Tag Archives: Charters Towers

Good Friday, More Death

Another drought, another witch hunt in the form of dingo persecution. Another program to ‘improve’ the country through slaughter. I think this is called dysfunction: you keep on doing the same violent thing in the hope that somehow the issues you face will go away.

Young dingo in Queensland, Photo: John Murray
Young dingo in Queensland, Photo: John Murray

The Longreach region of western Queensland is rolling out their biggest and most expensive attack on dingoes ever.

According to the ABC report:

“Longreach Mayor Joe Owens says more than 30,000 square kilometres will be covered in a new wild dog baiting campaign, one of the largest in western Queensland’s history…. The $150,000 campaign is due to begin next week, with nearly 30 tonnes of meat being ordered for baiting.”

I expect that the money is coming from the drought relief funds. It is public money, and it is utterly astonishing that there seems to have been no public consultation on this. Discussions with dingo experts would have explained both the causes of the problems and offered some solutions. There are alternatives to the deathwork.

Consultations could also have addressed the matter of conserving endangered species in the area, and the role of dingoes in suppressing invasive species such a foxes and cats. We can expect a massive spurt of pressure on birds and other vulnerable creatures.

The ‘zombie politics’ reaction says if there’s a problem there’s an enemy, and that enemy must be persecuted and made to suffer, and that enemy must die. There are plenty of alternatives. Another way into dealing with problems is to try to understand their causes, try to implement practices that actually address the causes, and become adaptive. Landscapes change, climates change, markets fluctuate and consumer desires shift. Life changes, humans have to adapt. These are basic truths and it is difficult to understand why they are so hard to grasp.

Queensland has been at the forefront of cruelty in recent years, and this new program maintains that position. The other recent mass cruelty event in Queensland was the Charters Towers days of shame when flying-foxes were persecuted, tortured and killed. Noel Castley-Wright has made an excellent short film ‘State of Shame – Queensland’s Legislated Animal Cruelty’ (view here).

Flying-fox, courtesy of Nick Edards
Flying-fox, courtesy of Nick Edards

The big difference between Charters Towers and Longreach is that out on the pastoral properties most of the suffering will be take place out of sight of humans and their cameras. We will never know the full story of all this terrible suffering. We know it will happen, we know the shock and trauma will spread amongst the surviving dingoes, we know the poison will spread to other species who also get into it, we know the cascades of death will accelerate, and we know that these damaged ecosystems will be further degraded, losing ever more resilience. We can predict (and time will tell) that the next drought will be even more damaging.

Let there be no doubt: 1080 causes terrible, painful deaths. If you have ever wondered whether this is true, listen to the people who have witnessed its effects. Emma Townshend interviewed a few of them on her recent ‘Freedom of Species’ program about 1080 (listen here). These are people have seen animals die of 1080, and have resolved not to use it. They are admirable individuals who have confronted the suffering and decided it will not happen on their properties. The same program contains an excellent interview with Arian Wallach. Speaking as both a pastoralist and a scientist, she discusses the beneficial ecological role of dingoes as top predators.

Encountering this terrible persecution on Good Friday caused me to ask what a religious person might think about all of this. I remembered a heart-felt  comment that came to my site during the Charters Towers mass persecution. This is from Sharon Peterson. She describes herself as a Christian and an American.

“I’m a Creationist, so I see man as created by God and given stewardship over the Earth’s animals. That stewardship does not include cruelty, or senseless violence. Animals should be treated ethically and appreciated for their many unique qualities bestowed on them by our Creator. Just as He preserved man during the flood, He preserved every kind of animal. This shows Jews and Christians that God cares for all of His creatures. The Bible says, His eye is on the sparrow, which means He has compassion for even the smallest of His creatures.”

“No matter how we look at this, through humanistic or Biblical lenses, the answer is still the same. Man does not have the right to cruelly, and with great harm and mortality, attack animals.”

And then there are those wonderful words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At a time when humans’ mass slaughter of animals was becoming very clear and very troubling, he wrote the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1834), with its famous lines:

He prayeth best, who loveth best, All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.

The only good news on this bleak and sorry Friday was that not all the pastoralists in the Longreach region are taking part in the dingo baiting. Thus far, it seems, the law cannot force people to use poison on their properties. I imagine it takes a lot of guts to resist the majority view on poison, and as the article makes clear, those who refuse are already being set up as scapegoats for when the project fails. There is a lesson here: the ‘good shepherd’ not only takes care of his or her flock, but also protects the others who share in the life of the land.

