By Vinnie Todd
After 34 years of learning everything possible about breeding fish to re-stock the region’s dams, Manilla woman Helen Hawker has decided it’s time to finally call it a day and hand the reins of taking responsibility for running Manilla Fish Hatchery to younger blood.
“I’m at the stage where, after so many years, it’s time to hand it over. I’ve written everything I learned down for them. I’m still interested, but at 88, I have other things I want to do for myself,” Helen said.
Helen’s involvement with the fishing industry started 50 years ago when her late husband Hugh Hawker,along with fishing buddies the late Dudley Rush, Bill Grantham and Darryl O’Brien would go fishing at Wongo Creek.On one of their trips, the four decided to form Manilla Fishing Club, which Hugh was president of for 35 years until his death in 2003-“that’s when I stepped into his boots, and I only retired at the last meeting”. The newly-formed club met monthly at local hotels, but as membership grew, they’d forget which hotel they were supposed to meet at, so decided to make their meeting place the RSL. They’ve been there ever since – about 45 years.
“They also formed Pelican Point, so named because of Dudley Rush catching a pelican on his line out there. After going through the right channels with council and water resources, they built the amenities block and set up a van park where members would leave their caravans for later fishing weekends. In 1988, Manilla Shire approached us and asked if we’d be interested in taking responsibility for the hatchery, which then became Manilla Fishing Club Hatchery,” Helen recalled.
Preparing young fish for re-stocking of dams is no walk in the parkaccording to Helen. The hatchery currently prepares yellow belly and golden perch, though in the early days, cod were trialled but proved to be too much work, and they didn’t have the space. Many rules and regulations are placed on fish hatcheries, for instance, “you can’t put this fish with that fish” or “you need two males to one female” Helen said.
“Everything had to be right, like aerators and heaters, and there are many rules and regulations. In the early days, we had to send reports off to the fisheries, now all fish have to be microchipped and recorded, and all records sent to fisheries. We get inspected, and I remember on one inspection here, they were surprised at how well ours was kept in such a small area. We’ve bred a lot of fish over the years, but it cost thousands of dollars a year, so thankfully all the work here is done voluntarily and we get donation support from various other clubs.”
Helen (Duprez) was born and bred in Manilla, and has fond memories of her late grandfather Harry Stoddart’s store, Stoddard & Heyward, which is now Hart Rural.
“We loved to watch them putting money into a small container, pulling the string, and it shooting across to the other side of the room. Then they’d send the change back the same way. It was all written down on paper – no computers back then. And I was born in the private hospital just around the corner from where I now live, so I haven’t moved very far.”
Retirement for Helen means more caring for her beloved chooks, gardening and hopefully spending more time with her four children, 12 grandkids, 16 great-grandchildren (another on the way in November) and one great-great grandson.