Davidson Whaling Station

A unique partnership between the Killers of Eden and the Davidson Family.

 

Davidson Whaling Station

For more than three generations, the Davidson Family occupied Loch Garra homestead and built the try works on the beach below to process the carcasses of the baleen whales.

A good season would see around 8 whales successfully processed for their oil, baleen and bone. It was a tough game, and they subsidised their income by growing most of their own food and running livestock.

Overheads were low, as Alexander’s descendants stayed true to traditional hunting methods for the sake of the Killer Whales. While deep-sea whalers employed motorised boats and explosive harpoons the Davidson’s they rowed, (and were sometimes towed by the Killers) and cast their harpoons by hand.  The only concession was the purchase of a motorboat in 1908 to tow whale carcasses back to the try works.

Listen to Alice Otton, daughter of Archer Davidson describes the family’s feelings towards the killers. Alice also discusses why the Killers would only work with the Davidsons.

Tours are held here during school holidays and special anniversaries. Visit National Parks online for the latest information.

The day George walked on a Whale.
In 1910, a cricket match was about to get underway when the familiar call of “Rusho” from the lookouts halted the game and the crews rowed out to a particularly feisty whale. With the killer whales harassing it, the whale doubled back and launched out of the water beneath the Davidson’s small green-hulled whaling boat. As the boat rose out of the water, George Davidson leapt out of the boat and onto the whale’s back to shove the boat into the sea before it was upended. The feat might be considered a tall tale if it weren’t confirmed by Roy Hordern, a visiting gent from Sydney who was on board the tiny whaling boat that day.

The strange smelling “cure” for rheumatism.
Residents of the hamlet of Eden often considered the finely dressed, urbane visitors from Sydney peculiar in some ways, but a visitor to the Davidson’s Whaling Station left them scratching their heads in disbelief.
George Arnold of Darlinghurst had heard rumours that immersing oneself fully in the putrefying warmth of a whale carcass could alleviate the crippling symptoms of rheumatism. In pain and desperate for a solution, he asked the whalers for help. After more than an hour standing in the 40º C heat of the putrefying carcass, Mr Arnold did report an improvement in his plight, but the price for this was that he emanated a stench that lasted for well over a week. This “treatment” became fashionable, and for some time visitors from near and far travelled to Eden to experience the healing power of standing neck deep in a rotting whale carcass.

The story ends and the legend begins.
The special relationship between man and wild animal eventually became a relationship between a single whaling family, the Davidons, and a small pod, until in 1929, Old Tom passed away. Old Tom’s Skeleton can be found in Eden’s Killer Whale Museum, a short drive from here.

“Oh no, what have I done?”
Logan breaks “The law of the tongue.”
Whaling in Eden ceased in 1930. But one incident prior to that contributed to much tension in the whaling town. John Logan, a neighbour of the Davidson’s, tried to take a humpback without leaving the lips and tongue for the killers as was customary. Old Tom, the most famous of the killer whales, is rumoured to have grabbed the tow-rope in defiance, and lost some teeth in the process. The struggle was won by Logan who returned with the carcass but according to his daughter, who was on board at the time, he lamented, “My God, What have I done?” When Old Tom washed up dead some time later, the Killer Whale’s mouth was riddled with abscesses around the lost teeth. This may have contributed to starvation and his eventual death.

Old Tom finds “Young Jack”
George Davidson survived swampings and capsizes and even rode on a whale’s back when his boat was lofted from the water by an enormous humpback (hence his nickname “Fearless”). His son Jack, however, was not destined for such luck. An experienced whaler of 15 years, Jack Davidson was crossing the Kiah Inlet bar with wife and children in 1926 when their boat breached on a wave and was swamped. His wife Anne survived but Jack and their two children were lost to the ocean, practically on the doorstep of the Davidson family home. A search found the bodies of the children a few days later, however Jack’s body could not be located. Old Tom, the killer whale was seen circling in the vicinity of the accident, but not much was thought of it as the area had been thoroughly searched. Eventually Tom returned to the killer pack and continued helping whalers with the hunt. It wasn’t until a few more days passed that Jack’s body was spotted where Old Tom was circling so fervently. Could it be that he was trying to alert the crews as to the location?

What is a Killer Whale?
Highly intelligent creatures with complex social systems and structures, Orcinus Orca are not whales but the largest of the 35 members of the dolphin family. They have no known predators and live on a diet that includes fish, birds and marine mammals such as sea lions, seals, walruses and whales. While on the Killer Whale Trail, you can discover more about killer whale biology and behaviour at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre in Eden.