WA seafolk stories come to life through author Bill Leonard

WAFIC staff member Dani, with author of ‘In Search of Fish and Fortune’, Bill Leonard.

It is so important that the history of the Western Australian commercial fishing and pearling industries are preserved, not only because they are one of the first commercial trades established in WA, but they are part of our identity, our culture.

And it is important to acknowledge the people behind the scenes, telling these stories, like Bill Leonard, author of recently published ‘In Search of Fish and Fortune’.

Talking to Leonard, you would have hardly known that he had lived in Perth for 30years. With a strong Scottish accent, it was a delight to have been able to profile the author, someone, who has such passion and a strong connection to the WA fishing industry.

Leonard is talented. Full stop. But humble when it comes to talking about his long list of achievements. And what a career he has had.

He was born and raised on the west coast of Scotland and followed his father into the local Yacht and Boatyard in Fairlie, on the Firth of Clyde. After completing an apprenticeship, he furthered his skills by working in other yards in England, building various small vessels and up to large Supertankers.

The master shipwright migrated in 1986 to Fremantle to find work at the time of the America’s cup. From there his talent was recognised and he was offered to lead the team that built the replica of Captain James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour.

This replica is known as one of the best examples of an 18th century vessel and put Australian on the map for maritime craftsmanship. Later on, Leonard built the replica of the Dutch Century vessel Duyfken, the 17th century Dutch ship recognised as the first European vessel to encounter the Australian mainland.

Leonard enthusiastically worked with the Maritime Museum in Fremantle, employed as the only master shipwright by an Australian museum, where he researched and restored many in its extensive collection of vintage and historic vessels, up until his retirement .

And at 70 years of age, and as sprightly as ever and no signs of slowing down, he has recently published “In Search of Fish and Fortune”, a book 4 years in the making which documents 15 historic watercraft of Western Australia.

To bring the beautiful, heavily detailed book to life, Leonard, travelled from the top to the bottom of Western Australia finding unearthed old photographs and profiling builders, owners, family, fishers and mariners that sailed them. The stories stretch as far back as 1875 – touching on the many challenges these grassroot fisher folk experienced from the western seas and rivers, which pioneered the fisheries that exist today.

The book also showcases over 60 intricate line drawings executed with precision and features maps and classic photographs that illustrate the stories of the vessels, celebrating the history of WA’s fishing and pearling industries.

The way Leonard spoke during our chat, so poetically at times, you could tell he was proud. Not only of his detailed drawings, where the most minuscule features are not forgotten but instead embraced, but of the WA fishing industry and the people in it.

“I have just been so grateful to have the opportunity to speak to people in the industry and tell their stories,” he exclaimed.

Laughing, he said that he remembers the first fisher he profiled, Ted Mouchemore.

“He was incredibly humble, and I was astonished by his stories. He was astonished why I was astonied!”

Mr Leonard said that he felt as though writing the book was important not only to the industry but the wider community.

“Fishing is a fundamental industry, and this book acknowledges that.”

“I have written the book to allow the reader to go on a journey with me to explore the WA fisheries. From the North fishing grounds to the South, I wanted to profile the people of the industry and to education the public of the working lives of fishermen, women and their families,” he said.

“This journey is a tribute to these fisherfolk, these are their stories.”

WAFIC, WRLC and the Pearl Producers Association are proud to have sponsored the book “In Search of Fish and Fortune”.

This is a book, a journey, that explores the history of WA’s fishing and pearling industries. It is certainly a book that will be loved by everyone. For more information about “In Search of Fish and Fortune” or to purchase a copy ( just in time for Christmas)RRP $70.00 – head to: http://bit.ly/2z53UyW


A book the whole family will love – celebrating the history of WA’s fishing and pearling industries.

Written by WAFIC Staff, Dani.