No Humane Way to Kill a Whale: Tim Winton

February 19, 2010

(FIRST POSTED Monday, November 5, 2007)

Photo by Chris Pash

Novelist and ocean activist Tim Winton credits his school days in Albany during the last days of whaling as deeply influential to both his work as a writer and environmentalist. His second novel, Shallows (1984) winner of the Miles Franklin Award, deals with the confrontation between whalers and conservationists on the high seas.

Tim Winton penned the following when he heard of an historic meeting between two of the main protagonists in the last days of Australian whaling. In 1977 Jonny Lewis and Kase Van Der Gaag duelled on the southern ocean, Jonny a protester in a tiny inflatable, Kase the skipper of a whale chaser. Both meet in Albany on November 3, 2007, in opposition to the resumption of whaling and the coming hunt by the Japanese fleet of humpback whales.



By Tim Winton
© Copyright 2007 Tim Winton
When I went to school in Albany in the 1970s whale-killing was a brutal fact of life. The sight of whales being butchered onshore was a bizarre tourist attraction. In the almost thirty years since the industry’s demise, Australians’ attitude toward the marine environment has changed enormously and nowhere else is this social evolution more marked than in our appreciation of cetaceans.

Nowadays whales and dolphins retain a commercial value as live tourist attractions. They grace almost every tourism poster and pamphlet and website, becoming an alternate coat of arms to WA in particular, along with the whaleshark. They are the basis of a sustainable industry — eco-tourism — whose contribution to our economy is considerable. They help keep small coastal communities alive — even towns like Albany, that once thrived on their slaughter.

Beyond economics, though, whales have accrued an even greater worth, something less tangible than a dollar figure. Their cultural value might be much harder to quantify, but anyone who under-estimates its does so at their own peril. In thirty years whales have become emblematic. Ordinary Western Australians are passionate about whales.

For many coastal Western Australians the annual migration of humpbacks and southern right whales helps define the passing of seasons. The glimpses we snatch of them spouting and leaping and resting in bays and coves have become a kind of reassurance, for the more urbanised we become the more we treasure enduring instances of wildness. And the more educated we become about ecology (even if our learning reveals how little we really know) the more seriously we take our mega-fauna. You might say that whales in particular have taught us a little humility in this regard.

When so many marine species and habitats are in serious trouble, the slow recovery of the humpback from the very brink of extinction has given us hope. The fact that they still exist has come to stand as a signal of our own cultural evolution, because we know that if we had not changed our attitudes to whaling a generation ago, and if the majority of nations had not changed alongside us, then there would be as little to see out there on the water as there was when I was a boy, when the only whales you’d glimpse were being sawn up and boiled. If we hadn’t progressed in our thinking since the 1970s, there’d likely be no passing whales at all. No whaling industry. No whale-watching. No whales, full stop.

On a recent trip to the Albany region I saw more live whales in a week than I ever saw in all my high school years living, diving and surfing there. This time I wasn’t even looking for them; they were visually and ambiently unavoidable, and I can’t tell you how good it felt. At a grim time in history it renewed my awe of these great creatures’ resilience, but it also restored my faith in the nobler side of human nature.

But nearly three decades on from the cessation of whaling in our waters, it’s a shock to realize that humpbacks are not secure in our southern or western waters. Most of us have assumed that this is a battle that has been fought and won. But the price of victory, it seems, is indeed, eternal vigilance. While most nations have moved on, a few have not. Some have been steadily regrouping and retooling for commercial slaughter.

Australian governments and NGOs have been at the forefront of this necessary vigilance. Many diplomatic efforts have been made to bring recalcitrant whalers into the fold. Politicians, public servants and activists have done a lot of good work in good faith. But with limited results. Despite a welter of procedure and process and protocol, whaling activity has increased.

In the effort to curtail this renewed slaughter it seems that two crucial avenues have not been fully investigated. Legal action, and direct action. Given the political and cultural sensitivities involved, neither of these is anybody’s idea of the first and best way to solve the problem, but after the failure of all diplomatic and procedural efforts, there seems to be no alternative left.

