Author Archives: Maria Taylor

Sharing the land with Australian wildlife: a winning experience

sharing-chapt-MariaTaylor

An excerpt from Maria Taylor’s book ‘Injustice’ (2021)

AFTER 30 YEARS of living in the bush I know a bit about living with wildlife, but I did not know anything about building soil, regenerating the overgrazed, water-eroded, and sun-bleached sections of the property. I was about to find out more, visiting with some big landholders who were sharing the land with indigenous animals and encouraging the indigenous plants, with an appreciation of biodiversity and resilience. They had been learning in the past decades to live with the nature of Australia, rather than fight it.

A good anecdote about how to learn from indigenous inhabitants was told by zoologist Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe based on his field trips to western NSW where he and students stayed on a property near Booligal. The owner did not kill kangaroos but rather observed them as indicators of the health of his paddocks.

When the kangaroos left it was time to shift the sheep and spell the paddock. This happened through dry years and wet throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s, reported Tyndale-Biscoe. The property retained good saltbush and much native grass and good sheep production at times when neighbours were destocking.

ABOVE: Sharing with wildlife on author’s property during drought of 2019–20.
Photos: Maria Taylor

Listen again to British-trained biologist and ecologist Francis Ratcliffe, who was hired by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, later CSIRO) in 1935 to look into the severe soil erosion of central Australia, following less than 100 years of sheep pastoralism. He came to the unpopular conclusion that overhauling the previous ecology of native animals and plants was not the main solution.

Ratcliffe was a product of the imperial science that shaped Australian thinking. But he concluded that putting sheep or cattle on the boom and bust landscapes of Australia was based on some serious miscalculations and incompatible premises.

He concluded that “the only thing that would preserve the country would be ‘consciously to plan a decrease in the density of  pastoral population of the inland’ … to fit the social and economic order to the natural one”.

Today, there are farmers and other landholders taking up Radcliffe’s advice and striving to become part of a more natural order while still successfully running a business on the land. In the past decades, there has been much successful experimentation with land regeneration to revive soil, water, and vegetation natural systems. Some without embarrassment call it farming in greater harmony with nature — they mean the nature of Australian landforms and weather.

Others have turned land into private conservation reserves, while still feeding sheep or cattle or growing some crops. There are also attempts to learn more from traditional Aboriginal land management practices and ecological understandings as part of an abiding relationship to this unique land and its unique animals and plants.

I set out to learn more from some of these innovators and self-taught researchers — people who have taken a different path from the traditional mixed grazing and cropping model. I wanted to learn how they included the natural fauna in these new farming systems. Most concentrate on building and sheltering soil as the basic ecology of their enterprises, bringing back the natural grasses, unlocking long dormant seeds, and keeping ground cover.

I wanted to know whether graziers committed to regenerating Australian natural systems continue to calculate that they have to shoot macropods to ‘save the grass’? Alternately, does sharing the land with the wildlife bring land-care benefits? And what benefits, financial and otherwise, accrue to those who are forging the way with wildlife ecotourism?

Jock Marshall noted in the mid-1960s: “A considerable number of Victorian sheep farmers, living as they do in a State where kangaroos were long ago almost exterminated would be glad to see a few roos hopping around their paddocks. A few intelligent and cultivated sheep farmers in southern New South Wales have already made their properties a sanctuary. They believe that it is worth running a few sheep less for the privilege of having a few wild marsupials on the place. Such people are rare, but it is hoped that their practice will spread.”

In 2019, I met people who think like that.

En-route to learning more about ecotourist potential, I came across this humorous endorsement for the value of wildlife tourism to Australia. Said a ranger on Tasmania’s Maria Island, which is a wombat haven: “The tourists are in love with the wombats; so in love that we need to give them some education about how to interact with them.” That led to asking for this promise: “I pledge, I will not chase you with my selfie stick.”

Tasmania’s Maria Island is a national park, and as well as wombats, it is home to Cape Barren geese, Forester (Grey) kangaroos, Bennett’s Red-necked wallabies and Tasmanian devils. Tourists on Maria Island have doubled in number in the past decade — to 31,000 annually and climbing. Enthused one in an Instagram post: “This place is like the Galapagos of Australia!”

WILDLIFE TOURISM ON TRADITIONAL GRAZING PROPERTY

Terri Irwin, along with her late husband Steve, did much to popularise and say it’s okay to love Australian wildlife — notably the slithery and snappy variety. Terri is still doing this work. These days, much of her time is spent filming segments for a television program called Crikey! It’s the Irwins, along with her children Bindi and Robert, while working alongside some 500 staff at the family-owned Australia Zoo. The zoo now houses more than 1,200 animals on about 1,000 acres of Sunshine Coast bushland. There is also a wildlife rescue hospital. Terri tells me that the goal with every animal species in captivity is to also help the wild populations. It is very much her goal to increase the appreciation and conservation of Australia’s unique wildlife.

“When Steve and I married in 1992,” she tells me, “we spent the first six years of our marriage filming, studying, and doing conservation work throughout Australia. I have seen a lot of Australia that has given me personal insight … and more recently I’ve seen thousands of animals that have come through the wildlife hospital that we opened in 2004 [at Australia Zoo].” The hospital has treated the whole range of Aussie native animals — including rescued sea snakes and turtles, flying foxes and other bats, koalas in need of chlamydia vaccination.

This is all good. But Terri wants to talk about the still unresolved and unequal relationship between humans on production properties and the common wildlife, particularly kangaroos. We talk about her family’s conservation grazing properties in central Queensland and in the Queensland gulf country. Both properties are living experiments, in that they allow the natural wildlife — from dingo to emu to kangaroo — to co-exist and live peacefully.

In central Queensland, between St George and Roma, neighbours may still be shooting kangaroos, poisoning dingos, or fencing emus from their path to food and water, but not on Mourachan. Steve and Terri allowed the property to revegetate naturally after they acquired it in the early 2000s. An unsuccessful attempt at establishing young river red gums indicated that regrowth was the easiest path. It proved too difficult to keep the water up to planted trees during drought. Terri tells me that the plan now is to consult with an ecologist about habitat management by increasing the diversity of the plant life. The property continues to commercially run some cattle.

Mourachan lies in the brigalow (acacia woodland) belt — a landscape that has suffered extensive clearing. Their holding expanded from an original block of 25,000 acres to now managing 118,000 acres (47,753 hectares) plus a neighbouring block recently added. (Terri’s American heritage and Australian bush experience shows, with the preference for talking about acres rather than hectares.) “The intent was to manage it so things weren’t being culled or killed on the property.”

Steve and Terri started out with a project engaging the neighbours to document the presence of the rare Woma python. That worked out wonderfully, but what was disheartening was how much kangaroo shooting was going on. That’s when they learned about Australia’s industrial-scale kangaroo meat and skin industry, and how extremely poorly regulated it is. “I’ve seen really sad things with kangaroos,” she tells me. “Probably 15 years ago, one of the first things we’d have to do when we go out to the property would be to humanely euthanise all of the injured kangaroos.

“Nobody is following these people around to see how they are killing the animals. There is also a sense if you are a landowner that you can treat wildlife in any way that you see fit without requesting permission or a permit. And, the manner in which the kangaroos are being killed was really eye-opening. It is essentially just a bush-meat trade.”

