Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Worlds Colliding #1

In 2007 I arranged to meet a woman from America in the town library. I knew who she was as soon as I walked into the foyer. There was something about the seventy years in her face, a flash in her eye, the robust juiciness of a woman well-lived and strong. Pat Farrington had flown the red-eye for a rather special reunion; thirty years after the day the Whale and Dolphin Coalition clashed with gunners and flensers at the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station.
Above: This is a photograph from that day. Federal police, bikies, flensers, protestors, singers, rainbow folk, locals (the ones wearing thongs), an ex-deputy Prime Minister ... Breaksea Island on the horizon, blubber tanks in the background and right in the middle of the mob - that's Pat Farrington.

2007 ... on their way from the airport and driving through the town of Albany, her guide pointed out an old gunner standing on the street corner. Pat leapt from the car, ran over to him and ambushed him with a big, lusty hug. "Still has a twinkle in his eye," she told me later. "He's a handsome man, that gunner."

1977 ...  the protests focussed the world's attention on the last onshore whaling operation in the southern hemisphere. Back then my hokey little home town was polarised by whether or not killing whales was ethical or even viable, frightened with the real threat of huge job losses and dragged out of a past where whalers were the epitome of manhood, into the glare of more modern sensibilities. I was seven and can remember the tensions and gossip, amid sage noddings at the dinner table.

What a strange reunion of souls it was in 2007. WaD Coalition and Greenpeace stalwarts stood around on Middleton Beach and chatted with the old whalers. The Japanese were heading off to Antarctica for another season. The fight to stop whaling continued but this time, some of the gunners and first mates from Albany were on board as well.

1977 ... the local bikies were drinking at the White Star the day they heard protesters were gathering at the whaling station. They put down their beers and headed out there. Pat Farrington told me that the roar of their bikes approaching sounded like helicopters. The Feds made them park the bikes up the hill and approach on foot. The American protesters cheered at the sight of these bearish, leatherclad men walking down the road between the lines of police cars. They came from a '60s Californian culture where the Hells Angels were aligned with protest movements and general social unrest.

In Albany it was quite a different story. Gods Garbage members worked on the chasers harpooning the leviathans, or at the whaling station dismantling them into a marketable commodity. Some of them had just surfaced from the Vietnam war. Uppity protesters were not their favourite people in the world.

 The seeker, the warrior and the phantom: Jonny Lewis, Pat Farrington and Jean Paul.

Copyright 1977. Jonny Lewis Collection. All Rights Reserved.

The scene ended with a thankful lack of claret, despite the stakes. From what I remember of my interview with Pat (the file is in a dead computer somewhere), the bikies were softened up by Pat's daughter asking them if they could turn around so she could take a photograph of their patches for her Hells Angels mates in California. They laughed, turned their backs and began emptying their clobber of chains, knives and other weapons. The protest fell apart as the rainbows and dolphins graced the waters; the objective was achieved. Then the Americans asked if the bikies wanted a ride back up the hill. Everyone piled on the back of a flat bed truck. Pat showed them the contents of her bag - a collection of tiny carved whales. Bikies and Greenies swung their legs over the side of the tray and communed over those little carved critters.

They travelled up the hill towards the motorbikes. Federal police cars lined the road like a guard of honour. As each policeman saw the scene on the back of that flatbed truck, they laughed out loud and so the ripple of dawning laughter followed that strange union the whole way up the long hill.

Tonight at the shops I met up with a Gods Garbage bloke in the dairy aisle. I asked him if he remembered that day at the whaling station in 1977 and if he remembered Pat. It's strange how the old bikies get misty-eyed when I mention her name.
More about her tomorrow.

Have a look at Chris Pash's blog The Last Whale for more stories about the 2007 reunion!


  1. This is a great story and just shows how even given our immense differences we can sort things out sometimes if people stay reasonable enough.

  2. Great story. Time mellows like a good port (drinking not boating). I am doing some research into the history of west end at the moment and particularly the protest movement. Expo was the last great confrontation in this community. 23 years later the memories have dimmed but I suspect the anger is still there alongside acceptance of the inevitable. People don't like change.
    I gave one of your stories to a friend for his birthday today (acknowledged of course). He's a keen fisherman and a reader/writer.

  3. wonderful
    a lesson in common sense

  4. It's a funny little tale isn't it? Of course there were darker goings on at the time, but I love that story for its meeting of strangers.