Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Paddy Hart, a Dublin-born, Australian ex-whaler. "What is going on?”, you may well ask. "Is Greenpeace now consorting with whalers?". Note that I said "ex-whaler" - Paddy was in Tokyo, Japan to support Junichi and Toru - the Tokyo Two, to ask Prime Minister Aso to quite whaling, and to reassure Japan's whalers that there is life after whaling. Naturally, if you put two Irishmen together, you'll never get us to shut up, so I spent a few days hearing of Paddy's adventures over the years (and I told a few shaggy dog yarns myself). As well as being a great storyteller, Paddy was the skipper and harpoonist of a whaling vessel in Albany, Western Australia, in the 1970s until public opinion and economic rationale closed down the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company - the last whaling operation in the English-speaking world.
The demise of Albany's whaling operation was spurred on by direct action by a rag-tag bunch of conservations, led by Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter, and the enigmatic Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin aka 'The Phantom'. The story of the clashes between the whalers and the activists has been documented in a recent book, The Last Whale by Chris Pash, who worked as a "pimply reporter" on the Albany Advertiser, covering the protests at the time.
The Albany whalers hunted sperm whales for their oil, and had little time for the hairy hippies and urban middle class types who wanted to “save the whale”. Paddy, in one intense situation, even shot a harpoon over the heads of Fortom-Gouin and fellow activist Tom Barber, killing a sperm whale. But that was all 31 years ago, and even back then, Paddy had very mixed feelings about killing whales, despite having a family to feed.
Sitting having coffee with Paddy ten days or so ago, I asked him if he'd been to Japan before. "Yes", he said, "I was in Kobe 50 years ago!” Paddy had left Ireland in his early teens to work on Irish Merchant Navy ships. He visited Japan on board the Irish Spruce, and later jumped ship in Albany. He told his family in Dublin that he'd be back in a few months - and it took him 33 years to return.
Now, in 2008, he was sitting with an Irish Greenpeacer, having coffee in Shinjuku, Tokyo. So how did this come about?
"Times have changed. Back in those days, there was a need for sperm whale oil for industrial purposes. Now it can be made synthetically. Now Australia has a multi-million dollar whale-watching industry that's worth many, many times what the whaling industry was ever worth. The world has moved on - whaling no longer has a place in it".
On December 9th, Paddy joined executive directors of Greenpeace offices around the world to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Aso, asking him to end whaling; he sat on the podium for a Greenpeace press conference to speak about his experiences as a whaler, and did a sort of "Lost in Translation" manouvre in Shibuya - putting out the Greenpeace message to end whaling at a famous Tokyo landmark.
That afternoon, Paddy said to me, "If I had my life back again, I would have made different decisions".
"But then you wouldn't be here right now", I replied.
"Yes, but I would probably have a much easier conscience".
I was very moved by Paddy's words. I repeated them to a some of my colleagues, including the head of Greenpeace's whales campaign, Sara. She immediately shot an email back from Amsterdam to Tokyo that read:
"Tell Paddy from me that a man who acts to right a wrong, is a better man than one who has never done wrong".
Paddy Hart - sailor, whaler, anti-whaling activist, hero, adventurer, father, grandfather and gentlemen. An inspiration to us all.
Read more about The Last Whale by Chris Pash.
All photos: ©: Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
Originally posted by Dave over at Making Waves