Understanding the migratory behaviour of fishes is critical to the conservation and management of fish assemblages in coastal rivers. We analysed the otolith chemical signatures of smelt, Retropinna sp., from inland and coastal populations in mainland south-eastern Australia to determine whether individuals within coastal populations of the species were diadromous. Assessments of otolith chemical composition combined with water chemistry data were used to make inferences about the migration histories of individual fish. A proportion of the smelt collected from the freshwater reaches of a coastal river exhibited diadromous movements, with the majority of fish analysed showing evidence of estuarine or marine occupation as larvae/juveniles and a minority inhabiting freshwater throughout their life histories. A broad range in the daily ages of upstream migration into freshwater (15–106 days) and the timing of these migrations suggest that spawning and migration occur over several months during the summer/autumn period. The results of this study suggest that southern smelts are an ecologically variable taxonomic group and that conservation and management actions should take into account the range of migratory behaviours exhibited both within populations and across regions.