There is still no humane way to kill a whale.

There is still no sustainable model for a humane whaling industry.

Whaling belongs to an era when issues of sustainability and humane methods had no meaning. That era has passed and it will not be mourned.

This week’s (November 3, 2007) meeting of two old foes, Jonny Lewis and Kase Van der Gaag, symbolises just how far we’ve travelled as a community. It also says a lot about the town of Albany and how it has moved on. Jonny and Kase were both players in an end-game that helped define our contemporary view of marine stewardship and our sense of interdependence with nature. Their reunion is something to celebrate because, despite all odds, it marks a kind of social progress and cultural unity that none of us could have predicted a generation ago. No doubt these two blokes will have stories to tell and a few old scores to settle. The rest of us can only watch on with some pride and a little amusement and take the opportunity to renew our determination to see whaling ended in our waters for all time.

I am happy to add my voice to the throng of ordinary Australians demanding that our Government take all steps necessary to secure the safety of whales in our waters. I applaud IFAW‘s efforts in bringing this before the public, and urge coastal communities to support their initiatives. AMCS (Australian Marine Conservation Society), whose logo is the humpback, wishes IFAW every success in this endeavour.

I also extend my thanks and support to those who undertake peaceful direct action to thwart whaling in our territorial waters in the absence of Government initiative.

© Copyright 2007 Tim Winton

Tim Winton is Patron of the Australian Marine Conservation Society

Jonny Lewis, Tim Winton, Chris Pash


Two Harpoon Tom

February 19, 2010

Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin and Tom Barber 1977. Photo Copyright Jonny lewis

(First Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2007)

Tom Barber had close calls with explosive head harpoons twice during the campaign against the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company at Albany, Western Australia, August/September 1977.

Tom, fellow Australians Jonny Lewis and Allan Simmons, Frenchman Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin and Bob Hunter, a Canadian and co-founder of Greenpeace, went up to 30 nautical miles into the Southern Ocean to run interference against the three whale chasing ships.

Tom and Jean-Paul made official complaints to the police about one incident.

In a written statement to Police, Tom Barber said: ” “We were about to cross behind the whale when we heard the thump of the harpoon discharge. The harpoon struck the whale near the centre of its back. The whale then put its tail in the air and then dived. The rope from the harpoon struck the water about four feet from our boat. Our boat was under power and drifting towards the area between the whale and the whale chaser. Our boat then crossed the rope between the chaser and the whale and our propeller became entangled in the rope. The rope lifted the motor on our boat and I had to release the pivot pin. The whale chaser was also bearing down on us.”

Jean-Paul said the harpoon “shot across our bow and the harpoon cable slapped the water a couple of yards (two metres) ahead of us”.

Tom Barber 30 Years Later at the thirtieth anniversary of Greenpeace Australia

Chasing Whaling SHips from Sea Level

February 19, 2010
(First Posted Wednesday, November 28, 2007)

King George Sound, Albany, Western Australia. Copyright 2007 Jonny lewis

By Chris Pash
The Last Whale

Jonny Lewis was drowning in the raw beauty and power of the Southern Ocean. Initially, he couldn’t speak as he looked out across King George Sound, Western Australia, to the horizon. The immensity of that body of water overwhelmed him.

“We went out there?” Jonny said eventually. He couldn’t believe that thirty years ago he and his friends took an open boat south to the end of the world.

This was the first look he’d had since 1977 when he launched an outboard powered inflatable from Middleton Beach, Albany, at the start a 17 hour duel with a whale ship.

He turned to me and said: “We were mad.” The sea looked like it could swallow a 16 ft Zodiac inflatable in a moment and leave no trace.

I see this view every year when visiting Albany for Christmas and often think of Jonny and his friends in 1977. I expressed what I’d always thought. “It’s not something I would ever have done,” I said. “You guys were out there, on the edge, mad and magical at the same time.”

