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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware this website contains images, voices and names of people who have died.

8. Sea beasts

1791: Start of whaling

<p>A man on a dead whale, Twofold Bay, New South Wales</p>

National Library of Australia, nla.obj-148638992

<p>A man on a dead whale, Twofold Bay, New South Wales</p>

The native animals being killed are whales, so you head to the Sydney docks, a noisy, smelly place. People and boats, big and small, everywhere. You get talking to a dock worker, who has a lot of opinions about whaling.

‘Call me Ed,’ he says, ‘and you know what? It’s 20 years since whaling started here and if it wasn’t for whaling, this colony wouldn’t have survived. Just look at the headline on today’s Sydney Gazette newspaper about whaling merchants stopping Australian poverty. Too right!’

You ask what he knows about its history.

‘I know the dark-skinned people never hunted whales. I heard they would feast on beached whales. Makes sense I suppose; how can you hunt these great beasts without huge boats? Us Europeans have been hunting them for hundreds of years, but a lot of men have died hunting them!’

Out to sea you see an enormous ship with three masts coming in to dock — the Britannia.

‘Here she comes!’ says Ed. ‘Whaling started here in Australia soon after the First Fleet arrived. You could say it was our colony’s first big industry. Thousands of men and hundreds of ships involved. Whalers visit the colony a lot. Rough men they are though. Violent drunks, many of them.’

The ship docks and a group of dirty, muscly men sit on its deck, eating large chunks of bread and meat. As they lower a plank to the wharf, you go on board and get chatting to them.

‘Just back from Tasmania. New breeding grounds have been found down there. Lots of blubber to be had!’ says a sailor named Arthur.

‘What do you use the whales for? Meat?’ you ask.

‘Ha! Naïve youngster, it’s the oil we seek. Whale oil is used in lamps and factories across the world. The bone sells well too,’ replies Arthur.

‘Not just that though,’ says an older, bearded whaler, ‘we bring all kinds of goods to Australia. It would be a waste for us to come all this way with an empty boat, so we bring things the new colony needs, as well as more convicts! Then we load up with whale oil, head back to Europe and sell it.’

You share lunch with the men, thank them for the conversation and head off.

The Spiritstone glows orange again, there is more knowledge from the future.

‘The whaling industry was big in Australia, but after the 1850s it got smaller. Petroleum had begun to replace whale oil, and many whaling men left to go gold mining instead. By 1978 there was no whaling industry in Australia and by 2020 the Australian government tried to stop other countries from whaling.’

‘Show you understand the different viewpoints on whaling.’

Your task

  • Fill in the four boxes… How would these groups from the 1800s view the start of whaling in Australia?

Aboriginal people

Didn't hunt whales

Released convicts

They might want work


They are interested in whales

Ship owners

Some of their ships were used for whaling

The green glow of the stone shows that you have completed the task.

‘Do you want to travel over the mountains to discover new lands?’ Go to 10.

‘Do you want a sea voyage?’ Go to 11.

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