Soil Chemistry, Irrigation and the Disappearance of Murray Cod

I visited the State Library of South Australia today looking for information on species of fish caught by the Ngarrindjeri in the Lower Lakes at the time of European settlement.

It is evident from the writing of the Reverend George Taplin (who ran the mission on the Narrung Peninsula) that there were Murray Cod in the Lakes and that they were a “forbidden” food for boys.

The local Ngarrindjeri name for them was “Ponde”.

Susan Myers from has been sending me newspaper articles on the history of the fishery including the following from the Adelaide Advertiser of October 13, 1933, giving reasons for the “Disappearance of Cod”:

Lakes fishermen have all manner of theories to explain the disappearance of Murray cod from the lake, where they were caught in big hauls until 1912. Milang men attribute their absence to the increasing alkalinity or the lake water, and say that the tendency is due to the combined effects of the reclamation of the Murray lands and increased irrigation.

Irrigation, they say, permits water to absorb magnesia, and other chemical constituents of the reclaimed soil, and when the proportion of the moisture seeps back into the stream it pollutes it.

Thus cod and other river fish, are slowly poisoned, because they have been accustomed to fresh water.

Similarly, it is argued, it is the alkali impregnated water, and not the inflowing sea water, which causes lake and lower reaches of the Murray to become brackish.

Thus, local fishermen say, barrages will fail to keep the lakes and lower river fresh, because the trouble comes from upstream, and not downstream. They say they have definite proof of this contention to place before the committee tomorrow. The belief that with the construction of barrages Lake Alexandrina might again become a breeding water for Murray cod had no prospects of realisation, said Mr. John Woodrow.

A few landholders in the Milang district might benefit from the barrages.

The opinion of the township, expressed at a ratepayers’ meeting to discuss the project, was:—For [the barrages]. none: against [the barrages] 42.

Susan will begin uploading old newspaper articles giving some insight into the history of the Lower Lakes fishery on her blog at:  …go look if your interested in Murray River issues.



The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931-1954), p. 20. Retrieved June 30, 2011, from


2 Responses to Soil Chemistry, Irrigation and the Disappearance of Murray Cod

  1. Helen Mahar August 18, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    Thanks for that post Jenneifer. The site is now in my favourites, and I will follow it with interest. Had the building of the been proposed today, ecological concerns would have prevented their being built. SA is awfully short on decent estuaries (and rivers!).

  2. Paul Danieli January 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I grew up going to my granparents farm on lake Alexandrina, and absolutely love the lake.
    Fishing was and is still a keen interest of mine as is the state of the Murray Darling system.
    Seeing how plentiful with fish the Lake once was with native fish compared to today is disheartining.
    Sure it was a long time ago and the introdution of ‘pest’ species like carp has not helped, but is it not time for people to make a stand and fight to rectify the wrongs of the past?
    To me it sounds absolutely logical that the barrages be opened, especially now that we have good flows into the Murray basin. The Barrages are a hinderence to the health of the lower lakes and should at least in the short term and probably long term be left OPEN!

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