“I don’t think we even considered that,” Jonny said pointing to the ocean. “We were on a roll, bouncing off and egging on one another … we didn’t think.”

In 1977 Jonny Lewis and his crew formed the Whale and Dolphin Coalition (later to morph into Greenpeace Australia) in Sydney to take direct action against Australia’s last whaling station run by the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company.

A key figure was Frenchman Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin, nicknamed the Phantom, who bankrolled the campaign and brought Canadian Bob Hunter, Greenpeace founder, to Australia to lend his expertise honed in the North Pacific against the Soviet whaling fleet.

They opened the campaign in Albany on August 28, 1977. A few days later Jonny and Jean-Paul trailed one of three whale chasers, the Cheynes II, captained by Kase Van Der Gaag, across the Southern Ocean.

“That was an historic day,” Jonny said. “It was the first time anyone had kept one-third of the Australian whaling fleet from its work.”

The campaign ran for several weeks with Jonny, Jean-Paul, Bob Hunter and others taking the Zodiacs out up to 30 nautical miles to act as human shields for the sperm whales. There were two close calls with harpoons but no injuries.

“It’s incredible that we consistently went out so far to sea,” Jonny said later. “It felt, looking over the Sound and beyond, overwhelmingly beautiful and dangerous.”

Jonny returned to Albany in November 2007 to attend an event at Middleton Beach. Jonny stood with Kase Van Der Gaag and Paddy Hart, Australia’s remaining former whaling ship captains, to protest Japan’s plans to take 50 humpback whales.

For Jonny the return to Albany was about meeting Kase. “Kase is deep and feels deeply. I also sense his sadness. It’s everyone’s sadness, a kind of ‘life’ sadness about what we’ve done to the planet, the whales and one another.”

Kase left whaling soon after Jonny and his friends ended their direct action campaign in 1977. He worked in the north west of Western Australia on tug boats. Today Kase speaks against whaling. “I owe it to the whales, the whales I killed.”

Today Kase feels like he’s in the presence of God when he sees a whale.

Jonny: “If only the Japanese whalers had similar feelings.”

For Kase the argument against whaling isn’t about numbers. It doesn’t matter that there may or may not be thousands of whales in the ocean. It’s the inhumanity. Kase: “There’s no such thing as a clean kill. They die hard.”

Jonny was taken with Albany and its current day green outlook. I took him to the old whaling station, now called Whale World, which closed in November 1978, where we met writer Tim Winton for a photographic session with The Australian newspaper. On the way back to town we stopped at the wind farm and then the headland to take in King George Sound.

“The town has this ‘brasserie’ feel, sophisticated eating and drinking,” Jonny said. “I felt proud of our accomplishments all those years ago. Thirty years ago I remember slinking along through Albany. Not so to-day.”

Jonny loved the wind farm built in 2001 to supply 75% of the city’s power. Jonny’s friend, Tom Barber, who had two close calls with harpoons in 1977, went on to build the world’s first commercial wind farm in California. I took a photo of Jonny to send to Two Harpoon Tom in the USA.

Steve Pontin, local writer and marketing guru for the city council, later sent Jonny photographs of dolphins at play at Sand Patch near Albany. Jonny: “They are my greatest souvenir. Dolphins are the reason I became interested in whales before we went to Albany in 1977.”

© Copyright 2007 Chris Pash. All Rights Reserved.

The 1977 Direct Action Crew

February 19, 2010
30th Anniversary of Greenpeace in Australia

Some members of the original team who were a part of the first Greenpeace direct action in Australia gathered in Sydney in September, 2007, 30 years after the campaign against Australia’s last whaling station at Albany, Western Australia.

At a function to honour the Greenpeace Australia co-founders, Jonny Lewis ( dedicated the night to the memory of Fernando Pereira, the photographer who was killed in the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

Also remembered was the late Bob Hunter (, a Greenpeace founder, who came from Canada to Australia in 1977 to lend his expertise honed in the North Pacific against the Soviet whaling fleet.

