Wild Windellama

by Paul Alessi

September 2007


Bunyips in Windellama ?

A friend from Nerriga Fishing Club rang a few weeks ago and
got me thinking about a few fishy things.

We all know eels are about I guess just that we don't think about them too often, out of sight
out of mind so thought I should find out more about the eels of Windellama, maybe some of you
fisherman can tell me about your experiences with them. I remember going on a night
time fishing expedition on the Nerrimunga Creek over 20 years ago and all we caught was an
eel, the highlight of the evening for everyone else was when I lost my footing in the darkness
and fell into the waterhole, luckily for me there were no Bunyips about.

Two species of eel are likely to inhabit the the creeks of Windellama, they are the Short Finned Eel
(Anguillidae australis) and the Long Finned Eel (Anguillidae reinhardtii) Both species live the
majority of their lives in our freshwater creeks and rivers and then migrate to the Coral Sea to
spawn, unfortunately for our eels they have the barrier of the Tallowa Dam to negotiate
(more on that later) When the eel eggs hatch the juveniles are called leptocephali because of their
flat, leaf like shape, they take a long journey riding currents down the east coast of Australia,
once they make it to the continental shelf they become more cylindical in shape and being still
devoid of pigment are then known as glass eels, they don't start to get their pigment until they make
it to fresh water, these juvenile eels are then called Elvers.

The short finned eels (also known as Yellow or Silver Eel) are montane species, prefer still water,
and are the species most likely to inhabit the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River system,
they can live 25 to 35 years, can grow to about 1.2 metres and apparently make good pets ?
( the things you find on the internet !)

Long Finned Eels (also known as Speckled Long Finned Eel) seem to prefer flowing water
(but can still be found in dams and lagoons) And when landlocked and unable to get to the
sea to spawn can grow to a length of 3 metres !

Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin is known to have a "Bunyip" which has been dubbed the "Burley Beast"
it's been described as a very large eel like creature, could it be a huge Long Finned Eel ?
Legend has it Bunyips are semi aquatic beasts fond of dining on women and young children.

After 30 years without access to the sea some of Windellama's own long finned eels may be reaching
Bunyip size too !.

Tallowa Dam Fishway

I've only just started looking into this but it seems like our State Government is not taking
their responsibility seriously to rectify the lack of a Fishway or Fish Ladder at Tallowa Dam.

For those of us that don't know, all the creeks in Windellama are tributaries of the Shoalhaven
River and the Shoalhaven is blocked by the Tallowa Dam at Kangaroo Valley, 75% of the Shoalhaven River
(including Windellama) is upstream of this barrier and already 10 species of native fish have become
extinct directly because of this dam.

In 1999 the NSW Minister for Fisheries The Hon. E. M. Obeid announced in State Parliament...
"I am pleased to inform the House that an exciting new stage began this week in the recovery
program for fish in the Shoalhaven River. The aim is to construct the first high-level fishway in
Australia, at Tallowa Dam, which was built in 1976. Unfortunately, the 32-metre high dam wall
prevents the majority of fish species from inhabiting up to 80 per cent of the available habitat
within the catchment area "

This dam is listed on the Sydney Catchment Authority website as being 43m high
(not 32m as the minister incorrectly stated) A major study by NSW Fisheries was undertaken
around 2000 and it makes for startling reading here is just one paragraph.

"Since completion of Tallowa Dam in October 1976, the migration of fish within the Shoalhaven
catchment has been obstructed. As migratory fishes represent 96% of the native freshwater fishes
potentially occurring in the catchment, Tallowa Dam prevents a large proportion of species from
utilising up to 75% of available habitat within the river channel. Twenty-three years after construction
of the dam, no diadromous species, that is, fish that migrate between freshwater and the sea, exist
naturally within Lake Yarrunga and the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven and Kangaroo Rivers except
for those species capable of climbing the dam wall"

The latest I could find was construction of the Fishway was indefinitely on hold, meanwhile the
ecology of the Shoalhaven River and it's tributaries continues to deteriorate further.

I've contacted the Dept of Primary Industry to see where they are up to with this but so far they've
not replied. Imagine how good it would be to have the proper fish back in our creeks.

Suggested reading online :

Fish communities and migration in the Shoalhaven River –
Before construction of a fishway
P. C. Gehrke, D. M. Gilligan and M. Barwick
NSW Fisheries Office of Conservation

Copyright Paul Alessi 2007