29 July 2016

A Whale Hunt Off Moreton Island

In 1954 two Humpback Whales - a male and female - paired up as they headed along the eastern coast of Australia to the warm breeding grounds of the South Pacific. They, along with thousands of other whales of their kind, had just left the frigid waters of the Antarctic after spending months there feeding up on krill. They meandered up the coast, zig-zagging and frolicking on a journey made by countless generations before them.

Male and female Humpbacks (whaletrust.org)

Unfortunately, there was a new danger in their way that year. The Australian whaling industry had recently began operations off this coastline and were targeting the migrating herds of Humpbacks. This couple had been heading north to procreate and create new life, but they were about to face a very different destiny.

A reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald was on board to witness the slaughter:
"One beautiful morning last week two humpbacks, a male of 39 feet and a female of 38 feet, were swimming north about a mile off-shore from the green hills and yellow beaches of Moreton Island, Queensland.

At 8.50 a.m., while they were breaking water to breathe, their spouts were seen by a Norwegian seaman in the lookout barrel of a whale-chaser, Kos II. "Two blows!" shouted the seaman, pointing to starboard. The gunner-captain of the chaser, Captain Bredo Rimstad, changed course immediately and ordered full speed.

Kos II, one of the two chasers supplying whales to the Whale Industries Ltd. station at Tangalooma, on the west side of Moreton Island about 25 miles from Brisbane, is a small, very powerful vessel of 243 tons. Her engine, which is capable of driving a 4,000-ton vessel, develops 12 knots when necessary.

The chaser is a little larger than an ocean-going tug, very low amidships (so low, in fact, that her decks are awash in moderate seas) and very high at the bow. The high bow, with its harpoon gun always aimed downwards, gives the chaser an eager, straining appearance.
The whaler Kos II, which was eventually scuttled off Tangalooma in 1974.
Captain Rimstad, because he is also a gunner, is even more important than the usual ship's master. The whaling company values his services so highly that it pays his passage to and from Norway each year and pays him about £3,500 for his work during the three month whaling season. About £3,260 of this is paid in the form of whale bonuses.

Bonuses paid to the officers of Kos II are calculated partly on production at Tangalooma and partly on the number of whales harpooned by their gunner. Consequently, at the climax of the chase every member of the crew, even the cook, does his utmost to help Captain Rimstad shoot the whale.

Captain Rimstad, a very short and slightly built man of about 45 years, has had 21 seasons of whaling in the Antarctic, one season off Carnarvon in West Australia, and two seasons off Tangalooma. He stands on the bridge during the search for the whale, wearing strangely genteel chocolate corduroy trousers, a brown and white fairisle jumper and a tan corduroy golf cap. When the chaser comes within harpoon range; usually less than 60 feet, he has run down a catwalk from the bridge and is standing alert on the gun platform.

Kos II, together with Kos VII, had rounded Cape Moreton at 7 a.m. and by 8.30 a.m. Captain Rimstad had killed his first whale of the day - a 41ft 8in male. This whale, inflated with compressed air, was floating alongside Kos II when Captain Rimstad began to chase the two humpbacks.

By the time Kos II, travelling at full speed, had reached the spot where the humpbacks had last appeared, Captain Rimstad was on the gun platform, swivelling the harpoon-gun and scanning the ocean ahead.

"Half speed!" he shouted in Norwegian. "Half speed!" the Norwegian helmsman called to the Australians in the engine room. Kos II slowed down and the search continued.

"Dead slow!" "Slow as possible!" Captain Rimstad looked back at the bridge inquiringly, the helmsman glanced up at the lookout barrel. But the only sign of the whales was a large smooth area, like an oil slick, on the surface of the sea.

"That's from their tails moving below water," explained the helmsman. "Sometimes we can follow them a long way like that, but this time they have gone deep."

A moment later, about 10 minutes after the whales had sounded, the lookout shouted and pointed to port. About a quarter of a mile away the humpbacks were breaking surface and blowing. Captain Rimstad ran back up the catwalk, the engine-room made full speed and the chase began again.

While Kos II bore down on the two whales, Captain Rimstad looked at Kos VII through field glasses. "Kos VII has a fish on the line," he said. "One on the line and one following," he added. "If you get a female first, the male will follow her right alongside. The female rarely follows the male, though."

Once again the humpbacks sounded before Kos II came within harpoon range. They surfaced 10 minutes later, this time about 300 yards to starboard.

