Hope for barramundi soap to bring tourists into quiet fishing town

Updated March 30, 2019 09:44:00

Would you use fish soap? Karumba shopkeeper Lea Wilder is fighting to attract locals and tourists alike by making barramundi soap — and he said he hopes it will be a hit.

Key points:

  • A shopkeeper in the Queensland town of Karumba is making soap from rendered barramundi fat
  • She hopes it will provide a unique drawcard to the town, where tourist numbers have dropped in recent years
  • Local fishermen supply the barramundi

The town in the Gulf of Carpentaria has dropped in tourist numbers over the past decade, with many station owners holidaying on the east coast.

Lea Wilder said the idea came when she saw local fishermen rubbing barramundi onto their tools to oil them and help prevent rust.

The initial reaction from tourists walking through is usually surprise.

“They think I go out and wrestle a barra,” Ms Wilder said.

“So you spin them a bit of a story, and they love it and laugh.”

From fish to finish

Local fishermen supply Ms Wilder with the barramundi, and she processes the fats herself to extract the oil.

“It started with one of the lady fishermen who came in with barramundi fat once, and I thought I’d be able to use it somehow,” Ms Wilder said.

Although making the mixture only takes an hour, the entire process for one cake of a soap can take up to six weeks.

“I render all the fats down, and that’s where you lose that fishy smell,” she said.

As fish fats are different from normally manufactured palm oil used for soaps, Lea says that to use barramundi is a hard task-master.

“You should have seen the failures at the beginning to get it right,” Ms Wilder said.

“Fragrances with colours are then added and poured into block moulds ready to harden.

Barramundi in Karumba is seasonally wild-caught, and so Lea can leave the moulds to set whilst fish becomes sparse.

“The longer you leave them the harder they get,” she said.

Selling fishy soap relies on foot traffic in town, which Ms Wilder said is becoming far and in-between.

Tourists changing to shorter stays

Young families are now the focus for Karumba’s tourism trade, with less older caravan travellers making their way to the Gulf.

General Manager for Tourism for the Carpentaria Shire Council, Verena Olesch says the stays are getting shorter but are bringing in more variety.

Fishing however has remained the main attraction, with locals pushing for new ways to bring people in.

“I think you can probably say everyone fishes. Almost everyone has some lines that they can throw in the water.”

As Karumba joins in on the “Year of the Outback”, many locals are pushing for new attractions following the North West Queensland floods.

In February, Karumba and majority of the Gulf of Carpentaria was isolated for weeks on end with the town halting any trade.

“You can really see a difference after the roads have opened in the last couple of weeks, a lot of traffic coming through with boats,” Ms Olesch said.

“It’s always exciting to see people come through after it’s been so quiet.”

With prawn season about to open for Karumba in April, tourists are poised to see if Karumba soaps will open a full seafood collection, however Ms Wilder said she’d love to if she could find any fat on them.

Topics: rural-tourism, tourism, fish, fishing-aquaculture, karumba-4891

First posted March 30, 2019 07:15:00

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