(Featured Image: Tangalooma Whaling Station, Moreton Island, c. 1952 – 1961)
Whales were first hunted in Australian waters in the late-eighteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth, intensive commercial whaling had caused whale numbers to fall precipitously. From 1935, protection was extended to the much-reduced southern right whale population. Other whale species were not so lucky, with humpback whales continuing to be hunted until the 1960s and sperm whales into the late-1970s. The trade was officially prohibited in 1979.
In 1952, the Australian company Whale Products Pty Ltd. opened Moreton Island’s Tangalooma Whaling Station – the largest land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere. In its first year, it killed and processed 600 whales. Their bodies were used for oil (glycerine, cosmetics, soap, margarine, and pharmaceuticals), meat (pet food and fertiliser), tendons (surgical stitches and tennis racket strings), glands (pharmaceuticals), gelatine (jellies and photographic films), and bones and offal (fertiliser and livestock meal).
Whale Meat Cut Ready to be Made into Fertiliser, Tangalooma Whaling Station, Moreton Island, c. 1952 – 1961
By the end of the 1950s, demand for whale oil (the most commercially important whale product) was falling, partially due to competition from vegetable oil producers. Whaling had also been rendered impractical due to a sharp decline in population numbers, with whales becoming so scarce that they needed to be spotted by light plane. The station finally closed in 1962, having taken only sixty-eight whales that year. During its decade of operation, it killed 6,277 humpbacks and one blue whale. By 1962, the humpback population of the east coast had declined from 15,000 to 500.
In 1965, humpback whales were added to the protected species list. Tangalooma was already making a fresh start, with a Gold Coast-based syndicate purchasing the facility for resort development in 1963. In 1980, it was sold to the Osbourne family, who still operate it as a resort. In 2013, there were an estimated 19,000 humpbacks in the waters along the east coast. This population now makes money for whale-watchers rather than whalers, with over 500,000 tourists taking whale-watching trips in Queensland between late 2016 and early 2018.
- Australian Government (Department of the Environment and Energy). “Whaling.” Australian Government: Department of Environment and Energy (https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-species/cetaceans/whaling).
- Matthew Connors. “You Don’t Have to Travel Far from Brisbane to See Whales.” The Courier-Mail, 7th July 2018 (https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/qweekend/you-dont-have-to-travel-far-from-brisbane-to-see-whales/news-story/0bbd13bd87547491188c2986bcf0f927).
- Shelley Lloyd. “Humpback Whale Numbers Recover Off Queensland but New Risks Threaten Survival.” ABC News, 4th May 2019 (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-04/humpback-whale-migration-numbers-off-southern-queensland/10867396).
- Tangalooma Island Resort. “Whaling Station.” Tangalooma Island Resort. (https://www.tangalooma.com/assets/Whale%20Blog/History%20of%20Tangalooma%20Whaling%20Station.pdf).
- Queensland Government (Department of Environment and Science). “Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeangliae.” Queensland Government: Environment (https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals-az/whales.html).
Today, the tiny town of Laura, located in Cook Shire on Cape York, 310 km north-west of Cairns, is primarily known for the ancient and impressive Aboriginal rock art connected with the Quinkan and Regional Cultural Centre. The town itself (home to 80 people and consisting of a handful of buildings, including a roadhouse, and a pub) is hardly known at all. This obscurity is despite its notable location on the sole road leading north to the top of Cape York and its role as the tip of the so-called ‘Scenic Triangle’ linking it to Cooktown and Lakeland.
Laura’s seeming insignificance conceals a fascinating history. Its name derives from the Laura River, named in 1873 for the wife of the surveyor Archibald Campbell Macmillan. The town itself, developed when, in the same year, the Palmer River revealed itself as a fertile goldfield, sparking a gold rush, which saw ambitious prospectors frequently crossing the Laura River to reach the Palmer Goldfields.
In this optimistic atmosphere, a plan developed to build a railway between Cooktown and the Goldfields. By 1888, construction was complete from Cooktown to Laura, which gained a bridge and a smart new station. By this point, the Goldfields were in decline and progress promptly ground to a halt. Although it cost a princely 15,000 pounds, only one train ever crossed the Laura Bridge and then only as a solemn commemoration of its opening.
Despite never making it to the Goldfields, the railway proved useful to miners and cattle farmers, remaining open until 1961.
Tunnel Through Darlington Range, Tamborine District
In 1901, workers began to cut a ninety-one-metre tunnel through the sandstone of the Darlington Range. First used in 1903, it is now known as the Lahey’s Canungra Tramway Tunnel. It was part of a privately-constructed tramway route owned by the Lahey family, who controlled a large timber operation and used it to haul logs between their leases in the Coomera Valley and their mill in Canungra.
In 1884, David Lahey began work on Canungra’s first sawmill. He and four of his siblings soon obtained parcels of timber-rich land, totalling approximately 3000 acres. During the late-nineteenth century, they acquired an office in Brisbane, established further mills at Beaudesert and Widgee, and increased their lease-holdings to 16,000 acres. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Laheys’ Canungra mill was the dominant force in the town’s economy. The expanding scope of their operation required them to use inefficient and expensive bullock-trains to haul timber across increasingly large distances. A private tramway, using a geared Climax steam locomotive which could operate on the steep track, offered a possible solution. It initially proved a success, being substantially extended during the early-twentieth century. The Climax locomotive was joined by three Shay patent geared steam locomotives as the haulage task grew.
In 1920, the War Service Homes Commission purchased Laheys’ operation, effective 1st January 1921, and closed the mill shortly afterwards. The Lahey family in the guise of Brisbane Timbers Ltd repurchased the tramway in 1924 and continued to use it intermittently to supply their mill at Corinda. In 1933, it closed for good and the track was dismantled. During the Second World War, the Kokoda Barracks at Canungra used the tunnel to store ammunition. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it gained a new lease on life, opening to the public in 2001 and obtaining heritage listing in 2005.
- Centre for the Government of Queensland. “Canungra.” Queensland Places (https://queenslandplaces.com.au/canungra).
- Susan Prior. “The Laheys’ Legacy.” Secret Brisbane (https://www.secretbrisbane.com.au/home/2017/1/lahey-legacy).
- Queensland Government. “Lahey’s Canungra Tramway Tunnel.” Queensland Government: Queensland Heritage Register (https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602529).
Queensland Museum. “Industrial Light Rail in Queensland.” Queensland Museum (https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Histories+of+Queensland/Transport+Road+and+rail/Industrial+rail+in+Queensland#.XOYrHMgza70).