Melville Island Lodge is one of Australia’s premier fishing destinations. I’ve fished there a number of times myself and, having fished most other top end destinations, I can vouch for its benchmark status. The fishing options cover the full tropical spectrum; everything from bluewater to the magnificent freshwater reaches of Goose Creek, while the lodge offers pinnacle accommodation and service.
With some of the country’s best tropical fishing occurring in extremely remote locations, it’s inevitable that a good percentage of top end fishing lodges cross paths with the many Aboriginal communities scattered throughout the region. Aboriginal land covers huge areas of top end Australia and the fishing lodges and camps found within them only exist because of negotiation with the traditional land owners. This is, inevitably, a commercial agreement and the benefits generally flow back to the community by way of infrastructure improvements and fishing permit fees. In addition, there is a peripheral benefit that often goes unseen in the form of generous donations from the lodge fishing guests. It is no secret that most of the clientele that patronise fishing lodges are from, let’s say, a ‘happy socio-economic demographic’ and for a lot of them this is their first exposure to the social and economic challenges often found in Aboriginal communities. It’s no surprise that most of them want to do something to help.
On August 14, CEOs from around Australia were invited to participate in a charity event to be hosted by Mike Baxter at Melville Island Lodge. The event was a collaboration of cricketer, Matthew Hayden and Macquarie Bank’s Executive Director, Guy Reynolds. Both have been to the Tiwi Islands many times and decided to put something back into the community.
Companies represented included Qantas, Shimano, Cricket Australia and BMD Constructions, to name a few. All enjoyed three day’s fishing, and then a full ‘test match’ against Tiwi College kids for the Tiwi Ashes. Cricket sides were made up of pupils from Tiwi College and players Matthew Hayden, Allan Border and Wallaby Matthew Burke.
Over $250,000 was raised, with a full pitch being flown in for the game, which now remains part of the college’s infrastructure. The vision for Hayden and Reynolds is to provide a sustainable agriculture template for the youth of the Tiwi Islands that will allow them to grow their own vegetables and fruit. In addition, they intend to create a facility for training in agriculture, fishing, tourism and forestry to give the kids greater opportunities on the island after they leave school.
“My association with the Tiwi people grew out of my love of fishing their incredible waters. It is one of the most beautiful places I have had the good fortune to fish. They are a proud and enterprising people, and I have committed to improving the lives of the children of the Tiwi, where I can. I feel honoured to be accepted as part of their community.” said Hayden.
The funds raised last year have created a sustainable garden, dam, chicken and duck run, plus working kitchen and teaching area within the school. They have also provided all sporting equipment for the 90 kids of the college this year, plus much of their sporting clothing and tuition.
The fishing over the three days was outstanding. The teams were rotated each day, so that everyone got to mix in the boats as well as at the lodge in the evenings. Group members got on famously.
The lodge provided six boats and guides for the event, including veteran guides Mark ‘Westy’ West, Warren ‘Wazza’ Smith and Scotty Mathews. Tides were big so the guides mainly focused their fishing in Snake Bay, Jessie River and Goose Creek as well as nearby reefs. The winning barra measured 95cm caught by Robert Craddock, a Brisbane-based journo, followed by a very close 94cm fish taken by retired Wallaby full-back, Matt Burke.
There were several other nice barra in the 80-90cm bracket landed, plus a heap of smaller fish. Other species caught in the rivers and creeks included some nice threadfin salmon around 90cm, plus a swag of very good saratoga, mangrove jacks and fingermarks. Those who ventured out onto the reefs caught queenfish, GTs, golden snapper and several jewfish up to 30lb.
The organising committee has decided to set a five-year plan to improve the lifestyle and career opportunities of the children of the Tiwi Islands.
The 2012 event will be attended by Allan Border, Matt Hayden, Ashley Noffke and Matthew Burke.
The prime tides selected for next year’s event will enable the group to fish further afield and according to lodge owner, Mike Baxter: “The NT has had a massive wet season in 2011 so we’re expecting some excellent fishing to follow.”
This is an extremely worthy event that gives attendees the opportunity to experience the country’s best fishing, rub shoulders with the country’s best sportsmen and contribute to improving indigenous communities.
The icing on the cake is that the attendance fee is largely tax-deductible and participants get the chance to win a trip for four trout fishing in New Zealand, staying at Tongariro Lodge for seven days.