The Minang Noongar people called this place Kinjarling (the place of rain) and believed that fighting Wargals (mystical giant serpents) created the fractured landscape.
Initial contacts with Europeans were friendly, with over 60 ships visiting between 1622 and 1826. The establishment of a British settlement was welcomed as it regulated the behaviour of sealers and whalers, who had been kidnapping, raping and murdering Minang people. Yet by the end of the 19th century, every shop in Albany refused entry to Aboriginal people, and their control over every aspect of their lives (including the right to bring up their own children) had been lost.
For the British, Albany's raison d'être was its sheltered harbour, which made it a whaling port right up to 1978. During WWI it was the mustering point for transport ships for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) troops heading for Egypt and the Gallipoli campaign.
In late 2014, Albany commemorated the centenary of the departure of over 40,000 Anzac soldiers to the Great War, and the opening of the National Anzac Centre has seen the city develop into an important destination for travellers interested in WWI history.
Albany's Whaling Battleground
Talk to some Western Australians about their childhood holidays in Albany, and as well as carefree days of fishing and swimming, they're also likely to recall an almighty stench in the air and sharks circling in bloody corners of Frenchman Bay. The local whales – whose blubber created the vile smell while being melted down in pressure cookers, and whose blood spilled into water around the then Cheynes Beach Whaling Station – also appear to remember this scene far too well. It took them well over a decade to return in full strength to the waters around Albany after the last whale was hunted on 20 November 1978.
The whaling industry was gruesome in a most public way – whales were hunted, harpooned and dragged back to shore to be cut up and boiled – which is perhaps why the environmental movement managed to make its closure one of their earlier successes. It became harder for the industry to make the smell, the blood and the sight of harpooned carcasses being towed into the harbour anything but unattractive.
One of Tim Winton's earlier novels (Shallows, 1984), set in Albany, where Winton lived for some time as an adolescent, describes how whaling became an emotional battleground for environmentalists and the many local employees of the industry, similar to the situation in timber towns throughout the southwest in recent years. This pressure from protesters, as well as dwindling whale numbers and a drop in world whale-oil prices, sounded the death knell for the industry.
But Albany has cleverly managed to turn this now-unacceptable industry into a tourist attraction with the fascinating displays at the Discovery Bay area. The whales who play in the surrounding waters are all the happier for it – as are the town's tourism-boosted coffers.