Jill, Brian and Sarah - 1987Back in the mid nineteen eighties Hervey Bay had the reputation of being a sleepy little fishing village where your everyday working family came to spend their holidays. With a population of just over ten thousand and a foreshore some fifteen kilometres long the town had a very casual and relaxed atmosphere. Whale watching as an industry did
not exist in Hervey Bay at the time.
Come holiday time the thirty or so caravan parks that had given Hervey Bay the title of the "Caravan Park Capital of Australia" would swell to overflowing as hundreds of holiday makers would make their annual pilgrimage to Queensland's best kept secret.
It was this same reason that brought Brian and Jill Perry with their three-month-old daughter Sarah to Hervey Bay in December 1986 escaping from the rat race and weather from the south coast of New South Wales.
Brian and Jill bought the original Tasman Venture charter-fishing vessel, a business that was pretty run down, but seemed like a good challenge and a lot more relaxed life style than they were used to.
Brian and Jill had no idea when they bought the business that whales came into Hervey Bay even though it was common knowledge among fishermen and established charter boat operators working out of Hervey Bay.
Over the next 6 to 7 months Brian and Jill built up the business to a point where the boat was going fishing nearly every day and becoming very popular.
Trying to fish the area known as Rooneys at the top of Fraser Island in a 25-knot southeaster was becoming very uncomfortable so Brian decided to head for calmer waters in Hervey Bay around Wathumba creek in the lea of Fraser Island. As the Tasman pulled up a mile or so off the creek what was thought to be a large log was noticed drifting a few hundred metres away. Then another log was noticed in another direction but this one seemed to be moving. Taking the Tasman in for a closer look it was soon realised that they were watching whales not logs and the same length as the 12 metre Tasman Venture. While not sure what type of whales they were watching, Brian could sense that the whales were very approachable and even seemed interested in the boat. The other thing he noticed was that all of his 12 passengers and the other crewmembers all seemed awestruck at what they were experiencing. Even after spending an hour with the whales and then steaming away the feeling on the boat was something that Brian had never felt before.
Hervey Bay whale breach
All the way home Brian had this feeling that people may be interested in seeing these whales. Arriving home he told his wife, Jill about the experience and the idea about a "whale watching trip". "Don't be silly" was the prompt reply "who would want to see whales"? Sticking to his guns Brian asked to have a whale watching ad put in the Hervey Bay local paper. Even the paper tried to talk them out of it but agreed to put a piece in the paper reporting that whales had been seen and if anyone was interested in whale watching to contact the Perrys.
The phone rang around 6am, someone had read the small whale watching piece in the paper and wanted to see the whales. 6.05am someone else wants to see them. The phone just kept ringing. 8am had filled the 32 seats on the boat for a whale watch trip on Tuesday the 1st September 1987.
Hervey Bay forecast 20/25-knot southeaster. Seas to 1. 5 metres, not nice to start a new venture.
As the passengers arrived and boarded the vessel, Brian who also flies aircraft decided to use a mates plane to go and try to spot the whales from the air and had designed a way to signal Don, the skipper. All on board were warned that it was going to be rough and given the option of getting off, no one did. They were also told that if we couldn't find the whales they would get a free trip, a guarantee that still stands today.
After spending nearly an hour flying over Hervey bay trying to spot a whale in seas that were breaking was a lot harder than first thought and hopes were fading fast. Then fellow pilot John who was with Brian saw something. They circled but nothing, then a splash. Yes it was a whale so they were still here, now to signal the boat. Because they had no radio communications between the boat and plane Brian was hoping that his signal method would work.
With eyes glued to the overcast sky Don, Jill and all their passengers were waiting for that drone of an aircraft engine. If the plane circled the boat 3 times, they had found whales, 2 times and flies in the direction of the town no whales and go home. As Brian approached the boat he could see everyone looking up but no one moving. He started to circle the boat only a few hundred feet above . Once, twice, three times. Now to head the Tasman in the direction of the whales. Break out the toilet rolls. The plane was to fly towards the whales and drop one toilet roll for each two miles it was estimated to the whales. It looked around six miles in a northwesterly direction so off the plane went dropping three toilet rolls in a line. The Tasman turned and started heading for the area of Hervey Bay where the whales were last seen. Hey, this might work, the two pilots yelled to each other.
Brian flew back to the area where he found the whale and waited for the Tasman but couldn't find the whales. They kept looking while they kept an eye on the Tasman which was only about a mile away by now, then the boat stopped dead in the water. Flying back to the boat thinking the worst, Brian and John started circling the vessel again, then it happened. They could see a large black mass under the boat and coming to the surface and there was another on the other side of the boat. Two whales surfaced within a couple of metres of the Tasman and started swimming around the boat. Brian could see Don wiping his brow and Jill jumping up and down for joy as the whales swam around and under the boat.
Not so silly now, hey.
With little fuel Brian gave the Tasman a wing wave and let fly with a few more toilet rolls just to celebrate and flew back to Hervey Bay to tell the world they had done it. The media met the boat and interviewed the passengers.
One lady that was interviewed was seen all over the world saying,
"I've been to Alaska and seen the animals of Africa, now I've been to Hervey Bay and seen the whales and that was the one that topped it off. I've seen everything now."
Jill, Brian and Sarah Around 3500 people went whale watching in Hervey Bay in the first season.
Their original vessel the Tasman Venture ran in 1987 and 1988. It become very clear to Brian and Jill that slow vessels such as the Tasman were just not the way to go. The Tasman Venture was retired and Jill and Brian looked at newer vessels to cater for this new venture. 1988 working along side the old Tasman Venture, Jill and Brian introduced the Half Day Whale Watching trip which was an instant success.
The vessel used was a called the Starship Genesis. While the Starship Genesis was a great vessel, it lost the appeal that Brian and Jill wanted to have. That was to be able to talk to passengers and have the passengers ask questions. Brian and Jill set out to build or buy the right vessel for whale watching in Hervey Bay. 1989 saw a new era and Whale One and Peel Islander were introduced; 1990 Whale One and introduced the 3-Qtr day trip with Moby Dundee; 1991/92/93 Whale One, Moby Dundee; 1994/5/6/7 Hombre. 1998 Reality
Brian and Jill decided to take it a bit easier in 1999 and introduced Quick Cat which ran trips till 2003.
The brand new Quick Cat II takes over the half day trips.
The waters known as Platypus Bay on the western side of Fraser Island was declared a marine park in 1990 and all vessels work under a permit system.
Brian helped setup the guide lines and had enormous input into establishing the marine park.
National Parks and Wildlife used Brian and Jill's experience and also their whale spotter aircraft to do whale counts over three years. What was to be guide lines are now rules for navigating in and around whales. These rules now are used around Australia and in many other countries where whale watching is undertaken.
Hervey Bay is now a thriving city and its permanent population has soared to over 50,000.
Whale watching brought the many thousand of people both from Australia and overseas. Most of these people didn't know Hervey Bay existed. It was when they arrived they found that whale watching was only one attraction the area had to offer. The other thing that has lured people to make the area home was the relaxed atmosphere Hervey bay produces which still exists today.
This easy going nature and the spirit of people willing to have a go have truly made Hervey Bay what it is today celebrated as... Hervey Bay - Whale Watching Capital of World!
Who Said It Was A Silly Idea!