Lest we forget @ Albany
“Of course, it is in a remote place,” said a lady at a tourist information centre, slightly frowning. I was a little paralysed with her reaction as it was not in the context of what I said before her words.
In the early November last year, I was in Albany, WA. As many of you, hopefully, may remember, Albany was the place where the last whaling station in Australia was operating. The site has turned into a museum named the Whale World. It seemed that it was crucial for me to visit the site for my research, and so I did.
It was quite a trip from Melbourne. I flew into Perth and then took a coach service to Albany the next day. I could have rented a car but because I hadn’t driven a car for more than a decade, I thought I better stay away from driving for other drivers’ safety.
After 6 hour ride on a coach, I finally arrived in Albany, the very end of the south west Australia where I had never visited before.
The first thing I did in the morning after reaching Albany was to visit the tourist information centre at the railway station close to the Princes Royal Harbour. The Whale World was located out of Albany for more than 20km. How could I get there without a car? I had a slight hope that the museum would have a kind of a shuttle bus service to bring tourists to and from Albany.
Being told that the only way for me to get there was to catch a cab, I said to the lady “… but it’s in a remote place” and was going to add “it would be good to have a shuttle bus service”. But before I said that the lady replied to me with the words in the onset and I was paralysed.
I was also a bit surprised at her very negative reaction to the station. It is an important tourist attraction asset in Albany and, of course, an important part of its history yet she didn't sound like she was directing me to something important. Instead I inferred from her tone that the whaling station was a site which had been necessary to be kept away from ordinary citizen’s access because it was a site of an awful job. It could not have been built close to a residential area.
Probably I was more familiar to a heroic aspect of the whaling and those who engaged in the practice. Literature from both Australia and Japan told me that being involved in the profession had been many boys dream. But, of course, that was about whalers on the boat.
Then, what about men on the shore who worked on the flensing deck? Are people in Albany taking a whaling history of the town like a black armband history? Hoping to find some clues, I left the tourist information centre to catch a cab.
Then, a vast construction site facing the Harbour came into my sight. Judging from what I had read in the city’s website, that must be the site for the Anzac Peace Park!
According to the city’s website, Albany had been busy preparing for the centenary of the Anzac commemoration in 2014. A century ago, the Anzac convoy heading for the Western front had departed Australia from Albany. It is the place of the birth of the Anzac legend.
It was not just the waterfront which was getting a facelift for 2014. Mt. Clarence, the Anzac memorial site, is now undergoing the infrastructure upgrade for 2014. The Anzac Interpretive Centre will be built funded by the Federal Government.
A relatively small town in the southwest seemed to be trying to put itself in a grander national narrative and obtain a significant spot in it. No wonder that the city is giving in an enormous effort to prepare for the centennial ceremony.
Observing the whole excitement about the Anzac centenary in Albany, being a Japanese national, I couldn’t help questioning “so, will the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force be invited to the ceremony in 2014?” For those who don’t know, one of the four battle ships which protected the convoy was a Japanese cruiser, Ibuki. Could we say that Japan is also a part of the Anzac legend?
Although the story regarding Albany and Anzac tradition was altogether so fascinating, this time I had to concentrate on the “hunt of whaling”. After about a 30 minute cab ride, I finally got to the Whale World at Frenchman Bay.
The weather on the day was actually quite extra ordinary. It rained heavily. The wind was stormy. Yet, time to time I saw the blue sky and the calm tide.
I joined a guided tour and then returned to each spot on my own. They were all still there – oil storage tanks, flensing deck, boiler house, pump house, factory mess, offices, and even a whaler – Cheynes IV. Along with many photos and descriptions at the site, it was not so difficult to imagine the days when the station was alive. How many men’s life went past this flensing deck? It must have been a place with rich human stories.
In the current whaling debate in Australia, we do not hear much about its own whaling history. Is that partly because the emphasis is more on a question “how many whales’ life went past the flensing deck”?
In the early New Year, three environmental activists from Bunbury supported by the Sea Shepherd illegally boarded a Japanese whaling ship in protest of the scientific research whaling in the Antarctic. Initially, it was rumoured that they might be taken to Japan for trial but they were released without charge following a diplomatic talk between the Japanese and the Australian government. So, the Australian custom’s ship collected them from the Japanese ship and dropped them at Albany.
Actually, I was slightly fascinated by this story. “Anti-whaling activists return to the [former] whaling town!” … But how many Australian reporters were aware of this intriguing link between the past and the present? Maybe it didn’t inspire their imagination much. Or maybe they just didn’t know. I didn’t come across such reports.
Back to the Whale World in November 2011, I was relieved to see a sign at the museum saying “We need your input!”. “In order for the Whale World to acknowledge the employees to the Cheynes Beach Whaling company, we need the necessary information. This was a living, breathing station with endless untold stories. HELP US to share these stories.” And concluded, “We are waiting with poised pencils!!”
It was worth taking the trip all the way to Albany. It was good to know that somebody in Australia was caring about the whaling history of the country and trying to record it.
Regardless the current position of Australia on the whaling, whaling in the past has a significant position in its national history. The continent benefited from it. It was a crucial part of some people's life and those facts could not be erased. Probably it is not as heroic part of Australian history as the Anzac legend in the present context but it surely deserves to be, at least, remembered.