"If they keep doing that, they'll run themselves into shallow water where we can see them," remarked the helmsman. For a quarter of a mile out from the pale sandhills of Moreton Island, the sea was a light, almost transparent blue. The whales, although they had sounded, were probably still in the deeper and darker blue water, although, if the helmsman's guess" were right, they might soon appear in the band of light blue.

Kos II chased them for an hour and a half, during which time they surfaced six times, breaking water about three times on each occasion. At one time, the chaser reached the whales as they were breaking water for the second time.

Captain Rimstad was close enough to see the morning sun making small rainbows in their spouts; but by the time he had aimed his harpoon-gun the whales were half-submerged. The white undersides of their tails rose up in the air and then cut down through the water as they sounded.

If the whales had broken water again, Captain Rimstad would have been in position to fire a 160-pound steel harpoon at one of them. The harpoon, five and a half feet long, four inches in diameter, and carrying a two-inch rope, would have buried itself in the broad rubbery side beneath the dorsal fin of one whale. Three seconds later, a time-fuse grenade on the harpoon barbs would have exploded, killing or mortally wounding the whale. But the humpbacks remained submerged. By this time, however, they were near the shallow water.

"We'll try to get him now," said Captain Rimstad when he returned to the bridge. "Steady steaming!"

"Right ahead now!" called the lookout. Captain Rimstad ran down the catwalk, took hold of the gun handle, and called: "Dead slow!"

Kos II stood by. Everyone aboard was watching Captain Rimstad. He motioned to port with his left hand, and the helmsman responded. The harpoon-gun fired with a detonation out of all proportion to its size; the harpoon and its rope struck the whale's side, releasing a spurt of blood; a muffled explosion, forcing smoke from the wound, blowhole, and mouth, sounded inside the whale's body. The whale reared out of the water and began swimming in a circle, dragging the taut harpoon rope through the waves like a moving radius.

"Following fish!" shouted the helmsman. He left the wheel and ran down to the lower deck to help bring the whale alongside. The ship's cook took his place on the bridge. Two seamen were quickly loading another harpoon. The harpooned whale broke water again, roared as it sucked in its last gulps of air, and died.

He had survived the grenade explosion for less than a minute. "Fast fish!" called the lookout. At this signal that the whale was now secure, a winch began noisily hauling in the harpoon line.
A Tangalooma gunner hits the target. (sylviaadam.wordpress.com)
The second whale, obviously a male, broke surface besides its dead mate and followed the body in towards the bow of Kos II, where Captain Rimstad crouched beside his gun.

"He's coming on starboard!" shouted the Captain. "He's coming on starboard!" The gun barrel sloped lower as the live whale swam closer. Another harpoon: explosion, rope, blood, muffled noise, and smoke. This time the whale was killed instantly.

"Fast fish!" called the seamen who were leaning over the railing. Two seamen had already brought the female under the bow and had punctured her hide with a long spear to which was fixed a compressed air hose. After pumping in air for four minutes, they secured her on the starboard side. A winch chain dragged the whale's tail up to deck level and a seaman cut three or four feet off each fluke with a long flensing knife. Unless clipped in this way, the lower fluke may act as a rudder and steer the chaser off course.

The winch had brought the male alongside; two seamen were casting a weighted heaving rope around its tail. A chain soon replaced the rope, and the same procedure of pumping and clipping began. While the two whales were being brought alongside, sharks had been inspecting the whale caught earlier in the morning and chained to the port side. The whale was still bleeding and 12 sharks - bronze whalers and white pointers, each between 12 and 15 feet long-were circling cautiously. At last a bronze whaler made a quick pass at the white and black corrugated belly, and scooped out a piece of blubber. Others snapped at the belly, lips and flippers, leaving round, white wounds on the whale's black hide.

Captain Rimstad, to whom each bite meant a financial loss in oil bonus, ran to the bridge, fetched a .303 rifle and began firing from the deck. His first bullet struck the head of a bronze whaler which had leapt six feet from the water so that it was half in the water, and half on the whale's belly. Another bullet hit the back of a white pointer which had broken surface to snap at the whale's lower jaw. The white pointer threshed the water and began to bleed freely.

After a few more shots, the sharks were ignoring the whales and attacking their wounded fellows. As soon as the third whale had been chained alongside the first whale on the port side, Kos II began the slow journey back to Tangalooma at about six knots. Sharks never attack the whales when the chaser is moving.