Pictured left to right:

Jodi Adams, the first coordinator of Greenpeace in Australia;
Richard Jones,
animal rights campaigner who registered Greenpeace in Australia;
Steven Jones,
a member of the 1977 direct action team;
Tom ‘two harpoon’ Barber who piloted a Zodiac during the first direct action;
Chris Pash (hogging the microphone) who reported on the direct action in 1977 and who has written a book, The Last Whale, about the campaign;
Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin
who financed, planned and piloted a Zodiac at the first campaign;
Jonny Lewis who planned the direct action, piloted a Zodiac and who formed the Whale and Dolphin Coalition which morphed into Greenpeace Australia;
American Pat Rose Farrington
who was a key figure in the 1977 protest at the gates of Australia’s last whaling station;
Canadian Bobbi Hunter, Greenpeace’s first treasurer and the first woman to place herself in front of a harpoon, and who played a key role in the 1977 direct action in Australia;
Aline Charney Barber, a member of the 1977 anti-whaling direct action team.

– Chris Pash


(First Posted Monday, October 15, 2007)

Review – Australian Associated Press

February 19, 2010

(First Posted Wednesday, November 5, 2008)

Warwick Stanley of Australian Associated Press says of The Last Whale, a narrative nonfiction book: ‘It’s a dispassionate account that peers into the lives of both the whalers and the protesters in the lead-up to the anti-climactic last (Australian) whale hunt on November 21, 1978. ‘

His article notes that November 21, 2008, marks the 30th anniversary of the closure of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, the last Australian whale hunt and the last outpost of whaling in the English-speaking world.

Stanley says The Last Whale is ‘is an eminently readable account of the fear and loathing on Australia’s last whaling frontier’.

Chris Pash, the author of The Last Whale, is returning to Albany, Western Australia, on November 21 for the 30th anniversary of the closure of the whaling station.

The Last Whale, published by Fremantle Press, gets inside the heads of Australia’s last whalers and a group of people who planned and executed a campaign to stop them. The 1977 campaign was Greenpeace’s first direct action in Australia.

Review – The Age

February 19, 2010

(First Posted Saturday, October 25, 2008)

Fiona Capp in The Age newspaper today (Saturday, 25th October, 2008) reviews The Last Whale by noting that few issues raise such emotion as whaling.

However, the author, Chris Pash, doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the anti-whaling case.

‘By telling the story of the final years of the industry in Australia from both the whalers’ and the protesters’ perspectives, he (Chris Pash) captures the shift in public mood that made whaling morally unacceptable,’ Capp writes.

She says the book includes intriguing characters, both whalers and anti-whaling protesters, who carry the emotional freight of the story. One such character is Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin, a Frenchman known among anti-whaling activists as The Phantom. He financed the direct action against Australia’s last whaling station in 1977.

The Last Whale follows the lives of the whalers who operated the last whaling station in the English-speaking world and the activisits who tried to stop them. Chris Pash was a young reporter at the local newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, during the direct action against the whalers, the first campaign by Greenpeace in Australia.

The last whale harpooned by Australians was a female sperm whale off Albany, Western Australia on November 20, 1978. The whaling station closed the next day. The 30 year anniversary of the closure will be marked on November 21, 2008, at the whaling station, now a musem called Whale World.

Listen to the radio interview with Chris Pash or watch the video clip with archival material.

The Last Whale by Chris Pash was published October 2008 by Fremantle Press and is available in all good book stores in Australia.

Chris Pash Interview

February 19, 2010

An interview with Chris Pash (author of The Last Whale published this month by Fremantle Press) about the final days of whaling in Australia. A short extract follows. The full 20 minute interview can be listened to here

(Note: describing August/September 1977 when anti-whaling activists arrived at Albany, Western Australia, to take direct action against Australia’s last whaling station. Chris Pash was a reporter for the local newspaper, The Albany Advertiser)

Chris Pash: The action was actually quite spectacular. In my view, the activists were completely crazy… but magical if you like. They took these open boats, Zodiacs, inflatable rubber boats that the whalers liked to call Rubber Duckies — a nice little put-down — and they attached outboard engines to them and they didn’t have a mother ship or anything, they followed the chasers, the three last whaling ships, out to the continental shelf, about thirty nautical miles. That’s over the horizon, so you can’t see land. And I watched this and couldn’t believe it. I mean, I can still give you thirty good reasons in about ten seconds why I shouldn’t go into an open boat in the Southern Ocean over the horizon and throw myself in front of an explosive head harpoon.

