Sporting trophy, game fishing, metal/ plastic, awarded to Mrs Patti Spurgeon for heaviest striped marlin, New Zealand, 1953
This saltwater fishing trophy documents the sport of big game fishing that has minimal representation in the Museum collection. Its significance comes from its ownership by amateur female angler Patti Spurgeon, at a time when few women participated in such an elite and physically demanding sport.
In the 1940s big game fishing was an exclusive sport with few female participants. The cost of renting a fishing launch was prohibitive, and the task of single-handedly bringing in a large fighting fish physically demanding. The contest between fish and angler can last several hours, and assistance by a person other than the angler invalidates the catch. A successful big game angler must have skill, endurance and strength. Spurgeon was a big game angler from the late 1940s, and so at the forefront of increased female participation during the 1950s. This trend is evidenced by the inaugural 'For the Girls' column in the March 1953 issue of "Outdoors & Fishing". The magazine's club pages document record fishing catches, often by women, and show how female participation rates in hunting sports like fishing were rising.
This object also has the potential to communicate the development and popularity of big game fishing in Australia and New Zealand, and weekend and leisure activities.
Big game fishing began in California, with the first successful capture of a bluefin tuna using a rod and reel at Catalina in 1896. Although the news of this catch excited interest in Sydney, the development of the sport was hampered by a lack of information about the habits and habitat of local big fish. In 1895 the Amateur Fishermen's Association of New South Wales (AFA) was founded in Sydney, and the first tuna caught on rod and reel, by F M Harpur in Middle Harbour, Sydney, in 1900.
During the early decades of the 20th century game fishing remained the sport of enthusiasts, who mainly fished out of Port Stephens. This changed with the visit to Australia of fisherman and author Zane Grey in 1936. Grey single-handedly boosted the profile of the sport and Sydney as an international fishing destination. Grey's capture of a world record tiger shark created national headlines and enormous public interest. During Easter 1936 over 3,000 people visited Watson's Bay to view Grey's world record shark.
Australia's sesquicentenary celebrations included the Big Game Angling Contest that ran from 1 January to 23 April 1938. The major trophy for the largest game fish caught during the competition was valued at £500. This was won by Mrs A W Sams of Milton, NSW. Some indication of the female to male ratio of big game anglers in 1938 may be gained from a review of the contest which stated 'It was not that the women entrants in the competition lacked the necessary skill, endurance and experience but rather that they were in such a huge minority; they were probably outnumbered by male anglers by at least fifty to one.' ('Big-game Angling Contest', "Walkabout", June 1 1938, p43, see file) The Contest did much to boost the profile of the sport and Australia's reputation as a big game fishing destination. World War II was a major setback for the sport in Australia, but by the 1950s the sport was becoming well established, particularly in northern Queensland.
Today fishing is a major recreational pastime for many Australians, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics "Year Book Australia 2003" estimating that 'over five million Australians take part in recreational fishing in Australia as a
M. B. G. F. C. is the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club of Whitianga, New Zealand. The trophy was probably produced and engraved in New Zealand. Copy photo 3 on file shows Patti Spurgeon with her record striped marlin catch, caught 27.2.53.
This big game saltwater fishing trophy was owned by Mrs Patti Spurgeon, an enthusiastic and successful recreational big game angler in Australian, New Zealand and American waters from the late 1940s.
Patti Angela Wilson grew up in Geelong, Victoria. In 1924 she met First Lieutenant "Spuddie" Spurgeon whom she married. Spurgeon travelled the world following her husband's career with the Royal Australian Navy. In 1940 Patti and son Haddon Spurgeon lived in the Scottish village Clynder, on the shores of the Gareloch adjoining the Clyde River. Haddon remembers fishing with his mother from the jetty. Spurgeon attributed her success to copious spitting on the bait. As well as a food source, fishing was a welcome distraction. Spurgeon's husband was at the time hunting German submarines in the Western Approaches of the North Atlantic.
By 1947 Spuddie and Patti Spurgeon were stationed in the USA, and it is likely Spurgeon was first exposed to big game fishing here. Patti socialised in the Washington diplomatic circle, and made friends with the US Navy unit that operated Presidential small craft from Annapolis, Maryland. It was this connection that enabled her to go shad fishing in Presidential boats on the Potomac River. In the early 1950s the Spurgeons returned to Australia and Spuddie took command of a Sydney RAN shore establishment. Spurgeon's interest in game fishing continued. She was a member of the Sydney Game Fishing Club, and became great friends with veteran fisherman and art dealer Max Lawson of auction house Lawsons. The Spurgeons and radio and fishing identity Jack Davey went on regular weekend game fishing expeditions on Lawson's boat 'Murrawolga'.
Spuddie's next posting was New Zealand. Patti's big game fishing achievements during this time are well documented. In February 1953 she caught a record striped marlin and was awarded trophies by the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club of Whitianga, New Zealand for 'Heaviest Striped Marlin of Season' and 'Heaviest Striped Marlin, Lady Angler'. In the late 1950s Spuddie was posted to Darwin. Spurgeon went out with guide 'Ningle' Haritos in his dinghy, learning the skills of tropical fishing. After Spuddie retired the Spurgeons moved to Milton/Ulladulla, NSW where they continued to fish successfully from their own small craft.
Haddon Spurgeon's recollections of 'Mother as Fisherman' are on file. Captions transcribed from reverse of contemporary photographs of Patti Spurgeon fishing:
1 'Game Fishing Boat / Murrawolga c. 1951 / Owner, Max Lawson (forward)'
2 'c. 1951 / Game Fishing Boat / "Murrawolga" off Sydney / Owner Max Lawson / up forward'
3 'Mrs "Spuddie" Spurgeon / Mercury Bay Fishing Club (NZ) / Striped Marlin, 318 lbs / Tackle 39 Time 45 mins / Launch "Melanie" / Date 27/2/53.'
4 'Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club / Angler - Patti Spurgeon / Fish - Striped Marlin / Weight - 312 lbs Tackle 39 / Time 1hr 05 mins / Launch Ngaloma / Date 3/03/53.'
5 'c. 1955 (NZ) / Patti Spurgeon / "Into a good fish"'
6 'c. 1955 in NZ / Mrs Patti Spurgeon / & son C. Haddon Spurgeon / Admitting the / catch'