REBALANCE TO NATURE WITH WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY FENCING, TREES, LONGER GRASS

Rebalancing the property with nature required removing some of the property’s features, and expanding others. For wildlife, that included removing kilometres of old fencing, or modifying it to wildlife-friendly fencing — a project that Steve Irwin started and convinced the neighbours would be okay. “So we did it, and all these little animals, fruit bats, and gliders were no longer getting caught on the top strand,” Terri told me. “And the bottom strand is not hurting animals ducking under the fence that kangaroos prefer to do. It’s been working for nearly two decades. I’m really excited about things like that.”

Commercial kangaroo and sports shooters, who, it was observed, shot anything that moved, and who had been coming freely onto the property, were denied access. It was a lengthy process. After years, Steve and Terri got the last roo shooters off their land — although not before being told by the police in St George that some people with roo shooting licenses were ex-felons and dangerous people, with guns, and to stay clear.

Wildlife and flora studies and fauna counts took their place. A longer-term aim has been to establish endangered species breeding areas for bilbies and Northern Hairy-nosed wombats, Woma pythons and Yakka skinks, common to the area before European settlement.

Regeneration of trees and shrubs was a key factor in retaining good ground cover, and went hand in hand with habitat restoration. It also helped move on the kangaroo shooters. That was when the vegetation reached a point that the shooters could no longer see the kangaroos as they would on a cleared paddock, said Terri.

Glancing back at settlement history, it is not hard to see that the European radical tree clearing to gain more grass invited the native grazers to congregate in the first years after clearing. With more clearing and set-stocking keeping grass height low, the cycle would encourage constant new growth. Terri still sees it in the neighbourhood: “One of the ironies is people who clear-fell to get more grass. Then it actually attracts kangaroos, because essentially you are building a golf course. ‘Wow, we’ll come to your house!’

“On our property, we have different vegetation areas, some grassed areas, some treed areas. Less of a monoculture still allows good beef yields while inviting less roos.” Along with creating other biodiverse habitat.

The property has a complete live-and-let-live policy for native animals, while also running 300 head of cattle that bring in comparable income per head to other traditionally-run properties. Terri tells me they always have adequate grass, partly thanks to the vegetation cover they re-established. The contrast is most noticeable when neighbouring properties have suffered badly in dry years. Terri says the wildlife populations all now have stable numbers. The birdlife is fantastic.

ADVENTURE TOURISM

The next step with the help of online marketing was to introduce wildlife tourism, billed as outback adventures or photography expeditions, with food and accommodation laid on. The venture showed that ecotourism brings in good money that can be reinvested in the land. Websites and social media have made marketing much easier for country people.

“People will spend thousands of dollars for an outback experience where they can see this wildlife. Seventy percent of international tourists want to see our wildlife. We know in Africa it really works — people protect the wildlife and have livestock and when people come on your property to see the wildlife, they pay a token fee. And we’re doing it so that we preserve the emus and the kangaroos and the goannas.

“Where we are the emus are so sweet, they don’t even protect the chicks from you. They’re just really cruisy. You can go out and see the emus and kangaroos and dingos. Because we don’t shoot them, you’ll see them. Others could do that in a very short amount of time. Many people want to participate — whether they’re bird watchers or photographers or artists — all walks of life.”

Kirra-portrait-dingo_C_Jennifer-Parkhurst 
Portrait of Kirra the dingo. Photo: Jennifer Parkhurst 

“Let our dingo be. Look after the dingo, don’t destroy him.
The dingos would say: ‘Let’s share the country’.”

Aunty Marie Wilkinson, Butchulla Elder, Fraser Island (K’GARI).

Terri Irwin knows other landholders that are proactive with conservation, and adds: “The thing is, Australians are ahead of the game, because they figured out farm-stay a long time ago. People want to share the country life, the farm experience. It’s been very successful for us and we can reinvest what we are earning back into conservation.”

The immediate worry is the cluster fences that segment the wider landscape: deadly hazards blocking wildlife corridors and access to water. As a large property, Mourachan can manage the wildlife presence, but the problems being created are regional. “You’ll have these tiny little distorted gene pools and you won’t have a healthy ecosystem,” Terri notes. Disease risk mounts as populations become genetically less diverse.

The African experience has shown that where game farms tried to fence in particular species, it doesn’t work. They learned to have wildlife corridors and to cooperate with neighbours. Beyond Mourachan, continued clearing, overstocking, and salination of the soil are ecosystem issues besetting the area’s habitats and ability to regenerate — or indeed for graziers’ ability to farm profitably over the long haul.

When we spoke, Terri was alarmed that Balonne Shire local government was promoting a taxpayer-funding cluster fencing exercise to extend across the whole shire, on behalf of a resurgent sheep industry that claims to be beset by wild dogs, most of which are likely to be feral dogs escaped from humans, not dingos. Terri tells me there has been no attempt at any environmental impact assessment of the cluster fencing. She’ll be asking about it.

Never one to shrink from a challenge — although this one is proving harder than snake-handling — Terri was also intent on convincing the Queensland government about the economic value of linking tourism and conservation for remote areas. She notes that for a small government investment, another 100 (doubling the current number in the whole state) Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers could be employed for remote tourism opportunities. That is still a modest goal. In comparison, the Irwin family’s Australia Zoo alone employs up to 500 staff.

The ecotourism at Mourachan blends Australiana, like making damper and enjoying “an Aussie classic cup of tea,” with wildlife encounters and nature walk-and-talks. River and wetland exploration are options. There are opportunities to photograph landscapes, relics, and old buildings on farm and in nearby town, backgrounded by the red earth — the picturesque iconography of inland Australia.

Iconic wildlife in this brigalow environment includes the emu and Eastern Grey kangaroos, Wallaroos/Euros and the Black/Swamp wallabies; bats and gliders; The Lace monitor and two other goanna species; skinks, geckos and lizards; and a lucky person may spot the rare Woma python. Also rare and present is the Warty Waterholding frog. Birds include the well-known kookaburra, Hooded robin, tawny frogmouth, cuckoo, currawong, choughs and more. Many more birds fly along the Balonne River outside St George. Dingos are allowed to live at Mourachan. And there are introduced wildlife species as everywhere in Australia.

When we spoke, Terri said the grass had remained sustainable despite the decade of dry conditions: “In my experience where we have left the kangaroos and the dingos, if you fly over it, it looks like an island. Everything around it has been decimated but our property is always healthy and we have roos, dingos and also cattle. Neighbours have come and asked to agist cattle on our property.

“I find it ironic because if their methods of extermination of certain types of wildlife and their husbandry are all working: why are they asking the person with kangaroos and dingos and conservation methods to agist? The grass is always greener on my side of the fence, literally.”

While the Mourachan managers cull feral domestic dogs, dingos are not proving a problem. “We have dingos and now that they are realising that they’re not getting shot we can see them. And they are quite calm, they don’t thrill-kill. We haven’t lost a single calf, although they might go more for lambs.” The bonus, she said, is that the dingos are really knocking the cats and the foxes. “I’m just not seeing the problem, other than we humans are propagating the problem with domestic dogs.

