by Dr Gonzo
Australia is a wondrous place, yet we have a dark history not many want to acknowledge.
|In Australia, the kangaroo is our national icon, but unfortunately, the way we treat this beautiful marsupial is one of our greatest shames. Unfortunately, this is not the only one...so many species have been lost forever, and yet, we don't seem to learn, or perhaps, we simply don't care. Too busy in our own lives to manage the land, ensuring our native species remain viable rather than just surviving.|
And the question is...what is the point of any species surviving if there is no habitat for them to survive in?
I get it; these beautiful and harmless marsupials numbers can explode if the seasons are kind, but to see 'culling' in its graphic reality, is another thing altogether.
Pigs are an introduced species and do a lot of damage to our land by rutting. They are hardy and compete with native species. Species with little chance of overcoming these feral animals, so culling pigs is the best policy (if done humanely). Foxes, cats, domestic dogs which have gone feral, the Cane Toad, and many other creatures our not-so-wise forefathers, settlers and native inhabitant genocide perpetrators brought with them to remind them of home (which wiped out countless species by way of introduced diseases and direct competition)...introduced species that didn't register on the native wildlife's danger list, and so, didn't see them as predators (or poison prey) until it was far too late.
One of the difficulties and hurdles for the fauna here in Australia is that even small changes to the ecology can have a hugely detrimental impact, often spelling the extinction of certain species. We are fortunate to have one of the most diverse yet specialised collections of animals found anywhere on earth. The Platypus, taken back to the old country for scientists to examine, was first deemed a hoax when first discovered by the English settlers. They couldn't believe a warm-blooded animal could lay eggs and suckle its young with milk. When it is born, the young Platapus joey, blind and deaf at this early phase of its life, must find its way to its mother's pouch, then find the teet...all on its own, with the instinct it has inherited over millions of years of evolutionary's game of hit and miss. And, along with a mature male Platypus's barbs (one on the inside of each of its hind flippers), which can inject a very painful venom (to us, and can be deadly to any small animal) if threatened, makes them one of the most unique species of mammal on earth.
And so it is that we are losing species faster than we can think of ways to save them, and the chances for survival for any critter that cannot learn to live side by side with us as we encroach more and more on habitat that was once vast forests but must now make way for housing developments.
Human beings are exponentially growing in population. What will it take to stop this madness that is the human being? The coronavirus Covid19...and its jump from animals to humans (zoonotic spillover) comes as a direct result of man coming into close contact with wildlife. The pandemic has killed millions of people, and more viruses will impact us unless we change our outlook and share this earth with other species.
Some strange and downright bizarre evolutionary discoveries in Australia have surprised scientists and the public alike. Since its introduction only a century ago, the Cane Toad has evolved longer rear legs as it crosses the continent from east to west. At present, from their original release point in the canefields of Queensland (where it was hoped they would eat the cane beetle, but it ignored the pest when they found plenty of other food to help their numbers explode into plague proportions), the Cane Toad has made its way to the Northern Territory...some three thousand kilometres (one thousand eight hundred sixty miles) away. The growth of its rear legs is thought to be due to the unhindered expanses as it travels west, and if this is evolution at work, it is unprecedented within the timeframe.
However, the Cane Toad has not had it all its own way. When this amphibian is threatened or attacked, it releases a substance called bofotoxin from glands found on either side of its head. It is highly poisonous, not just to humans but also to our native wildlife, who see the toad as legitimate prey, like a frog. Snakes, monitor lizards, fresh and saltwater crocodiles, birds of prey and any species that would typically eat frogs, eat cane toads, and as a result, die. Now, in only a hundred years since their introduction, native species have learned how to take advantage of the cane toad...by turning it inside out and only eating the muscles, but not the skin, which contains the poison that would, if consumed, kill them in a matter of minutes.
Some Australian native species, such as the Bilby, have been brought to the point of extinction by cats and foxes...predators that will not stop at one or two for food and go on killing. Now, only a few isolated pockets of this beautiful and timid marsupial remain...fenced off from these introduced pests for their survival. Add to this the worst introduced species of all...us. White Anglo settlers who pollute, take without thought and have little affinity with this land.
