‘Redneck, barbaric, cashed-up bogan? I don’t think so’: Hunting and Nature in Australia.

But please hunters, don’t try to wrap your pathetic, arcane blood lust in a pretty light by saying you’re protecting the environment or whatever.

Everyone who eats meat has blood on their hands. Everyone who lives, works, shops or drives in a deforested area has blood on their hands. Get over it. No one is innocent and the only difference is a Hunter is able to see where their food comes from.

The responses from redneck and cashed up bogans come as no surprise. To equate intelligence with nothing more than the possession of facts and academic achievements is indicative of the superficial mindset of said bogans. They have offered no new insights or valid justifications for their desire to hunt. Some even see themselves as conservationists. Hunting takes no skill other than stalk and shoot – as long as the target is hit, it doesn’t seem to matter if the animal is maimed or dead. They lack empathy and show no sophisticated social maturity. Ultimately the sign of a civilised society is how it treats its most disadvantaged members and species. Please go to America where rabid republican hillbillies will gladly welcome you back to the family. You’ve got nothing this country wants or needs.

Redneck, barbaric, cashed up bogan, I don’t think so. No I think just down to earth who enjoys living the outdoor life now and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday living.

These comments illustrate some of the polarised positions around hunting in Australia, where somewhere between 300,000 to one million people hunt. I am working with people who hunt, where lives are sustained through the ending of the lives of others. Hunting is constantly controversial, with arguments ranging from ‘the first hunters were the first humans’ to ‘meat is murder’. But there are distinct cultural variations: there is a general acceptance of traditional Indigenous peoples’ hunting, while in middle-class Australia often an assumption that ‘shooting’ is a redneck activity. Across the world, there is a wide range of social attitudes and beliefs around modern hunting. Anthropologist Tim Ingold argues that in relationships between hunters and animals, there is ‘a working basis for mutuality and coexistence’. I have a paper just published in Environmental Humanities (their 3rd most downloaded paper in May) that explores some of these networks of relationship and respect.

CZ455 Lux – my small game rifle

 

Hunting is regularly in the news in Australia, with the announcement last year that the NSW state government would make some national parks accessible to recreational hunters. On Monday 10th June, ABC Four Corners screened The Hunting Party, examining some of these issues.

But to put my own cards on the table, I am a human geographer, and I am also a hunter. I am relatively new to this, choosing an approach of ‘full immersion fieldwork’ to personally enter the world of hunters and hunting to physically, emotionally and intellectually experience what it can mean. It is challenging to think clearly about our human roles in being part of the fear and death in ecosystems. At the largest scale, it is clear that humans are the top predator on the planet, and the violence of environmental degradation is readily evident almost everywhere. But at the landscape scale, the relationships are more ambiguous between people and what environmental philosopher Val Plumwood called the ‘rich interspecies communities’ that we share. I have harvested food from the sea for most of my life but I have only recently become a hunter on land. I have a firearms licence and a rifle: I kill animals to eat. While I am personally new to this, other members of my family have a tradition of hunting, first in India, then in New Zealand.  My Environmental Humanities paper tries to uncover some of these complexities:

I have a lot of respect for vegetarians and vegans because they want to make ethical, informed, respectful decisions about what they eat. ..Tovar Cerulli, describing his journey from vegetarian to hunter says, “I was aiming to be mindful about the outer consequences of my diet…and to better understand the land and my non-human neighbours.” His journey starts with an awareness that farming, even local, organic vegetable farming, involves the deliberate deaths of animals. Whatever your moral choices, it is not really possible to avoid the deaths of animals in human lives, although you can distance yourself at various scales from those deaths. At its best, hunting can do the opposite: you do the killing yourself, taking personal moral responsibility…

All living things die. Hunting properly teaches us how to directly, sensitively participate in what Barry Lopez calls the “conversation of death”: “it is a ceremonial exchange, the flesh of the hunted in exchange for respect for its spirit.”…

Thinking about hunting raises many questions. Would more hunting lead to better conservation of species? Is it legitimate to conduct large scale kills of non-native, “feral” species (in Australia this happens with wild horses, donkeys, deer, pigs, cats, foxes, dogs and others), to protect populations of native species? What is it like to be the person doing the hunting in each of these scenarios? Is there a place for hunting in Western societies?

In opening these discussions, in collaboration with (becoming one of) the hunters themselves, I hope to stimulate experimental and critical conversations: to engage with death might help some of us learn how to better engage with life.

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