There is great courage and dignity in refusing to join the deathwork mob. Pastoralists of honour, I salute you!

© Deborah Bird Rose (2014)


The ABC Report can be found at:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-17/longreach-unleashes-150k-wild-dog-baiting-campaign/5396628

In response to some of the comments questioning various aspects of the viability of pastoralism and alternatives to broacacres baiting, I thought it would be good share a link to a site in the usa that focusses on predator-friendly pastoralism and desertification. I think they are working toward something very important. Well worth reading! (view here)

Violence Against the Defenceless

Flying-fox Courtesy of Nick Edards
Courtesy of Nick Edards

The term ‘warfare’ is regularly used to describe human action against the natural world. I too have spoken of the war against nature and the war against flying-foxes. And yet, I haven’t felt fully comfortable with this language.

Nature (in general), and flying-foxes (in particular), have never mounted a war against humans. The violence in this ‘war’ is all one-sided. And, too, the violence is radically disproportionate. What humans have done to flying-foxes in Charters Towers, both now and in the past, bears no correlation to what flying-foxes have done or ever could do to humans. Reports indicate that the people who organised the Charters Towers violence have stopped. Apparently, they are ‘happy’ with the results. Can it really be that all this suffering and on-going injury, including starvation, all this totally unnecessary death, constitutes warfare and is something to be happy about?

A new book called Horrorism is helping me think again about the problem of using the language and imagery of warfare to describe human-animal or human-nature violence. Written by the Italian scholar Adriana Cavarero, and subtitled ‘Naming Contemporary Violence’, this wonderful book shows that there are huge problems in using the language of warfare to describe forms of violence that are directed primarily against the helpless. Her examples all concern violence perpetrated by humans against humans, but the general direction of her analysis works extremely well with human violence against animals.

Horrorism Adriana Cavarero
Adriana Cavarero

Here is the key point: ‘violence against the helpless is becoming global in ever more ferocious forms, [and] language … tends to mask it.’ The masking language draws on images of warfare. But there are huge differences. In war armed combatants face each other knowing they are aiming to kill each other, and knowing they may be killed. Speaking for myself, I respect the armed forces, and I respect the fact that some wars (not all) are necessary.

It is clear that a great deal of contemporary violence does not live up to the model of the warrior. Violence against the helpless, violence for the sake of making life utterly miserable and uncertain for those against whom it is directed – this is not warfare. This is something that should be named as a hideous phenomenon in its own right. Horror, Cavarero explains, describes actions that ‘dismember and disfigure the body, the social relations, the uniqueness of that way of life’. In Charters Towers the use of weapons of harm was thoroughly engaged in damaging bodies, minds, and social relations. The attack on the maternity camp targeted defenceless young and nursing mothers, and thus was an attack not only on this generation but on future generations as well. In the mode of violence against the future it clearly aimed to violate the standards that have been set for conservation of native species (i.e., ensuring their continuity).

Is horror new? Not at all, Cavarero says, and yet something is changing. In part it is the scale of violence, in part it is the organised and sanctioned targeting of those who are helpless, and in part it is the wanton revelling in ruining the person, their bodily dignity, their life and future. In Cavarero’s words ‘a certain model of horror is indispensable for understanding our present’ time.

Cavarero discusses the totalitarian principle that ‘everything is permitted’ in the use of force against the defenceless. Here in Australia we have had legislation that prohibits cruelty to animals and the purpose has been very clear. Not everything was permitted in the use of violence against animals. But when Queensland made the legislative decision that the anti-cruelty legislation would not apply to flying-foxes, it opened the way for an apparently bottomless pit of cruel and vicious action. Yes, there had to be a permit to ‘disperse’ flying-foxes, and yes, the actions were meant to comply with the permit, but in the absence of any outside regulation, and with the tacit approval Local Councils for whom ‘everything is permitted’, cruelty becomes a matter of local choice.

