17 January 2011

'Big Fish' Flood Stories

UPDATE: 'Shark in Goodna butcher's shop' (where else would a shark go in a flooded town?)

A periodic debate re-emerged during the recent flood crisis when a couple of reports of shark sightings on the flooded streets of Goodna hit the media, such as in this Queensland Times article.

As seems to be the usual case now, a number of commentators decided it was all hokum and there were no such things as sharks in the river. Even Channel 9 presenters declared on-air that these were just tall stories. However, as any local resident or historian would know, it is quite normal for bull sharks to be found in the Brisbane and Bremer rivers, and during flooding these animals will of course follow the water. I know of an Ipswich woman whose back garden was flooded last year, and when the waters receded she found a dead shark on the lawn.

I became aware of the historical extent of such sightings during research for my book Shovelnose: Tales of the Brisbane River sharks. The last fatal attack took place near New Farm in 1921, and since that time the river became highly polluted leading to a decrease in shark numbers and humans entering the waters. This created a measure of cultural amnesia regarding the presence of sharks, but recent anti-pollution measures have seen water quality improve and fish numbers increase. As a result of this there will no doubt be more sightings in future and we could return to the situation of the late 19th century, when reports of sharks in the river were a regular part of the summer news cycle and not greeted with the degree of skepticism that has met some recent stories.

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