“And the kangaroos, I just don’t get it. Why people hate these beautiful animals. But we don’t want to surrender one blade of grass that isn’t for livestock earning us money. In reality, you really can achieve balance. We have to find a way for people to earn a living without destroying everything.”

What has she learned? “If you leave nature alone, your land flourishes more than if you’re trying to play God and manage every aspect.”

RETURN TO NATURE AND REGENERATIVE FARMING

There’s a promising sign on the gate to Severn Park, where Charles and Fiona Massy have accomplished a radical farming makeover to a more natural way of grazing their Merino sheep. ‘Land for Wildlife’ says the sign. I have one of these on my own gate — it lets visitors or passers-by know that people who live there protect and promote wildlife habitat.

On the road to the house, I can see on either side how the Monaro grassland is regenerating, with poa tussocks, stipa (cork-screw grass), and other natives, including danthonia, nine-awned grass, and native legumes.

Charles Massy is the author of Call of the Reed Warbler. Published in 2017, it is an acclaimed and comprehensive exploration of what has gone wrong with European farming and grazing methods, with case studies of alternative ways of doing things. The big picture is that the traditional colonial methods are speeding the process of desertification in Australian landscapes. They also increase the risk of financial ruin to graziers and family cropping operations faced with the high costs of annual fertilisers, chemicals, and machinery to plough up and ‘improve’ the soils.

Elsewhere, family farming has ceded to corporate conglomerates that often double down with European traditional thinking about the land and its inhabitants as a resource quarry, establishing the latest wave of land and water exploitation for export products. Ultimately, these farming methods are not good for human health, he writes, extracting a cost from chemical exposure and lowered food and fibre quality due to the microbiology missing from the soil.

In Massy’s book, I read a series of landholder stories told by farmers and graziers who are regenerating their land. Here was a path for my questions about integrating wildlife. Massy talked to more than 80 producers for his research, and recommended some I could fruitfully chat with, starting with himself. I have built on those regeneration case studies with thanks to the author.

I wanted to learn how sheep and cattle producers can make a living without killing off the native fauna and flora — the tradition since settlement. Along the way I started learning how working with nature turns out to be good economics — saving a lot of money that isn’t spent on a shopping list of chemicals, superphosphate, and other artificial inputs for soil.

Charlie Massy started our conversation with an anecdote from a senior Ngarigo law man, elder Rob Mason who has been advising him on some land management approaches. Rob Mason has cultural memories that came through his grandfather: that somewhere in the 1860s his great grandfather speared a Jabiru stork on nearby Lake Bundawindirri, now a dry bed, just up the road towards Berridale from the property. The lake then was full of bird life, including Magpie geese, Blue and Yellow budgerigars, and brolgas. Early surveyors mentioned seeing frequent fogs until midday in that valley, attesting to the transpiration water cycle function. “Within decades of overgrazing and clearing, we destroyed all that.”

GROUND COVER: KEY TO SOIL HEALTH, BIODIVERSITY, AND LIVING WITH WILDLIFE

Massy reflects on what land regeneration has done for Severn Park’s 2,000 once-degraded hectares. The healing started with a major tree-planting effort and tree regeneration, keeping in mind natural contours and creek lines. Maintaining year-round healthy grass cover with plant diversity is another key feature of regenerative farming and natural soil management.

That is accomplished by strict rotational grazing and conservative stock management. A more natural landscape that is not grazed down to ground level, and therefore seldom exhibits the golf-course-greens attraction of new pick for grazing marsupials, is a tool that comes with this management method.

On one early morning survey across the countryside, he said he marvelled at myriad spiderwebs, still wet with dew and glistening between the grass clumps. The spiders catch flies, grasshoppers, and other insects. They tell this landholder that the biodiversity on the property is returning to healthy landscape functions above and below the soil line. “The fact we no longer get regular devastating wingless grasshopper plagues is another indicator of increasing health,” he says.

Adding tree and ground cover aids moisture retention, even if just from dew and encourages soil organisms to get busy. They are an essential part of biodiversity, creating “a different, living absorbent soil structure” as he describes it.

He tells himself that it is not necessary to catalogue everything, but just knowing the biodiversity is coming back is good enough. He can see the wildlife returning. Not only birds and invertebrates, but the marsupials as well. In his book, he writes fondly about the wallabies that are now fairly tame around the place.

“As a kid we had no swamp wallabies or wallaroos. Now there are scores of them. With their cute little anvil faces and little paws and ears, the wallabies placidly examine me each morning. Only the other day, we had the excitement of discovering a dunnart (a  small hopping marsupial mouse), a native bush rat, three new frog species, and two previously unrecorded woodland birds.”

On regular walks around the property, getting to know plants and identifying animal tracks, Charlie Massy and his grandchildren often came across a quiet, solid, and large Wallaroo who spent his time on the green grass in the woolshed yards. They named him Mr Kev. His naming, wrote Massy, somehow made him a recognisable personality, with habits and extended family. Too bad, he lamented, few children today have the opportunity.

WHOLESOME FOOD AND A TOP WOOL CLIP

Equally gratifying is the knowledge that the land regeneration and changed farming methods mean they are growing nutrient-rich food and achieve top class fibre with the wool clip. With holistic grazing management, he tells me, the sheep get a more balanced diet. The animals are continuously rotated every few days into fresh paddocks with greater plant diversity. This means better body weights and higher lambing percentages.

“Last year, due to this more even nutrition, we topped the Sydney wool market because ours was the only clip, in that drought year, that had high tensile strength: a key parameter for elite wool processing. We also have to drench far less, because the rotation breaks the intestinal worm cycle.”

Charlie tells me his conversion to being an “enabler” (his description) of the land, rather than a person wedded to domination, came with the realisation that his innate love of nature could now be given full reign. He sees this as including aesthetic as well as intellectual, emotional, even spiritual connections to the land around us, rather than viewing the land as an inanimate block waiting to be cleared of previous life, improved and exploited for profit.

His thinking was helped by developing a friendship with some Aboriginal people. “This allowed me to gain some understanding of their organic approach to and nurturing of country” — their ever-present connections to and responsibility for the land and what it holds. He wrote in his book that “until we acknowledge Indigenous people’s dispossession and collaborate with them to jointly regenerate and care for country, we can never achieve proper reconciliation between people and country”.  As one example, Rod Mason taught the Massys and others in the district about cool burning to clean up and encourage grass growth, and the complexity of the decision-making required.

Physical and mental ill health in rural areas, he ventures, may well be related to traditional European farming methods and divorce from nature. Chemical farming doesn’t help, with some properties being encouraged to pour dozens of chemicals on their crops for the season.

LONG-STANDING WILDLIFE SANCTUARY AND MANAGING THE ECOLOGY

From the New England tablelands of northern NSW, Tim Wright tells me in 2019 they’re experiencing the worst drought since records started in 1850 — when his extended family started sheep grazing in the district. Some of the more shallow-rooted eucalypts are dying, he says sadly. Still, he has grass for his sheep, and he tolerates maybe 500 kangaroos (Greys and Wallaroos/Euros) sharing that grass (the numbers can be a problem, as the animals come in from neighbouring grassless properties).

