Tongues, boats and killer whales (Welcome to NSW)

DSC_8083_editGreetings from New Zealand! I’m sorry there’s been a week of silence over here, internet access has been a little sparse and when I was able to upload and download to my heart’s content all my clever words deserted me. And most of the not so clever ones too. So to make up for it I think I’ll do a bumper travel update over the next couple of days. And I also have some sewing-related ramblings in the works too, so watch this space.

A lot has happened since we left Melbourne. We rejoined the Prince’s Highway heading east along the coast towards Sydney, and after a long grey day of driving we washed up in the town of Lakes Entrance. Which I’m sure is lovely, but the cold, the rain, a terrible bottle of local Shiraz and a motel room that positively honked of mothballs somewhat took the shine off it. We woke the following morning to yet more drizzle and grey skies, stowed our camphor-reeking possessions into the car and took a(nother) little detour from the main drag to enliven the journey. Chris found an off-road touring map at the tourist information, so we dived down a little side road that gradually turned into a pitted, bumpy track. I hung on grimly as our little 4×4 worked its diff-lock magic up the steep bits, and Chris in the driving seat had a wonderful time (needless to say).

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DSC_0336_editAs we crossed the border into New South Wales the thick grey cloud and drizzle suddenly dissipated, and we sped down the hill towards our next stop in beautiful afternoon sunshine. The port town of Eden has white sand beaches lapped by clear blue waters and fringed with lush green forest.

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DSC_0354_editAlso there are Portuguese man o’ war washed up on the beach. So friggin’ cool.

Eden also has a fascinating history as one of the major whaling towns in southern Australia throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. This is almost entirely due to the killer whales of Eden, a pod of local orcas that were documented actually assisting the whaling vessels in the hunting of large baleen whales.

DSC_8095_editPrior to the European settling of the area there are reports of orcas assisting aboriginal hunters to catch baleen whales. The aboriginal people believed that the whales were the spirits of their warrior ancestors, who had returned to provide them with food during the difficult summer months. While the hunters took the whale meat and oil from the carcass, the orcas only wanted the lips and tongue, which the aboriginals would cast into the sea for them once the whale was slain. When the settlers arrived and began whaling from the port of Eden, many aboriginal men were recruited to the whaling boats and the “Law of the Tongue” continued. The whalers would attach a bouy to the body of the slain whale to mark its position and leave it in the water so that the orcas could feed, returning to it the following day to haul the remainder back to the shore.

DSC_0382_editBut the orcas did not just hang around waiting to be fed; in fact they took an active role in assisting the whaling ships. At one time a pod of around 36 killer whales roamed throughout the bay, and during the annual whale migrations they would work together to isolate and trap individual animals. While the main pod corralled the terrified whale to prevent it from escaping, two others would swim to Eden to alert the whalers by splashing their fins and leaping from the surface. They would swim with the boats out to the trapped whale, sometimes grabbing the ropes and pulling the boats along in their excitement and impatience. They would also play an active part during the hunt, leaping onto the whale itself to drown it and even grabbing the harpoon lines to slow the animal down so that the humans in the boats could strike the fatal blow.

DSC_0370_editBecause of the local aboriginal belief that the orcas were the returned spirits of their ancestors, all of the animals were given names and individuals were recognisable by their different dorsal fins. The most famous of these whales was “Old Tom” (who in reality was probably no more than 35 years old). He was believed to be the leader of the pod of killer whales up until his death in 1930, when his body was found in the bay. Tom is such a significant figure in local history that his death made the headlines, and his skeleton has been preserved in the Eden Killer Whale Museum. After his death the killer whales did not return to Eden and the whaling industry, which has already been in decline due to reduced numbers of whales, collapsed.

old tom edenOn this side you can see where Tom’s teeth are worn down to the nub through grabbing the whaling boats’ ropes to pull them along.

Today of course countries around the world (with a few notable exceptions) including Australia have banned commercial whaling along with the sale and consumption of whale products, and now instead of thriving on their slaughter Eden has been named as one of the best places to see wild whales in Australia. Sadly we visited out of whale migration season, but we still enjoyed a boat excursion around the bay, and popping by the fish cleaning stations at nearby Quarantine Bay to watch Sammy the local seal and a couple of enormous sting rays hoover up discarded fish guts, fins and tails.

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DSC_8100_editAs always, Chris has been much more speedy about getting his posts up, so if you want to read ahead about our NSW adventures you can find all the craic here.

But if you want longer, more wordsome travel thinks without the spoilers then stick with me. You only have to wait until tomorrow! (Internet permitting).

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What do you think?