Many of us wondered where the RSPCA was in all of this. A recent statement offers a bit of clarity. In a nutshell, if cruelty is allowed, then the only legal questions are procedural: was the action carried out in the manner in which it had been stated it would be carried out? This legal pit of violence was anticipated by many thoughtful people, as I discuss in my post on Zombie Politics. And yet, many of us really had not fully grasped the depths to which humans will sink, given the opportunity. The RSPCA asks to be notified in cases of ‘blatant cruelty’. What was the Charters Towers action if not horrific, and certainly blatant, cruelty?

It is clear in Cavarero’s analysis that the language of warfare puts a layer of conventionality over actions that are essentially crimes. Let us not forget: actions that would legally have been crimes if the legislation had not been changed are still the same actions. Nothing has changed except that people are now carrying out violence that previously the courts, the legislature, and all humane people had understood to be criminal. In the language of horrorism, people are savaging the bodies of those who have no means of defending themselves against this wounding.

Is the Charters Towers event over? Not for flying-foxes. Not for the survivors who may yet die of starvation or shock, not for those who come back next year, and perhaps not for the survivors who have gone to other towns in Queensland. Further actions are planned. The story of persecution is just beginning. This means that the need for action is not over either. Websites and Facebook pages are helping people to stay in touch with what is happening. A few of my favourites include Don’t Shoot Bats, Bat Conservation and Rescue, and Bob Irwin’s site.

I will close with some words from Louise Saunders, of Bat Conservation and Rescue:

The use of water cannons to hose bats from the trees at Charters Towers’ cruel and sadistic dispersal. An observer said a mother and her baby were hit with the full force and thrown to the ground. This is barbaric treatment to a gentle innocent and important keystone mammal. With non flying and dependent young many mothers tried to carry away their babies but the young are too big to carry far if at all. Nursing mothers so stressed from the cruel onslaught will lose their milk in the next week or so, as seen when maternity colonies are disturbed. Their babies die slowly and in agony. PLEASE if you have not written to confirm your disgust please we need your voice. Email the EHP Director General – jon.black@ehp.qld.gov.au and the EHP environment minister Andrew Powell – Environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au THEY WILL BE LEGISLATING FOR MORE TORTURE TO BATS IN THE NEW YEAR -KILLING ENTIRE COLONIES BY UNIMAGINABLE MEANS. PLEASE HELP OUR BATS. WRITE ASAP Thanks

© Deborah Bird Rose (2013)

On the Torture of Small Animals

Until yesterday it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about the effects of water cannons and helicopters on small and vulnerable creatures. The Queensland town of Charters Towers is proposing to assault flying-foxes using these and other methods. The starting date is December 2, so time is of the essence. A petition is now circulating to prevent this assault. It  is addressed to the Charters Towers Regional Council: ‘Reconsider using water cannons, smoke, sirens and helicopters to disperse the black flying-fox colony in Lissner Park after requesting a Damage Mitigation Permit.’

The petition is organised by Barbara Brindley of Wynnum, Queensland. She writes: ‘All flying-fox camps are full of mothers and babies at this time of the year and whilst many babies are still being carried by their mothers, the majority are too big for mothers to fly with and will be left in the crèche trees at the mercy of the water cannons. Water cannons break bones and helicopters create down drafts that smash bodies and wings.’ Most of us recoil at the thought of all the suffering involved in such actions, and it is important to know that many people in Charters Towers also recoil – at the very least from the prospect of carrying out the assault while the young are still unable to fend for themselves.

Grey-headed flying-fox mother with baby. Courtesy of Nick Edards
Grey-headed flying-fox mother with baby.
Courtesy of Nick Edards

As I wrote in my post on ‘Zombie Politics’ (29-8-13), ‘ persecution, vilification and harm are part of today’s public discourse and public policy’. Recent legislative changes are promoting opportunities to inflict suffering on flying-foxes. Queensland has reinstated shooting, and has had to exempt flying-foxes from the Animal Care and Protection Act in order to do so. The state is also proposing to give local councils greater freedom to assault flying-foxes without ethics oversight.

It could be argued that Charters Towers is just carrying on a well-established Australian tradition. For over a century Whitefella settlers tried their hardest to exterminate flying foxes. With government approval, they shot, poisoned, gassed, burnt, and electrocuted flying foxes. They cut down their maternity camps, created a great variety of forms of harassment to drive them away, paid a bounty for the corpses, and bombed them. They even brought an expert from Great Britain to advise on how to accomplish the extermination.

