Recently, in my research of the supply chain radio doco, I've come across quite a few people who identify as animal activists, but actually just reserve their animal welfare activities to the rescue of rabbits.
That's just what Australia needs more of. Rabbits.
Gabbing to them got me thinking more about one of Australia's iconic man-made structures. The Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Most people in Western Australia have seen the signs for Rabbit-Proof Fence Road. A century ago everyone knew about the fence, but in recent times many Australians weren't particularly aware of the rabbit-proof fence until the eponymous film came out in 2002, based on the 1996 book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington.
But what is the story behind the Rabbit-Proof Fence?
Although many of Australia’s early colonial settlers of the eighteenth century were not of the highest moral fibre, by the mid 1800’s various affluent Britons were relocating here. Welcome the Acclimatisation Societies.
Oh! Acclimatisation Societies. That sounds lovely, you think. They obviously wanted to acclimatise to their new home, Australia, right?
No. Not exactly.
Acclimatisation Societies were created in order to “enrich the fauna of a region with animals and plants from around the world.” Of course, today we find that idea abhorrent, having seen the ruinous affects of introduced species on endemic flora and fauna. But the real purpose of the Acclimatisation Society in Australia was to make Australia more like Great Britain. Early acclimatisers had introduced domesticated rabbits (among other things), but these were not good for hunting, and didn't survive very well in the scrubby landscape.
It was on. Then it was off. Then it was on. Then it was off. Ad infinitum.
Despite all that, I haven't stopped working on this project, but I haven't had a solid update to bring you. I have had lots of messages from industry people, individuals concerned for animal welfare (that includes farmers, of course), and people generally interested in the state of the project. Increasing hits per day too, which is great, but my update is not going to be long today.
Continued pressure on livestock producers and exporters has meant people have just had to get on with their work. So many people are living under a cloud of debt and uncertainty right now, creative projects tend to take a back seat at times like this. Unfortunately.
The good news is that the project has taken on a bigger scope. It's now a supply chain audio doco. I'll travel the supply chain and look at all its elements. Things that interest me most are job opportunities in the remote regions of Australia, the producers, pre-embarkation quarantine, ESCAS, AQIS, what happens during loading, the sea voyage, destination feedlotting, Indonesian wet markets, and the consumer. I think these are ultimately the things people want, and need, to know about. This is after all the linear narrative of the live export trade.
There was a wonderful key note speech given by an Aboriginal Elder in Queensland not long ago. He talked about the downward spiral of a large portion of the Indigenous youth in his community, which had been curbed by work on cattle stations which supply the live export trade. I haven't been able to get a transcript, but I'll post it when I do.
Time line on the shipping project now looks to be a couple of months off. But what's a couple of months on a year anyway?
Keep your ideas and messages coming!
I feel like an age has passed since I last sat down to write. But it hasn't...I've just undergone a massive transformation.
Some of you may know this, and some may not.
I'm on a serious mission to make a radio documentary...which is going to change the world. (Well a bit of it).
I've finished LiveCorp's Accredited Stockperson training course*, which was a critical step for me towards making the Shipping Project radio doco on the live export food chain. I can categorically say I went from having a partial understanding of how the industry operated, to having a comprehensive understanding of it. I once thought I'd just turn up to the dock with my recording equipment and a sun hat and I'd be off.
You: I have a livestock carrier with 3500sq meters of space for cattle, and I want to export a load of southern Australian Bos taurus steers which average 470kgs for a journey that takes six days, setting off from a port south of latitude 26° in February. Can you tell me the maximum number of beasts I am permitted to take under the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), and how much feed I'll need to take to get there on a 2% body weight daily feeding regimen?
You: But Geire, last week you didn't even know what a Bos taurus was?
Me: I KNOW!
This is an intensive course for people who want to look after livestock in the export industry. It was attended by people of varying backgrounds and levels of experience. There were people who already work in exports. There were stockmen, people from cattle stations, feedlots, industry bodies, farms, a lovely guy from Indonesia with heaps of interesting experiences, two Filipino stockmen, someone from Europe, and people from all over Australia...even New Zealand was represented...did I mention there were five women?
We examined animal welfare. Looked at low stress stock handling, herd behaviour, mob structure, livestock senses, and effective communication with animals. We looked at the Australian standards and how they've improved conditions all over the world. We studied issues of quarantine, pre-embarkation management, animal management at sea, and discharge at destination. We looked at emergency procedures, veterinary care, and livestock disease identification and treatment.
We discussed live export in a historical context, and learnt how animals are raised in the countries we export to, population growth, international animal welfare, demand for meat, and the sophistication (dare I say it, lack there of at times) of foreign cultures.
Something that really excited me was learning about new research into animal management systems, and I want to show you this amazing video of cattle in a feedlot setting. People love to tell us that feedlots are cruel and animals are half dead and don't get fed. That is just not true. Feedlots are all about getting herding animals to do the best they can so they grow. Stressed, sick and unhappy animals do not grow. The fodder is highly researched and managed, animals are carefully handled, and they are always being monitored so there isn't competition for food. This is a great example of a rotational system where cattle get time in a sandy pen adjacent to the feedlot. You tell me if they look like they're unhappy.
I'm trying to hide it, but I don't think I can.
I'm depressed today.
I visited a feedlot and talked to a cattle farmer (I'll call him James) yesterday.
I've been out to this feedlot before to get a bit of an understanding of how a feedlot works. Feedlot = feeds a lot of animals, yeah I know...but it is actually a bit more complicated than that. Stocking rates, water source, feed analysis, moving the livestock around...these things take time, and care, a lot of knowledge of animals husbandry...and people. A lot of people.
Usually the whole environment is pretty exciting, but it was very different yesterday. A shadow has descended. "James" said he's thinking of getting out, and it's a "bloody depressing" time, not least of which because of all the hard work that has gone into it. They've spent the last ten years or so building up the infrastructure, and have a feedlot which is considered exemplary (this facility plays host to school excursions, farm days, and international dignitaries, all hoping to see how a real operating feedlot works). It might be coming to an end for this multi-generational farming family, and the many staff members who've built lives in the country around the jobs they love.
The staff (friends more than staff really) have all come up through the ranks. Their training starts off slowly - it can be dangerous work - but is complete when each member of staff has a full eduction on the process of live export. They've all seen the facilities on the live export ships, and the overarching feeling is that Australia's high standards demonstrate to the world how livestock can be transported. Still, "James" said it weighs pretty heavily on him that their hard work is discounted by many people in the general public, and they're beginning to lose the passion for what they do.
Warning: clicking read more will open the rest of this blog post, and you may find some images disturbing.
I know, you savvy creature, you'll see right away this is the first blog entry on my website. I used to blog on other sites...but then I thought, that's a bit dumb. I'll do it here and anyone who happens to be interested will come across it. That's you. Stay right there.
This is going to bring you up to date with the Shipping Project, my radical idea to go to sea with thousands of animals, and see for myself what the live export industry is really all about. Let's face it. We're not going to start needing less food...barring some unforeseeable disaster which wipes half the humans of the face of the planet. There I go dreaming.
Oh! And record it for a radio documentary.
© Geire Kami. All Rights Reserved. Australia 2017.