A Town Reflecting on Slaughter.

Albany, Western Australia has monuments dedicated to two slaughters.  You get a hint at the first slaughter when you sail into Princess Royal Harbor through the Ataturk Entrance.  It was named after the Turkish General who pushed back of members of the Australia, New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli during the First World War.  There is a corresponding ANZAC point in Turkey.  Albany was the place where the fleet of 50 British ships left carrying tens of thousands of ANZAC troops to serve as colonial cannon fodder in Winston Churchill’s harebrained scheme to attack Turkey.  (During the Second World War Churchill asked ANZAC troops to deploy to India for the greater good of the empire.  This would have left Australia defenseless against the Japanese.  The Australians declined, some say this is when Australia really became an independent country.)

The second slaughter is of whales.  Albany had the last operating whaling station in Australia at Cheynes Beach.  Our first visit in Albany was to the whaling station.  The station closed on November 21, 1978.  It took both Sperm and Humpback whales for meat, oil, ivory (in the case of the Sperm whales) or baleen (in the case of Humpbacks) and processed the rest into whale meal to use as fertilizer.  A chaser ship harpooned the whales in their feeding grounds near Albany.  They were tied up next to the ship, filled with air so they would not sink, radio tagged, and left to float while the chaser went after another whale.  When the day was over they rafted up all the whales to the side of the ship and brought them into a bay off Albany where a tugboat took them to the station.  There they were tied up against the rocks while waiting processing.  Often it was a race between the processing and the sharks who knew where to get a free meal.  One by one a winch and block and tackle pulled the whales up onto the flensing ramp (flens is a Norwegian verb for stripping away the blubber).  The blubber was cut up and pushed down one of 6 manholes into the rendering factory.  What remained after rendering the oil was dried, and ground up into meal.  The station operated with 4 boats for 9 months a year taking anywhere from 3 to nine whales a day although records showing some days with a catch of 15 whales in the 1950s.

The station closed in 1978 because whale oil became more expensive than petroleum to produce and the four whale chasers needed extensive work that became uneconomical.  By that time there was a lot of international pressure to end whaling.  The company destroyed its records when it closed but official fisheries records show that between 1952 and 1978, this station took 14,800 whales.  At the point when the station stopped taking humpback whales (in the 1960s) there were fewer than 500 in this Southern Ocean population.  Now there are more than 5,000.

Two years later the station reopened as a tourist attraction.  Now it explains how whaling works by preserving one of the ships and the equipment.  It has turned the three tanks that held whale oil into theaters that interpret the history and current state of the whales.  In a weird touch the skeleton of a sperm whale taken at the station’s last day of operation is on display

There are several sites commemorating the ANZAC slaughter.  The National ANZAC center was opened in Albany in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the fleet departing for Egypt and Gallipoli.  We chose not to go there but went, instead, to the Mount Clarence Lookout where the annual ANZAC Memorial Service is held.  It has a good view of Princess Royal Harbor and the Ataturk Entrance and a lot of pleasant vegetation.  It’s from here that local people waved off the fleet.  There is a desert mounted corps memorial there.  It was originally erected at Port Said on the Suez Canal but was badly damaged during the 1956 Suez war, so it was brought “home” to serve as a memorial to all ANZACs.  There are benches along the lookout that urge us to sit and reflect on the loss of the ANZACs.  My reflections wandered to why so many Australian and New Zealand men would volunteer to fight in a war that was being waged half a world away so that “Small Nations (Serbia and Belgium but not Ireland) might be free.”

Our guide for the day had a strange shtick.  She periodically quizzes us on what we have learned from her.  If we get the right answer we get a cookie.  Not any cookie but an ANZAC Biscuit, a type of cookie, made without eggs, that has a very long shelf life.  Australian woman backed them and sent them in “comfort packages” along with knitted socks to the deployed ANZACs.  (More on Albany continued on the next post.)

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