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Spear fishing in Arnhem Land – how to make an Aboriginal fishing spear

Posted on 22 April, 2020 in Arnhem Land, Culture, Fishing

Aboriginal people have been making fishing spears for millennia. Today, throughout Arnhem Land they are still a very important hunting tool and are commonly used, especially along the coastal regions. The technology hasn’t changed a lot, they are still basically a long straightened stick with a pointed end. These days iron spear tips are used instead of sharpened stone, bone or wood.

Although, a relatively simple design, making a spear and using one effectively takes a lot of skill and perfection. We’ve been lucky over the years to learn how to make fishing spears from some of the best spear makers in Arnhem Land. Please take a look at the below video of our head guide David McMahon teaching us how he’s learnt to do it.



Now the spear is made, the next part is even more tricky; (although Indigenous people make it look easy!) spearing a fish. Watching Indigenous people hunt truly is a site to behold, there is poetry to it, it’s all about stealth and reading the environment. Over thousands of years Aboriginal people have developed outstanding knowledge of animal behaviour, something that gives them the ability to successfully stalk prey. These facts accompanied with a quality spear, makes spear fishing an exceptionally effective form of hunting.


spear fishing in Arnhem Land


On our tours through Arnhem Land we often go hunting with local people, here, you can learn firsthand the ways of the world’s oldest living culture. We’ll often catch fish or mud crabs then cook them on the coals. Collecting bush tucker is also a popular activity where we’ll gather foods such as native long-yams and Kakadu plum, sometimes even collecting sugarbag (honey) from native bees hives.

We hope you enjoyed this lesson in Indigenous spear making. If you’d like to join us on tour into Arnhem Land and learn yourself, please get in touch on (08) 8927 5500 or email us here. If you’d like to see more videos of David McMahon ‘going bush’ you can here