Rod Clarke, TBF?s 1992 Gold Award winner for trailerboat journalism, presents this comprehensive report on the bustling fishing town of Eden on the south coast of NSW.
Steeped in history, and surrounded by rich green forests, Eden is a fascinating holiday destination.
Eden, on the far south coast of NSW, is the private mecca? for many trailerboat fishing families. Underrated as a tourist location and overshadowed as a big fish? water by both Bermagui and Narooma to the north, Eden is truly a garden of plenty with loads of tourist attractions, and a fascinating and unique history. Eden is surrounded on the land side by the rich green forests of Ben Boyd National Park, while the sapphire blue waters of the Tasman Sea lap its eastern doorstep.
The port itself is one of the best natural harbours in Australia and the colourful and busy activity at the wharf in Snug Cove confirm Eden as a working town.
The contrast to Merimbula, 25 km to the north, is most striking. Merimbula is more the ritzy? centre and is known locally as Victoria?s Gold Coast. The fishing at Merimbula is also first class, both lake and offshore, but the fact that you have a bar to cross when venturing out is a little daunting. By contrast, Eden is situated on the shores of Twofold Bay, a deep water harbour with safe access to the sea.
In February this year, my wife Dot, kids Jessica and Matthew, and I holidayed on the south coast of NSW. Eden and its surrounding districts became our home for a magic three weeks.
The Early Settlements: In 1842 the wealthy and flamboyant Ben Boyd arrived at Twofold Bay. Already having interests in grazing and shipping, this early entrepreneur started a whaling operation. He then set about building a town and constructed the Sea Horse Inn, still in service today. After building up his whaling fleet? Boyd began construction of a lighthouse on the southern headland of Twofold Bay. The lighthouse was never used for the purpose for which it was designed, but became beneficial to the whaleman as a whale spotting tower. When whales were spotted coming up the coastline they would alert the crews who would then give chase.
In February, 1843 the Government in opposition to Boyd, proclaimed the township of Eden on the northern shore of the bay.
After the crash of Boyd?s empire, the Davidson family took over the whalirig enterprise. For over 100 years the Davidson?s prospered at Twofold Bay, thanks to the unexpected help they received from an intelligent killer whale pack - an unheard of phenomenon.
The Killers of Eden: Each autumn for nearly a century, a pack of killer whales would make the journey from the Antarctic to the south east coast of Australia. Led by a killer whale by the name of ?Old Tom? this general and his army would patrol the ocean just outside Twofold Bay at Eden.
There they formed an uncanny allegiance with the Davidson family and the whalemen of Kiah Inlet. Qld Tom and his lieutenants worked with machine like efficiency when a large whale was located offshore. They would outflank the large whales and muster them into Twofold Bay. While the killer whale packs held their victim, other whales would head off to Kiah Inlet to alert the whaleman by splashing in the shallow water. The whalemen would then man their boats and follow the killers to where they had the whale trapped. Each killer whale was recognised by the markings on their dorsal fins and so the whalemen had names for each one.
When a large whale was located and trapped, it was harpooned and lanced by the whalemen. Then anchors and a marker buoy were attached to the carcass and it was left overnight before being towed back to the ?try-pots? (cast iron pots used to boil oil out of the whale blubber).
The unwritten contract between the killers and the whalemen was that their reward was the tongue of each whale killed. They considered the tongue a real delicacy.
The next day the whalemen would tow the carcass into Kiah Inlet, usually on a full tide to float the whale over the bar. The blubber would then be removed and boiled in the try-pots to make the whale oil.
It is remarkable that a pack of killer whales would befriend one family of whalemen.
Ultimately, as the years past, the whale pack shrank as the whales eventually died. I would have thought another whale pack might take over, but it seems that each killer whale pack is an individual cell? or family, and each pack has its own dialect and feeding patterns.
The story of Old Tom and his army is unique and is a valuable part of Australia?s history. The old cast iron try-pots and rusty artefacts of the early whaling days still litter the oyster encrusted rocks of Kiah Inlet. A Tribute To ?Old Tom:? Eden?s Killer Whale Museum was established in 1931 to house and exhibit the skeleton of ?Old Tom?, the acclaimed general of the notorious killer whale pack.
