I had the good fortune to grow up in New Zealand, arguably the most beautiful country in the world; even so, nothing prepared me for the soul-expanding beauty of the Sapphire Coast. Crystalline blue waters, made visually spectacular by the purity of the light, pour onto caramel coloured sand; inlets and bays, each with their own unique glory, dot the coastline from Bermagui in the north, to Wonboyn in the south, as do sleepy, seaside towns, where the locals are friendly and heavy industry is banished; with vast swathes of un-spoilt landscape, due in no small part to its considerable distance from any major city, the Sapphire Coast is the ultimate getaway. Yet, there is an ache and a sadness that permeates this land.
Before the British commandeered Australia for use as an open prison and began sending its undesirables – from petty thieves to Irish political activists – the Sapphire Coast was home to the Yuin people (a collective name that designates several distinct tribes); people who’d lived in harmony with land and sea for over 30,000 years, taking little from it and certainly never destroying it. The first European sighting of the coast’s original inhabitants was recorded in the journal of Captain James Cook – to the British, a celebrated explorer and note-taking coastal cartographer of land the Empire would seize by fair means or foul (mostly foul); and to the first people of Australia, the breath of a leviathan so mighty, it would descend upon their land and destroy their way of life in what was a complete and often brutal takeover.
In 2006, Biamanga and Gulaga national parks, were returned to the Yuin people. These areas form part of a cultural landscape of deep ritual significance, especially Mumbulla Mountain in Biamanga, which comprises several sacred sites where initiation ceremonies were held. Still, it should not be forgotten that in less than 200 years from Cook’s 1788 sighting, the Yuin population of this area was reduced by 95%, through a combination of killing, disease and displacement. It is an incalculable travesty, one that can never be redressed. When here, one can feel the land yearn for its gentle inhabitants.
The town we are staying near is called Tathra, meaning: beautiful place, or possibly, place of wild cats – I haven’t seen any wild cats, so I’m going with beautiful place, which it certainly is. Home to the only remaining sea wharf on the east coast, Tathra has a permanent population of approximately 1600 people, a number that swells during the summer months as city slickers, willing to make the long drive, seek a superlative holiday destination.
The next guests to stay with us at our holiday house in Kalaru, were Kris’ dad, Ross and his wife, Carole. They were great company and the conversations we had were varied and interesting. Both have been coming to this part of the South Coast for years and have lots local knowledge. On the days they were here, they took us to the café at Tathra wharf, aptly named The Tathra Warf Café. What a place! From the rustic charm of the décor, to the super nice staff and delicious food, it’s one of the loveliest cafes I have ever been to, and that’s not even counting its best feature: the fabulous view. It’s the perfect spot to take a load off, and even do a spot of fishing while you sip your latte.
Further down the Sapphire Coast, nestled in Twofold Bay (one of the deepest, natural harbours in the world), is a town called Eden. The area has a fascinating whaling history that stretches back millennia. Every year, Baleen whales migrate to and from their breeding grounds, their path cutting directly in front of the bay. At one time, lying in wait were predatory Orcas (from the Latin Orcus, meaning: demons from the underworld) – also known as Killer Whales (despite the fact they are actually dolphins).
Although such behaviour is typical of Orcas whales the world over, those of the Twofold Bay area were unique, in that they developed a symbiotic relationship with the Katungal (coastal people of the Thaua tribe) who originally lived there. The Orcas would drive Baleen whales into shore, then alert the tribesmen, who would spear and kill the Baleen, leaving the Orcas to feast upon their lips and tongues (a favourite delicacy), taking what was left for themselves once the Orcas had finished. It was a sacred relationship which continued for successive generations; indeed, the Katungal considered the Orcas (whom they called, Beowas) to be ancestors that had returned to provide for the tribe.
When the British arrived and took over the area, setting up whaling stations in and around Twofold Bay, one station-owning family made use of the Katungal relationship with the Beowas; eventually destroying in less than 100 years what it had taken the Katungal thousands of years to develop.
Eden has an impressive museum detailing the story of its famous Orcas and their relationship with human inhabitants of the area. The primary focus is the Davidson whaling family (referred to above), the Katungal people getting but a cursory mention. The museum walks a delicate line between wanting to celebrate that relationship and yet distance itself from the moral disgust the idea of whaling elicits today. It does so by declaring Australia’s ‘no tolerance’ stance on whaling and by pointing out the Davidson family merely engaged in subsistence whaling (killing an average of 8 per year, unlike the big whaling stations on the Gold Coast, that averaged 200 per year). However, as the products they harvested from their annual 8 whales went into making such things as, tennis racket strings, bicycle saddles, crayons and corsetry, I’m not sure it can rightly be called subsistence.
After our visit, we stopped off at a wharf for a spot of fishing. I have no idea where was, and I only mentioned it because of the lovely photo I took. You will note that I am not in it, that is because I spied a lovely café/bar near the wharf, and felt it was only good manners to frequent it.
As for today, its 11am – otherwise known as wine o’clock in holiday time; however, I better wait, as poor Lauren is at the beach with 4 children and it has just started pouring with rain. To be fair, she is there with the mum of two of the children; still, if she comes back to find me sitting here, happy as a lark, with a glass of wine in my hand, I doubt she will speak to me for the rest of the day.