THERE is irony in the name – Misery Beach.
Albany’s breathtaking coastline is anything but, having been officially named by Tourism Australia as the country’s best beach for 2022.
We are a long way from Misery’s dark past, when the blood of whales hunted by a nearby whaling station tinged the ocean red.
So how did the small, secluded beach get its name?
Although there is no written documentation, ask the local history coordinator for the town of Albany, Sue Lefroy, and she will tell you that there are two theories.
The first was Misery’s association with whaling due to its locality to the defunct Cheynes Beach Whaling Company.
Ms Lefroy said that in the past the jaw bones of sperm whales had either been dumped or washed up at the Misery boat launch site in the past.
She said that obviously fresh ambergris – a valuable product from sperm whales and used in perfume making – had a certain stench, which could also associate misery with the name of the beach.
However, this thought was considered presumptive.
The second thought was – when in a certain light and sea view – the granite rocks looked like a “very crestfallen” face likeness.
“To me, the second school of thought is reasonably plausible,” Ms. Lefroy said.
“Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been documented, because how many people could be looking at the rock face from the ocean.
“Most watch it from the beach.”
For Ms. Lefroy, the history of Misery Beach has been interesting to study because many early explorers named headlands and physical features, but not beaches.
The only beach she had identified on early maps was Middleton Beach, which takes its name from Middleton Bay.
Ms Lefroy said early maps would identify rocks, headlands and islands, while beaches were named by history or by association with someone who identified it.
“For example, Koala Rock on Mount Manypeaks,” she said.
“In some light and using one’s imagination, it resembles the face of a koala, but due to its inaccessibility it is not a well-known landmark.
“And Betty’s Beach, also near Manypeaks, is named after a young girl, Betty Poole, who vacationed there in the early 1930s.
“While on a family camping trip, she discovered a freshwater stream in a bay (now called Betty’s Bay), considering it a great camping alternative to Two Peoples Bay.”
Ms Lefroy added that historians had interviewed former whalers in the 1990s, but none had spoken of returning from the sea and identifying the resemblance on the rock to someone who was “very unhappy”.
But then, they weren’t asked either.
Notoriously savage and brutal sealing gangs were also known to operate along the south coast with many back roads in King George Sound, which borders Misery Beach.
The islands were a particular refuge for seal hunters because of the colonies of seals there.
One of these sealers was “Black Jack” Anderson, who was one of Australia’s first and only registered pirates in 1826.
Anderson docked in King George Sound on the crippled whaler named Vigilant.
After being accused of killing a man in an alcohol-fueled fight, Anderson and several teammates fled Albany for the Esperance Research Archipelago.
He then led a gang of escaped convicts to terrorize shipping off the southern coast of Western Australia in the 1830s.
Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington described the win as “huge recognition for a beach that has had such an appalling name for so long.”
Mr Wellington said the win would make the area a bigger draw for tourists in the future.
“When the whaling station was open there it was absolute misery as it was full of whale carcasses and blood and gore etc,” Mr Wellington said.
“Since that stopped, it’s been a delightful beach to go to.
“It is well protected, has beautiful water and clean white sand.
“The city is very grateful for this recognition.”
Judge Brad Farmer, named a Friend of Australia by Tourism Australia and a beach expert, said Misery Beach ticked all the boxes of what a typical beachgoer was looking for.
“Uncrowded crystal white sand, turquoise waters and a very spectacular granite bottom,” Farmer said.
It was selected from over 11,000 beaches in Australia.
Coogee was also ranked 13th in this year’s top 20 beaches for 2022.
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