Otto and the whale


Why grandma, what a big mouth you have…

A brief recap on yesterday’s post: a Busselton whale was claimed by Daisy Locke in 1897. It was agreed to donate it to the museum in Perth, so it was now an issue for taxidermist Herman Franz Otto Lipfert to work out what to do with it. Now read on…

In later life, Otto Lipfert was described as a bespectacled, white-smocked, fuzzy-haired, lightly-built man, looking considerably less than his seventy-three years of age, with a modesty and manner out of place in modern society. He was said to be soft of speech, unruffled in demeanour, unhurried in manner, painstaking and methodical.  In other words, Perth folk found him a stereotype of German efficiency.

Otto had arrived from Germany at the right time, 1892. A trained furrier and taxidermist, he was exactly what a new museum needed.  Chronically underfunded, the museum eventually offered him a month-to-month contract in 1895 on a salary of £210. Throughout his decades working there, his wage was barely increased, and he had to supply all his own tools of the trade and work in pitiful spaces, originally just a wooden shed out the back.

So how do you prepare a creature that’s been rotting on a beach for some weeks? The annoying thing about the whale, at least for the taxidermist, is that its carcase cannot be preserved. The skin is very thin and attached to blubber up to five centimetres thick. It’s impossible to scrape the blubber away and preserve the surface.

So Otto supervised a man named Hunt and two Japanese gentlemen to remove all the flesh before the bones could be taken above the high-water mark.  It must have been an awful job to undertake. The bones were left there for a few months, to let all the remaining soft body decay and the skeleton to bleach in the sun. The Bunbury Herald blandly reported in May 1898 that the bones had been “sent for exhibition at the Perth museum” from Bunbury Railway Station, but this does not even begin to describe the complexity of the operation.

Otto made another trip down to Locke’s farm, and got busy numbering the bones. Then he supervised the loading of them. The skull alone weighed 1,370 kg, while each of the lower jaw bones weighed 813 kg, so the job of transporting them to the railway line was no easy matter. It needed six men with winches just to place them in position on the wagons. To rail them to Perth, five and ten tonne trucks were needed.  “It was not easy to shift,” Otto understated some years later.

After this, the whale needed to be installed as an exhibit at the WA Museum. But that’s a story for another day.

Daisy and the whale


As big as a whale

All stories must start somewhere, so we will start with a horse named Gold and Black. The twenty-something rider on top of Gold and Black was one of Western Australia’s most skilled equestrians, Bertha Elvina Locke, although everyone called her Daisy. Daisy was to suffer several horse-related accidents throughout her life, but she just treated these as a risk of the sport. It is quite clear that this young woman was the sort to take life’s ups and downs in her stride.

Daisy lived at Wonnerup or, to be more specific, at Lockville Farmhouse, a picturesque building with an original wattle and daub cottage and a later two-storey limestone extension.  It was probably slightly unusual in that part of the state for Daisy to have another hobby: reading mining manuals.  She also discovered the whale which was Perth Museum’s most famous exhibit for more than a century, although it now lies hidden in a Welshpool warehouse awaiting a new home.

Picture Daisy riding one her horses along Lockeville Beach, accompanied only by her large white parasol, lined with green, on Tuesday 17 August 1897.  This is when Miss Locke came to see a giant whale stranded near the jetty. Turning her horse around, she galloped to Wonnerup House to seek her uncle’s assistance. Together with another man, they went out in a small boat, harpooned the great creature, and securely anchored it to the shore.  Daisy, with the knowledge gained from her mining manuals that everything of value must be within four pegs, decided to stake the beast in case anyone else claimed it. Three long pieces of wood were found, but the fourth corner required the sacrifice of her much-loved parasol.  Unhappily for the whale, though, it took a week to die after the harpooning.

When the news reached Busselton the next day, large crowds came out to see the amazing discovery.  Among these was Water Police Constable Tonkin, an ex-whaler, who valued the 26-metre creature’s oil alone at £200.  Even if Constable Tonkin was right, Daisy was never to financially benefit from her staked-out claim since no one in the area had the skills or the equipment to extract the valuable substance. Instead it was proposed to offer the whole whale to the Perth Museum, and the locals thought this would be a simple matter since the railway line was less than two miles away.

The museum must have been delighted with the offer, given how dull recent donations had been: a report from the Department of Mines, two coins, a drawing of a bore in the Collie coalfields, three pebbles, three newts, and two caterpillars.  As it turned out, it was much more complicated to relocate a gigantic whale than to receive two caterpillars. But that was no longer Daisy’s problem, since the responsibility now fell on the shoulders of the museum’s taxidermist, Herman Franz Otto Lipfert.

But his story has to wait for another day.

The Bayswater treasure hunt

Accurate map of Bayswater

Accurate map of Bayswater

We have received another e-mail from an African princess who needs our help. Being good people in the Dodgy Perth offices we thought it greedy to accept her offer of $2bn for our aid. So we’ll pray for their safety and promised to keep an eye on the newspapers.

