THE oldest known photo of a sawfish in Australia is making a valuable contribution to ongoing research analysing the historic and current distribution of the distinctive rays off the Queensland coast.
The photo, believed to have been taken between the late 1890’s and 1905, shows a group of people standing around a sawfish that had been caught at Toogoom, near Hervey Bay.
The image forms part of a trove of glass negatives and photographic equipment that was recovered from the tip and eventually made its way to the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum decades later.
University of the Sunshine Coast PhD candidate Nikki Biskis said the discovery will add significant data to her research.
“This is a very exciting find, I have been looking far and wide for historical photos of sawfish across Australia and just a few weeks ago I landed up finding the oldest known photo of a sawfish in Australia right around the corner from my house,” said Nikki.
Nikki, who is based at the USC Fraser Coast Campus, said her research will help determine where sawfish used to be found compared to where they are still found today.
“This will help us determine how much their populations have declined. We know they have, but not necessarily by how much,” she said.
Sawfish are believed to be among the most threatened groups of marine life.
“This is huge, older records that include photos are really important because they can [identify] specific species. So instead of knowing a sawfish was caught at this point in time, I can say this certain species used to live in this specific area,” explained Nikki.
She said this will help understand which species are the most endangered.
Despite the oldest known Australian photo of a sawfish coming from the Fraser Coast, Nikki said there are not many records of the species from the Wide Bay.
Nikki is urging anyone who might have photos or records to get in touch so more data can be added to her research.
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Meanwhile, historian John Anderson said the museum was thrilled to be contributing to the research.
“Everyone at the museum is obviously extremely happy we have been able to assist in this research. It really makes our jobs well and truly worthwhile,” he said.
John said the museum came into possession of a box of photographic equipment at around the time he was asked to write the pictorial history of Hervey Bay, Moments in Time Vol 1 a few years ago.
“An old friend of mine contacted me and said he had been given a box of photographic equipment recovered from the dump.
“He sat on them for 25 to 30 years and by some coincidence these glass negatives arrived at the museum when we started the book.”
John said around 80 glass negatives were added to the collection at museum.
The digistised photos have helped us better understand the history of areas like Hervey Bay, Burrum and Howard.
“All those images are just absolutely priceless and tell amazing stories.”
The Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum is located in Zephyr Street.
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