Culture and heritage

Aboriginal heritage

Whaling

The hunting of whales on the eastern coast of Australia has a long history. Aboriginal people lured them onto the beaches using fires, and commonly made feasts of stranded whales.

After contact, whales were hunted primarily for their oil. Whale oil was used for making candles and soap, and in industrial processes such as tanning and ropemaking.

Davidson Whaling Station, near Eden on the NSW south coast, was the longest operating whaling station in Australia. It is the only shore-based whaling station in eastern Australia that retains significant remains of its whaling use. Many dramatic photographs show the stories of whaling around Davidson. You can see pictures about harpooning, the role played by the killer whales, the processing of the whales, the role of the Davidson family, Aboriginal and Maori people involved in whaling, and, of course, bathing in whale oil!

The history of Davidson Whaling Station Historic Site is made richer by the stories of the many whalers and their descendants.

More information


What people have said

When the natives observe a whale, 'murrira', near the coast, pursued by 'killers' [killer whales], mananna, one of the old men goes and lights fires at some little distance apart along the shore, to attract the attention of the 'killers'. He then walks along from one fire to another, pretending to be lame and helpless, leaning upon a stick in each hand. This is supposed to excite the compassion of the 'killers' and induce them to chase the whale towards that part of the shore in order to give the poor old man some food … If the whale becomes helpless … and is washed up on the shore by the waves, some other men … make their appearance and run down and attack the animal with their weapons.

… Mathews, R.H. (1904) Ethnological notes on the Aboriginal tribes of New South Wales and Victoria. Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Vol 38:252-253

…persons suffering from rheumatism visited Eden in the whaling season for a 'whale cure'. The body of the whale retains a certain heat long after death—a sort of fermentation heat. A hole is dug in the blubber with spades into the whale's inside, deep enough to hold the body of a man or woman; into this hole the sufferer is lowered, and remains in as long as he can stand the heat—and smell. Some remarkable cures have been effected … The after-effects are not so pleasant; the patient for a week or so gives off a horrible odour, and is abhorrent to man and beast …

… The Lonely Hand, July 1 1908

Page last updated: 26 February 2011