological Review 38, 73–87). Nor Archaeol Rev 39(1):70–73

  53. Lawrence S (2001) Foodways on two colonial whaling stations: archaeological and historical evidence for diet in nineteenth-century Tasmania. J R Aust Hist Soc 87(2):209–229

  54. Lawrence S (2006) Whalers and free men: life on Tasmania’s colonial whaling stations. Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne

  55. Lawrence S, Davies P (2010) An archaeology of Australia since 1788. Springer, New York

  56. Mackay Mercury (1889) Family notices. 27 June, pp 2

  57. Mackay Mercury and South Kennedy Advertiser (1879) No title. 8 October, pp 2

  58. Mackay Mercury and South Kennedy Advertiser (1881) Advertising. 4 May, pp 3

  59. Mackay Mercury and South Kennedy Advertiser (1882) Advertising. 9 December, pp 3

  60. Macknight CC (1986) Macassans and the Aboriginal past. Archaeol Ocean 21(1):69–75

  61. Marsh H, Lawler IR, Kwan D, Delean S, Pollock K, Alldredge M (2004) Aerial surveys and the potential biological removal technique indicate that the Torres Strait dugong fishery is unsustainable. Anim Conserv 7:435–443

  62. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (1874) From the Brisbane papers. 10 January, pp 2

  63. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (1887) Wide Bay dugong fishing. 25 June, pp 2

  64. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (1893) Late Mr. John L. Ching. 15 November, pp 3

  65. McKay JM (1997) ‘A good show’: colonial Queensland at international exhibitions. Mem Qld Mus Cult Heritage Ser 1(2):175–343

  66. McKinnon JF, Wesley D, Raupp JT, Moffat I (2013) Geophysical investigations at the Anuru Bay trepang site: a new approach to locating Macassan archaeological sites in Northern Australia. Bull Aust Inst Marit Archaeol 37:107–113

  67. McKinnon J, Mushynsky J, Cabrera G (2014) A fluid sea in the Mariana Islands: community archaeology and mapping the seascape of Saipan. J Marit Archaeol 9(1):59–79

  68. McNiven IJ (2003) Saltwater people: spiritscapes, maritime rituals and the archaeology of Australian Indigenous seascapes. World Archaeol 35(3):329–349

  69. McNiven IJ (2008) Sentient sea: Seascapes as spiritscapes. In: David B, Thomas J (eds) Handbook of landscape archaeology. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, pp 149–157

  70. McNiven IJ (2016) Theoretical challenges of Indigenous archaeology: setting an agenda. Am Antiq 81(1):27–41

  71. McNiven IJ, Bedingfield AC (2008) Past and present marine mammal hunting rates and abundances: dugong (Dugong dugon) evidence from Dabangai Bone Mound, Torres Strait. J Archaeol Sci 35(2):505–515

  72. McNiven IJ, Feldman R (2003) Ritually orchestrated seascapes: hunting magic and dugong bone mounds in Torres Strait, NE Australia. Camb Archaeol J 13(2):169–194

  73. McPhee E (2001) A preliminary examination of the history and archaeology of the pearl shelling industry in Torres Strait. Bull Aust Inst Marit Archaeol 25:1–4

  74. Minnegal M (1984) Dugong bones from Princess Charlotte Bay. Aust Archaeol 18:63–71

  75. Mitchell S (1996) Dugongs and dugouts, sharptacks and shellbacks: Macassan contact and Aboriginal marine hunting on the Cobourg Peninsula, north western Arnhem Land. Indo Pac Prehist Assoc Bull 15:181–191

  76. Moreton Bay Courier (1860) Submarine squatting in the new colony of Queensland: A new source of health and wealth. 26 January, pp 2–3

  77. Morning Bulletin (1887a) Wide Bay dugong fishing. 25 June, pp 5

  78. Morning Bulletin (1887b) Wide Bay dugong fishing. 29 June, pp 5

  79. Morning Bulletin (1890) Northern mail news. 26 August, pp 5

  80. Morwood M, Hobbs D (1997) The Asian connection: Preliminary report on Indonesian trepang sites on the Kimberley Coast, N.W. Australia. Archaeol Ocean 32(3):197–206

  81. Paterson A (2006) Towards a historical archaeology of Western Australia’s northwest. Aust Hist Archaeol 24:99–111

  82. Prickett N (2008) Trans-Tasman stories: Australian Aborigines in New Zealand sealing and shore whaling. In: Clark G, Leach F, O’Connor S (eds) Islands of inquiry: Colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime landscapes. Australian National University E Press, Canberra, pp 351–366

