Goat farming was an important part of the story of Fishermans Bend from the early 1850s and through to the 1930s and 1940s, as part of the simple domestic economy of the early settlers. Goats were also objects of affection by the local community and regarded by many as part of the ‘picturesque’ element of the landscape.

From at least the 1880s and up until the 1940s, it was a common for Indian Lascar seamen to come ashore at Fishermans Bend, while their ship was docked at Port Melbourne, and to obtain goats to take back to the ship with them. The Lascars would also obtain live chickens and eggs from the fishing community at the Bend. Lascar seamen were assigned servants, mainly from the Malibar coast of India, who were renowned for their seamanship. They were contracted to work on the large British and European shipping lines from around the fifteenth century up until the Second World War. The Lascars worked as deck hands and cooks, as well as in menial roles.

Goats on vacant land at Fishermans Bend, c.1934-35 (source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria)

Adopting a kind of absentee farming practice, the Lascars would reportedly throw goats overboard from the deck once they arrived at Port Melbourne, allowing the goats to breed onshore, and thus enabling a supply of goats on their return visit. Some goats roamed freely across the Bend but many were kept for breeding by families at the fishing village, both for their own use (for meat as well as milk) and in order to sell the kids to the Lascars. Goat-keeping provided a small but regular income for these families.

For the Lascars, who were predominately Muslim, goat meat and goat milk products would have been used in the ships’ kitchens to feed the Lascar crews. Lascars would have used the goats’ milk to make ghee, which was central to their diet. The Lascars observed the month of Ramadan each year by the sacrificial killing of a domesticated animal. It is not known whether the goats at Fishermans Bend were used for this purpose by the Lascar seamen, but there was at least one local case of Fishermans Bend goats being sacrificed during Ramadan in Melbourne. This was during July in 1884 as part of a ‘Mahommedan Festival’ at Albert Park Lake, which was attended in large numbers by Melbourne’s Muslim community. Two goats were obtained from Sandridge and these were sacrificed at the Albert Park Lake reserve; two men took the carcasses away to their homes.