As the train eases away from the platform in Peterborough, South Australia, I wrap up my fourth and final research site in Australia. I spent the week on a 40,000-acre sheep station nestled in the southern Flinders Ranges. Besides learning about station management in the driest state of the driest inhabited continent in the world, I also learned heaps about something that hasn’t been a major focal point on other stations I’ve visited: native pests such as dingoes and kangaroos.
Dingoes are a problem for some South Australian sheep farmers because they eat sheep, despite the “dog fence” the lies up north and is designed to keep dingoes out of the southern parts of the country. Some farmers, however, have embraced dingoes, particularly their diet of rabbits and foxes, which are other pests. One resident I spoke with said the dingoes could be trained not to eat sheep and are then a very useful work dog. Others, like the farmers I was working with, were working hard with community members to set traps to kill any dingoes in the area.
Kangaroos were also seen as pests but for another reason: they graze on the same food sources as the sheep. In order to keep populations down, “kangaroo shooters” are allowed on the property every week or so. Australians’ attitudes towards kangaroos can be difficult for outsiders to understand. On the one hand, they are a symbol of the nation, found on the Australian crest and representing the uniqueness of the country as well as it’s ability to move foreword (because kangaroos can’t move backward due to their legs). On the other hand, many Australians eat kangaroo, even regularly. People often talk of overpopulation and express feelings of annoyance over kangaroos in the road and the damage they do to cars. Kangaroos are certainly and interesting facet of Australian culture.
This window into farmer perspectives on native animal pest-management has been both enlightening and challenging but has definitely brought something new and interesting to this ever-growing project.