Chris Pash: I was struck by the absolute pure belief of the activists that what they were doing was right. And they did something dangerous and crazy, but it was magical as well.
I think within us all we want to tilt at windmills. We see something, we know it’s wrong, and we know all the risks involved, but we still go ahead and do something about it. And personally, as I say, it makes me look inward and realise there are a lot of reasons I wouldn’t do that, but I admired these people who did.

Copyright 1977. Jonny Lewis Collection

Sunday Times (Perth)

February 19, 2010

(First Posted  Tuesday, October 21, 2008)

STM, the magazine of the Sunday Times newspaper in Perth, WA, on October 19, 2008, devoted five pages to the story of the last whaling station in the English-speaking world and the 30th anniversary next month of Australia harpooning its last whale.

Chris Pash, author of the book The Last Whale , was quoted as saying: ‘It’s a universal story about change. It’s a story about a town that was a lagging and slow to move. It was stuck at the bottom of the world, and whaling should have ended, but it went unnoticed. The protests were a very confronting way for that change. I don’t think Albany has come to terms with the idea of being the last whaling station in Australia and the birthplace of Greenpeace in Australia.’

The Last Whale, a narrative nonfiction book which tells the story of the last whaling station through the eyes of both the whalers and a group of anti-whaling protesters, was released this month by Fremantle Press

The whaling station at Albany, Western Australia, closed on November 21, 1978. The last whale, a female sperm whale, was harpooned on November 20, 1978.

Review – Life Etc Magazine

February 19, 2010

(First posted Wednesday, October 15, 2008)

Life etc, the ABC magazine, runs a six-page spread on The Last Whale in its Nov/Dec 2008 issue starting on page 36.

Editor Jane Southward writes : ‘ When it comes to non-fiction books, some of the best come from a writer’s determined passion to reveal the full story about a person, a perceived injustice or a piece of history that changed the world. A fascinating new book, The Last Whale, does exactly this in its detailed look at the events and politics involved in the decision to close down the last commercial whaling station in Australia.’

She finds it incredible that November 20 2008 marks 30 years since Australia harpooned its last whale, a a female sperm whale.

She writes: ‘Writer Chris Pash has spent 25 years researching and interviewing the people involved in whaling and the fight to stop it in Albany, Western Australia, in the 1970s. These events are particularly important to Australian history as the protests were the first direct action by Greenpeace Australia.’

Review – NOVA Magazine

February 17, 2010

( First Posted Friday, October 3, 2008 )

The book, The Last Whale by Chris Pash and published by Fremantle Press in October 2008, is the subject of a two-page spread in Nova magazine. The article dives deep into the events of 1977, the original Save the Whale protest and the battle for Australia’s last whaling station and then relates this to the current anti-whaling campaign in the Antarctic against Japan’s whaling fleet.

Journalist Lisette Kaleveld writes in Nova magazine: ‘Like a helicopter, he circles the scene, takes a wider view, then skillfully drops in an out of the minds of the whalers, protesters, even the Prime Minister. Importantly, Chris gives appropriate weight to the whalers themselves. Chris animates them as characters and he doesn’t ignore the heroism in their lives.”

The article Chasing Truth says: ‘The book … is more than a local history; it’s an account of how we as a nation changed our mind about whaling. It traces the momentum of a campaign and all its flow on effects … ‘

November 20, 2008, is the 30th anniversary of Australia harpooning its last whale, a female sperm whale in the Southern Ocean off Albany, Western Australia.

The 1977 direct action against the last whaling fleet in the English-speaking world was Greenpeace’s first in Australia.