Monday, 28 January 2013

28 January – 2 February 2013 Albany WA

During the final 50km drive into Albany Larry noticed one wheel on the van was much hotter than the other three wheels.  This prompted us to check into a caravan park, rather than free camp, so we could hopefully arrange a mobile caravan mechanic to visit us.  After spending over $100 for two nights, we vacated and managed to find a lay by about 10km out of town which became our home for the next 4 nights.

A well known landmark in Albany is 'Dog Rock'
We took the van into a caravan workshop and $500 later came out with all wheels bearings checked and a number of faults with our electric brakes rectified.  After picking up the van and driving for 15 minutes, the same wheel was still far hotter than the others.  Back to the workshop. The mechanics thought it might need the attention of a brake specialist so we drove around speaking to a number of them. 

Van having all brakes serviced.
Of course they couldn’t fit us in until Monday so our stay in Albany was extended a few days.  Not such a curse, as Albany has a number of interesting sites and activities including Strawberry Farm, one of the earliest residences and market gardens in Albany and now a National Trust property.

Strawberry Farm, now a National Trust property

If you ever see one of these - please purchase for me! Any price! It's an early
mix master!! Would go perfectly with my collection of 30+ egg beaters!!
There is a replica (constructed in 1975) of the first European boat to land in 1826.  Panicking that the French might get to the unsettled lands of Western Australia first and stake a claim, the British Government arranged for The Amity to bring the first group of European settlers to establish a military post.
The Amity which arrived in 1826

After an arduous six week journey from Sydney, The Amity anchored on 26 December 1826.  On board were 19 soldiers, 23 convicts and the ship’s crew and staff.  The settlement was initially called Fredericktown and in 1832 renamed Albany, but for decades it continued to be known as King George Sound.
On board The Amity
There was another branch of the Museum of Western Australia which included an art exhibition and play area the girls enjoyed.  Outside the museum, which used to be the commandant's residence and later a gaol, was a huge fig tree that was planted when Albany was first settled.  Possibly the best climbing tree we had come across and not a sign in sight saying it was out of bounds!

The root system of a gigantic and very old Moreton Bay fig tree

Kate in the pink in the centre of the tree - fantastic climbing opportunities for the girls

Albany was also the last shore leave allowed to the solders travelling overseas in WW1, including Gallipoli solders and others destined for France and the Middle East.  It was the first town in Australia to conduct a dawn service on ANZAC day.  During our visit there was a lot of local discussion about an ANZAC interpretive centre being constructed in time for the 2015 centenary of Gallipoli.
On the nearby peninsular a number of well-visited natural attractions were worth seeing for ourselves.

The Bridge

The Gap - matches perfectly with an outcrop of rock on the
northern edge of Antarctica.

Kate above The Gap

On the Saturday night we all spruced up and went to the Albany Entertainment Centre (AEC) to watch a live simulcast from Perth of the Opera Rigoletto.  This was the first opera for the girls and Larry and I hadn’t been to one since we attended the Vienna Opera (in the standing room only backpacker section) over 25 years ago.  The fact that it’s been over 25 years since we’ve been to the opera tells you something of our experience in Vienna!! 

Anyway, in Albany it was free so we thought we were on safe grounds and could always leave at half time if it was too dull.  However the story, written about 150 years ago, was set in the 1950’s and while it was sung in Italian, the theatre screen had English subtitles so we could follow the storyline.  It was quite dramatic, involving quite a few characters, a love story and a death.  At half time, both Elizabeth and Kate wanted to stay to see how the story ended, so we considered the night a success.  I don’t know that I’d fork out $150 for all of us to see an opera, but as far as exposing the girls to this genre and having a night out (very rare these days), it served its purpose and got us inside the magnificent AEC building.

This building has the most amazing architecture.  I can fully appreciate why it was so controversial when constructed in 2010, but I loved it - it's so starkly modern and futuristic compared with The Amity, which is so traditional and historic and only about 200m away.  There is no way the convicts, settlers and crew of the The Amity could ever in their wildest dreams envisage a building such as the entertainment centre!

Albany 1 MG 7804
A stunning location like no other in the region.Verdent grassland carpet outside The Centre.

Also located about 15 km from Albany is the former Cheynes whaling station, now known as Whale World.  We visited thinking we’d be there about an hour, but 4 hours later we were still looking at the exhibits.  It is an actual former whaling station, the last in Australia, complete with whale oil tanks (now theatres), cookers, boilers and work sheds.  It’s not for the feint hearted, as there are many displays and graphic photographs showing the whale killing and processing. 

Whale tusks outside one of the exhibit halls
Basically, the whales were dragged onto the Flensing (skinning) deck, where the blubber was removed. 
Flensing deck then

Flensing deck today
The whale was then dragged onto the cutting deck, where men (generally wearing boots and stubby shorts and singlets), chopped the whale into smaller parts that could be fed to cookers.  Every part of the whale except the jaw and teeth were cooked and reduced to oil.   The smell must have been indescribable and apparently sharks surrounded the landing area. 

Cutting up deck then - note the workers wearing shorts, singlets
and rubber boots.  The steam is coming up from the cookers below.
Cutting up decks today.  The circles provide access to the cookers below,
so once cut up, the whale meat was pushed into the cookers

Open cooker hole today.  The safety barriers were not erected during the time
the deck was in use.  A number of workers slipped into the cookers.

While we were aware whale oil was a common fuel used for lamps before electricity, we didn’t know it was also used in paints, cosmetics, medicines, soap and detergents. 

A boiler operating the cookers below the cutting deck.
Behind Kate, the large storage tanks held the whale oil.  They are
now used as theatres and display areas.

The last operating whaling boat, Cheynes IV, was berthed there and we could go into and onto the boat and see the harpoon used and how the crew members lived on board during the whaling season. 
On the harpoon ramp on the Cheynes IV

The harpoon used to kill the whales.

This whale station only ceased operation in 1978, not because of public pressure but because the demand for oil had reduced due to the development of synthetic replacements and also the cost of fuel for the whaling ships tripled.  As the station was a major employer in Albany, it took the town about 10 years to recover from its closure.  In addition, as it was the last operating whale station in the country, the Australian government took the opportunity to implement the ban on all whaling in Australian waters. 
Skeleton of blue whale

Whale World certainly didn’t glorify whaling and it was easy to feel sickened by the exhibits, but, as we explained to the girls, it was a factory processing whale meat in the same way as an abattoir processes cattle, pigs and chickens.  Just on a much larger scale due to the size of the animals.  In its day, it met a demand for whale oil, primarily as a source of lighting.  Ultimately however, we were all pleased to know we lived in a country where the whale populations continue to grow and thrive and the only thing shooting them is a camera.  Albany, 40 years later, has a thriving industry again based on whales as a tourism enterprise.

Tourists overlooking the cutting deck.

Close up of the school group (from the photo above) visiting the whale station in 1976. 
Note many are holding their noses.
Travellers Tips: Expect to pay $55+ for a caravan park for 2A+2C. We located a free camp about 10km east of Albany, nothing flash, just a large lay by area.  The Amity Brig was excellent value at $10 a family, WA Museum gold coin donation, Whale World $59 family.  Farmers markets every Saturday morning.  All the major supermarket chains are represented and there is an extensive retail area.  Cameron Caravans were professional if you need caravan work.

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