Event marks end to whaling in 1978

Jessica CuthbertAlbany Advertiser
Albany’s Historic Whaling Station’s general manager Elise van Gorp with an original July 31, 1978 breaking news special edition of the Albany Advertiser.
Camera IconAlbany’s Historic Whaling Station’s general manager Elise van Gorp with an original July 31, 1978 breaking news special edition of the Albany Advertiser. Credit: Albany Whaling Station

On this day 40 years ago, July 31, 1978 the dramatic announcement was made by the executive director of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company to close the whaling station and end the era of whaling in Australia.

The station was Australia’s last remaining whaling station and the day it shut was a significant moment in Albany’s history.

From the announcement in July, the whaling station was able to continue operating for a further four months, with a reduced workforce and shifts to help lower running costs.

On the evening of November 21, 1978, the Cheynes II, Cheynes III and Cheynes IV whale chasing ships berthed at the old Albany Town Jetty after their final whale hunt, bringing more than 150 years of whaling in Albany waters to an end. Albany’s Historic Whaling Station is marking the 40th anniversary of the closure announcement with a pop-up exhibition of archival items, including Albany Advertiser newspaper articles from the time.

The Albany Advertiser front page on November 21, 1978 announcing the end of whaling in Albany.
Camera IconThe Albany Advertiser front page on November 21, 1978 announcing the end of whaling in Albany. Credit: AA

This exhibition gives visitors an insight into the social debate and inquiry which ultimately changed Australia as a nation.

The display will be on show from today until the 40th anniversary of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company closure in November.

The Advertiser was in the thick of it when the last day of chasing whales dawned and even put out a special Monday edition on July 31, 1978, the morning the announcement was made.

As reported in the Advertiser in 1978, CBWC executive director John Saleeba made the historic announcement.

“In our opinion this was an unforeseen effect of the public inquiry ... oil revenue comprises nearly 80 per cent of our total whale product sales and it therefore does not seem feasible to forecast any likelihood of profitable whaling operations in 1979,” he said.

“After over a quarter of a century of whaling with good returns to shareholders the directors’ decision has been made with deep regret and reluctance.”

“The Albany Advertiser reported when the last day of chasing whales dawned and even put out a special Monday edition on July 31 after the announcement was made.”
Camera Icon“The Albany Advertiser reported when the last day of chasing whales dawned and even put out a special Monday edition on July 31 after the announcement was made.” Credit: Albany Advertiser

Mr Saleeba addressed the meeting and said the whaling station could close as soon as one week’s time or it might continue until the end of the 1978 season.

Writing in the Advertiser on Tuesday, November 21, 1978, reporter Chris Pash said Australia harpooned its last whale, a female sperm whale, on November 20, 1978. The three whale chasers went out the next day, the final day of operations, but caught nothing.

Speaking to the Advertiser last week, Mr Pash said he went out hunting whales twice as a reporter for the Advertiser, in 1977 and again in 1978, both times on the Cheynes III.

“It was terrific fun. Even then I had a sense that this was a special moment in history. I took a tape recorder with me and took pages and pages of notes. Much of that informed me when writing the book The Last Whale,” he said.

“On the Cheynes III the first trip, I recall the crew trying to make me feel sick in the rolling swell of the Southern Ocean.

“They served curried sausages, turned green by the curry powder, for lunch. I admit, it took a lot of effort to keep that down.”

AUSTRALIAN WHALING ENDS WHEN THE CHEYNES BEACH STATION NEAR ALBANY, THE COUNTRY'S LAST, CLOSES IN 1978.
Camera IconAUSTRALIAN WHALING ENDS WHEN THE CHEYNES BEACH STATION NEAR ALBANY, THE COUNTRY'S LAST, CLOSES IN 1978. Credit: WA News

Mr Pash said the closure came at a bad time for Albany, during a dip in the economy. “Many of those who worked at the whaling station and on the whalers took a long time to find another job,” he said.

“Working on the chasers was a well-regarded job as well as paying top money and there was a certain status, a toughness, a sense of wildness and a feeling of making a contribution to the town.

“That all went with the whaling station. It was hard on the people.

“That part of it tends to be forgotten when we think back and say: ‘We shouldn't have been doing that’.”

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