Simon and Debbie
Several years ago I was threatened with prosecution for taking roadkilled
snakes to my eight year-old son's school. Rowan had been concerned that his
schoolmates, many of whom went camping, could not tell a venomous snake from
The kids were delighted at seeing close-up and handling my freshly dead
Black Whip Snake and not-so-fresh Olive Python, looking at their teeth with
a hand lens and helping me count scales. Their wise teacher didn't
interfere at all, just joined with me afterwards in telling the kids to go
wash their hands.
I spent all day at that school with one teacher after the other, asking me
to show the snakes to their class. And along with the showing Rowan and I
gave a rather hilarious little pantomine on treating snake bite, with me
being the panicked victim and my child, the calm responder. The children
loved it and the teachers had nothing but praise for our efforts.
The next day a senior ranger, whose son happened to be in Rowan's class,
rang. He had two messages for me: a) It was the Conservation Commission's
job to teach kids about snakes, and b) I had broken the law in handling the
dead animals, and I could be prosecuted.
I asked one question: Had the Con Comm ever been to that school to help kids
learn about snakes. The answer? No.
In reply to his second remark I told him to go ahead, that I'd take it all
He hesitated, then told me they'd "probably have egg on (their) face" if
they prosecuted. Years later, on telling this story to a couple of
American scientists, visiting birders, they mentioned being threatened with
prosecution by a ranger for just looking at a dead taipan on Cape York.
The distance placed between our wildlife and children is now paying off, as
is the distance (as Simon rightly points out) between life and death. And
personally I can't really think of one positive result.
Some years ago I stayed with writer, Bryce Courtenay and his partner,
Christine, in their Hunter Valley home. Bryce and I went on a long walk up
into the hills, he for the exercise and me to look for birds and other
Bryce didn't seem to know one bird from another, and the only time he showed
real interest was when a honeyeater became trapped in the house.
But his love of the Australian bush seeped out of every pore. Read "Four
Fires" and you'll see it. Bryce, for all the criticism of his writing,
probably did more than most to bring the bush to life.
Each of us needs to help take our wildlife off its pedestal, not to cheapen
it, but to bring it close and make it intimate; to make our kids feel that
we're not fighting to preserve a remote God, but part of ourselves.
Some Aboriginal people still do this. For example my Kunwinjku relatives
(of western Arnhem Land) all have particular dreamings, as do I, my husband
and children. My wetland dreamings mean that I must look after estuarine
crocodile and its habitat.
And what about my children? For Rowan in particular, wildlife has been
anything but remote. He, has python dreaming. As a five year-old he wept
when he first saw a python badly injured by a car. To him she wasn't a
sacrosanct piece of the Australian bush, but his sister, dying.
Any intimate relationship with wildlife also brings in the uncomfortable,
for many, image of death. As I wrote in Quiet Snake Dreaming, many can only
see the meat they eat as neat little chops in the butcher's window. Any
association with the live animal they find hard to take.
The Kunwinjku perspective? I cannot kill or eat crocodile as it is my
dreaming, but I can python, because it is not. Balance and counterbalance.
This is a view known to others. Read Rabindranth Tagore's Nobel
Because I love this life I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries when the mother takes it from the right breast, only to find
solace in the left one.
Australian society lacks that balance in our view and treatment of wildlife.
I write this having just returned from Bryce Courtnenay's funeral at Darling
Point, Sydney. I doubt few, of the hundreds there would have had as
intimate relationship with the Australian landscape, as did Bryce. But
surely in his words, his influence, he brought that landscape a little
closer to many.
So let's start with next Australia Day. Instead of whooping it up at the
beach with a barbie and a beer why not think of other ways to celebrate?
White settlement of this country
On 4/12/12 8:46 AM, "Simon Mustoe" <> wrote:
> I disagree with Flannery and others. Australia does care.
> Conservation bodies, scientists, national parks and others have had control of
> wildlife for too long. We have made it more and more difficult for anyone to
> engage with, learn about or understand nature. Orange-bellied Parrot is a case
> example. For years, areas near Melbourne where these birds occur have been
> fenced off to public - even when they were more numerous. In other parts of
> the world there would have been visitor infrastructure and hides put up and a
> concerted effort by the conservation groups to show people the birds. Just
> recently, BirdLife has been concerned about the number of people being able to
> access the WTP (when only just over 300 people have keys). Meanwhile,
> critically endangered birds exist in places where tens of thousands of
> visitors go at places like Mai Po in Hong Kong or Titchwell in the UK.
> Before Australians attempt to engage or connect people we hastily impose
> regulations to 'protect' wildlife by fencing it off (physically or
> regulatory). Here's another brutal example - DSE is currently chasing
> teenagers for climbing on the back of a dead Humpback Whale on the Great Ocean
> Road. Natural curiosity drives kids to do that sort of thing and whist a slap
> on the wrist might be called for, the parents can do that. Instead however,
> DSE has ensured these teenagers and all their friends will hate
> conservationists for the rest of their lives. Plus, a strong and clear message
> has been sent to every Victorian - if you pass within 300m of a whale carcass
> you can be prosecuted. In much of the state my kids can't even collect shells
> on beaches any more.
> What is the world coming to?
> As conservationists, we have to take a long hard look at ourselves and wonder
> if we are to blame for the lack of 'care'. If we cared more, would we
> encourage people to engage with wildlife rather than loving animals to death,
> meanwhile ensuring that only us and our closest friends get to enjoy the
> Simon Mustoe
> Tel: +61 (0) 405220830 | Skype simonmustoe | Email
> Visit BIRD-O at http://www.bird-o.com
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>> Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2012 21:05:59 +1100
>> Subject: [Birding-Aus] Threatened species and the OBP
>> The ABC's 7.30 Tasmania screened this 8-minute segment on Friday night, which
>> neatly dovetails Tim Flannery's concerns about a looming extinction crisis
>> (detailed in the current Quarterly Essay), with the plight of the
>> Orange-bellied Parrot.
>> Covers several important issues and features Mark Holdsworth, the Tasmanian
>> coordinator of the OBP Recovery Program.
>> This should have aired nation-wide. I agree with Flannery that we as a nation
>> don't care nearly enough; nobody is accountable for dropping the ball on
>> threatened species.
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