Brian and Jill Perry’s first boat, Tasman Venture, during their first year of whale watching on the east coast.
Brian and Jill Perry’s first boat, Tasman Venture, during their first year of whale watching on the east coast.

How Hervey Bay’s whale watching legend began

THE story of how whale watching got started in Hervey Bay, with pioneer the late Brian Perry at the helm of the first boat, is part of Australian folklore.

All it took was the decision to turn a charter fishing business into a whale watching operation.

Brian was operating a charter with some of his mates on board the vessel Tasman Venture.

The fishing party saw what they thought to be logs in the water which then turned over and revealed themselves to be whales.

TASMAN VENTURE: Brian and Jill Perry owned a fishing charter business before they started the whale tours.
TASMAN VENTURE: Brian and Jill Perry owned a fishing charter business before they started the whale tours. Contributed

The fishos soon dropped their rods and picked up cameras, which began the tourism journey that led to Hervey Bay being declared the first Whale Heritage Site in the world.

MORE COVERAGE: Tourism boss pays tribute to man who put Bay on map

David Weatherford, a fishing friend who was aboard Tasman Venture that day recalls the men were initially very cautious, concerned that one of the whales may come up under the boat.

On the way back to Urangan, which took some hours, David spent about an hour alone on the top deck with owner Brian, which is where his idea of whale watching was born.

Wife Jill Perry was quick to dismiss his enthusiasm.

"I thought the idea of commercial whale watching charters - people paying to watch whales - was crazy," she said.

Brian and Jill Perry pictured in front of one of their vessels when they celebrated 25 years in the whale watching business. Pic Megan Slade.
Brian and Jill Perry pictured in front of one of their vessels when they celebrated 25 years in the whale watching business. Pic Megan Slade.

Her scepticism was not permanent.

A few days later Jill put a small advertisement in the weekly Observer newspaper that said: "Contact Brian and Jill Perry of Tasman Venture to see whales next Tuesday. Phone the office".

On the first trip, the couple's 32-seater boat was at maximum capacity and within weeks there were six boats going out daily, with full boat loads of people wanting to see the whales.

Jill doubled as the bus driver collecting passengers and at night baked muffins for the following day's tour - going on to bake 27,000 before the end of the first season.

Brian and Jill went on to buy or build five boats, selling Tasman Venture.

The current Tasman Venture is owned and operated by Lloyd and Robyn Burgess.

Their last boat, Hervey Bay Whale Watch, was sold to John Peaker and is operated by his family.

Hervey Bay whale watching pioneers Brian and Jill Perry have put their whale watching business on the market. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Hervey Bay whale watching pioneers Brian and Jill Perry have put their whale watching business on the market. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman 11h583a

John Peaker was the pilot of a spotter plane that worked with the Hervey Bay whale watching fleet in the early days of the industry's establishment, throwing toilet rolls out the window to signal the fleet below when he located a whale pod.

Brian and Jill Perry met in Wollongong, NSW, where Brian played in a band and later owned a concreting company.

Brian died overnight on Wednesday, July 15, after a battle with illness.

Jill remains involved in the tourism industry and has been a director of Fraser Coast Tourism and Events since September 2016.

Brian is survived by Jill and daughter Sarah, who is also in the marine tourism business with her husband.


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