Our free, family-friendly Eel Festival celebrates Parramatta’s namesake, the eel, and its significance to the local Darug people the Burramattagal, who for generations have gathered during eel season to feast, trade and share stories.
A slippery river bounty
The hunting of eels by indigenous peoples was noted early by Europeans. A note in the Sydney Gazette from 7th April, 1805, records a very successful catch by local Darug on the Nepean River, near Richmond:
A quantity of very fine eels was last week caught by the natives in the Lagoon of Yaramundy, at Hawkesbury, some weighing from 12 to 14lbs.
[The original printed text seems to read 1400 lbs, clearly a typesetting error of some errant zeros, as a gargantuan 635 kilo eel seems a tad unlikely!] Some of those caught were bartered, including this one weighing over 8 kilos:
A fresh water eel, weighing 18lbs. was yesterday brought into town by some natives, and sold. [Gazette, 26th June 1813]
At the Elizabeth Farm this Sunday
This Sunday we’re celebrating Parramatta and Elizabeth Farm’s indigenous history with the Eel Festival. There’ll be talks, a Darug language workshop, and for the adventurous, Jacqui will be making one of her signature dishes – collared eel in the colonial kitchen – while Fred’s Bush Tucker will be showing you how to cook eel in paperbark – followed by a taste!
Enter the iconic house to discover the stories of how Indigenous peoples and the colonial Macarthurs related to each other. The day’s music line-up includes contemporary Aboriginal performing artist and award winning poet, Gumaroy Newman playing the Yidaki (Didgeridoo), performances from the acclaimed Mt Druitt Indigenous Choir singing in variety of Aboriginal languages – and a special guest appearance from Indigenous music act, the Stiff Gins!
Full details are online here, along with times for the free shuttle bus that goes from the ferry stop (the perfect way to get here!) and Parramatta station.
And a recipe for ‘Spitchcocked eels’
We’ve mentioned the satirical Tabitha Tickletooth,teh actor Charles Selby, who gave all sorts of advice on dining and matters culinaire. Included are several recipes for eel, including this for ‘Spitchcocked eels’:
This process consists of first lightly stewing and then broiling the eels instead of simply frying them. the preliminary preparation being precisely the same… [skinned, de-boned, cut into slices around 4 inches long]; then (here you leave the simple frying process), having put 2 ounces of butter in a stew pan, with a little minced parsley and thyme, a blade of mace, a leaf or two of sage, and a small shall shalot, chopped very fine. Having well egged and breadcrumbed your eels, put them in the [frying] pan, let them remain just long enough to set the coating with the butter and herbs on both sides, then put them on the Gridiron [a grill]… first rubbing the bars with bits of suet to prevent the pieces from sticking, broil for a few minutes until both sides are light brown, garnish with crisped parsley and anchovy sauce.