Posted by: Nick Ward | 2 February, 2011


Back on Australia Day I went for a swim in Sydney Harbour.

Those who know me will won’t be surprised to learn that it wasn’t simply a dip in the pond, but a 2.5km swim around Farm Cove with 700 other swimmers. If you’re gunna get wet, make it count.

I did pretty well, completing the event in some 32 minutes and coming in 6th in my age group. Not only joining me on the swim was my friend Felicity (she’s a lifesaver), but also Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Tony is not only a lousy politician, he’s also a very average swimmer, but as with politics, he keeps doing it long after he should have given up. Least swimming will keep him fit.

Now, all that is well and good, but have you spotted something odd about this story?

Let me point you in the right direction.

Early in the new year I did the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb with my friend James, and the guide gave us a liberal sprinkling of interesting facts about Sydney as we ventured across the imposing span. One of these was the story of Pinchgut, the tiny prison island in The Harbour not far from Farm Cove.

“Not a single prisoner escaped from Pinchgut in the time it operated as a colonial prison”, our guide explained, “despite the island only being a couple of hundred metres from the Harbour shore”. The reason? “The Harbour was infested with Bull Sharks”.


….how exactly is it that 200 years later a veritable moving feast thrashed it’s way around that very same stretch of water with not as much as a taster chomped out of a single straggling swimmer?

That the straggling swimmer would possibly have been the most conservative politician in Australian politics is an interesting aside, but what I’d really like to know is: who nicked the sharks?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy that there were no sharks there during my swim. On the contrary, I’m rather relieved. Tony Abbott or no Tony Abbott.

What concerns me is what on earth happened to our fishy friends?

I find it hard to believe that they’ve just swum away. No, there can only be a small number of possible explanations:
1. We ate them
2. We starved them
3. We made mincemeat out of them
4. We trashed their joint

Now, I don’t think it’s that we ate them. While we do like our flake, I don’t recall ever seeing bull shark listed on the board at Doyles.

We could have starved them, and we could have chopped them up into mincemeat in the propellors of those mighty Sydney ferries, but really both of these fit under Explanation 4: chances are, we’ve made an almighty mess of their home and pretty much wiped them out.

I know a number of my friends (particularly the German ones) aren’t that fond of sharks, but doesn’t it worry us that we’ve apparently wiped out the best part of a whole ecosystem?

And what’s crazier, nobody appears to have noticed?

Deserts look clean, but don’t have a whole heap of life. Have we created a desert of the most stunningly beautiful harbour in the country, possibly the world?

Last weekend I enjoyed my first Mardi Gras Harbour Party, as did a few thousand others at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, and also a handful of party boys and drag queens diving off yachts into the waters of Farm Cove.

The near disappearance of Sydney Harbour’s sharks is something we should be asking questions about. And that’s irrespective of the fact that I’m pretty happy I didn’t have to witness the premiere of ‘Jaws vs Priscilla’ while dancing to the strains of Lady Gaga at my first Harbour Party.

Where have the sharks gone.

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