The Uptons and fishing the Cataract

Cataract Dam. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection


FISHING The Cataract has been illegal for over a century but try telling that to the Upton family.

Since the first Upton ventured into the district the family has built a proud heritage and tradition of fishing the rivers and creeks of the Cataract catchment.

This is the story of brothers Jack and Cecil Upton who could be found most weekends fishing the Cataract River on their beloved Bulli Mountain.

The two were born a year apart and were inseparable, the best of mates, and knew the mountain better than anyone.

Born in Hobart St Bulli in 1924, Jack left school at 14 finding work at 16 in Old Bulli Pit. Ces was born a year later in the mining village of Spion Kop – or Pit Town – on the escarpment near Bulli Colliery and followed his brother as an employee in the mine.

Their father Jacko, like his father, introduced young Jack and Ces to Bulli Mountain and fishing.

Jack Upton at The Cataract in the 1940s. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

In 1995 a year before Jack’s death he recalled his first trip to The Cataract:

“I was only about eight years old, and mi father took me and mi brother, Ces, who was 9, and mi friend, Dave, who was about 10, over the mountain fishin’. So, when we came back home from fishin’ in about a fortnight’s time, us boys decided to go over by ourselves. We were alright while we stopped on the track, but there was a certain part of the track that was called an old bullock track, and it petered out, and we had to walk down the bush to find our own way to the water where the river was to go fishin’. We did that but when we got to the top of the ridge we couldn’t find the track any more, and we got frightened. The three of us began to cry and we made a beeline back up the creek, and we struck the track that we had followed coming in, and we never stopped running until we were safely home – Straight down over the mountain – But, if we had’ve kept walking a few more yards or so, then we would have hit the river. I remember that as good as yesterday…”

Cecil Upton. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

That inexperience was short lived and as young men the two brothers spent much of their leisure time “over the mountain”, rabbiting, fishing and earning an extra ‘quid’ cutting pit props for local collieries.

They gained a reputation as excellent axemen winning ribbons at agricultural shows and in competitions held in the yards of local pubs.

The depression years of the 1930s were tough times and the mountain provided food and recreation for the Uptons. They only brought enough fish, some weighing as much as 90lb, down Vidlers Track to feed their families.

Setting camp close to the water in lean twos made from canvas or brattice from the pit, they set lines along the banks keeping one eye out for bites and the other for rangers.

Their favourite base was Brown’s Cave where names dating back to the 1940s read like a who’s who of local anglers. Ces once recalled how The Cataract was “like Pitt St Sydney during the depression” with local men lining the river fishing to feed their families.

Out foxing the Waterboard rangers was a repetitive task for Jack and Ces. They were expert bushmen and most of the time they were too skilful for the rangers.

For over half a century they illegally fished The Cataract and were only caught and fined once.

In the 1940s they took their girlfriends – their future wives – on a weekend fishing trip. The story goes Jack’s wife, Joyce and Ces’ Isabel made history by being the first women to be fined for entering a government water catchment area.

The family tell the yarn of Ces and Jack trying to hide Joyce in a wombat hole as the ranger approached. They were fined the hefty amount of five pounds each and never took their wives to The Cataract again.

However, like their dad did for them, Ces and Jack have passed the secrets of Bulli Mountain onto their boys.

During the early 2000s, Jack’s son Allan and his 15 year-old boy Troy fronted Wollongong Court for fishing the Cataract catchment. The judge dismissed the case after Allan proved the Upton heritage and tradition of fishing on the mountain.

Ces and Jack fished the Cataract until age finally prevented them from visiting their treasured mountain in 1991.

Jack died aged 72 in 1996 and Ces aged 76 in 2001.

Ces’ ashes, as he wished, were scattered at his beloved Cataract after his death.

Comments posted to social media about this story:

Troy Upton – April 1 2014 at 2.44pm: This brings back good memories of nan and pop. great story.

Jeremy Wallis – July 2, 2014 at 2.44pm: A great story and family tradition. I had the pleasure to meet Allan whom had told me this story when we first met. Good to see the size of the fresh water crays weren’t another fish tale of the one that got away.

Sharynne Chapman – August 10, 2013 at 9.36pm: My Dad too worked at Old Bulli, he knew that Uptons very well. While my Mum shopped at Flemings Woonona. dad would stand out the front and talk to the other husbands about fishing and such. from the age of 8 Dad used to take us up to the Lodden river and we could catch yabbies and big eels. It was the best place to fish, and we done that for years and years. I loved the bright orange Christmas Bells that grew along the river at Xmas time, and if we went to get yabbies around Xmas time, we always brought back a huge arm full for mum and my nanna, who’s parents lived at Sherbrooke. Joyce upton was the nicest lady. And if the Uptons read this, please contact me if you cant figure out who my dad is (Cowboy).

 Lucy McCrystal – August 10, 2013 at 10:15pm: The Uptons are my relations, my Mum was Lucy Swan, from Hobart St.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2014

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12 thoughts on “The Uptons and fishing the Cataract

  1. Lucky Cec to be sprinkled over the Cataract River…..they must have done this quietly as I can’t see the Water Board giving permission to allow it.
    My mother’s wishes were to be also sprinkled over the Cataract River when she passed away in 1961 but the powers that were said no! She grew up on the dam. Grandad was the chief engineer and manager of Cataract ,she was allowed to swim,boat and fish in the dam but woe betide anyone doing this today:)
    What a fascinating story to read .and how they got off the charge of fishing there .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll put a quid on it that Cec’s family didn’t gain any official approvals for his ashes to be left at Cataract… And I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way… That’s the way Cec, his mates, and many others from his generation operated… They defied authority by entering the forbiden lands of the Cataract to fish. They loved that mountain… Sometimes its best things are done without going through the proper channels… If you know what I mean….


  2. David, from guess work just from reading on what was stocked, Murray Cod seems the likely one, but I dont know if the dates of first stocking with cod and when the 90 lb fish? was caught make it feasible? I cant imagine a long finned eel getting to this weight though I have heard from ex dam workers eels are as thick as a adult thigh in Warragamba and some in excess of 2 m long though I have never seen one this large I have seen close to it in the Nepean (how that translates into weight for an eel I don’t know) European Carp to my knowledge get big but not this big? So I am putting my wager on introduced Murray cod, a few have disperse into the Nepean, though I cannot confirm it with my own eyes, an old now late fisherman with a reputation for being fair dinkum claimed to have landed a large cod near the Penrith weir one night (almost 50 years ago)


      • Used to fish over their with an old fella from the Ryans hotel and camp the night used wichity grubs line over a forked stick magical place with brightest stars and managed to catch a 5 foot beauty ,but we made a promise never to divulge the track to anyone .don’t think I could remember it now.

        Liked by 1 person

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