  83. Queensland State Archives (1887) Selection file: Dewar, Daniel. Item ID52502

  84. Queensland State Archives (1900) Ecclesiastical (will) file: Ching, John Lionel. Item ID2809342

  85. Queenslander (1875) Queensland exhibition. 20 November, pp 8

  86. Queenslander (1890) Fisheries of the Wide Bay district. 31 May, pp 1040

  87. Queenslander (1893) Fish and fishing. 23 September, pp 708

  88. Queenslander (1912) Our illustrations. 19 October, pp 29

  89. Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science (2017) Newry Islands National Park: nature, culture and history. Accessed 5 May 2018

  90. Ransley J (2011) Maritime communities and traditions. In: Catsambis A, Ford B, Hamilton D (eds) The Oxford handbook of maritime archaeology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 879–903

  91. Raupp JT (2015) “And so ends this day’s work”: Industrial perspectives on early nineteenth-century American whaleships wrecked in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Ph.D. thesis, Flinders University

  92. Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser (1870) Inquest of death. 3 May, pp 2

  93. Rowland MJ, Ulm S (2011) Indigenous fish traps and weirs of Queensland. Qld Archaeol Rev 14:1–58

  94. Russell T (2018) Submarine squatters on the north Queensland coast: An archaeological study of commercial dugong fisheries utilising a seascape approach. Honours thesis, James Cook University

  95. Staniforth M, Briggs S, Lewczak C (2001) Archaeology unearthing the invisible people: European women and children and Aboriginal people at South Australian shore-based whaling stations. Mains’l Haul J Pac Marit Hist 36(3):12–19

  96. Sydney Morning Herald (1847) Moreton Bay. 8 February, pp 3

  97. Sydney Morning Herald (1858a) Moreton Bay. 19 January, pp 3

  98. Sydney Morning Herald (1858b) Moreton Bay. 18 September, pp 6

  99. Sydney Morning Herald (1859) Moreton Bay. 26 February, pp 6

  100. Telegraph (1878) A visit to the dugong fishery at Amity Point. 24 June, pp 4

  101. Telegraph (1893) Dugong in the gulf. 1 April, pp 2

  102. Telegraph (1894) Dugong fishery. 1 November, pp 2

  103. Thorne E (1876) The queen of the colonies; or, Queensland as I knew it. S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, London

  104. Tindale NB (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits, and proper names. Australian National University Press, Canberra

  105. Urwin C, McNiven IJ, Clarke S, Macquarie L, Whap T (2016) Hearing the evidence: using archaeological data to analyse the long-term impacts of dugong (Dugong dugon) hunting on Mabuyag, Torres Strait, over the past 1000 years. Aust Archaeol 82(3):201–217

  106. Viator (1879) The traveller: Dugong fishing in Queensland.—No. III.—“At a dugong camp.”. Leader 26 April, pp 1

  107. Walshe K (2014) Archaeological evidence for a sealer’s and wallaby hunter’s skinning site on Kangaroo Island. South Aust J Isl Coast Archaeol 9(1):130–143

  108. Walters I (1989) Intensified fishery production at Moreton Bay, southeast Queensland, in the late Holocene. Antiquity 63(239):215–224

  109. Week (1889) Current events. 16 March, pp 11

  110. Week (1892) Meston on dugongs: Address at Royal Society. 18 November, pp 9

  111. Wesley D, Jones T, O’Connor S, Fenner J, Dickinson WR (2014) Earthenware of Malara, Anuru Bay: a reassessment of potsherds from a Macassan trepang processing site, Arnhem Land, Australia, and implications for Macassan trade and the trepang industry. Aust Archaeol 79:14–25

  112. Wesley D, O’Connor S, Fenner JN (2016) Re-evaluating the timing of the Indonesian trepang industry in north-west Arnhem Land: chronological investigations at Malara (Anuru Bay A). Archaeol Ocean 51(3):169–195

  113. Westerdahl C (1992) The maritime cultural landscape. Int J Naut Archaeol 21(1):5–14

  114. Westerdahl C (2006) The relationship between land roads and sea routes in the past—Some reflections. Dtsch Schiffahrtsarchiv 29:59–114

  115. Westerdahl C (2008) Fish and ships: towards a theory of maritime culture. Dtsch Schiffahrtsarchiv 30:191–236

  116. World’s News (1931) Australiana. 28 January, pp 12

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Timothy Russell.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

The original version of this article was revised: The article originally published electronically on the publisher’s internet portal (currently SpringerLink) on December 23, 2019, with open access. With the authors’ decision to step back from Open Choice, the copyright of the article changed in January 2020 to © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020 and the article is forthwith distributed under the terms of copyright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Russell, T., Fowler, M. Seascapes of ‘Submarine Squatters’: Commercial Dugong Fisheries of North Queensland. J Mari Arch (2019).

Download citation


  • Archaeology
  • Commercial dugong fisheries
  • Maritime industries
  • Queensland
  • Seascapes