On the Rocks: something smells fishy

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Image: Scottish Fisheries Museum.
Image: Scottish Fisheries Museum.
Image: Scottish Fisheries Museum.

On the evening of 7 April as part of the On The Rocks festival, a third year history student Lauren Hossack screened her short film The Herring Quines which looks at the role of women in Scottish fishing communities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

During spring break when most students were happy to take a break from work and relax at home or abroad, Lauren found the time to make this film. The film was screened in a Scottish atmosphere with traditional music and wool-knit sweaters abounding at the Vic.

Prior to the screening the audience could enjoy a small exhibition of old photographs, some of which had been used in the short film and others that were there to provide the audience with a better insight into the lives of the fishing women. Lauren told The Saint a bit more about the film:

The Saint: Why did you make this film?

Lauren Hossack: Given that my roots lie in a fishing community, I wanted to find out more about how it all worked, beyond the stories I’d been told growing up. I was aware that fishing on the whole was not an industry that people are always really aware of – I feel the tendency is to generalise and assume that in the past, everyone in cities worked in factories and everyone in the Highlands was a farmer. In fact, fishing continues to be a hugely profitable industry for Scotland, despite its decline over recent years.

Fishing is often seen to be a male-dominated occupation, but historically women have played key roles in life in fishing communities. Their experiences tell a very different story to many narratives of women in the 19th and 20th centuries. The role of women in these communities is something that’s been touched on by academics but can be lost to the world beyond that, which is a real shame.

The best thing about this project is that people are really interested in the topic once they’re aware of it, which makes it all the more worthwhile. If people are able to gain new knowledge from watching the film, then that’s fantastic.

TS: How did you go about making the documentary?

LH: I managed to interview women who were at one time connected to the fishing industry in various ways. They were all extremely willing to help and told some fantastic stories that they were happy for me to share with others. Archives were indispensable, as was the Scottish Fisheries Museum.

TS: What should the audience take away from The Herring Quines?

LH: That these women were amazing. Even just two generations ago, their lives were filled with hard work and uncertainty, but they took it all in their stride.

TS: Have you any future plans for the film?

LH: As things stand, the screening is a one-off, though I hope to build on it by adding more interviews and getting closer to what everyday life would have been like.

There’s an old fisher cottage set up near Fraserburgh, though unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit this time around.

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