Macropod canidae, Leporidae macropus and Canis macropus
Only those things are beautiful which are inspired by madness and written by reason. -Andre Gide, author, Nobel laureate (1869-1951)
I am in Munich for 2 months and it is here that I am creating 3 sculptures for an exhibition called “Australia” to be held at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane in Feb 2012. This is a new challenge for me, especially given the type of sculptures I wish to make – hybrids of course but this time I must consider licences, international shipping costs, insurance and Australian quarantine regulations.
These sculptures will combine native species with introduced species. The bulk of the sculpture will be urethane, plaster and paper mache creating 3 differently posed wallaby forms. To this will be added taxidermy fox and rabbit parts in combination with kangaroo parts. By combining these animals the work suggests that an Australian identity comprises of diverse nationalities or “species”. Australians are either native, introduced or hybrids …at least this is one reading of the work.
All preserved animals used in the work- the rabbit, the fox and the eastern grey kangaroo – are considered to be overly abundant in Australia and, as such, are subject to “culling”.
“Rabbits, along with foxes and cats, are considered to be Australia’s most serious vertebrate pests; rabbits …severely affect native flora and fauna, vegetation communities, landforms, geomorphic processes and sensitive sites, as well as primary industries.”
Whilst the large population of these animals poses a threat to biodiversity, they also present a significant threat to agricultural farming. These are complex issues as it is colonial Australians that introduced domestic cattle, goats and sheep for agricultural farming in a country where these animals did not previously exist. They also introduced foxes and wild rabbits for the “sport” of hunting. The fox has no natural predators in Australia and preys heavily on farm stock. The rabbit is infamous for its rapid rate of reproduction and ferocious appetite for premium grazing, causing soil erosion and having a devastating impact on native fauna and flora. The Eastern Grey Kangaroo of course, has a different story.
The vast arid rangelands of Australia were not designed to support European style agricultural farming. Prior to settlement there was little water throughout inland Australia, but the settlers discovered vast reserves of water underground, now called ‘The Great Artesian Basin”. This enabled them to farm cattle in a country that had never seen such hooved animals before and it also provided a readily available source of food and water for the abundant native kangaroo – now so abundant in certain areas that it’s numbers are also impacting on biodiversity and agriculture.
The Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia argues that kangaroos are a valuable natural resource and we should make use of their meat and leather. Why then do we not do the same with rabbits and foxes? Why do we persist with mass farming of certain introduced ”domestic” animals when we have an over abundance of foxes and rabbits? Whilst foxes might supply a valuable source of pet food, cooked rabbit flesh makes for perfectly delicious fodder, so why not harvest the meat of these pest species? Whilst it might be argued that kangaroos are far larger and fleshier, the fact is that only around about 10% of the kangaroo flesh becomes meat fit for human consumption. The rest is destined to become pet food.
I did not necessarily want to use kangaroo parts in my work. My initial idea for these sculptures was to incorporate native Australian animal parts, but ideally smaller marsupials, which, sadly, can be found in abundance in the form of road kill in Australia. What I quickly discovered is that there are licenses required in order to hold native wildlife and that it is forbidden to use native road-kill in an artwork destined for the commercial market. No, if I wish to use preserved native wildlife in my artwork, I must source that wildlife from a licensed dealer or licensed animal caregiver. So, not wanting to support native animal culling, I contacted WIRES to see if they might be willing to donate an already dead native marsupial or 2 for my artwork. I spoke, I emailed a long explanatory letter and I phoned again to no avail. Time was of the essence so I resorted to drastic measures. I contacted a licensed kangaroo meat distributor in NSW to see if I might acquire some kangaroo parts for my work. They were happy to oblige although things didn’t go exactly according to plan.