The 3,350 hectares of the family property, Lana — with about five percent in hills and rocky country — are well-treed, both old-growth and planted. There is water: creeks, springs and bores on the property. But the key to having grass on the ground while the neighbours are buying in feed is a still-evolving system of rotational (or cell) grazing, that never lets the ground cover get close to being eaten out in any of the smallish paddocks.

After a near fatal end to his farming, brought on by the early 1980s drought, Tim made a radical sideways turn. It took four years financially, and longer for the land to recover. “I started to question everything,” he told Charlie Massy for his book. “What I had learned in ag college; some of the scientific stuff in journals; I thought, ‘there’s got to be another way’ or I won’t survive here.”

The answer arrived in 1989, with the work of Queensland agricultural scientist Terry McCosker channelling the work of Zimbabweans Allan Savory and Stan Parsons. They taught Australians about holistic planned grazing — that involved rotational grazing as a basic concept, together with rest and recovery of paddocks.

The secret, he realised, is not in having more land, but how you use what you have in your environment, on your land. He now sees himself as a holistic manager of his farm’s ecology. The wildlife he may cherish the most are the soil microbes and insects, like parasitic wasps, bees, and beetles, that keep the system turning over and functioning healthily. The methods are completely strange to traditional broad acre graziers focused on pasture improvement, annual ploughing, sub clover, legumes, and improved varietals and aerial application of superphosphates.

Massy in his book describes the regenerative approach as maximising solar energy function through grazing management and grass utilisation, avoiding overgrazing any paddock. Tim Wright now has 300 paddocks averaging 20 acres, divided from 50 larger paddocks when he started down this road.

It’s not just about the insect life. Diverse ground cover is the most important aspect, he tells me, because of its capacity to store carbon and add organic matter. The secret is also in having a good water cycle. “We work our ground cover on kilograms per hectare with a range of plant species. What we’ve forgotten is that the monoculture society and monoculture farming is the worst thing we can do because it upsets the balance.”

VALUE OF NATIVE PASTURES WITH VARIETY OF GRASSES

“We have our native grasses, including cool season perennials,” Tim says. “They’re coming and going all the time, and we refer to this as a ‘state transition model.’ The ‘state’ meaning that grass is from seedling through to seed stage. It is in transition because you’re going from cool season to warm season growth. Our native grasses are still in the warm season phase, and the cool season perennials are all sitting there, though you wouldn’t know it. They start growing in June and they’ll always be green no matter the frost.

“You have different grasses which grow up on the ridge, grasses that grow down lower and they’ve all evolved over millions of years. [Traditionally] we go along and spray it all and say we have to improve pasture. But economically it’s one of the worst things you can do, because it’s short-lived and during a drought you have to re-sow most of what you’ve already sown.”

Retaining ground cover by resting paddocks, while rotating large numbers of herbivores who leave their manure, also means less added fertiliser — or even that none need be applied. The activity of herbivores is intrinsic to the success of this system, whether it is returning organic matter through manure, or assisting with their hooves over a short period to loosen the soil crust so seed can more easily come to the surface.

Native herbivores also assist with the fertilising and in spreading seed through their droppings. Tim has largely stopped ploughing. Whilst this is counterintuitive, stocking rates can be high, as Tim is showing, as long as the sheep are not set in one place, but are in constant rotation.

WORKING WITH ALL THE WILDLIFE, RETAIN TREES

Related to the famous Australian poet and environmental writer Judith Wright, Tim and his family have a history in education, agricultural innovation, and appreciating the native fauna. Tim’s father declared the property a wildlife reserve back in the ’60s, and today koalas live here as well as macropods including Wallaroos/Euros, Pademelons and other wallabies, along with the Eastern Grey kangaroos. Echidnas and platypus are other cared-for residents.

Some get a helping hand in the drought. “Only last week we fed koalas,” Tim told me. “This time of year is mating time, so you can hear them calling out near our house.” The trees on the property support eight endangered bird species according to a recent survey. “I put that down to our diversity of trees,” he says.

Does Tim see benefits for the farm by integrating native animals? Big benefits, he says, and kangaroos are part of that — acknowledging my interest in them. He had already told me that he understood the mob structure with the role of the alpha males, saying that shooters should not take them out because it can lead to greater populations as well as genetic weakness.

Balance is the key. “If you haven’t got the balance with the birdlife, the water, the turtles, the insects, and the grasses then things will be out of balance. That’s when you get things dying back, like trees for example. The landscape suffers. I work with the wildlife. I don’t have an issue with them at all.”

I ask him where someone would start, and how long would it take to emulate what he has done on Lana. It won’t take long, he says. “The first step is awareness. If they accept that tomorrow is another day, they can move toward a better frame of mind and start accepting alternatives — which I did 30 years ago. I started to question what I was doing and why I had to borrow money to survive.”

Continuing education is a theme for all regenerative farmers I engaged with. Tim Wright is no exception. “Holistic management isn’t just about agriculture. It’s a way of thinking and decision-making.

You ask why — why do I have bare ground? You then address this by looking at what you can do to change your management practices and treat the cause rather than the symptom.”

The surge of tree clearing in NSW, including for cattle production, is mentioned. Simply from a farming standpoint, particular with a drought and the water needs of cattle, tree clearing is no answer and worse. “I’d rather see education aligned with regulation so that farmers learn the benefits of the trees. It’s not there. If we want to point the finger, it’s the government being totally oblivious to it.”

And he adds: “We’ve got to take more note in terms of Australia’s ancestors, the Aboriginal culture. How did they survive? What did they do? We’re very different in that sense in that we are more industrialised. But they had the ability to manage the land in a way that survived the intense droughts.”

SOUTHERN NSW GRAZIERS: THE BENEFITS OF NATURAL FARMING, ECOTOURISM

Grazing stock naturally, and merging biodiversity protection with production and a tourism business didn’t come as a matter of course to the Butt family, third- and fourth-generation farmers in the capital region outside Canberra. But since 2008, when they visited Tim Wright’s New England property on a Landcare-awards field trip, they haven’t looked back.

These days, the Butts hardly drench their sheep. They haven’t used fertiliser in 20 years on their 3,500 acres (1,300 hectares) of grazing land. The animals, feeding on a more diverse plant mix, in rotated, conservatively-stocked paddocks, are in better health and the wool results are stronger and more consistent. 2,500 acres (1000 hectares) additional woodland has been fenced off as a reserve.

I met Debra Butt, who manages the farm day to day, at a Landcare meeting in the region. This meeting was focused on how to encourage and protect biodiversity while making a living off the land. She told the story of her own and her parents’ journey from conventional to regenerative farming. Later I was given a tour of the property, marvelling at a cluster of six-foot healthy grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) in their Picaree Hill reserve, and we talked further.

“Until the 1990s the property was conventionally-managed,” she told me. “I’d go out to hand-feed the sheep. There were bare paddocks. I felt like I was pouring money on the ground and thought ‘if this is what farming is all about, I don’t think I want to do it’.”

Now they manage for 100 percent ground cover at all times. Debra is not the first grazier to tell me they have discovered that with higher ground cover the place is less of a magnet for kangaroos that like new green pick. This pushes the lethal management approach down or off the radar.

