The following extract on whaling is from The Mercury, July 1929, re-posted from The New York Post. Please don’t take offence at its tone my fellow Taswegians;

The whaling industry is to be restored to Hobart, capital of Tasmania, the little island lying south of Australia. This comes about not through enterprise on the part of the inhabitants, but on account of the decision of several Norwegian whaling companies to make the port their base from which vessels will draw supplies and refit each season. The Tasmanian capital used to be one of the important whaling bases of the southern seas in the era of sailing ships, but its status departed with the coming of steam and modern methods. Hobart fell into slumber…..Hobart has long borne the aspect of a peaceful English village. Pedestrians amble about with a leisurely air, the street cars run slowly. Instead of whale oil the chief product has been jam. Now the old days are to come back and the inhabitants are sitting up and rubbing their eyes like Rip Van Winkle. The building of special slipways is under consideration by the Norwegian companies. The world is calling for more oil, and a foreign nation is exhibiting the initiative the Tasmanians failed to show.

The Norwegians had been operating out of Hobart for quite a few years, as historian Michael Stoddard pointed out;

ADVENTURE CALLS

In October 1929, Jack Ratten, then aged twenty, was one of 34 enthusiastic young Tasmanians  selected as crew on the Norwegian whaler, N.T. Nielson-Alonso. His father was the well known surgeon Dr Victor Ratten.

Jack Ratten, whose first job was aboard a whaling vessel.
JACK RATTEN AS A WWII FLYING ACE
N.T. NIELSON-ALONSO
Whaling from port of Hobart, dismembering the carcass.
DISMEMBERING A WHALE ABOARD THE N.T. NIELSON-ALONSO

It is sobering to read to read that during their five months stay in Antarctic waters  745 whales were killed, producing a lucrative  55,600 barrels of  oil. It was a world record. Questions were already being  asked about the sustainability of the industry, but  Australia  was keen to be involved.  The explorer Douglas Mawson was  preparing to take the ship Discovery on  an expedition to research  marine life in the Ross Sea, where the Norwegians had been working. 

HOMECOMING AND WHALING TALES

There were hundreds of people to meet the ship when it  docked at Hobart’s Princes Wharf  in March the following year. Jack Ratten would have had some great stories for the family, but it hadn’t  all been smooth sailing. Conditions for crewmen were appalling.  There was almost a mutiny on one occasion over the quality of food. The men were served a Norwegian concoction of reconstituted dried fish with what was reported as ‘a horrible odour’. For ’afters’ there was sago pudding, which was claimed to be of a ‘fluorescent purplish hue’, and completely inedible. The crew threatened to strike if the food was not replaced.  When it wasn’t, they left the plates of  fish  and the bowls of purple sago lined up  outside the chief steward’s cabin and refused to work for the rest of the day.

The stories of young men like Jack Ratten were collected and published in a book by Michael Stoddart.

The Norwegian/Tasmanian arrangement lasted until 1931, but whaling was not actually outlawed in Australia until 1978.

Happily, Tasmania is more about WHALE WATCHING these days than whale hunting.

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