Bob McDowall’s Freshwater Fishes of South-Eastern Australia (1996), Gerry Allen and coauthors’ Freshwater Fishes of Australia (2002), Mark Lintermans’ Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin (2007) and many other freshwater fish ‘bibles’ claim that the biggest Murray cod every caught weighed 113.6 kg, and was 1800 mm long. They usually, however, don’t go into any detail. In fact, the ‘record’ is based on a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 6th of October 1955 from a Mr Noble, who claimed to remember a 250-pound Murray Cod being caught in the Barwon River in 1902 just outside Walgett, north-western New South Wales. It was displayed, according to Noble, in a marquee, and raised £20 for the local hospital. But did it ever actually exist or was Mr Noble’s memory playing tricks on him?
See below for the actual newspaper clipping.
This particular fish is included in many, many scientific texts as the biggest Murray Cod ever caught and it is possible that Murray cod can actually get that big, if one extrapolates from length-age records in scientific papers (Anderson, J.R., Morison, A.K. and Ray, D.J. 1992, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 43(5) 983 – 1013).
Noble was a mounted trooper in the early 1900s in Walgett and I have verified this from newspaper reports at the time.
Being a fish ecologist and interested in history, I have attempted to verify the existence of this monstrous fish by trawling through copies of the Walgett Spectator between 1900 and 1905, but to no avail. There was no mention that I could find. There was also no mention of a donation of £20 to the Walgett Hospital from those associated with the fish. This is despite the hospital acknowledging many much smaller donations during the same period.
I visited Walgett in July 2005 and met with various people, including members of the Historical Society. They were very helpful and kind, and I would especially like to thank Noreen and Darcy Dunn for their time and patience. Although most people I talked to had heard of the big cod, and some even remember seeing a picture, no one has come up with any hard evidence of the fish having existed.
Did it ever really exist? Or was it an exaggerated memory from a half-century before? It would be great to find out, not least to verify for scientific purposes. Should we be using this record in our textbooks, since it comes from such an unauthenticated source? Surely, unless it can be verified, it should be treated with caution. Scientists are usually wary of such things, but here, we seem to be ready to accept a letter to a newspaper, based on a memory from 50 years previously, as reliable evidence.
I, for one, would love to believe the story. It is also interesting because it could tell us something about the potential of this wonderful species to reach truly remarkable sizes. Where there was one monster, there were bound to be others. And there may be again….if we just treat our rivers and fish with the respect that they deserve.
If anyone who might know something of the fish (or might have some clue where to look). I can be contacted at the email address at the top of the home page or leave a comment on this blog. And if you are interested in helping find stuffed Murray cod in pubs, as part of an ongoing project, have a look at this post.