THE GARDEN CEMETERY OF EDEN
The Garden Cemetery of Eden
It comes with a view to die for, the cemetery of Eden. On a prize beachfront spot, the graveyard in this far south coast New South Wales town with the oldest of Old Testament names, must torture those with property development urges. And in keeping with the survival myths in that first biblical book, there is a slithering danger here too. This one risks not so much the downfall of humanity, as the downfall of anyone unlucky enough to be bitten, as a sign out front of the cemetery warns. At least any fatal snake bite casualties will not have to be taken far to their final rest. Despite the town being one of Australia’s oldest settlements, there are still plenty of plots in the graveyard.
Although we met no snakes in the cemetery there was another Eden serpent we encountered, less deadly but equally unpleasant. He was the manager of the divinely situated caravan park where we had planted our van for 10 days. It is on a piece of land between the long strip of sand called Aslings Beach and the shallow waterway Lake Curalo. We chose it partly because it advertises itself as pet friendly and so far our dog has made no complaints. There was however no warning about just how unfriendly its mangement can be to humans. The campground, known as Eden Tourist Park, attracts some nice and interesting guests. There was one couple travelling the country in a vintage Morris Minor, another on a huge three wheeled motorcycle towing a large camper trailer, but it is fairly empty at this time of year and we secured a powered site just back from the lake shore. But for some reason the camp manager wanted to plonk campers who don’t need power onto the block between us and the lake despite there being lots of empty shore sites who don’t cut off anyone’s access or view.
When a group arrived this afternoon, Jill asked them if they would mind asking the manager if they could take one of the other vacant sites. He came steaming down in his ute, launching into a tirade of abuse about her trying to tell him how to run his caravan park. Jill has recently retired after fighting a school principal who had morphed into a similar petty dictator. Now it seems the same tendencies can seep into the minds of men who rule any patch of turf even as humble as a caravan park. He will read what she thinks of his behaviour in her latest post as a prolific correpondent for Trip Advisor. Perhaps he needs to realise he is part of the hospitality industry and not running a refugee camp.
Despite the paradise normally associated with its name, if anything this Eden’s own genesis was the reverse, and it still trades on an offshoot of that reverse. Its reason for being established was hunting the whales that annually migrate along the eastern Australian coast. The smells of their bodies being boiled down in the coves and bays around the town, would have produced a fragrance very different from anything in an imagined biblical garden. Whaling collapsed in the 1930s after the hunting dramatically reduced the animal’s numbers. These days the town keeps the industry’s memories alive with what it refers to as ‘The Killer Whale Museum.’ It should more accurately be called the ‘Whale Killer Museum,’ because that’s what it is really about. The twist is that the museum’s main attraction hinges around the stories associated with one member of another species in the whale family.
The museum’s centrepiece is the skeleton of a killer whale or orca known as Old Tom, who became a nationally known legend in the early 20th century for leading a pod of killer whales that herded animals from the migrating larger whales into the bay where they could be harpooned by the human whalers. Tom would allegedly signal to the whaling station by flapping his tail when they had coralled a victim for the slaughter and the whalers would take to their boats to row out for the kill. Such was Tom ‘s supposed enthusiasm that he often used to grab the bowline of the boat to tow it at greater speed. The worn down teeth on the left of the skeleton’s head are supposed to prove this claim.
The percentage in it for the orcas was that the whalers allowed them to rip the bits off the carcass they wanted, particularly the tongue which could weigh four tonnes, which was no use to the whalers. It is claimed by the museum to be the only example in the world where orcas engaged in this kind of arrangement with humans and when Old Tom died so did Eden’s whaling industry. This story at least was the one spun by the museum when I first visited it 20 years ago, as part of a journalistic junket (officially a fact finding trip) on whale watching, the industry that has filled the gap after killing ended. There has been a subtle change in the museum’s story in the years since as they have tried to incorporate some of the history of the local indiginous people. It now reveals the local aborigines revered the orcas and apparently did engage in cooperatively hunting the large whales, with the aborigines spearing them from canoes and allowing the orcas to take their bit as part of the deal.
Part of the commentary makes the extrordinary statement that the Eden aborigines, who enthusiastically took part in the early whaling industry, were one of the few aboriginal groups who proved to be of ‘economic use’ to Europeans in Australia.
It also now points out that these aborigines, whose skills of spearing and excellent sight made them valuable, might also have been responsible for the interaction with the orcas, speculating that British whalers would be unlikely to allow a rival animal to have first bite at their catch. The site of all this carnage was a beautiful piece of water with the anachronistic name Twofold Bay. That’s because it is a big deep harbour with a peninsula in the middle that is the site for most of Eden town.
I took my kayak and had a crack at paddling across the southern part of the bay towards what is known as Boydtown, the site of one of the original whaling settlements. It was, named after the entrepreneurial scum bucket that set it up in the 1840s and is now site of a flash but discreet hotel. Ironically they also named the local national park after him too. Quarantine Bay, a quiet boat harbour was where I launched, on a day when the weather bureau forecast three metre sea swells. There was also a southerly adding some chop, so the swells were more than just a roller coaster ride. It took a bit less than an hour to get there and back, but I am not used to swells that big. On the way back, I should have had a good view of the town, but I did only half the time when I was on top of one. The rest of the time I had a view of a three metre high wall of water.
A much more sedate paddle was Wonboyn Lake about 30 kilometres to the south and not far from the Victorian border. If you are prepared to drive through the rough tracks of Nadgee Nature Reserve you can reach a beautiful beach called Greenglade in the dramatically named Disaster Bay. But it is a bit hard to access the lake unless you own a property there, because there is no public lake front except for a small launching ramp near some of the lake’s famous oyster farms.
They had just suffered a freshwater flood, so the oysters were off limits, to my disappointment. The water in the normally saline lake was dark with tannin and tasted fresh. I paddled about an hour down to the ocean entrance and although it was open and the surf roaring, the fresh water was pouring out so fast, no salt water was coming in.
I was so looking forward to an oyster feast on returning to this coast, but I am just going to be forced to wait. It seems it is not just snakes that can bugger up paradise.