And there may be a growing awareness that the kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and birds add value to this family’s long-standing trail-riding business. The trails wind through their reserved land. Enjoying a glimpse of native wildlife, along with the trees and understory, like those grass trees that caught my eye, adds aesthetic value.

Debra’s obvious satisfaction with preserving the habitat of less obvious native animals, including the Wedge-tailed eagle, or a shy marsupial, the mouse-like dunnart that is making a comeback on the property, is part of the lure of managing for biodiversity. Koalas used to live in this area. There might be a comeback.

“The exciting part is to do both conservation and production,” she says. The added economic benefits of diversification to tourism benefits equally from conservation. In some years, the income from the trail-riding matches the wool cheque.

Unlike some regenerative farmers, the Butts don’t use mathematics so much as observation to assess when stock should go on or off a paddock. “We won’t put the stock back on until the plants are fully recovered,” says Debra. Their 1,200 fine-wool Merinos are at their lowest number compared to the family’s previous stocking rates. Those Merinos are now matched to carrying capacity, rather than pushing the numbers envelope. Quality has trumped quantity.

Managing the threat of predators has called on some additional lateral thinking. The family has deployed three alpacas for guard duty. They chase off canines. Her father was sceptical, admitted Debra. But that ended when an alpaca stayed guarding a sick sheep while a human went for extra help.

Debra and her partner Paul Foster also keep an eye on the growing sustainability market, which calls for both a greener approach to farming and responding to animal welfare issues, like an end to mulesing. (Mulesing is a painful skin removal process aimed at preventing rear-end wool growth and fly strike.) Ten years ago, the family took the step to end mulesing and use alternative methods. I mention that two major Australian retailers recently announced their woollen products would no longer be sourced from sheep that have suffered mulesing. Premium prices are a promising horizon.

REDISCOVERING THE NATURAL BALANCE

The need to maintain the land and its flora and fauna in ‘balance’ is a shared understanding between the regenerative farmer and Indigenous Australians.

Bwgcolman elder and artist Billy Doolan was born on Palm Island after his parents were separately relocated there. He is now a resident of Townsville, and a citizen of the world — having been invited to places like Italy and Hong Kong to share his intricate painting style born from a north Queensland tradition. His totem is the brolga, the graceful indigenous bird that often features in his work, and also the owl from the other parental side. Queensland post-colonial authorities threw people from 51 different Indigenous groups together on Palm Island. That brought together many totems — animals that cannot be hunted, harmed, or eaten.

Traditionally, totems balanced conservation between different Indigenous groups and their country. Eating another clan’s totem gives him pause, said Billy Doolan. Offence and disrespect might be signalled.

Art, he says, is the only clear way he can now express himself. Traditionally, his people and other First Nation groups told their stories, their history, and understanding of living with the land and its creatures through art, song, and dance. One thing he wants to express is the understanding that things in modern culture are out of balance, and that there needs to be more compassion for his people and for the environment.

As a saltwater man, he is keenly attuned to the marine wildlife. The balance there has been lost, he told another interviewer. Too many turtles are taken as by-catch with the help of modern fishing machinery.

Without being prompted by questions, he tells me some things about the natural world — things that seem to have escaped many conventionally-trained managers of Australia’s wildlife as they apply lethal methods of wildlife control on behalf of economic interests.

“Animals have their own laws. You take the alpha male — they keep everything in order from mating to feeding. Population is controlled by the alpha. Without them you see things going unbalanced. Animals of all types also depend on each other. They live by their laws too. Nature is truly magical. I’ve heard the old people say that and it’s true. One only has to look.”

Billy couldn’t agree more with regenerative farmers in 2019. “You need more native grass cover,” he says. Also, trees. Why cut all those trees? He has been told by cattle graziers in Queensland that trees are removed so the landholders can to keep an eye on the animals and make them easier to round up. “Then comes the rain, erosion, wind blows all the topsoil away.”

We touch on ecotourism, and he tells me his own northern country has beautiful highly spiritual spaces and landforms. Visitors to Australia find the oldest landforms on the planet, he says. There is money to be made through ecotours, encouraging painting, fishing, walking untouched areas, and story-telling around a campfire.

Brush-Tailed-Rock-wallabies_Photo-©-Gary Bell
Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies.
Photo: © Gary Bell / OceanwideImages.com

In the old ways, he says, “we danced the trails, waterholes, animals. We were part of nature.” Not separate as a dominator, I understand from this statement. “We walked with the animals. We are true children of the earth; it provided what we need. This place was virtually untouched when Captain Cook came. Animals were the ones that did all this,” he tells me. He mentions the soil- enriching worms, insects that pollinate, eels that clean the rivers, and marsupial grazers with their soft feet unlike the hard-hooved animals that came with the invasion. “That’s why we had the beautiful grasslands.”

This man is an artist, not a university-trained agronomist or conservation biologist. But from traditional knowledge of what the land needs, he knows. “It’s the native animals, they keep the system going.”

I am reminded of this statement on a recent bushwalk in a national park near me in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. The valley where we walked had abundant macropods, Red-necked wallabies, and Eastern Grey kangaroos. The healthy grassland, dotted with native trees and picturesque rocky outcrops, and bisected by chain-of-ponds watercourses, made me think of the park-like environment described by early settlers.

This was no artefact of Aboriginal burning. It was a balance between the plants and animals that existed here. Drought conditions in this part of NSW, as elsewhere, were much more evident as we approached the park in the grazed-off sheep paddocks dotted with undernourished stock.

“I’m a great-grandfather now,” Billy told me. “I want my grandkids to see the brolgas dancing. There is hope if people make changes to heal the land and live with the native species. Mother Earth can heal herself if we help. Don’t overharvest, overfish, let them live, eat something else.” He’s speaking of prawns now. “Let them breed. If people keep doing what they do, things are going to be very bad. No water is going to be the end of us.

“Everybody is responsible to look after this beautiful country. It’s just common sense.”

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Feeding kangaroo to your pets? Here are some thoughts.

feeding-pets-kangaroo

Why do people expect to feed their dogs or cats on Australian wildlife, specifically kangaroo? Are they informed consumers? … aware of the unavoidable cruelty that goes with this trade and of the possible health risks to humans or pets that comes with eating bushmeat? Here are some realities that consumers might want to weigh up.

KANGAROO, IS THE only Australian native animal hunted specifically for the petfood trade. Most meat in petfood comes from offcuts of domesticated animals bred and killed for human consumption. (Remember the shock and revulsion on hearing of racehorses taken to the knackery.)

Australia’s national icon is hunted down in most cases by poorly-paid shooters with few employment choices, who slaughter dozens or hundreds a night at pennies-a-carcass on country properties and increasingly in the wildlife’s last refuges, national parks and reserves. To call this trade or it’s non-commercial version “humane” — as those who enable it like to tell the city folk — is just a self-serving fraud. No independent observers monitor the hunt, the motorised pursuit of terrified kangaroo families, the mis-shots and injuries, with animals at times lingering injured for days; no one helps the totally lost mother-dependent joeys.

No one watches what happens next either. Partly butchered carcasses are hung in the trays of utes in all temperatures for a short or long trip to a chiller in a paddock, where basic sanitation has been questioned in some instances. Eventually the bodies are processed in a town — minced and stuffed into petfood cans, or sometimes butchered for overseas human consumption while the skins are exported as shoe leather.

