The small town of Eden, like many similar places on the east coast of New South Wales, runs whale watching tours. It was not always that way however. Back in 1800s the area was part of the whale hunting trade. Here is an old article I wrote last Easter holidays… and forgot to post (tutt).
As recently as the 1920s Humpback and Right whales were hunted off the coast of Eden – a small town at the southern end of NSW. Back in those days a pack of killer whales (aka orcas) worked in partnership with the human whalers “When boats were made of wood and men were made of steel” (words from the Killer Whale Trail).
The weather wasn’t great but off we set…
Killer Whale Trail
1 – Rotary Lookout, Eden
Just past the town centre, overlooking the Twofold Bay is the Rotary lookout. In the distance across the bay you can just make out the Boyd Tower (see below).
2 – Seahorse Inn
Benjamin Boyd was born in Scotland in 1801. He was one of those larger than life characters who didn’t live to see his 51st birthday yet seems to have done more than most would do in ten lives. He was an entrepreneur who became involved in shipping and whaling. He was also a banker, grazier, politician and was even involved in the slave trade. He lost and gained his fortune at least twice during the process.
In the mid 1840s Boyd set about building a port called Boydtown across Twofold Bay from Eden. The town was never completed and most of it went to ruin. The Seahorse Inn remained and has been recently restored to its former glory.
Boyd’s idea was to use the port of Boydtown as a whaling station. By this time he had amassed a small whaling fleet of his own. The location was not without history. The indigenous Thaua people used this spot to conduct hunts and ceremonies and develop a relationship with the killer whales.
3 – Davidson’s Whaling Station
Perhaps the one disappointment on this trail. There is very little to see where this whaling station once stood. Mainly the Davidson family home I guess. Down on the sea inlet hardly anything remains of the place where the whalers hauled their huge catch onto the land to extract the meat and oils. This was the site of the longest operating whaling station in Australia for more than three generations.
Reaching this location meant travelling on unsealed roads through part of the Ben Boyd National Park.
4 – Ben Boyd Tower
This Ben Boyd certainly left his mark in this area. He had this structure built, originally meant to be a lighthouse. It never got approval for such use and was left unfinished. There was enough of a structure to be used as a lookout tower for whalers to spot passing baleen whales or to spot the killer whales that were already harassing them.
5 – Eden Killer Whale Museum
The trail ends almost where it started just up the road from the fisherman’s wharf at the Killer Whale Museum. I thought I knew a bit about whaling and whales in general but I was pleasantly surprised to learn much more. In the days before industrialised whaling with harpoon guns etc the way the men of Eden hunted whales was almost unbelievable.
A pack of killer whales regularly used to help the whale hunters by first alerting the humans that there were large baleen whales in the area. They did this by jumping and splashing in sight of the watchmen on the Boyd Tower. The men would then row out to intercept the large whales in their wooden boats – which were no longer than a killer whale.
The killer whales helped by herding the large baleen whales into or close to the bay. The men killed the large whales and left them for the killer whales to feast on their large tongues. Upon their return the men towed the giant whales back to their whaling stations to extract the meat, oils and other products.
One pack of killer whales that helped hunters in the early 1900s was led by one orca that the humans called ‘Old Tom’. The remains of Old Tom are on display at the museum.
Old Tom dies in 1929 and only one year later, in 1930, whaling ceased as an industry in the area.
The story of killer whales working with humans for the common cause of hunting large whales is not new. The trust established between the two species goes back a long time. Stories exist of indigenous peoples working with killer whales.
There is an interesting documentary (which I think is about 22 years old now) telling the full story of Old Tom and the killer whale – human interaction. As unbelievable as the human and killer whale partnership sounds, the tales are backed up by those who were there as children when it happened – now probably no longer with us. You can see that video by clicking the following link: https://vimeo.com/47822835
Also available in youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk_sDK0yLOk