• Straddie Sales & Rentals


by Mark Balczun on Tuesday June 18th

The following is a thought provoking piece written by long time Island local Mark Balczun.   Mark and his wife Lynn have made Straddie their home for the past 40 years, raising their two children Gemma and Ash and are intrinsically woven into the fabric of our community.


Hi all, this is a recall of an event that took place not so long ago on Stradbroke Island.  A friend asked me to put pen to paper on this story as it has relevance to the proposed tourist attraction being steamrolled through by the Labour Government on the Point Lookout Headland.  Dadee Taylor,  John Moss,  Craig Papworth  and  Stephen Stocker you guys might be interested.   It’s taken me awhile to relive and write this event down in order for people to know what I saw and felt.   While dredging up the memory of that event I’ve realised it takes a lot of words to see what I saw.  So here goes.

It was back in 2011 and pretty sure it was September as the weather the next day was like a beautiful spring day and friends were over staying at the pink house on lighthouse hill for the school holidays.  I was sitting on the dunes 50 meters down from the Main beach access track looking for a late afternoon surf, when I noticed a large whale 100 metres behind the break.  It was that time of the year when the whales were returning south to Antarctica for the summer.   A pilgrimage they have been trekking for perhaps a millennium or more.  While it may not be unusual for them to come close to the outside breakers I personally have not seen them come this close on their way south.

With my curiosity increasing I could not keep my eyes from this strange looking Creature.  Strange because he was of a colour I had never seen before on a whale.  The top part of his body was a pinkish tan and when he swam sideways exposing the underbelly, it was the same colour.  Certainly not the black and white of a mature humpback.

My second thought was that a grey whale strayed off course as I’d never seen one of that colour in this vicinity before.   Adding to my confusion was the erratic path the whale was swimming.   To my relief he started to swim away from the shallows and out to sea.   But 200 metres out he veered to the north for a while and then did a 180 degree turn to the south and swam parallel to the beach.

He repeated this erratic pattern a couple of times as if lost or searching for something.   I’m thinking there’s a real chance now that I may be watching the actual beaching of a whale.   Because he’s changed direction again, tracking south-west, which puts him on a collision course to the beach.

Lethargically he’s drawn closer and closer to the beckoning waves.   I can’t believe what’s happening before me.   My panicked concern is useless as there is nothing I can do but bear witness to the events unfolding.   On he comes like a moth summoned to the naked flame.   Out of nowhere a large set appears, building in height and ferocity as it bores down on the hapless creature unaware of its impending demise.   The first smaller wave passes over him but draws him closer to shallow water. The next one looms larger than the first.

The waves submerged centrifugal energy, which propels it across the ocean draws the whale’s body up, like a hungry giant, into the midsection of the wave.   I can see him clearly through the water on a turquoise background, lit up by the afternoon sun.   For a brief moment he is suspended in time. Then the inevitable happens. The top of the wave starts to crumble and the midsection unable to hold, lurches forward and unceremoniously slams him into the seabed.

He dredges the bottom sideways; sand and debris explode around him till half his body is obscured. The wave continues on having done its job and dissipates into whitewash, eventually lapping up onto the shoreline.   A spent force.    A chameleon of destruction and gentleness.

The whales end is more prolonged as wave after wave pounds into him like a blacksmiths hammer, pushing him closer to shore.   Seemingly punishing him for a crime not committed.

At this stage I'm running down from the dunes and onto the beach, heading towards the shoreline and feeling frustrated not knowing what to do.   It’s like watching a boxing match with no referee. The aggressor is left to decide for himself when the opponent has had enough.   Suddenly a friend appears beside me, and his son.   We are all concerned and stressed at what we have witnessed.   His son suggests we paddle out to see if there is anything we can do to save it.

We grab our boards and paddle out towards the mayhem.  Two fleas trying to drag a dog off a T bone.  We look for a vantage point, some kind of answer.  There is none.

The whale is a broken ship without a mast.  There’s no escape.   This is its final destination, out of his element from water to earth.  Gravity and waves crushing his lungs.  Through the crashing waves and water turbulence I can see a rope of perhaps 20 mm thick wrapped around its tail section, approximately 2 to 3 metres trailing behind.   The tail is undamaged and the rope has not cut into the flesh.   Certainly this is not impeding the tails function.  Then as I veered back towards the head of the whale, the waves and turbulence cleared for a moment and suddenly I was staring into the eye of a dying whale.   We held each other’s gaze.   There was no panic stricken fear in that eye.   Just a soft resignation of an end to life.   A sigh perhaps?  He knew to struggle was futile and accepted the brutality would soon be over to be replaced by the calmness of death.   A spirit released.

It was all too much for me.  Too much malaise, distress, inaptness, despondency, a sensory overload. I let the waves carry me back to shore.   They were more lenient to me than the stricken whale.   And as we walked out of the ocean that day we realised something more sinister was at play with the dissolution of that poor whale.  As we glanced down at our bodies we noticed something was clinging to us.   Small alien like parasites were attached to our flesh and I mean attached.   You couldn’t flick them off.   You had to pick them off with thumb and forefinger and even then they would not let go, pinching the skin and drawing blood.   Think the size of a 10 cent coin and the shape of a scorpion minus the pointy curled tail.  The tail was flat and blunt, claws sharp and incisive. An insatiable appetite for flesh and blood.  Now I realised why the whale had a strange colour, he was covered in these flesh eating parasites.   Thousands if not millions of them covered his body at least an inch thick, eating him alive.  The pounding waves and the rolling on the sand had dislodged and interrupted their gorging feast; anything swimming in the water was fair game including us.  The constant gnawing made his top layer of skin peel off in small corn-flake sized pieces and these were floating through the water along with the scorpion crabs.  It was not a safe place to be, in the water around the whale.   Apart from the parasites there was a chance of being dashed upon the whale’s sharp barnacles hitching their last ride.

So we picked up our boards and walked back to the top of the dunes where it all began.   And in a state of forlornness took one last look just to make sure it wasn’t some dreadfully fallacious occurrence.   No such luck.   The dying hulk was still there, the one sided boxing match still in play.

The next day the tide was out and he was high and dry.  Parasites still feasting on his corpse, giving him a grotesque alien like outer membrane.   The weight of his head and upper jaw, not supported by buoyancy anymore, had collapsed into the lower jaw making it appear chalice like.  The local mining company donated machinery to bury it up behind the dunes where it was laid to rest.   Not long after we had a bumper crop of Horse/March flies which lasted for at least a season.

Recently I've heard that the grave-site has been raided and is in the process of awaiting its new home.  Returned to the ocean?  No! It is to be displayed in an 11 million dollar timber and glass cabinet on top of a grassy lightly timbered headland overlooking the coral sea forever tormented by humans who ogle, point and stare while his kin are free to roam north and south at will , with the seasons.

This story draws strong parallels with another story in our not so distant past.   Where human ancestral bones were dug up and put on a ship to be sailed away to the other side of the world and displayed in a glass cabinet where people could ogle, point and stare.   A desecration to the meaning of life and death.  No respect.   Fortunately sanity prevailed and their bones, the structure that held their spirits, were returned to their rightful place of rest.   Humankind does not seem to learn from the mistakes of the past.   Instead those who are in control prefer to rewrite history to a narrative that best suits their own agenda.

My impression is we are entering a new era of human spirituality in its connection to our surrounding environment, by trading moral conscience off for monetary gain.   Some believe you can mix the two, have moral conscience and monetary gain.   But perhaps this is an oxymoron road of division we are travelling down.   It would certainly appear so in our once all embracing community.

  Mark Balczun - June 30, 2018 ·