Kos II could have taken five whales; but a radio-telephone message from the station had informed Captain Rimstad that the factory could handle only three whales from Kos ll. Half an hour later, Kos II drew level with and passed Kos VII. Two black and white humpbacks were chained, like huge rubber surf toys, to her starboard side. The two chasers raced one another back to the station but Kos II reached the whale slips first. Captain Rimstad's crew had dropped their whales by 3p.m. and were put in the channel again by 3.30 p.m. to fish for schnapper."
A follow-up article detailing the long process of butchering dead whales at Tangalooma ended with these words:
"The second whale quivered to a halt on the flensing deck. Two men unrolled a steel tape and began to measure it. Its mate, with whom it had been swimming towards the tropics eight hours before, was a dark hulk in the water at the foot of the slipway."

25 July 2016

Whaling Days at Tangalooma

Tangalooma, 1957 (State Library of Qld)
Every southern winter, thousands of Humpback Whales migrate from the Antarctic and up the east coast of Australia to their breeding and birthing grounds in warmer tropical waters. Thousands of people head to the coast to witness these magnificent creatures, and whale-watching generates millions for the local tourism industry, and around $70 million per annum Australia-wide.

However, there was a time, well within living memory, when the Humpback migration generated big profits for a completely different industry. Instead of being admired and protected, the whales were slaughtered in their thousands and then stripped, hacked and boiled down for the marketplace. During 1952-62 a whaling station on Moreton Island was so successful in this task that it helped to bring the eastern Australian Humpback population to the threshold of extinction. In doing so, it sowed the seeds of its own demise, and so like any industry that depletes the very resource it relies on, the Queensland whaling business died.

Australian whaling had originally been based in the southern states, with Sperm Whales, Blue Whales and then Southern Right Whales killed for their oil, baleen and meat. The Australian Whaling commission was established in 1949 to develop the whaling industry's capacity to meet the rising demand for whale oil after the Second World War. The introduction of more efficient methods of killing whales saw an increase in the harvest rate, and there was a new focus on the east-coast Humpback migration routes.

Oswald Brierly, 'Whalers off Twofold Bay, New South Wales', 1867
 (Art Gallery of New South Wales).

The Australian Company Whale Products Pty Ltd was formed in Sydney in 1950 for the purpose of carrying out east coast whaling, and during the following year they began construction of the largest land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere at a 12-hectare site just north of Tangalooma Point on Moreton Island. This location had several advantages, being close to the whales’ migratory route; not far from the city and ports of Brisbane; the island was undeveloped; it was relatively protected from the south-easterly winds, and a cheap lease was available from the Queensland State Government.

Looking towards the new whaling station at Tangalooma from the water, 1952.
(Qld State Library)

The company employed an experienced Norwegian whaler, Captain Alf Melsom, to manage the construction of Tangalooma Whaling Station. They also brought three whale chaser ships from Norway, and employed several Norwegians as senior crew and gunners. With payments of £250 per kill, gunning was a lucrative job.

The company's original five-year licence allowed the killing (their preferred term was 'harvesting') of 500 whales each year, with whaling seasons running for six months from May to October, depending on the migratory movements of the whales. The first season commenced at Tangalooma on 6 June 1952, with the first two Humpbacks being harpooned near Cape Moreton during that month. The annual quota had been killed and processed by October after a season of just 124 days. The harvests were so abundant that two years later the quota was increased to 700 whales.

All this meant big money, as just about every part of the whale could be turned into a saleable product. In 1954 the average whale cost about £625 to kill and process, and sold for £900. Each whale could yield more than 8 tons of oil, a valuable resource that was used to make - among other things - margarine, glycerine, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

The meat was used for pet food or human consumption overseas. The offal and low-grade meat were sent to the mainland and mixed with other proteins to produce A-grade meal for livestock or fertiliser, which sold at about £80 per ton. The bones were processed to make a lower grade of stock meal. An average whale would produce about 2.75 tons of meal.

Baleen (bristle-like strands in the whale's mouth used to strain food, was shipped to France and made into corsetry, street brooms, combs and buttons.

At the station

There were a few restrictions placed on the whalers. They were not allowed to kill a whale under 11.5 metres, or one that had a calf. If they did, the gunner and captain would lose their 'kill bonus'. They also had to radio the whaling station before any kill to make sure the machinery there was all in working order, to avoid any harmful delays in processing.