Approximately 40,000 people visit the Killer Whale Museum each year. Most visit out of curiosity, but others who have read Tom Mead?s book ?Killers of Eden? are drawn to the township to study the unique part of Australia?s early history. Also on display is a wooden boat similar to the ones used by the early whalemen and a collection of artefacts used in the early days of whaling. The only other known skeleton of a killer whale is in the private museum of Prince Rainers in Monaco.
Extensions to the museum were in operation when we visited, and at the time of writing should be completed. A gift shop and restaurant should also be up and running.
The museum is located at the bottom end of Inlay Street and visiting times are Monday to Friday: 10 am to 5 pm. Saturday and Sunday: 11 am to 4 pm. There is also a small fee to enter.
It is possible when fishing at Eden, especially during the months of October and November, to see large whales swimming quite close by. This phenomena happens offshore as well as inside Twofold Bay.
I have been told that giant hump backs and southern-right whales sometimes approach a stationary boat. This can be quite intimidating especially for those who remember the story of old ?Moby Dick?. He was the one who surfaced under the boat lifting it out of the water and onto his back.
The locals say there are more and more whales and their calves appearing each year. Since the international whaling ban a few decades back it seems numbers are increasing. The locals say the whales also seem less wary of humans. The National Parks and Wildlife Service have produced a brochure called ?Whale Watching Guidelines?. In the brochure, boatowners are advised to stay at least 100 m away from a whale, and not to engage the propellers should the whale come within that 100 m of its own volition. They also recommend you abandon contact with the whales at any sign of them becoming disturbed, or alarmed. Like how fast can an outboard motor get you out of the hole and on to the plane. Bloody fast!
Copies of ?Whale Watching Guidelines? can be obtained from the National Parks and Wildlife Service by phoning (062) 466 2211.
The two main industries, the chipmill and the Greenseas Tuna Cannery, both rely on natural resources. Unfortunately, both of these industries are experiencing problems at the same time and the locals are genuinely concerned. At the Greenseas Tuna Cannery things are looking anything but rosy for the 270 workers. It?s not the lack of tuna but the fact that tuna from overseas is going on the supermarket shelves here for approximately a third of the cost of the Australian product. Government taxes and charges are making it hard for Greenseas to compete with overseas companies.
The chipmill on the southern side of Twofold Bay has a somewhat different problem. There is an ongoing battle with conservationists. The logging trucks meanwhile travel up and down the highway with ?Green mean Jobs? stickers loudly emblazoned on them.
The chipwood actually comes from the second grade timber and offcuts from the sawmill and is stored in large stockpiles. Once a fortnight a bulk woodchip vessel arrives to take a load to Japan where it is pulped into paper. Having visited the place I feel that Eden should put more emphasis on tourism. The wealth that tourism brings to a town is incalculable. And Eden has got everything for the visiting fisho and family.
When visiting a town for the first time, I always ask the local where the best places to fish are, and the techniques required. This can save days of fruitlessly searching for the right reef, trolling or drifting areas. In Eden I had to look no further than the local Barry Ellis sport and tackle store. Barry was away but Phil Whitelock was in attendance and keen to help. Phil said he?d love to show the top spots first hand but business precluded him getting away. However, a phone call to another ?Phil? solved the problem. Shortly afterward, I met Phil Fairhall, who was more than happy to accompany me the next day for a foray on the bay. After this I received even more offers of help, proving that have a yarn with locals is more than worthwhile. These two guys were instrumental in helping me find the best spots. They showed me on the map the drifting areas for flathead and also the offshore trolling areas for stripy and yellowfin tuna. They also said that hooking up with a marlin was also possible.
The next day saw Phil number two and myself drifting in Twofold Bay. The weather was perfect and the swell was minimal. However, the fish were not cooperating. We hooked up a couple of flatties and a gurnard, but that was all. I wasn?t too fussed, as it was one of those days when the weather was so good that catching fish is just an added bonus.
One good drift fishing area that Phil shared with me is between the large buoy at the chipmill to the beach near Kiah Inlet. Trolling around this buoy can also produce kingfish.
Fishing in Twofold Bay is possible in nearly all wind directions, but for a true easterly.
On the following day, a northerly breeze saw me fishing in the lee of lookout point. Drifting around near rocks soon put the points on the board. Good size pinkies, wrasse, red bream and with the occasional inedible fish hooked and released.
