You can be driving around aimlessly on a Sunday, looking for something to look at. As you do the curve on Marine Drive there are a bunch of people standing together, a large bunch. This is obviously no evangelising soap box sermon, even though this town has been demonised before as a festering haven of God Botherers.
When you pull up to find out what all the fuss is about, you see the strangest combination of citizens. The hard nosed real estate salesman is holding hands with the Nyungar elder. Night nurses yawn and rub their care worn paws against the Health minister's brand new Chanel suited back. A couple of teenage girls actually smile at their mothers and the mothers actually smile in return, before looking back out to sea.
Alright, I'm making most of that last bit up. But I'm quite sure this scene has happened once or twice on the wild shores of the South West.
Whales do these things to people.
When whales appear, rolling off their barnacles on the white sands of Middleton Beach and parading their babies, people who would normally stride past each other, avoiding eye contact on their power walks, actually begin to commune. They lend each other binoculars and stand close enough to feel the warmth coming off each other's bodies. Everybody and each individual within a few hundred metres knows in their water that the whales are here to visit us.
Old Salt came back from a cruise out into the Sound, all misty eyed and converted. "It was just great," he told me. "They swam straight under the tinny and all around us. We could have touched them." This old whaler said it was the closest he'd ever been to a whale, "in Peacetime."
Native American tradition says that whales are the record keepers of the earth. I like this idea. Those pelagic archivists, closer to us in structure than their fellow fish, are said to have witnessed times when the earth went through catastrophic change - more catastrophic than Bush and Howard both being elected a second time. This was really bad. The oceans of the world rose and their Motherland - Mu - sank beneath the waters.
I think when we see them, we intuit them as our record keepers. They remember where we came from.
With a memory like that, no wonder the locals are aghast, in love, blown away and humbled by these leviathans gracing us with their presence. It was only thirty years ago (this week) that the last whale was harpooned in Albany waters.
Photograph courtesy Dr. Louis M. Herman/NOAA