Victoria and South Australia returning to petfood trade

Victoria, where kangaroo species were recovering after a moratorium on the commercial hunt starting in the 1980s, is now back in business with the kangaroo petfood trade enjoying the state government’s blessing along with applause from some farmers. The advantage of petfood is that any species, size, age or condition animal may do.

RELATED ARTICLE: Victoria’s petfood plans grow and draw more protest, AWPC.

The kangaroo ‘industry’ has switched focus to southern Australia from Queensland and NSW whose killing fields — after decades of commercial slaughter, drought, fire, flood, disease and landholder killing — have population counts flashing red warning signs underscored by poor “harvests” for years now.

The South Australian government, where the iconic Red kangaroo has recovered to an extent, is working on a new removal/ ‘management’ plan. Reports are coming through of wallabies going into the mix too. Half-burned Kangaroo Island is not exempt from these plans we hear.

Quite apart from the field hygiene conditions, kangaroos, being wild animals, harbour pathogens. Country people don’t often eat kangaroo, citing ‘worms’.

RELATED ARTICLE:

The question of what consumers know arose with a recent ABC Rural story reporting on Victorian pet-owners, grief-stricken at the death of their dogs who were fed contaminated petfood linked to a Gippsland knackery.  A quoted pet-owner thought they were feeding ‘pure kangaroo.’

These are not the first dogs to die in a widening petfood scandal. The trail has led to outback supplies. Reportedly the toxic content came via cattle and horse carcasses allegedly mixed with kangaroo.

Regulate the petfood industry

Pet owners are calling for any kind of regulation of the petfood industry. That is long overdue on health and welfare grounds. At the Bulletin we are animal lovers and dog companions and our hearts go out to the bereaved dog owners caught up in this disaster.

Nevertheless, the question remains: how did we and our governments come to consider as ‘normal’ slaughtering our national emblem for petfood, and export sausages and leather?

How is this different from the extensive slaughter of koalas (and other marsupials) for skins to export up until the early 20th century? The fate of the koala is now plain to see.

The disrespect shown to Australia’s national symbol and some other wildlife confuses overseas visitors. Their tourist list is often topped by a wish to see ‘Skippy’ in the flesh. What they don’t know is that all species of kangaroo, that includes wallabies, have (since colonial settlement) been removed from their habitat, killed on behalf of a European model of stock grazing that was to be grafted onto a misunderstood land.

A bounty era of removal was followed by the commercial trade in body parts, starting with skins for export. It grew profitable and developed its own momentum. As readers of the Bulletin know the same attitude of disrespect and killing is a baffling annual event on the nature reserves of Canberra the national capital. City politicians and bureaucrats cite ‘scientific research’. This version of science now gives cover to national park killings elsewhere.

Politician and media narratives describe the carnage as an essential Australian on- farm and export business. Australian pet owners and meat eaters therefore have had little encouragement to become informed consumers of their national icon.

Time indeed for review of bushmeat sold for human and pet consumption, for regulation as needed, and, most important, a call for renewed respect and co-existence extended to our natural world and to our unique wildlife.

More of the factual background to this editorial can be found and fully explored in Maria Taylor’s new documentary book Injustice, hidden in plain sight the war on Australian nature… 
> More at www.mariataylor.com.au

TWO DOG FOODS GUARANTEED NOT TO CONTAIN KANGAROO

While preparing this September issue of The District Bulletin, two dog food sources crossed our horizon guaranteed not to contain kangaroo and promising good nutrition too. We have made no independent examination of these food products and are not therefore directly recommending them. But they sound very promising as alternatives or additions in the marketplace so we leave it to you to check out if you want to. And the doggie yogurt press release came with not one but two cute photos that we couldn’t resist sharing below.


Gully Road Australian-grown products for dogs. Small business mail order dog-food purveyor based in Victoria with an ethical value frame. See it here.


Chobani Daily Dollop lactose-free and digestion boosting yogurt for dogs.

Available early September and exclusively sold in the chilled pet food section at Woolworths supermarkets, Daily Dollop yogurt is a healthy option to introduce into dogs’ diets and can serve as an addition to daily meals, an easy snack or as a mix-in to spice up dry food.

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Eating kangaroo or feeding it to pets — comments from shooters on a chat site in 2021 about their catch and ‘worms’

“Throw it in a slow cooker with a rock and when the rock is tender, throw it away and eat yr boot…”

“Only eat the young doe with a hairy joey and only eat the meat just above the tail…”

“I wouldn’t eat that. Eastern maybe, blue flyers yes, but not western greys.”

“Y’all have to lick your own ass to get the taste out of your mouth after you eat it…”

“Be scratching them worms outa yr ass for days.”

“Don’t the worms die as soon as they hit the cold air?”

“How do you deal with the worms when you feed ur dogs … Boil it first?”

“I only take the younger females to eat. The males go to the dogs.”

“I don’t know anyone who shoots them that eats them.”

“In the bin.”

“The old worms aren’t dead in the middle there.”

‘If you seen what they like, you wouldn’t eat either.”

dog-cat-food-with-roo-meat-supplied
“Roo is for the dogs and cats.”

“I’ll never eat it again, between the worms and the abcesses, only because I was a roo skinner … that was it for me.”

“Only way to have roo is … dead and hung on the back of a ute.”

“Well-cooked grey gives you worms.”

“I have been around roos my whole life and shot them for years. No way will I eat it.”

IMAGERY: Supplied

 

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How Canberra tells you what to think

canberra-kangaroo-cull-2021-crBrettClifton

EVERY MAY MOTHER’S DAY or thereabouts, Canberra politicians, Labor, Green and Liberal, spoil the season by giving thumbs up to what they like to portray as an unremarkable slaughter of our national emblem in the nation’s capital.

On public nature reserves, this involves shooting kangaroo families — mums and males — bashing pouch joeys to death, and bulldozing all their bodies into pits. Lost and bewildered older joeys flee, jump in front of cars or end at the mercy of dogs. Neighbouring residents can be traumatised by the carnage that continues every night for months.

MAIN IMAGE: © Brett Clifton.

Already signed is a deal to continue the killing for another five years, with militarised contractors hunting in the suburbs for surviving animals. Unless it’s stopped by voters. It costs the public purse close to a million dollars annually. The real reason why this is happening? That’s still anyone’s guess.

But Canberra nature park managers or politicians offer residents a revolving list of ‘facts’ on why the killing must happen. Their assertions are amplified by the local media. No questions asked. Few dissenting voices get a platform and if they are mentioned they are labelled ‘protesters’, ‘activists’, ‘animal rights advocates’ (heaven forbid) — anything other than just plain concerned citizens of Australia.

I have watched this annual ritual for the past decade and sadly reported on it, and recently researched and wrote a book on the history, culture and legacy of Australia’s wildlife killing habits www.mariataylor.com.au. Canberrans are subject to the same narrative about kangaroos as the rest of the country. We’re all encouraged to agree and shrug. Elsewhere when a group is demonised prior to killing, it’s called propaganda.

