- Australia now owns the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world.
- Maria Taylor unveils a cultural history of the war against Australia’s indigenous animals in her book.
- Taylor also documents environmental stories that explore culture and social justice.
Australia is well-known for being the home of iconic, exotic, and unique wildlife. I’ve been there many times and am always pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of nonhuman animals of incredibly diverse species ranging from spiders and insects to birds and mammals, which I meet in urban and wild environments. Encounters between some of these animals and humans unleashed a war on these species, and few people know what is actually happening on the ground. Documentary journalist Maria Taylor’s book Injustice: Hidden in plain sight the war on Australian nature kangaroo, koala, emu... hunted, sold, homeless... where lies truce, healing? tells it all, and I’m pleased she could answer a few questions about her detailed account of wildlife-human relationships down under.
Why did you write Injustice?
I wrote Injustice after watching and reporting on a decade of the perverse wildlife “management” conducted in Canberra, the Australian capital that lies not far from my home. Canberra’s annual kangaroo “cull” in suburban nature reserves kills the icon that holds up one side of the national coat of arms. They’re sentient family animals. Shooting adults, bashing pouch joeys to death, and leaving still dependent joeys to a likely fate of starvation or car strike... Why? The public has been fed a revolving door of reasons that make poor science and less sense. This is against a national backdrop of a massive commercial slaughter of kangaroos for skins, meat, and pet food that I saw clearly for the first time as I started looking into a wider and still-hidden story. The book was built from there.
I delved into the documentary history and found an ideological tradition of disrespect and lethal treatment of native animals and destruction of the nature of Australia since settlement, all done for economic reasons. Koalas, emu, dingo, wombats, possums, eagles, many birds, and reptiles have all faced the gun, along with the broad kangaroo family of native grazers. The government-approved and promoted killings rely on dominant public stories—propaganda would be another term—offered domestically and internationally that needed to be understood and unveiled to move forward. On that note, I also wanted to look for and find Australians who were rewarded by respecting and sharing the nature of Australia.
How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
As a journalist and author, I have specialized in documenting environmental stories that also explore the culture and social justice in Australia and in the U.S. This interest led to the production of a score of documentary films and, most recently, two books in Australia that explore the traditional cultural history of beliefs, narratives, and socio-economic behavior that have contributed to the crises of climate change and biodiversity or wildlife loss. While at the University of California, Berkeley, a colleague and I produced the national award-winning documentary Water Wars—The Battle of Mono Lake about California’s water hunger and the environmental costs. The Fence at Red Rim on the land-use conflict between coal strip mining and wildlife habitat in Wyoming followed.
Back in Australia in the 1990s, there were other environmental battles to cover: exposing native forest logging for export profit, exploring the political battle for wetland habitat and wildlife in a vital river system, and the destruction of Australia’s fragile and shallow soils with European agricultural methods. This was followed by another deep dive into cultural history and its present-day legacy. Injustice.
Who is your intended audience?
General readers and decision-makers. Everyone should read this book
What are some of your main messages?
Injustice tells of Australia’s colonial and ongoing dispossession of its native animals and nature, every bit as brutal and thorough as the dispossession of the continent’s native peoples. Australia now owns the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world.
The war on terrestrial wildlife, killed as a pest or product, landed on Australian shores with the British settlers whose goal was wholesale landscape conversion to a European model. An important theme for further learning is that the European ideas of cultural superiority and the deliberate destruction for colonial takeover stand in sharp contrast to the web-of-life and mutual responsibility beliefs held by the First Australians for everything in the natural world.
This history has left an ongoing blood-stained legacy. To aid sheep farmers and other agriculturalists, Australia (still) poisons apex wildlife predators and conducts the world’s biggest on-land wildlife slaughter and associated trade in body parts of the internationally beloved kangaroo.
In Australia, it seems almost nobody (media and governments included) finds this trade and the “pest” killings, for example, Canberra’s story, remarkable and shaming. How did we get here? Injustice explores the narratives and beliefs that uphold this slaughter and also narrates the work of wildlife champions who fought for the voiceless through the decades. A welcome pivot to some Australians who show a different way with co-existence and respect defining a final chapter.
How does your book differ from others on this general topic?
There are no other contemporary books on this topic that I know of. I am very indebted to several hard-to-acquire 20th-century books exposing similar themes, such as Jock Marshall’s book The Great Extermination and William Lines’s Taming the Great South Land: A history of the conquest of Australia, whose information on colonial doings feature in my book along with a number of other authors from that timeframe who are acknowledged in the text.
I often quote Marshall, who wrote: “The organized savagery with which kangaroos are being hunted today is equaled in our history only by the appalling massacre of koalas in 1927.” (Also for the animals’ skins and fur.)
Are you hopeful that as people learn more, they will treat animals with more compassion, dignity, and respect?
My goal, both with the book’s last chapter and with some work I am doing with the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (whose archive was invaluable for this book), is to steer into a campaign for respect, reconciliation, and sharing the land with all our wildlife, something that everyone can engage with, and of course that is a viewpoint for all our fellow species.
In conversation with Maria Taylor, an award-winning journalist and former documentary filmmaker whose work over more than three decades in both Australia and the United States has focused on sustainable resource management and environmental issues. Her book Global Warming and Climate Change: What Australia knew and buried... then framed a new reality for the public - was developed from Ph.D. research at the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science of The Australian National University. Taylor's multi-disciplinary investigation of the public record and the input of science, politics, economics, journalism, and contemporary mass media has revealed for the first time how and why Australia buried a once good understanding of global warming and climate change to arrive after 25 years at the confusion and stalemate we are still in today.
1) The description of Injustice reads: What happened to the globally-beloved kangaroo, koala, and other Australian indigenous animals under the beliefs and traditions of colonialism? How did their fate during 200 years of nation-building become a fugitive drama of dispossession and disrespect—and what is today’s little-known and blood-stained legacy in a world rapidly losing its biodiversity? A cultural history of warfare against Australia’s other indigenous inhabitants. Her investigation exposes David and Goliath-type battles for the wildlife and nature of Australia—with worldwide echoes. But here also are paths to conciliation and sharing that meld the ecological and the economic. Voices in these pages come from citizen activists, first Australians, scientists, authors, farmers, and industry whistleblowers.