Seahorse Inn, Boydtown
The beach where it all began, the land where an empire almost rose
Long before Benjamin Boyd began building his dream, the waters of Twofold Bay were home to the people of the dreaming.
The Katungal (sea coast) group of the Thaua people lived upon this land and it was their special relationship with the Killer Whales of Eden that began one of the most amazing stories of a co-operative relationship between wild animals and humans.
Killer Whales (Orcas) would harass and herd much larger whales towards their waiting spears. Before any feasting or ceremony, the tongue and lips of the whale were given to the Orcas, or “Beowas” (brothers) to eat. It was believed that when some members of the family died their spirits became a killer whale, and some were named accordingly.
European whalers recruited the Thaua as they were excellent crewmen. The Beowas sensed their friends were hunting the great whales, and the partnership between human and wild animal developed, still with the tongue and lips as their reward. Known to be hard working, skilled with the harpoon and with keen eyesight over long distances, the Aboriginal whalers were involved in all tasks associated with whaling including steersman, harpooner, lookout, oarsman, flensing and the boiling down of the blubber and paid equally by the Davidson and Imlay families.
Young explorer and navigator Matthew Flinders was the first European to note whale meat as part of the Thaua’s diet. Seeking shelter in Twofold Bay in 1798, Flinders met a middle aged man while ashore and the two swapped a snack. The older man “…with seemingly careless indifference…” exchanged a piece of whale fat for a biscuit, although neither party found the other’s offering pallatable and descreetly out it away or disposed of it.
Ignorance almost destroys the partnership
When the European whalers first arrived, they were fearful of the killer whales, and considered them dangerous. Much to the bemusement of Aboriginal crews, they would slap the water with their oars and try to scare them from the hunt. Fortunately the Europeans were taught that the Killers were a help rather than a hindrance. Crews that embraced the Killers were rewarded in return, and “friendly” boats, such as the Davidson’s distinctive green-hulled vessels, were favoured. In recognition of the exceptional skills of the Aboriginal whalers, families such as the Imlays and Davidsons would accommodate and pay all crew members equally. Early ignorance soon turned to early examples of equality.
1901 – The murder of a Killer.
Although Killer Whales are powerful, swift hunters with no known predators, they can still get into trouble. In 1901 Typee beached himself while chasing a dolphin-like grampus. The Davidson whaling crew saw it and rowed frantically to help. Before they could reach Typee, a drunkard named Harry Silks emerged onto the beach and fatally stabbed the stricken Killer. It is not really understood what his motivations were, but the “murder” was met with howls of derision from the whalers – especially the Aboriginal crew and there was much anger in the greater Eden community. Silks very quickly left town on the advice of a local constable.
The Killers responded in their own way. They suddenly left the bay and the next year only six returned.
One positive that came from the encounter was that George Davidson was motivated to lobby local authorities to introduce a law protecting the Killer Whales. No such law was forthcoming, but it shows the depth and strength of the relationship between the whalers and their hunting partners.