LOOKING BACK: JENNY LOTT
Jenny Lott is a very accomplished, private person and shared a few of her stories with Moya Stevens
Crocs used to rip the nets and once one got caught in my net, rolled himself up in it and dragged me along in my dinghy
Jenny Lott is one of a rare breed, spending most of her life as a female commercial fisher off the coast of Queensland.
Originating from Cambridge, UK, Jenny was the daughter of an RAF pilot (ultimately her father became an Air Vice Marshal) and lived in a variety of homes during the war, ending up becoming an air hostess at 21 with Cunard Eagle Airways.
“I shared a flat with two Aussie girls and after hearing their stories of home, I knew I had better go there and have a look,” Jenny said.
In the early ’60s, two friends and Jenny jumped into a VW pick-up truck and took seven months to drive to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with a few mishaps on the way.
“The truck’s number plate was SOW6 and she really was a pig,” Jenny laughed, “and at one point we had engine trouble in Pakistan and we were abandoned by the British Embassy but the German Embassy were wonderful – because we were driving a German car.”
Jenny and her friends sailed on the SS Canberra to Fremantle where Jenny got a job as a house mistress looking after 30 girls at a boarding school.
“They were quite naughty and the only way I could control them was by banning them from riding their horses for a few days,” she said, explaining that the school provided for the girls to agist their horses adjacent the school.
Meeting with a Queensland architect in Fremantle who needed his car to be driven from Perth to Brisbane, Jenny took the opportunity to drive a vast section of Australia, driving up the east coast to Brisbane. After delivering the car, she continued her travels, ending up in Townsville.
“It was what I had dreamt of, growing up in England with miserable sleet and rain and here I was in a place with lots of sunshine,” Jenny said.
Jenny met a lifesaver on Magnetic Island who took her to the wharf when the Polaris motor sailer came in and she talked her way into a fishing trip. “It was so magic – we fished for mackerel and I thought wow, I wouldn’t mind doing more of this,” she said, “and I stayed on the boat until the end of the year and by then I had learned a bit about fishing and boats.
“That boat got sold so I borrowed £600 from my father and went into partnership with a local fisherman, Cocky Watkins, and bought a Torres Strait lugger which we named Paladin.”
After refitting it in Cairns, Jenny and Cocky started mackerel fishing on the reef as well as taking out charters for fishing which they continued for four years. “I then bought my own boat which was a 30 foot timber boat, Moonmouse.
“I fished for mackerel out of Townsville with her, but all the fishermen were horrified and said women didn’t take boats out, and although I thought they might be right, I’m going to have a go.”
Jenny was very successful mackerel fishing and although it was very physical work, she managed in one instance to land up to 60 fish between dawn and 9.30am.
It was in the ’70s when Jenny was told of the ‘gold rush’ in the Gulf being the discovery of banana prawns and she went over there as ‘deckie’ for her friend Cocky Watkins and she found it so exciting.
“There was an enormous amount of prawns.”
Jenny bought a 56 foot boat, Toni Christine, and would fish for banana prawns during the season and then trawl for tiger prawns.
“Trawling for tiger prawns was so boring,” she explained, “it was at night so during the day you would have to fix the boat, eat and try and sleep during the hottest part of the day.”
By the late 1970s, Jenny bought a house in Garrick Street, Port Douglas and used it as her home base when not out on the boat.
She had already identified Port Douglas as her kind of town when, in 1972 she visited and saw a sign outside one of the pubs which read ‘found – set of false teeth, whoever is without, apply within’.
Jenny decided to buy a 43 foot timber trawler, Timana, and went barra fishing in the Mitchell River.
“It was so lovely along the river with no houses, no people and very calm anchorages.
“Crocs used to rip the nets and once one got caught in my net, rolled himself up in it and dragged me along in my dinghy,” she laughed.
“I wasn’t really nervous – I think there is more to fear in the city from people,” she said.
Finding that good deckhands were hard to find, Jenny sold Timana and bought a smaller boat, Baffler, which she operated on her own, fishing for barra for a further 20 years until she retired at 65 in 2002.
Jenny built a home on 10 hectares in Julatten and remains a very active, busy person.
She is vice president of Paws and Claws, the immediate past vice president of the All Breeds Horse Show in Mareeba, is a member of the Mt Carbine Bull Riders and plays tennis every Wednesday at Mt Molloy.
She enjoys packhorse riding, taking to the trail for weeks at a time.
Her love of animals is most evident, having always had a small dog as company on her boats and now keeping three horses on her Julatten property.
Jenny celebrated her 80th birthday this month and admits she is “slowly becoming an old lady” and that the only regret she has is that she never got her pilot’s licence.
Jenny Lott at her Julatten property. Inset left: on a cruise ship to the UK in the 1960s. right: On the Paladin