Back at Quarantine ramp the job of cleaning fish is made easier with tables, running water and brushes available. The four laned concrete ramp at Quarantine makes the launching and retrieval of boats an easy task. Those early morning queues at the ramp are a non-event at Quarantine Bay. On day three I was invited by Jack Scok and Rod King to accompany them in Jack?s superb Haines Signature 660 RE.
The 200 hp Yamaha made short work of getting out of the bay and heading offshore.
We started trolling around Seahorse Shoals and followed the coast down in the direction of Greencape Lighthouse. As we drew closer to the cliffs under the Ben Boyd tower one of the reels started to scream. Even after knocking the big motor into neutral the striped tuna took a lot of stopping on light tackle. After that, double hookups were the order of the day and when Rod scored a 6 kg yellowfin he was rapt.
By day?s end, we finished up with a mixed bag of striped and yellowfin tuna. It was a magic day to be on the water. The sight of the colourful skirts of the big lures skipping on the crest of the waves behind was memorable. Apart from birds and schools of tuna, we also saw large manta rays -which seemed to skip from wave to wave. On another day we saw a lone dorsal fin, possibly a white pointer following the playful group of dolphin swimming in our bow wave. For the land based angler, Eden also has secluded beaches as well as excellent rock fishing. One good land based fishing spot is near the chipmill. However, before fishing this location, you have to front the security people at the chipmill and have a personal interview. If you are given the green light, they issue a permit to wet a line. The reason for the security is that people from the ?greenie? element chain and lock themselves to the pier, delaying the large wood chip container vessels access. This is an ongoing problem for the local police and workers.
While fishing the waters of Eden for three weeks I was unceremoniously ?busted? off at least two times each day. This happened regularly when using 15 kg lines to fish for pinkies and other bottom dwellers.
Safety At Sea
One very important lesson that I learnt while at Eden is that never take your eyes off the weather and to be conscious of changing conditions. On a fine and sunny morning we launched the tinny at the Quarantine boat ramp. We logged on with the coastal patrol, rounded Whale Spit point and headed towards Kiah Inlet.
The weather report on the radio said to expect increasing North East winds during the day. The swell was pretty high and we were running on about half throttle so as to keep the kids dry.
We ran into the mouth of the Kiah river on a high tide and beached the boat on the lee side of the sand spit, directly opposite the old Davidson Whaling station. Dot was sunbaking while the kids were busy building sand castles and splashing around in the shallow water. I had been told that Kiah Inlet produced large flatties and a generous supply of bream, trevally and garfish. Tossing a Legend minnow lure around I was soon onto some flathead. I rigged a bait rod and in the next three hours enjoyed some of the best fishing I have ever experienced.
Since the tide was running out, I had to push the tinnie off the sand and back into the deeper water several times. Even then it didn?t ?click? that there would be a bar to cross on the way home. The wind was increasing and there were white caps dancing out in the bay. Still I took little notice as I was wrapped up in my fishing.
Sometime later in the day we loaded up the boat for the return trip and motored out towards the entrance. Another boat appeared and we decided to head back together. However about 200m from the entrance I soon found out we were in some trouble. The waves seemed to be around 3.0m in height and I?d reckon that there would be the same distance between them. Slowly throttling to the crest of the waves had us crashing back down on the sand. The only time I took my eyes off the waves ahead was to see the other boat hit sideways. I still don?t know how it didn?t roll as it was on the point of no return. However he soon had it righted and facing the right direction before the next wave hit him. Even if he had of gone over, there was no way I could have helped him. We took the waves off centre and headed directly toward the north head. We then followed the waves back to Quarantine and the breakwall.
When we got back we found that out of the original thirty cars and trailers in the parking area we were the only two left. Basically this experience taught me that no fish is worth putting your family?s lives in danger. It was a valuable lesson for me and I know in future that I will always keep a wary eye on the conditions.
Eden really is a garden of plenty for the fishing holiday maker. We had a fantastic time during our three week visit, not only while fishing and boating in Twofold Bay and its surrounding waters, but also back on dry land. Some coastal towns offer nothing but good fishing, but at Eden there is a huge variety of sights to keep your family entertained. Some, like the Killer Whale Museum and Ben Boyd National Park are a must. Others can be seen or explored at your leisure.