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Reproduced courtesy of Jonny Lewis

Image depicting Willie the blow up sperm whale in Canberra, June 1977

Date: 1977
Medium: Digital image files
Credit Line: ANMM Collection reproduced courtesy of Jonny Lewis
Object Copyright: ©Jon Lewis
Object Name: Digital image
Object No: 00054511
Related Place:Canberra,

User Terms

    Anti-whaling activists used dramatic means to send their 'Save the Whales' message to delegates attending the meeting of the Interational Whaling Commission in June 1977. Reporters also had an interesting spectacle to accompany their reports on the conference in newspapers and television news reports. The delegates were meeting to discuss worldwide quotas on the numbers and species of whalers, industry were permitted to hunt. 'Willie' the inflatable whale was launched on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, Australia. The photographer Jonny Lewis was a key campaigner in the fight to end whaling in Australia.

    SignificanceThis photograph records one element of the anti-whaling protests that took place in Canberra, Australia in June 1977. The protests in Canberra preceded the on water protests and blockade which took place to prevent whaling by the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in August 1977 at Albany, Western Australia. The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company closed down in November 1978 and commercial whaling was banned in Australian waters in 1979.

    Jonny Lewis is a professional photographer who took numerous photographs during the campaign to end whaling in Australia. He was a key participant in the campaign to end whaling in Australia and one of the co-founders of Greenpeace Australia. He doesn’t see these photographs as part of his artistic work, rather documentary photography recording significant events in Australian conservation, whaling and maritime history.
    HistoryFollowing the announcement by the United States Government that they intended to trial nuclear weapons in a series of underground test on the island of Amchitka in Alaska, in the late 1960s a series of anti-nuclear demonstrations were organised by a loose knit federation of environmental and religious groups called The Don’t Make a Wave Committee. Over the next few years the committee, notable Jim and Marie Bohlen, Ben and Dorothy Melcalfe, Robert and Bobbi Hunter, Irving and Dorothy Stowe, developed a form of passive resistance which they termed ‘bearing witness’ and from the Stowe’s house established an international environmental organisation which today has global significance, the Greenpeace Foundation, in 1972.

    When the Amchitka nuclear tests and resulting protests were over the Greenpeace Foundation moved their anti-nuclear focus to the French atmospheric nuclear weapons testing at the Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia, and following the death of Irving Stowe in 1975, broadened their operations to include anti-whaling operations in the Pacific as well as campaigns against toxic waste dumping and commercial seal hunting.

    Inspired by the Foundations success against both the American and French Governments by the mid-1970s independent groups using the name Greenpeace started springing up around the globe and by 1977 they were 15 to 20 Greenpeace groups worldwide who adhered to a series of ecological policies called the Greenpeace Declaration of Interdependence.

    One such group morphed from The Whale and Dolphin Coalition, which was formed in Sydney by Australian photographer Jonny Lewis and French businessman Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin in 1974. Led by Lewis and Fortom-Gouin Greenpeace’s first direct action in Australia opened on the 28 August 1977 at Albany, Western Australia and targeted Australia’s last whaling station at Cheynes Beach. Whaling had taken place in Australia since the 19th century, but had significantly declined by the mid twentieth century. All whaling on the east coast of the continent had ceased by the mid 1960s and in 1977, Cheynes Beach was the only whaling station still operating in Australia.

    The Cheynes Beach Whaling Station, formed by the Westerberg and Birss families, salmon fishers from Albany in Western Australia, Fred Edmunds, an ex-Point Cloates, (Western Australia) whaler and Syd Reilly from Perth in 1952 operated a small fleet of whale chasers which harpooned both Humpback and sperm whales off the southern coast of Western Australia before towing them back to the shore-based whaling station near Albany for processing.

    From late August to late September 1977 Lewis, Fortom-Gouin and their Greenpeace supporters used Zodiac inflatable boats to place themselves between the whale chasers operated by the whaling station and the migrating whales, preventing some of the whales from being killed. The movie footage and still photographs of the blockade and protest went round the globe and subsequently due to national and international pressure in November 1978, after taking over 15000 whales, operations at Cheynes Beach Whaling Station ceased.

    Related People
    Photographer: Jon Lewis

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