The Killers of Eden – history and beauty at Ben Boyd National Park

posted in: New South Wales, walks | 5

Rusho! Rusho! Rusho! The cry from the lookout would ring out across the township of Eden alerting all that a whale had been spotted in Twofold Bay. The Davidson family and crew would race to their longboats and begin the hard row out to chase and harpoon the whale. The task for the Davidson Family was made much easier though due to some extra help. That help came from the local pod of Orca whales also know as Killer Whales. Often a few members of the pod would swim up the Kiah Inlet to where the Davidsons lived and would thrash their tails around and breach until they got their attention. The Davidsons would then follow the Killers out to where a baleen whale or similar was being rounded up by the rest of the pod.

The leader of the pod was a whale named Tom. The Davidisons had named all their Killer Whale friends by name, with their identifying features being the shape of their dorsal fins. Old Tom and the rest of the pod would act much like a sheep dog, swimming around and around their target until the whale became tired and slowed down making it easier for the whalers to harpoon. Once the whale was dead, the Davidsons would tie up and anchor the whale in the bay, leaving it for the Killers to feed off. The killers would have their fill, usually the softer parts of the carcass like the tongue and lips, and then the Davidsons would go back out later and haul the whale into the Kiah inlet for processing.

Sadly the relationship between man and whale was severely damaged in 1900, when a vagrant killed one of the Killers who had beached himself while chasing a minke whale. The rest of the pod took off and did not return for the remainder of the season. The following season only 6 of the Killers returned. The Davidison family continued whaling with what Killers returned each season until 1930 when Old Tom died and washed up on the beach. To honour Old Tom and his contribution to the whaling operations at Eden, his skeleton was preserved and can now be seen in the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

 

Old Tom
The skeleton of Old Tom can be seen at the Eden Killer Whale Museum

The rest of the pod stopped returning after the death of Old Tom and the whaling in the area ceased. It is only recently that the Killers have started to return to Eden. The Killer whales relationship with humans has a long history in this area with tales that the local Yuin people had developed a special call to the Killers that made them force Baleen whales to beach themselves and the local tribes people would feed off them. The Yuin people believed that the Killer whales were their deceased ancestors reincarnated.

I have been fasinated with the story of the Killer Whales of Eden since reading Tom Meads “Killers of Eden” a few years ago. The amazing thing is that this story is not just a bunch of tall stories passed from one person to another, the whole saga was documented as it happened in newspapers, police and court records, letters, etc. To stand here at the Rotary Lookout in town and see out across the bay I can only but try to imagine how it must have been for the people whose livelihoods depended on whaling.

Further down the road at the Davidsons Whaling Station historic site in Ben Boyd National Park I truly feel like I have stepped back in time. As we walk up close to the old cottage I almost expect to see Sara and George Davidson walk out to greet us.

Davidson Historic Site
Loch Garra, built in 1896 by George Davidson

Davidson Historic Site

Davidson Historic Site4

Davidson Historic Site3

 

Wandering down to the Kiah Inlet the water is calm and peaceful. It is difficult to imagine the stench of boiling blubber and decaying whale carcasses that once would have filled the air here at the tryworks. Today all I smell is fresh sea air and a hint of eucalyptus after the previous nights rain.

 

Tryworks at Davidson Historic Site
The Kiah Inlet is a very pretty and peaceful place these days
Tryworks at Davidson Historic Site
Harry enjoyed learning about the history of the Kiah Inlet

Ben Boyd National Park was named after the entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd. A wealthy and somewhat eccentric man who was at one time one of the largest landholders in NSW. Boyd built Boyds Tower as a lighthouse and lookout in 1847 but by 1849 with his money troubles and business ventures failing, Boyd sailed to California to try his luck in the Gold Rush. Unfortunately for Boyd it looked like his luck was out. He left California and was last seen in the Solomon Islands venturing ashore with a native to shoot game. The story goes that 2 shots were heard shortly after and that he was never seen again. Some say he met his end at the hands of canibals and others say he escaped.

It is a strange feeling to see the remains of the hopes and dreams of a man and his empire here at Boyds Tower and at the Seahorse Inn at nearby Boydtown. After Boyds departure the Davidson family used the tower as a lookout as it commanded fantastic views over the bay to spot incoming whales .

Boyds Tower
It was an unusual shape for a lighthouse
Boyds Tower2
You can see where the tower was damaged when it was hit by lightening to the top left of the tower
Looking out the window at Boyds Tower
Looking out the window at Boyds Tower
Looking out over Twofold Bay from Boyds Tower
Looking out over Twofold Bay from Boyds Tower
Rocks at the base of Boyds Tower
Rocks at the base of Boyds Tower
Amazing anticlinal fold near the base of Boyds Tower
Amazing anticlinal fold near the base of Boyds Tower

 

If you enjoy wild, rocky coastlines, sheltered little coves and a bit of history, Eden and Ben Boyd National Park are definitely worth a visit.

 

At a Glance

mapEden Killer Whale Museum
184 Imlay St EDEN  NSW
killerwhalemuseum.com.au

mapDavidson Whaling Station Historic Site
Ben Boyd National Park
http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/ben-boyd-national-park/davidson-whaling-station/historic-site

mapBoyds Tower
Ben Boyd National Park 30 mins south of Eden
http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/ben-boyd-national-park/boyds-tower/walking

 

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5 Responses

  1. Hi Amanda,
    What a fascinating story of a partnership between humans and wild creatures! I’ve read that the Indigenous people on Stradbroke Island and near Wellington Point had a similar relationship with dolphins. They would whack the water or so other things to attract the dolphins and they would herd schools of fish into channels. The Indigenous people would feed them some of the fish. Sad to read about the relationship being spoiled though when a vagrant killed one. I was surprised recently to read about whaling at Byron Bay as well. I can imagine the stench would have been awful! Just the smell of one dead fish or kangaroo rotting is bad enough. Another entertaining post with great pictures, Amanda. I really enjoy these journeys into the past and seeing what is left now. 🙂

    • Hi Jane, I agree it’s really fascinating to see see glimpses into the past and then see how things are now. Quite a few places in Australia have dark and bloody histories that we have either forgotten about or don’t know about. I remember learning about Byron’s Whaling past and thinking about what an incredible transformation that town has made to one of the most alternative towns in the country. I also learned about the relationship between the Quandamooka people and the dolphins – human interaction with animals is heartwarming stuff, it’s good for reminding us that us humans aren’t the only clever ones!

  2. Hi Amanda,
    A great re-telling, well done! I’ve heard, read or seen this story before, but can’t for the life of me remember when or where. I’m greatful that we have stopped our whaling practices and admire both dolphins and whales as the are without killing them.
    That is a great anticlinal fold on the beach! The sharpest fold I’ve seen is at Castlemaine – just by the roadside, with a small plaque from a geological society (from memory) to tell passers-by what the strange formation is.

    • Thanks Dayna. I too am glad the whaling days are behind us now – they are such beautiful creatures. Yes, the anticlinal fold was pretty impressive. It’s incredible to think what kind of force is required to shape rock like that. I haven’t ever been to Castlemain, but if I ever drive through there I will seek out the anticlinal fold you mention and take a look. I love my rocks!

  3. Christian

    I agree that it really was an amazing part of Australia’s maritime history. I’ll have to track down a copy of the ABC documentary video of old tom.

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