We must all think alike

What we have is a dominant narrative on how to think about kangaroos. How to think is sold to the public in lockstep by economic interests (commercial kangaroo processors, grazier and farming lobbies) working with politicians and government power. Their perspective is supported or supplied by some applied ecologists and ‘pest’ management specialists, mostly taxpayer funded. What they all say is uncritically reported in most Australian media.

You can hear this narrative any day of the week and it is on the upswing at the moment with a move in the United States Congress to ban the import of Australian kangaroo skin and meat. The EU is also being asked to consider bans. This pushback is portrayed by Australian officials and mainstream media outlets as an assault on a must-have export industry. The word ‘treasonous’ has been used.

The remaining large kangaroos are now Australia’s most persecuted indigenous animal with an unchanging storyline to justify the extensive bloodshed.

The world loves Skippy the bush kangaroo and he or she draws tourists by the planeload. This unique marsupial holds up one half of our national coat of arms —along with the equally unique emu — also a victim of mass persecution since settlement.

Yet at home, we became a culture of silence and conformity that treats the kangaroo as either a pest or a product.

We lead the world

The treatment of native wildlife since colonial times has morphed in the past 70 years into the world’s biggest on-land wildlife slaughter of kangaroos, for their skins and meat and just for removal. Almost no Australians appear to know this. The much beloved koala — now on the brink of regional extinctions — suffered a similar savage slaughter for its fur coat up until the mid-1920s and has never recovered.

The ACT may claim that its killing is somehow better because it is non-commercial, but the cull is very much part of that post-colonial value tradition.

big-fella-ACT-cull-supplied
IMAGE: Supplied.

What are those values? Disrespect and disinterest in understanding the contributions of native grazers in balanced ecosystems. And flat-out demonisation of any native animal that bothers agricultural businesses or sometimes other commercial interests, or ACT motorists. That starts with grazing kangaroos and wallabies, but also targets emus, wombats, dingos, eagles, other birds. Culturally, there is a direct line of thinking from colonial times.

This thinking has become so embedded in the narrative that any claims about ‘too many’, and that our export nation and graziers need kangaroos to be killed, just gets an automatic nod from media organisations starting with the national broadcaster and seen throughout Australia’s highly-concentrated private press. Overseas visitors are amazed at the disrespect, while most Australians stay silent.

The Canberra cull is related in cultural understanding and dog whistling ‘pest’ and ‘too many’.

Now Canberra’s advising ecologists have pivoted to another compelling narrative that deflects enquiries: the story now is that all of ‘biodiversity’, which suddenly does not include kangaroos, benefits from the annual slaughter. Females with pouch-joeys and dependent young can be killed more freely under this framework in the ACT’s code of practice.

PR relies on scientists

This culture is across Australia — the commercial kangaroo industry has a very active PR operation and often relies on supporting voices that say ‘trust us, we’re scientists”.  ACT narratives have relied on similar claims of scientific insight.

Missing: reports about the role of all
kangaroo species in their ecosystems

What’s missing? Any reporting about the benefits of coexistence and what that might look like.

Missing is any reporting on research about the role of all kangaroo species in their ecosystems — what do they contribute to healthy grassy woodlands? They co-evolved with those habitats. Equally missing are voices that tell us what kangaroos and other wildlife could contribute to Australia, to Canberra and to farm economies through tourism and related spending.

© Maria Taylor.

Our native wildlife is much more valuable alive than dead. A new win-win narrative must highlight respect, ecological understanding and a decision to share our land.

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World Kangaroo Day — Live and let live

world-kangaroo-day

with kangaroos, wildlife

AWPC member Maria Taylor shares her block with some kangaroos. Why it’s great.
Everyone can share with their local wildlife.
This clip “The Joy of Living with Kangaroos” was filmed during the recent drought in eastern Australia.

 

Filmed by Creative Cowboy.

 

 

 

 

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HERE’S WHAT WE HAVE BEEN UP TO SINCE FEBRUARY

meme-progress-update-aug2020

WITH THE WORLD now topsy-turvey and distressed in the grip of COVID-19 (not unrelated to human abuse of wildlife), we firstly wish all AWPC members to stay safe and hold our governments responsible for support through this pandemic. And here is a summary report on activities this quarter.

We’ve sent out the annual membership renewal notice (this section). We need your help, and commitment to rebuild the AWPC and conduct positive national campaigns in the next year. Post fire and with the ongoing government destruction policies (some of which cited on this website, sadly), the surviving wildlife needs us more than ever.

In the next year a goal is to build on this year’s awareness raising and lobbying against wildlife destruction with some positive campaigns. Some ideas include: a model for ecotourism with Indigenous communities; liaising with regenerative agriculture to show how respecting native biodiversity is a winning formula; reviving our education and publishing arm. We continue to campaign and also support international campaigns for Australia’s most persecuted native animal — Skippy the bush kangaroo and international tourist icon.

AWPC can take a strong part in rebuilding to a smarter, less colonial, more life-affirming political economy as we continue to face the twin existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. Let’s aim for that.

awpc-duck-SEASON-feature-may2020Since the beginning of the year, the AWPC committee (Peter Hylands, Chris Lehmann, Carmen Ryan, Maria Taylor), has been re-establishing an operating base, including the website here and a social media presence. As well, committee members have:

•  Lobbied governments in Victoria, ACT and South Australia, particularly on the disgraceful government continuance post bushfires of commercial and non-commercial kangaroo killing that continues unabated. Persecution of other common species including wombats, dingos, flying foxes, and native bird hunting has also been a focus of AWPC lobbying, letters and awareness raising.

AWPC works in tandem with progressive politicians particularly AJP and some Greens for greater impact. AWPC also prioritises working with other wildlife groups on any localised or national issue. There is strength in unity.

•  Supported — ie with listening and resources, contacts, media — people who have contacted us usually from rural communities. Often it has been distress at government programs including aerial baiting with 1080 poison throughout NSW public lands, and localised kangaroo killing in Victoria or concerns this is planned.

•  Made AWPC submissions to reviews of the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act; to the Parliament Enquiry into the Extinction Crisis in Victoria; to the National Code of Practice for the Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for commercial purposes. Submission are available at the submission archive on the website top bar.

•  Developed a pilot social media campaign on AWPC facebook and Instagram aimed at speaking directly to the public. The campaign trialed the use of memes (main imagery above). The targets were the Canberra ACT kangaroo killing campaign in late June and July.

A short trial also focused on discouraging consumption for people or pets of Australia’s own variety of bushmeat, kangaroo meat — brought to us by a commercial industry. The memes received a lot of public take-up and are proving their use for awareness-raising and political pushback.

•  Worked with the US Centre for a Humane Economy to publicise their campaign exposing how the California ban on the import and sale of kangaroo body parts is being flouted. In this case the law has been broken by international sports shoe brands’ use of kangaroo leather for athletic shoes. Story is/will be appearing on this website for your information.

•  Travelled through and filed the AWPC archives. This has underscored 50 years of dedicated wildlife work by previous AWPC committees, campaigners and supportive Australians. The archive has yielded documentary evidence for my (Maria Taylor) soon-to-be published book on Australia’s colonial and embedded culture towards the country’s wildlife, and its deadly legacy — told through words and stories of heroes for the voiceless.