Which reminded us of the time there was £32,000 buried in Bayswater, or Busselton, or Greenbushes. Depending on which version of the letter you got.

In 1915 the scam was known as the ‘Spanish Prisoner Swindle’. A letter would arrive from Guzman Penalto, explaining he had once lived in Western Australia but was now being held prisoner in Spain. Fortunately, he had buried a fortune between two pieces of crystal shortly before leaving these shores.

If the recipient of the letter would be so kind as to forward £398 in the enclosed envelope, a priest will be able to get to Perth from Spain, dig up the buried notes and they could be split between Penalto and his Australian saviour.

Couldn’t be easier, could it? Unfortunately, Penalto was under the impression that Bayswater was hundreds of kilometres from Perth, which hinted either he had never been here, or prison had upset his memory.

Since the Dodgy Perth offices are based in Bayswater and we refuse to share the money, we have spent each evening with a spade turning up each and every inch of grass in the suburb. There’s some way to go yet, but we will not be discouraged.

(Racially) pure football

AFL Rd 14 - Sydney v Port Adelaide

Why is there a controversy over West Coast fans booing an Aboriginal player at Subiaco Oval? We know it wasn’t racist, because that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore in Western Australia.

So let’s look back to a time when football was an even kinder, gentler, more tolerant sport. In this case, in the South West in 1910.

Jack Johnson had just defeated Jim Jefferies in one of the most important boxing matches in history, making Johnson the first black heavyweight champion of the world. The victor, by the way, was vilified in his native America from coast to coast for the impudence of beating a white man.

When news of this momentous triumph reached Western Australia, every pub was alive with debates about which was really the best sporting race: black or white.

Footballers living around Busselton did not wish to experiment with this debate on the field, so as a consequence announced that no local teams could include Aborigines, nor would they play a team which did.

A handful of brave footballers, probably mindful that some of the Aborigines were among their best players, refused to play until the race bar was lifted. As it happens, one of the best players in the area was Coolbung, who also worked alongside the white players in the bush.

And so it was that the Busselton team took to the field in August 1910 minus two or three of their best men, determined that racial purity should triumph over merely winning a game.

It’s easy to see we have moved on from then. Except, it seems, at Subiaco Oval.

Black mail

With love, from me to you

With love, from me to you

The first posties in Western Australia were the colonists themselves, but they quickly priced themselves out of the market. So the Government decided to turn to a cheaper option.

Since Rottnest Island was a harsh prison for Aborigines, it was from here the new posties were ‘recruited’. In exchange for basic rations, sometimes just a handful of flour, Indigenous men were forced to carry the mail all over WA.

Failure to fulfill any part of the ‘bargain’ would mean an instant return to the hell that was Rotto.

So from October 1848, a new (almost free) postal service was in place. The lucky ‘employees’ had to walk with a hefty bag from Perth to Mandurah, or Mandurah to Bunbury, or Bunbury to Busselton. They could easily rack up more than 200 km a week.

Unsurprisingly, some Aboriginal posties became injured through exertion, alarming the Government who wanted no interruption to their bargain-priced mail service.

As the number of leg injuries continued to rise, one kind soul suggested the posties be given ponies to ride. Fortunately, colonists were not heartless. Letters poured into newspapers protesting this proposed scheme.

How dare we think of doing that to the poor animals? Anyone familiar with brutish natives would know they would mistreat the poor ponies! Far better to break a few Aborigines, than one four-legged friend should be put at risk.

So the posties were forced to keep up the long walks, for no pay. The only reward being to keep out of Rottnest Prison.

Eventually mail bags became so heavy, the posties couldn’t lift them any more, so good white folk once again took over.

Naturally, they used a horse and carriage. Any other way would be unthinkable.

Beer can chicken?

drinking chickenAs Dodgy Perth prepares to leave for Bali this afternoon, and enjoy continuous Bintangs by the pool, it seems appropriate to abandon you for a week with this cheery alcohol-related story.

In the early 1950s, a chicken by the improbable name of Georgina Thigwell Johnston was living at the Ship Hotel in Busselton.

(If you want to be accurate, it wasn’t just a chicken. It was a white leghorn. But, anyway, back to the story.)

Each night Georgina Thigwell Johnston sat on the bar counter and had a glass of draught beer. Hopefully Emu Bitter, but I cannot be sure of this.

The cook of the hotel had a £5 bet that she could raise Georgina Thigwell Johnston exclusively on a diet of beer. Which is, to be honest, my kind of diet.

If the reports are to be believed, the boozed-up chicken was demonstrating the benefits of her unusual meals and was the largest of all the hens in the hotel yard.

Mind you, Georgina Thigwell Johnston kept aloof from the other fowls and slept alone in a special box. So either she felt she was better than the other chickens. Or the other hens didn’t like the boring stories she would tell when under the influence.