Whaling and War Time
“In no other port of the Commonwealth were the ships seen together… in the full magnificence of their numerical strength.” --The Advertiser, 21 November 1914
Such was the memorable yet cryptic report announcing that, on November 1, 1914, Australian and New Zealand troops had set sail in a convoy from the sheltered anchorage of Albany’s King George Sound. The deckhands had cast off the lines, the captains had set their course, and locals had tearfully waved farewell till the last ship slipped behind the horizon. They’d wished the lads “God speed!” and “Safe return!”, fearing that for many this was a futile wish. The convoys carried fledgling soldiers toward Europe to answer the call to bear arms and go war, which Britain declared August 4th, 1914 following Germany’s invasion of Belgium. In total, between the two troop convoys that departed a mere two months apart, were 40,000 soldiers and nearly 17,000 horses. This represented approximately 10% of all the Australian soldiers who had signed on to go to battle. There and then, they and their New Zealand comrades had sealed the brave bond of brothers in arms.
Remembering Their Story
Following months of training in Europe as well as the Middle East, these farm boys, many too young to even enlist, faced the grotesque brutality of war front on as they slogged ashore on the bloody beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey. A barrage of machinegun fire was their only welcome. While troops from other nations stormed ashore on the Gallipoli Peninsula as well, and paid a hellish price for it, this was the ANZACs first significant battle.
The date… April 25th, 1915. Over the next eight months these lads fought hand-to-hand, trench-to-trench with Turkish men no older than they. This horrific bloodshed lasted until the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November, 1918 for on that fateful day peace was declared. Sadly, the toll was high for everyone, something we know too well.
For, five years from call-up till the guns were silenced, nearly 250 Australian and New Zealand ships, both troop and hospital, sailed into and out of Albany. Some returnees recuperated and recounted their stories within the pristine walls of Albany Hospital. Other combat tales were never told, for those soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice and were buried at Memorial Park Cemetery.
Memories linger, lo one hundred long years have come and gone. One century on, the 25th of April, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the landing of ANZAC troops on the distant shores of Gallipoli as World War I grabbed the throats of young men and women who fought for their nations’ honor as well as their lives. Pause to remember those ANZAC troops, many of whom saw their homeland for the very last time from the exact spot where you now stand.
Long before WWI, Albany was a rag-tag rumble of houses as early as 1627. And before that, the Noongar people were here, trading with extended family members as far away as Perth. Their journey sometimes required them to traverse the inhospitable countryside for hundreds of miles, on foot.
In the 1820s, ships called here while in the Southern Ocean hunting for whales and seals. It’s claimed by some that whaling is the country’s oldest industry. Following the discovery of petroleum oil in the mid-1800s, whaling went into a decline. All this history is detailed in the Whale World displays. Located at the former Cheynes Beach Whaling Station, some 45 minutes from Albany, you’ll hear tell of the time when some 850 whales were taken annually. The station closed in 1978.
Explorers and settlers also came, and some went. In addition, the authorities eyed this region as an alternative to the penal colony already in existence in New South Wales. It came to be when Major Edmund Lockyear sailed in with a fleet of soldiers, convicts, and a surgeon aboard the Brig Amity, arriving in 1826, on Christmas Day. A replica of the Amity was begun in 1975 using local shipwright Mr. Pieter van de Brugge and Mr. Stan Austin as the project supervisor. Restoration work was also done on the Old Gaol (Jail) that dates back to 1852. It’s now possible to feel what the conditions were like for prisoners serving time here.
While in Albany, you can also discover other chapters of its history as Western Australia’s oldest permanent settlement, a military outpost built to thwart France’s attempt to increase their interests in this part of the world, plus once serving as the entry point to Australia’s Eastern goldfields.
Try to leave time for a meal. Western Australia offers up fresh-daily seafood, locally-sourced produce, and divine desserts. Time is precious but maybe sample a Geraldton rock lobster, South West marron, yabby, trout, barramundi, Exmouth prawn, Rottnest scallop or Mandurah crab. They all pair well with award-winning wines from the Margaret River and Swan River regions. For the record, prisoners were offered a simpler menu.