this website uses cookies. by continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our cookies policy.
got it  X

Some things never change

Life on land

“In the late 1950s I returned to England from Austria and set about gathering as much knowledge about what was happening to wildlife around the world as I could. The European Alps, lakes and forests, now replaced by a dying Thames and the London smog”.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

September 2, 2022

I found Gerald Durrell at that time particularly interesting because his views about what was happening to the natural world and why, were pretty closely aligned to mine.

Lost and found

On the day of writing this, Australia released its State of the environment report – written last year and slipped in the draw until a change of Government in Canberra. The picture is grim, but we all know that. I find myself wondering what another writer will say about these matters in another 60 years.

The Animals Magazine

Then there was the Natural History Museum and a large output of books, magazines and journals from British publishers. The BBC, Peter Scott, Gerald Durrell, Desmond Morris, David Attenborough and many others were also talking about animals. I found Gerald Durrell at that time particularly interesting because his views about what was happening to the natural world and why, were pretty closely aligned to mine. And by then he was in a position to annunciate them. I still think that 60 years later.

"One of the things I did at the time was to subscribe to the Animals Magazine for which Armand Denis was the editor-in-chief. Gerald Durrell and the Australian correspondent, Alan Moorehead, were both advisory editors and Julian Huxley and Solly Zuckerman were patrons. I want to talk about Alan Moorehead, also an author of a number of books, including books on the Nile, which I liked a great deal."

At the other end of the Earth

Around this time and in Australia, in the Victorian City of Mildura, a passionate advocate for the protection of Australian wildlife, Arthur Quirepel, established the Australian Wildlife Protection Council, using his own lifetime savings to do so. Those days in Australia were a continuum from the early colonial period with a key feature, the total disrespect for anything that was Australian and that had existed in the country prior to 1788. It was bad then, you will be sad to know that it is no better now. The destruction of the natural world now more widespread and industrial scale than ever before.

By the early 1970s I was working in the publishing industry in Britain, Alan Moorehead was an author for the group of companies I worked for. Those were the days when our businesses were expanding rapidly around the world, so these were hopeful times, the sixties revolution, the shaking off of the terrible shackles of war and a chance to improve things. Some of the things Alan suggests in his article may be questionable 60 years on - some things we know better, Kangaroos and their ability to compete and take from animals from somewhere else, is just one.

These Australian animals benefit the lives of everyone that lives on the Australian continent. The next step is for those who now live on this precious continent is to recognise this, and that includes Australian Governments, who have proved toxic in this process. Alan's insights, however, remain remarkable.

We are currently reading through the mass of original letters that Arthur Quirepel received in those early years from so many distressed Australians about what was being done to the Australian environment and the animals that lived in it. They are remarkably similar to the emails and calls we receive today.

Alan Moorehead

Now back to the Animals magazine and to Alan Moorehead. In the January 1964 issue of Animals, in an article called No room for the ROO, accompanied by images of the contemporary slaughter at the time of his writing, Alan Moorehead wrote (extracts from Alan’s article):

“Of course, the Kangaroo made good sport for the first settlers who arrived in Australia. They used to hunt, each on horseback, careering over the ground at tremendous pace with their dogs streaming out behind them, so the quarry’s only hope, was to gain the thick scrub where the horses could not follow". 

Charles Darwin, visiting Australia in the 1830s in his ship the Beagle, wrote:

"A few years since this country abounded in wild animals, now the Emu is banished to a long distance, and the Kangaroo has become scarce, to both, the English greyhound is utterly destructive, it may be long before these animals are altogether exterminated, but their doom is fixed".

Mass killing of Pademelons in NSW

Alan continues:

"It was not quite as bad as that, however. After all, the settlers occupied only a small part of the vast continent, and, although they slaughtered the Kangaroo almost as freely as the imported rabbits, the animal continued unmolested in the interior. Indeed, as late as the 1920s, I remember as a boy seeing them in great numbers on the flat plains of the Murrumbidgee River, not 300 miles from Melbourne.

It was a wonderful thing to watch them bounding away ahead of the car, perhaps 30 or 40 of them at a time. They flowed across the landscape like great brown birds on the wing, rising and falling together, and their leaps would take them clean over an ordinary fence.

As they spread out, the settlers drove the wild animals before them, and the Kangaroo was for them a particular bête noire, since the animals cropped the grass very closely and denied it to the cattle and sheep. Professional hunters were employed and the carcasses of the dead Kangaroos were left lying in hundreds on the ground to be demolished by the wild dogs, the Eagles, and eventually the ants.

Even so, these depredations alone would never have succeeded in entirely exterminating the Kangaroo, there were still many thousands of square miles of uninhabited land for it to occupy, and it is an expensive business for any station owner to keep professional hunters permanently on the job. The new element came in with the post war demand for food for domestic pets, more especially cats and dogs. By last year (1963) a vigorous trade was going on, not only in the sale of Kangaroo meat to the Australian cities, but in its export abroad.

Today, you can buy tinned Kangaroo in San Francisco, Valparaiso, or Hamburg, and it is said that to keep this trade going, something like a million Kangaroos are killed each year. The meat is cheap, since the animals cost nothing to raise and no one need buy a Kangaroo, you simply need to shoot him and he is yours.

A controversy has been growing up about all this. In Australia, as in other countries, there is a minority of people who do not believe that every wild thing on this earth ought to be destroyed in order to keep human beings alive. Others, as well, believe that alive, a Kangaroo has a higher commercial value than a dead one, since tourists do not go to Australia only to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge (a time pre-Opera House) or the new skyscrapers. They also want to see the native fauna in its wild state, the Koala, which at the eleventh hour has been protected, the Emu and the Kangaroo.Since the animal is also the national symbol of the country, it would appear, too, to have some claim upon human indulgence.

Yet something is being done. Some of the states are beginning to take measures to prohibit the export of Kangaroo meat, and there is talk of limiting the outright destruction of the animal to those areas where it can be demonstrated that active damage is being done by them.

They (tourists) are not impressed by the undoubted fact that you will now rarely see a Kangaroo in the settled districts near the coast where the animals once abounded. The sheep and cattle men are only interested in what they see locally on their own stations and as their demand for grass increases, so the Kangaroo, becomes increasingly the villain of the piece. The pastoral industries are very powerful in Australia and there are not many politicians who will willingly take up the thankless cause of the wildlife. 

For a few years yet, however, there will still be enough land in Australia for the animal to run free, although at its peril, and one day the Australian coat of arms, which shows the Kangaroo proudly supporting the countries shield, will not be so much a memorial to the dead as a tribute to one of the most graceful, interesting, and inoffensive animals on the surface of the earth.”

Summing up

Well that was 1964 and what Alan hoped to see then, despite early progress on the issue, has been dismembered and today the risk of extinctions, region by region, Kangaroo species, by Kangaroo species, grow increasingly serious. And the horrendous cruelty continues, hidden by the darkness and the dishonesty of governments.

Peter Hylands
19 July 2022