— AWPC CONTACT DETAILS —

— AWPC EDITOR, Maria Taylor —

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Goodbye Big Fella

Joey-at-foot-Maria-Taylor_awpc-feature

Yes, I’m angry. And sad. Sad and disgusted that the politicians and bureaucrats of our national capital Canberra, treat our national emblem, the Kangaroo, (Skippy to fans around the world), like rubbish — to be killed and buried.

big-fella-burial-june2020

Goodbye big fella. (Supplied)

THE LACK of respect in Australia for our unique wildlife, shown by official ‘management’ and too many citizens can only be called dishonourable.

And stupid, because a change of frame would show that sharing the land with the full range of native animals instead of trying to remove some considered inconvenient to sheep graziers or urban development, is morally right, ecologically wise and offers an economic tourism bonanza. The tourists will be back.

Canberra Kangaroo management: cost in blood and treasure

As it is, Canberrans have been asked for the past 10 years (with another five years on the agenda), to dedicate close to a million dollars annually in taxpayer’s money to employing park staff, consultants, and contract shooters to “manage” and remove Australia’s emblem, Skippy, from the city’s reserves. The healthy budget suggests why they don’t want to stop.

—————————————————————

Figures obtained through FOI. The budget figures provided in the table are the actual costs for the financial years 2015–2019 (this includes a breakdown of the total cost figures to incorporate the operational and labour cost associated with the Kangaroo Management for the financial years referred).
  2015–2016  2016–2017  2017–2018  2018–2019
Employee    548,048.29    626,671.43    686,455.27    592,768.85
Non-Employee    308,623.29      88,674.05    168,567.12    300,891.66
 
Total    856,671.58    715,345.48    855,022.39    893,660.51

—————————————————————

Every year the killings traumatise nearby compassionate residents, for instance this 2016 story from Isaacs Ridge. They will be shooting there again this year.

The propaganda doesn’t hold up

This year as before, the ACT/Canberra park service has put out propaganda designed to tell the public this is good for biodiversity, ‘nothing to see here’.  We filed an FOI request in 2017 on that question. What we received debunked the dog-whistling “pest”, “bad” “too many” assumptions guiding Canberra’s ‘cull’ and others around Australia.

In the October 2017 issue of The District Bulletin (also published in this website at the time) we reported on a CSIRO review which found that the (ACT’s) research and monitoring, such as it has been, does not support the up-front assumptions of “too many” that guide this desk-top program and public narrative. That story says Eastern Grey Kangaroos need to be “actively managed” down to fewer than half their natural density for this region. Canberra parks and advisers treat our wildlife as bloodless numbers — aiming for less than one animal per hectare (that’s about the size of 1.5 rugby league fields). Think of that for a herd species that sometimes congregates. “Actively managed” has been official jargon for killing.

A national ethic

Canberra is of course in tune with the national picture. Australia, to please those same influential economic lobbies, hosts the world’s largest on-land wildlife slaughter. Has for decades. Maybe you didn’t know. The remaining large kangaroos mainly but also some wallabies and in Tasmania Brush-tail Possums are killed as ‘pests’ or commercially to export their fur, skins and meat, most of which is sold as pet food or cheap sausages. Wombats and native birds are destroyed as ‘pests’ or for recreational fun.

The other half of our national coat of arms, the Emu, was shot, poisoned and hounded for a century and the remaining animals are still at the mercy of farmers and their fences (which are being weaponised to bigger and more deadly) denying life-sustaining habitat and wildlife corridors.

Aerial 1080 poisoning of Dingos, Australia’s only apex predator animal, with a guaranteed bycatch of other native fauna, is going on right now in burned-out forests of the region. Poisoning with 1080, banned in most of the world for its risk and cruelty, has been endemic for decades in all pastoral zones. Parks and wildlife employees get to do that too.

koala-DBullJune2016archiveCottage industry from colonial roots

From its colonial roots featuring wholesale wildlife killing, bounties and recreational or commercial hunting, not least of the now-endangered Koala, killing the wildlife has solidified into a cottage industry for neglected rural communities (much like the Australian woodchip industry of native forests) while enriching a few city processors and exporters.

When will it stop? When will the ruling values shift to positive, compassionate and also smarter in a world rapidly losing its wildlife?

What about choosing life, tourist income and regenerated countryside

From the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) archives, here are the words of a potential tourist who wrote to the Kangaroo Industries Association in 2005. Her reactions stay relevant today:

“There is a beautiful advertisement for Australian tourism featuring the silhouette of a kangaroo against a blue, blue sky. It captures the imagination and the heart. It makes you want to visit Australia and it is only when you know that this beautiful creature is being slaughtered mercilessly and its babies left to die, that you say to yourself, no, I can’t, not this year, not until this stops . . . They are your national emblem are they not? Please change this awful situation. Please go in for another way of life.” 

Everyone has an overseas friend whose first desire is to see a kangaroo. And despite what it does to the wildlife, Canberra still calls itself the Bush Capital. It could easily encourage eco-tourism, assist the city’s accommodation and restaurant businesses, instead of killing off the main attraction. With the fire holocaust that hit the hinterland and tragically destroyed the Namadgi National Park animals and plants, the Bush Capital and Territory administration have an opportunity to look ahead as the countryside regenerates — not backwards to colonial values.

In 2018–19, Australia earned $60.8 billion in direct tourism gross domestic product (GDP). Tourism also employed 666,000 workers, up 5 percent of Australia’s workforce, not counting support industries. Other statistics show eco-tourism and domestic interest are also on the upswing. SOURCE.

Before this year’s cull announcement as I drove through Canberra, I looked at the still extant grasslands and wondered: where are the kangaroos? How did they pull up after last year’s massacre followed by drought? Mostly I saw none. I walked up Mt Painter in Cook where in 2010 I passed casually lounging kangaroos near the summit unconcerned about the humans milling around.

I remember admiring the healthy grassland on the northern slopes of the mountain where the kangaroos were most numerous. The ‘live and let live’ attitude of the neighbours, most of them, was heart-warming. I wondered what the government’s problem was. Today, Canberrans might like to do the test themselves.

Sharing support not terror

roo-mum-joey-feeding-MariaTaylor-june2020At my place, the kangaroos are welcome and we share food and water with them, as we do with the birds and possums. Yes, the kangaroos lightly graze returning grass. There are alternatives called interim feed and fencing. Things are not ‘natural’. In a dramatically altered landscape that we engineered since settlement and with our ever-expanding housing and commercial developments, kangaroos don’t have the home ranges they once inhabited. They are often pushed into tighter populations than ideal for their foraging. They have to live with us. And they can. But some of us seemingly cannot live with them.

I look at the trusting girls on my place and notice that some have a baby growing in the pouch. That happens when a bad season turns to a good one. Will Canberra’s hired killers and park’s employees be pulling the growing joeys out of the pouches and “humanely” decapitating them or bashing their skulls in as the unenforceable code demands?

Will they watch as the toddler at-foot joeys flee and then spend the night calling for their shot mother, only to become tomorrow’s road kill or fox food?

We are Australians

roo-family-MariaTaylor-june2020I look at those families, unafraid, and, like others have in the past, silently apologise for what we in our culture are doing to them individually and as a nation.

IMAGERY: All rights reserved © Maria Taylor.

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