The whales were harpooned from one of the three chaser ships, using harpoons with a 75kg exploding head. An 11kg grenade inside the harpoon would explode four seconds after impact. The intent was to kill the whale quickly, which was usually the case if the harpoon was lodged near the backbone, but sometimes multiple spears were required to finish the job.

The whale carcass was inflated with compressed air to keep it afloat until it was ready to tow. It was then fastened to the side of the chaser by its flukes and towed back for flensing and processing.

A Tangalooma gunner hits the target. (sylviaadam.wordpress.com)

Tangalooma Whaling Station, 1950s. (Queensland State Library)

The carcasses would be slowly winched onto the flensing deck with steel cables placed around the tail.
'The winch started up again and the whale toppled over on to its side, exposing its black, white and pale pink corrugated belly. The humpback's characteristic bumps and ridges were visible along its spine and head. Its enormous tongue of perished black rubber had sprawled out of its mouth from behind the screen of fibrous baleen plates, or whale "bones, which act as a sieve to catch food. The only signs of life on the whale's body were the tentatively waving feelers of the many barnacles which had grown along the belly and jaws.'  
There is no smell of decay on the flensing deck unless, as rarely happens, a mechanical failure causes delay in cooking. All that remains after treatment is water, or graks. Yet the smell of the whales is far from pleasant. It is a memorable odour, rather like that of a wet. very dirty dog's fur. 
Despite the great quantities of blood and offal left on the deck before ' being consigned to the cookers, there are no flies on the flensing deck. Hygiene squads have all but eliminated flies from Tangalooma.' (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1954)
A CSIRO officer would inspect each whale upon arrival and record its sex, length, and any other required details. The location of each kill was also pinpointed on a map for future reference. 

The men on the wooden flensing deck then set to work, wearing 1-inch spikes in the heels of their boots to prevent them from slipping in the resulting mess. Firstly the whale was cut up with large, extremely sharp flensing knives - long-handled cutters shaped like hockey sticks. The cutters were assisted by chain men, who winched away the cut strips of blubber. Stripping the blubber usually took about one hour, beginning with ventral blubber, then the back, lower, the jaw and baleen. The carcass would then be turned over and the remaining blubber removed, the ribs separated, and the backbone removed.

The blubber was then dropped through holes in the deck and into huge (Norwegian) Kvaerner cookers beneath the deck, where it was cooked for four hours. The oil was extracted and cleaned of impurities before being placed into a separator. The end product had a honey-like colour. This whale oil was shipped in bulk to the mainland, pumped into tanks at Hemmant, and eventually pumped into ships bound for Europe.

Anything left over after the extraction of oil was fed into a Huse plant and processed into high-protein stock meal. The backbone of the whale was broken up with a large steam-driven saw, and put into huge pressure cookers through a hole in the deck along with other parts to make more stock meal.

Whale carcass after being pulled ashore, Tangalooma Whaling Station, ca. 1957.
(Qld State Library)

Workers at Queensland's Tangalooma whaling station.
 (Dave Schmidt,  The Australian)

Two whale carcasses being dragged ashore at Tangalooma Whaling Station,
ca. 1957. (Qld State Library)

Workers at the whaling station, Tangalooma, ca. 1957. (Qld State Library)
Workers with part of a whale carcass at Tangalooma Whaling Station, ca. 1957.
(Qld State Library)

At the height of production, the station provided employment for about 120 men, with a maintenance staff of about 20 employed during the off-season.

After such a successful start, the industry was heading for trouble by the late 1950s, when the introduction of vegetable oils triggered a big fall in global whale oil prices. Much more serious than that was the decline in whale numbers. In 1961 the quota was not met for the first time, with 'only' 591 being killed that year. In 1961 light planes were being used to spot the increasingly-scarce whales from the air, and on 5 August 1962 the whaling station closed after only 68 whales had been caught that season. In the end, it was a simple matter of economics. The industry had exploited a natural resource at unsustainable levels until the resource and the profits dried up.

Over the course of one decade, the whalers had killed 6,277 Humpbacks (and one blue whale). What had earlier been an estimated local migration population of 25,000 Humpbacks had been reduced to about 500. In 1963 the whaling of Humpbacks in Australian waters was banned, and two years later they were placed on the Protected Species list. It is also thought that illegal Russian whaling in the seas south of Australia and New Zealand during 1961 and 1962 probably took nearly 24,000 Humpbacks.