So here is the story. Without mentioning names, as I am grateful for their assistance, I spoke to the head honcho at the kangaroo meat distributors headquarters on 3 separate occasions. I even phoned him a few days before pick up to confirm my request to purchase 3 sets of kangaroo feet, paws and tails. No problem. I hired a car on a Monday morning and drove 45 minutes out west somewhere completely foreign to me, only to find that the guy I had been speaking to was away that day. I explained my situation and repeated my unusual request. At first, no-one seemed to know exactly what was going on until it was discovered that 3 whole kangaroo carcasses had been dumped in the cool-room on top of multiple packaged boxes of kangaroo meat. Yikes, what to do? I didn’t want the whole animal and had stressed this but apparently there was some confusion as there they were. The headquarters had no facility for butchering and I had no room for 3 whole kangaroo carcasses in my rickety little rent-a-wreck vehicle. So it was suggested that one of the storeroom workmen hack the required parts off with a handsaw. Great. You can imagine how I felt at this point, not to mention how the poor workman must have felt!
Shortly thereafter, I am in the downstairs warehouse watching anxiously as a tired looking man starts up the forklift and begins unloading multiple boxes of meat from the cool-room. Having cleared a path for access he drove in a 3rd time and came out with a huge kangaroo carcass on the end of the fork and dumped it unceremoniously onto a wooden crate on the warehouse floor. Then with considerable difficulty, he began the process of sawing off the necessary bits. My heart was racing and my head spinning. I felt ill and couldn’t help but consider that this experience might be my karma for what could easily be interpreted as supporting animal cruelty. Could I stomach it at all – the crunching, grinding tearing sounds of limbs being hacked from their body? But then after a distressed call to a friend and about 15 minutes of wandering around the warehouse looking at kangaroo furs and cardboard boxes and, well, anything other than the self created horror show being performed center stage, I suddenly felt a wave of calm and certainty. I walked over to the man and offered to help! I had pushed it this far so I may as well see it through. I observed the difficulty of the operation and suggested he cut the parts off at the joints if this was easier for him. He was having a hard time and my time was running out so I advised him that the limbs of just 2 kangaroos should suffice. I compromised my project but had little choice. I slipped the guy some cash and with a boot full of bits I hastily headed off to my next destination – Sammy the taxidermist.
So I have supported an industry that shoots, butchers and sells kangaroo meat in order to make artwork that questions, amongst other things, this very treatment of kangaroos. The fact is that I don’t outright object to the kangaroo meat industry as much as I object to introduced agricultural farming of cattle and sheep. At least the kangaroo is native and is free until the moment it is shot. It should be noted here that the law stipulates that kangaroos be shot in the head for “humane’ reasons although, as the workman explained, this is also because “ya wouldn’t wanna ruin the meat”. The kangaroo is ‘harvested’ not farmed and the meat is unaffected by antibiotics or foreign food intake. In fact I find subsistence hunting far less objectionable than factory farming for the same reasons. Factory farming is involves torturous cruelty that ignores the individual sentience of animals in favour of viewing them solely as commercial product. As I mentioned earlier, these are complex issues. The reason that kangaroos are now in such abundance is due to the ready accessibility of water and grazing lands as a result of human interference with nature in the interests of agricultural farming. So now kangaroos compete with domestic livestock for these resources. As is often the case, humanity has interfered with nature and produced a string of ongoing problems resulting in ecological imbalance at the very least. So the work, I hope, encourages thinking about all these issues.
It could well be argued that the use of preserved animal parts in my work is hypocritical given my passion for animals and the environment, but I believe that the use of animal parts in this context is justifiable given the ethical and philosophical considerations raised by the end product. Sadly, unless the actual animal is part of the work, reminding us of the animals death, our anthropocentricism tends to interpret animal imagery as symbolic of human experience. Furthermore, it seems to me that no one lives free of hypocrisy. It takes considerable effort to reduce our inadvertent contributions to animal and human suffering, global warming, pollution and landfill. One must carefully consider where one’s food comes from, whether there were chemicals and pesticides used, whether animals were experimented on in testing the product, whether the packaging can be recycled, whether its truly organic, whether its fair trade, locally grown and, a big one for aspiring vegans such as myself, whether that luscious red wine has been processed with any fish, egg or dairy products. Whilst I don’t support blatant hypocrisy, I also acknowledge that no one is perfect. I believe that every action taken towards lessening the suffering of animals, humans and the environment is a positive step in the right direction. I believe in the ripple effect of conscientious action. I don’t support a fanatic all or nothing philosophy and I believe that art can make a difference.
 Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts,
Commonwealth of Australia, Threat abatement plan for competition and land degradation by rabbits, 2008, Page 1.2