Times change, and flying-foxes are now protected as native species. There are four species in mainland Australia. Two are officially listed as threatened, one seems to be doing okay, and the data are insufficient to make a definitive assessment of the fourth. Flying-foxes by preference are nomadic. They love to live in large groups, and they follow the blossoming and fruiting of their favourite trees and shrubs. Or, that is what they did prior to the extermination of some 95% of Australia’s east coast indigenous forests. Now they live as best they can on what remains, and they feed on crops when they can get at them. In addition, they move to cities and towns where food and water are likely to be more consistently available than in the devastated bush. And it is exactly in these urban areas that they are likely to be regarded as a nuisance to human health and safety, and thus to be targeted for ‘dispersal’. But of course it is also in these areas where people have the opportunity to learn to appreciate the wonder of flying-foxes.

Fly-out in Sydney. Courtesy of Tim Pearson
Fly-out in Sydney.
Courtesy of Tim Pearson

I could go on to write about how flying-foxes are keystone species that pollinate what is left of the Myrtaceous woodlands with which they are co-evolved. This would be a story of how their lives matter to other species. I could write in detail about their vulnerability to extinction, about the fact that each mother gives birth only to one baby per year, so that with their relatively short life-spans, flying-fox populations are inherently vulnerable. This would be the story of inter-generational nurturance and continuity. And I could write about the long struggle in the western world to enact anti-cruelty legislation: a story of the recognition that it is not good for humans to deliberately cause suffering in other creatures. These points are all relevant, but there is more.

It may seem that philosophy and water cannons are far apart, but as we live our lives we take stands that reflect our philosophies of life and death. Underlying much of the hype against flying foxes is an old, demonstrably untrue, but almost magical mantra that says that humans are entitled to an unencumbered place in the sun. An ugly self-righteous human is displayed in a lot of this discourse as it revolves around the proposition that anything that impinges on humans and their projects, on their comfort, and indeed on their desire to take up all the space under the sun, will have to be eliminated.

This question of who can be tolerated and who will have to be eliminated goes to the heart of ethics in the contemporary world. As Hannah Arendt explains, the great crime of genocide lies in large part in the underlying decision to refuse to share the earth with specific other humans. In this time of man-made mass extinctions, the refusal to share the earth with other species is becoming visible as an ethically and ecologically disastrous failure on the part of humanity.

The Charters Towers assault is an opportunity to take a stand for a world in which our fellow creatures are not made the subject of vilification and hatred, and are not tortured and brutally killed. Such a stand calls for the exercise of human intelligence and good will in developing arts of co-existence.

There are good instrumental reasons for protecting the lives of flying foxes: because the forests need them; because we don’t know all there is to know, and therefore do not know and cannot know what we would be destroying if we were to destroy them. But side by side with all the reasonable and instrumental reasons for sustaining the lives of flying foxes, there are these other issues: we can and should protect them because they too belong here, because they are beautiful, because life is richer with them than it could ever be without them, because we humans have the capacity to love other animals and in these days of habitat loss and numerous other threats, flying foxes need our love. And indeed, we could protect them because in killing them we are in danger of losing ourselves. We need to be able to love others, to protect them, to live with them, and to experience the awe of their ways of life. How we manage to share our place in the sun defines not just where we are, but who we are.

Wounded flying-fox in care at the Tolga Bat Hospital.
Wounded flying-fox in care at the Tolga Bat Hospital.

In the midst of this impending torment, suffering, vilification, and human shamefulness, I want also to remember the joy of life. An earlier post on ‘Flying-foxes in Outback Australia’ (24-8-13) told the story of my trip to see a truly fantastic flying-fox fly-out. Hundreds of thousands of them were camped in the mangroves near the Aboriginal community of Port Keats in the Northern Territory, and when they lifted off at dusk it was incomparable spectacle. My home-video is now available, and even though it shows only a fraction of the fly-out, it gives a sense of this awesome event.

nick 2

What can a person do today for flying-foxes?

~~~       The petition is on-line: sign and circulate to everyone you know; add a comment.

~~~      Check out the people who are active in defence of flying-foxes; consider making a donation or adopting (financially) a flying-fox in care:

-~~~       The Tolga Bat Hospital, Atherton, Queensland

-~~~       Bat Conservation and Rescue, Queensland, Inc.

~~~        Spread the word: the stands we take really do matter.

©Deborah Bird Rose (2013)