The Tangalooma Whaling Station was quickly sold to Gold Coast businessmen in June 1963, and the site was converted into a leisure resort, with the the factory and flensing decks being converted into a bar and lounge area. This wasn't the first time that Tangalooma had visitors, because groups of children from schools or Scout groups used to go there during the whaling years to watch and learn about the process of whale butchering, in the company of a guide from the whaling company.

Today, the only educational whale experience that children might have near Moreton Bay is whale watching, which is booming along with the population of Humpbacks. In 2015, researchers counted about 25,000 of the whales migrating up the coast, which means they have now returned to pre-hunting population levels. 

14 July 2016

The Burleigh and Bilinga Sperm Whales

On the hot afternoon of 27 December 1926, hundreds of holiday-makers on the main surfing beach at Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast, were horrified to see a massive white object floating out in the ocean. Most of the onlookers presumed that it was an overturned boat. The Southport police were quickly called to investigate, and they discovered that the object was in fact a dead 24-metre Sperm Whale.

By evening time the whale had drifted in to shore and was stuck hard and fast on the beachside rocks. News of this spectacular sight spread fast, and during the following morning thousands of people from the neighbouring holiday resorts of Southport, Coolangatta and the Tweed arrived to watch as a gang of men employed by the shire council began the process of trying to dispose of the carcass. The whale had also attracted a great number of sharks which were engaged in eating it.

Although the sharks kept the waters free of bathers, a number of surfers refused to be deterred by the danger and even ignored warning blasts.

Progress in chopping the whale into smaller pieces was slow, and the workmen reportedly found that 'trying to chop blubber is just like trying to chop rubber.' There were at times as many as 100 men working on the body, and an attempt to burn it was unsuccessful, as was an effort to tow the carcass out to sea.

The ongoing decomposition created an awful stench in the local area that reportedly caused 'much alarm to residents in the vicinity' and drove nearby campers from their campsites. On 31 December a large crowd gathered on the shore to watch what promised to be a New Year's Eve show with a difference when 30 plugs of gelignite were inserted into the carcass in an attempt to speed up the cutting process. The spectators had been expecting something of a spectacular explosion, and were reportedly disappointed when the big moment resulted in no more than a dull thud and a low geyser of oil shooting into the air.

Despite the low-key detonations, it was now easier to butcher the body. In preparation, a large grave was excavated several chains from the beach, to the objection of some local residents but the satisfaction of the council health inspector. The pit measured 10 metres long, 6 metres wide, and 4 metres deep. Steel cables were placed around the carcass and attached to two 2.5-ton trucks. With the help of skids and a double block and tackle, the remains of the whale were rolled up the beach to the point of burial.

The whale at Burleigh Heads (Sunday Mail, 27 December 1931)

There was a bit more drama a few days later when two massive jaw-bones were recovered from the surf near the site of the stranded whale. They were over 5 metres long and about 1.6 metres thick, with 12 giant teeth on each side. It was speculated that they must have belonged to some 'marine monster' which had fought with the whale and been killed, but Heber Longman, director of the Queensland Museum, arrived to identify them as the jaw bones of the Sperm Whales, and had obviously become dislodged during the efforts to destroy the carcass. The jaws were donated to the Queensland Museum and within 12 months were on display in their 'Mammalian Court'.

A week after the burial of the whale, a poem on the subject appeared in the Brisbane Courier:
BURLEIGH! Burleigh!
Sour and surly,
You're ungrateful,
Which is hateful!
Neptune sent you,
To content you,
From his restive
Fold a festive
Gift, at Christmas!
That grey, triste mass
Reached you early,
Thankless Burleigh!
Worth much MONEY,
But you're funny,
That great drift-whale,
That rich gift-whale,
You, complaining
And restraining,
YOU would ignite -
Used gelignite!
Tried to blow-up
What a show-up!
Santa Claus will now turn surly -
"No more Christmas gifts for Burleigh!"
13 years later a similar-sized Sperm Whale washed up at Bilinga, just south of Burleigh Heads. This one had apparently been dead for several months and was badly ravaged by sharks. 10,000 sightseers were reported to have visited the scene, which was great for local tourism businesses. The Bilinga Surf Club even organised a 'community beach concert' only 50 metres away from the whale. However, the stench soon became overpowering and the whale had to be removed. Council workers cut up the carcass with knives and axes, and the pieces were towed up the beach by tractor for burial. The whole process took five days. Once again the Queensland Museum requested the jaw bones.

