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.