What is wrong with us as a society? Australia imports most of our goods from China because it is cheaper to import than it is to manufacture here. Yet, the hidden costs far outweigh the actual cost of this practice. Why do we cringe at our own identity? Advertising and marketing have become a science. We feel as if we are failing unless we have whatever these companies brainwash us through television adverts that bombard the' you need this' mentality. Too many people get caught up in this trap set by retailers, governments, churches and any other group that wants more profit, amassing huge debts on credit cards for things we simply don't need but are emotionally blackmailed (conned) into thinking we are not worthy unless we do. That new car...or whatever else these unscrupulous companies are pushing through TV ads that cost a fortune and are working because we wouldn't see so much of it unless they did.
With so many problems in the world, it would be much easier to throw our hands in the air and say, "It's too hard" or "It's someone else's problem", or bury our heads in the sand and hope that everything will work out Ok...and then we can all live happily ever after. But, life is not a fairy tale; eventually, someone will have to pay the price of our complacency...this consumer-driven madness.
We can't solve every problem in the world because as fast as we solve one problem, there are more in the making, but the price of our apathy won't be paid by anyone alive today. Do we choose positive action or leave it to future generations?
The glaring issue right now is climate change, and thankfully, it looks like people power is getting through to those who act for us, yet often appear as if they act more for big business and profit. But I ask, what does it matter how much profit there is to be made if we don't have a viable planet on which to live? If every one of us makes simple and thoughtful changes to the way we go about our lives...using our vehicles less, catching public transport as much as possible and simply being aware...making choices that impact the environment less...small changes that can make a huge difference if enough of us act responsibly and thoughtfully.
Unless we can put our differences aside and see the big picture, our differences won't mean a thing if we become extinct.
Australia has lost so much of what made this place special. Before we (European settlers) arrived, this uniqueness only took place because Gondwanaland broke off from the continent of Asia millions of years ago and isolated all of the species, who could no longer migrate back to the mainland, and so adapted to this, their newly isolated home has changed more in the last two hundred fifty years, than it did in the previous one hundred thousand years, and is another shame we must bear.
Where those who came and decreed that one of the oldest and most stable cultures in existence was of no value whatsoever. And with the epidemic of suicides in custody of mostly young, vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders...at a rate of more than double that of the rest of the inmate population, it is something we are trying to change. Still, it is a complex problem we, who created this situation in the first place, must do more about.
The indigenous people need their land back, and although progress has been made in some quarters, it's simply not good enough without a treaty. A treaty they deserve after the way we European settlers have treated them. I've heard ignorant people say that government handouts make it easier for indigenous people than for us white folk...well, how can we know how they feel whenever a racist comment comes their way or how it would feel to know that the land that they belong was stolen...just as their children were stolen back in the '50s and '60s and given to childless white couples who had no idea that the underlying purpose was the watering down of their heritage, culture and amounted to an insidious form of genocide.
We can never make up for what we did, but we can try, and at the moment, and for the last century, there has been little to no effort in this regard. On the 13th of February 2008, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was the first senior politician to publicly say he was sorry for inflicting profound grief, suffering and loss to these, our fellow Australians. I am sorry, not just for the invasion, the attempted genocide, the racism that was acceptable not that long ago, but I am sorry for the length of time it took for us to acknowledge how we acted...and for never
offering a treaty.
A treaty will require many people to be removed from their homes and compensation to be paid in some form and will be one of the most challenging issues we, as a nation, must face...but what else can we do? We stole this land, and until we negotiate in a fair and balanced way, these problems we as a nation can no longer hide from will continue to fester.
We poisoned their drinking water (they may have been primitive, but weren't stupid). We hung these beautiful and peaceful people for crimes they never understood...and for most, crimes they never likely committed. I cannot begin to imagine what imprisonment would do to a people who have only ever known endless open space? Being incarcerated, on the most part, for alcohol-related issues is a national shame and must be addressed before the numbers of young people who would rather kill themselves than suffer the indignities we bestow upon them. All done in the name of justice...the irony and hypocrisy of which would be laughable if not for the tragedy associated with every life lost. Alcohol issues they didn't have before we arrived.
In those early days of European settlement (and long after), injustice descended on the black, indigenous people. They would have had no idea what was being said in court or understood why their people were murdered by these supposed God-fearing strangers from the sea. We deemed them sub-human, and what came with that judgment was no human rights. They were butchered, bounties placed on the heads of a people who had lived in peace, with little change to the land they belonged to (and not the other way round) for millennia.
For the time being, our shame lives on.