The whale remains, Bilinga 1939 (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).
Workers cut up the Bilinga whale (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).
Decomposing remains of whale, Bilinga (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).

03 July 2016

Western Maps & the Dreaming

The map to the left is not of downtown Moscow, but is instead how my hometown of Heywood, Lancashire, looked on a mid-1970s Soviet map of Britain. It was produced for a potential Soviet invasion, and Russian mapmakers used existing Ordnance Survey maps, satellite images, road atlases and their own spy network to create a highly-detailed map that highlighted potential tank routes and included sites such as nuclear research facilities that were considered too secret for many British-produced maps. There was a colour code for different targets, and so industrial sites were black, administrative buildings purple, and military installations green.

It was how Soviet occupiers would initially interpret the British landscape had they made the trip: a militarily strategic roadmap with place names transliterated into Cyrillic. This act was nothing new, as invaders always create their own maps of lands they have ‘acquired’ (or intend to). It is an administrative extension of conquest. Back in the 11th century the Domesday project had been a way for the Normans to create a social map of their newly-conquered lands.

My involvement with the ‘Mapping Brisbane History’ project got me thinking about maps, especially as different cultural concepts of space and time had been a favourite subject area during my undergraduate Anthropology days. I was

So creating a map is an essentially political act. Peoples of different cultures perceive and chart the same landscape in different culturally-specific ways, and attempt to impose their own worldview on that landscape, or seascape, or even on the stars.

In the Australian context, European arrivals of the 18th and 19th centuries were largely incapable of comprehending (or at least acknowledging) the existing Aboriginal cultural landscape. Indigenous peoples have often been conceptualised as being detached from the landscape and, in a process described by anthropologist WEH Stanner as ‘zoomorphic’, were made invisible in that landscape like nocturnal fauna.

The new arrivals saw the new continent as essentially ‘empty’, a wilderness. Terra nullius. They set about transposing their own names to the country and attaching their own values to places and resources within it. This act was clearly at odds with Indigenous perceptions of a landscape that was not only filled with meaning, but had already been mapped and demarcated according to their own cultural conventions.

Indigenous connections to landscape are primarily based on a history of total dependence on local resources and the development and maintenance of the knowledge that allows sustainable use of those resources. In these small-scale cultures, experience is locked into a relatively limited space over a large time-span, and knowledge becomes highly refined and the landscape infused with a great deal of meaning.

The relationship between Aboriginal peoples and territory is strongly expressed in the form of language, which becomes a repository of knowledge about landscape. Languages are seen to be landed, as each different one is associated with particular territory, and even Dreaming figures are held to change their language as they move from one country into another. At the same time, land is said to be languaged as place names are imbued with myth and personal experience, establishing relationships between people and place. Because of this, place names are a repetitive feature of Aboriginal songs and storytelling and help to link people to their heritage through land, people and ancestors.
Indigenous Australian language map, 1996 (AIATSIS).

Aboriginal songs emerged from the creative process of Dreaming figures transforming themselves into country, and these figures are believed to continue to exist through the performance of such art forms. There is a circular relationship of culture and environment, as culture is a product of landscape, and landscape is maintained through cultural expression.

Sacred sites and song lines associated with certain ancestral powers, and landmarks associated with human historical events, and all resultant place names are ways in which landscape is culturally marked in Aboriginal society. Related songs and stories not only explain country and infuse it with meaning, they also create spatial boundaries and serve as a map in a political sense, demarcating those areas a clan is responsible for maintaining. Knowledge of particular songs and stories identifies a person as being responsible for the territory that those songs and stories refer to.

Of course times change, and Indigenous peoples around the world have long used Western cartographic methods to help validate claims to territory. These maps help ‘authenticate’ Indigenous legal claims and as such are powerful cultural symbols. As subjective statements, they are as much cultural constructs as the landscapes they depict. Also, books such as Dr Ray Kerkhove's 'Aboriginal Campsites of Greater Brisbane' use maps to demonstrate the extent of Indigenous use of country prior to European arrival. The result is that maps are becoming an important medium of expression in cultural conflicts, highlighting the fluid nature of perceived cultural boundaries.