14 March 2024

Eden legend set for move as new space beckons

| Claire Sams
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A photograph of the front of a whale skeleton

The centuries-old story of Old Tom is set to get another chapter – but don’t worry, he’s not leaving Eden. Photo: Angela George.

Old Tom has been a part of Eden’s history ever since he first swam near the NSW Far South Coast.

In the 19th century, a group of killer whales would make regular visits to the town, led by Old Tom.

The group hunted baleen whales alongside humans and were rewarded with tongues of the killed animals for their hard work.

While Old Tom’s skeleton has long been housed in the Eden Killer Whale Museum, collection manager Angela George said the iconic symbol of the region’s history would be making a move in April.

“That means we have to, pretty much, completely dismantle him,” she said.

Fans of Old Tom needn’t worry about him leaving the town, however – his skeleton will soon take up residence in a different gallery.

The move follows an extension to the museum, which saw the addition of two new galleries and new storage space and opened in late 2022.

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Ms George said the move would allow for changes to the layout of the museum, with one of the new galleries to host Old Tom.

“The gallery that Old Tom’s in now will be focused on the local Indigenous connection with the killer whales,” she said.

“That is where the whole human-whale relationship started, long before Europeans started the commercial whaling industry.”

The move will also see conservation and restoration works carried out on Old Tom’s skeleton.

“Old Tom hasn’t had thorough conservation work undertaken on him for a while – he’s very due for a bit of TLC,” Ms George said.

“Each individual bone needs to be cleaned and there needs to be some repainting done.

“There will invariably need to be some repairs.

“At the moment, plywood has been used in place of cartilage, so we will be replacing that with a museum-quality Ethafoam that needs to be shaped and prepared, as well.”

The works are expected to take about six or seven days in April.

“He’s currently located right where the museum’s entrance is, and because he’s the star of the show it creates a real bottleneck,” she said.

“People come to see him and they gather at the entrance.”

Volunteers from the museum will work with conservators and preparator Dean Smith from Museum Victoria.

“These are the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t actually see,” Ms George said.

“This is not something unique to the Eden Killer Whale Museum – these are the things that mean we can deliver on our responsibility to make sure that these items are passed onto future generations.

“All of that means they can have an ongoing association with what makes Eden unique.”

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The story of Old Tom and his group of killer whales is entrenched in Eden folklore.

“The whale features on so many of our logos and in organisation names,” Ms George said.

“There’s the soccer club, the AFL club and the primary school in Eden – so many things link back to that.

“It is a part of our history and Eden’s identity.

“I’m sure a lot of people come here wondering, ‘Is this really true?’ but then they realise how amazing it is.”

Eden Killer Whale Museum is located at 182 Imlay Street in Eden, and is open 9:15 am to 3:45 pm (Mondays to Saturdays) or 10:15 am to 2:45 pm (Sundays).

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