CHARLES WOOLEY

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT -

A pic­ture of a road­kill wal­laby says some­thing dark and sin­is­ter about how wildlife is re­garded by some in Tasmania.

We have a lot of dark se­crets in Tasmania. Only now are we learn­ing just why the cops gave up on Lu­cille But­ter­worth. One day we might know the facts about the im­prob­a­ble mur­der con­vic­tion of Susan Neale-Fraser. Ev­ery­thing comes out in the end but usu­ally too late. Same with the en­vi­ron­ment. Un­til it was too late we never quite knew what Gunns Ltd were up to in the bush, if only be­cause so few of us ever went there. And now we are pretty much in the dark con­cern­ing the ef­fects of in­dus­trial scale salmon farm­ing be­cause not many of us put our heads un­der the wa­ter. We pre­fer to put them in the sand.

How much eas­ier re­ally to ac­cept the as­sur­ances of var­i­ous gov­ern­ment ap­pointed “ad­vi­sory pan­els” even if two sci­en­tists have re­cently quit one of them in protest against green-light­ing 30,000 tonnes of salmon in Storm Bay. We are heads in the sand on a range of is­sues be­cause be­ing con­cerned and get­ting ac­tive is so bad for your rep­u­ta­tion, peace of mind and blood pres­sure. Be­sides what can you do about it and who’s lis­ten­ing and who cares? There’s even a good pos­si­bil­ity if you do pop your head up a cer­tain un­grate­ful Lib­eral se­na­tor, whose gen­er­ous salary pack­age you pay, might de­nounce you as a mem­ber of “the anti-ev­ery­thing bri­gade”.

Last week a bloke who didn’t want to be named (for all the above rea­sons I imag­ine) still showed enough brav­ery to blow the whis­tle on one of Tasmania’s dark­est of se­crets. He posted on his Face­book page a pic­ture of a dead wal­laby with a white line sprayed across its head by a gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor on the Arthur High­way near Cop­ping. At the time of writ­ing the whistle­blower re­mains anony­mous on his Face­book page “Lord Of The Let­tuce”, which might nev­er­the­less give some clue to his iden­tity. Whether or not he is ever outed, the pic­ture he has taken is now des­tined to be the most mem­o­rable Tas­ma­nian pic­ture of the year but cer­tainly not in a good way. This is the pic­ture that tells a thou­sand words about the brutish road­worker but even more, it lets the cat out of the bag on one of Tasmania’s worst kept se­crets.

Greg Irons at the Bonorong wildlife sanc­tu­ary, who is our tire­less and fore­most wildlife cam­paigner, told me, “This pic­ture tells it all. It draws huge at­ten­tion to the cal­lous in­dif­fer­ence that some Tas­ma­ni­ans con­tinue to dis­play to­wards our na­tive an­i­mals.” Ac­cord­ing to Irons the se­cret is now def­i­nitely out. “We’ve al­ways known that Tasmania is the an­i­mal road kill cap­i­tal of the world but through Face­book the world will now learn of this dread­ful dis­tinc­tion. This is very bad news for our im­age abroad.”

The statis­tics are aw­ful. Av­er­aged out, more than 30 an­i­mals are killed ev­ery hour on Tas­ma­nian roads. Ev­ery year with some­thing like half a mil­lion an­i­mals mas­sa­cred, that’s a score of one each; un­less the tourists are do­ing it, which they are not. I grew up in the bush when tourism was a small in­dus­try and my child­hood mem­o­ries of a road trip from Tar­raleah to the big smoke are of dead an­i­mals lit­ter­ing the road­side and my old man steer­ing around an ob­sta­cle course of in­dis­tin­guish­able lumpy amal­gams of guts, fur and feather glued to the tar­mac. Be­fore I was al­lowed out in the bush alone I think I learned a rough tax­on­omy of Tas­ma­nian mar­su­pi­als from those bloated and fly­blown car­casses. It hasn’t changed much in my life­time. I’ve trav­elled a lot and never seen any­thing like it any­where else in the world but it’s a story rarely re­ported here and cer­tainly one that hasn’t been heard out­side of Tasmania, un­til now, thanks to Lord Of The Let­tuce.

If the white line wal­laby post goes vi­ral and global our tourism bosses should worry more about this than about the im­pact of a small vis­i­tor tax sen­si­bly sug­gested by the new mayor of this city. A $30 Tas­ma­nian en­try tax might be spent by lo­cal coun­cil pa­trols to re­move the dead an­i­mals from the road, not just to con­ceal the hor­ror, but also to pre­vent scav­eng­ing na­tive an­i­mals like the devils and the quoll from din­ing in the path of un­car­ing driv­ers. From what I hear the hor­ri­fied tourists would gladly pay to be spared the scenes of car­nage.

The Bonorong wildlife sanc­tu­ary deals with thou­sands of in­jured and or­phaned an­i­mals ev­ery year. “If peo­ple saw what we see ev­ery day of the year they would change their mind and take more care on coun­try and bush roads,” says Greg Irons. “Partly the is­sue is that we have so much wildlife, but that’s a bless­ing and not a curse and we should ap­pre­ci­ate that. In­dif­fer­ence and care­less­ness on the road prob­a­bly re­flects our gen­eral at­ti­tude to the en­vi­ron­ment. But we can’t go on sell­ing our­selves as a clean green an­i­mal won­der­land when these num­bers get out.”

Five hun­dred thou­sand an­i­mals is a big num­ber but a fig­ure harder to ar­rive at is the death toll of na­tive wildlife from the wide­spread use of the in­dis­crim­i­nate poi­son 1080 in farm­ing and forestry. The en­su­ing slow and ag­o­nis­ing death of its vic­tims must rep­re­sent the world’s cru­ellest and most in­de­fen­si­ble form of “ver­min” or “pest con­trol”.

It will be hard to get our dopey and thought­less driv­ers to change their ways when they grew up in a place where the au­thor­i­ties al­ways de­scribed the wildlife as pests and ver­min. On many fronts, since white coloni­sa­tion, Tas­ma­ni­ans have been in­volved in a war on na­ture. Un­less some­one saves us from our­selves it in­creas­ingly it looks like it’s a war we will win. In win­ning, we will be the losers.

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