No Culture Is Cast In Stone



The stoning of a wombat in South Australia cannot be defended, writes Geoff Russell.

An off-duty police officer in SA was recently filmed stoning a wombat. The law in South Australia requires that animals be killed quickly and with minimal suffering. It applies to everybody. Well, not quite everybody.

The result of bullying by pro-cruelty forces in the current and previous Governments is that the law that animals have to be killed quickly and with minimal suffering doesn’t apply to some hunters; in particular it doesn’t apply to duck shooters and bow hunters. They are explicitly allowed to violate animal cruelty laws and to kill animals slowly.

They can, and do, wound and cripple; not by accident, but by the choice of weapon.

Duck shooters and bow hunters, like the rock thrower, use methods that are intrinsically unreliable. Slaughterhouse equipment may malfunction, but shotguns, bows and rocks don’t have to malfunction to cause an animal to die a long slow death; it’s intrinsic to the weapon. A perfectly aimed shotgun can fail to kill, and bows and rocks are even more unreliable.

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So where does that leave the poor wombat and his or her assailant? We can’t tell from the footage if the wombat was killed or just disabled. The version posted on the ABC cuts out. Later reports say that the wombat was eaten, but there has been no mention, so apparently no interest or concern, as to whether the wombat was female and had young she was caring for.

And the assailant happened to be not just a police officer, but also Aboriginal, which complicates matters.

Why? Because his actions have been defended not using the always despicable politics of power, which allows duck shooters to violate cruelty laws with impunity because they have friends in high places, but because it is argued that this method of killing has been around for a long time; a very long time.

Of course it has. White people, brown people, black people, yellow people, everybody used to do stuff like that. Some of us moved on to barbarism like shotguns, and bows and spears; and some of us just moved on.

When it comes to arguments, this one is as bad as they come. Anybody familiar with Western cultural history will be familiar with a huge range of long-standing cultural practices that we have abolished (or are trying to): bear baiting, slavery and wife beating, to pick just three from hundreds.

Europeans used to burn suspected witches, and claim deep religious significance to the practice. Other cultures still stone adulterers (or at least the female half of the participating couple) and/or throw battery acid in women’s faces while claiming cultural or religious justification.

If you want to know how just such practices actually are, then don’t consult sacred books or elders or other wanna-be authorities, just ask the victim.

You will often hear hunters talking about their respect for the animal. What possible value is it to an animal with a shotgun pellet in the guts to know that the redneck who put it there proclaimed respect?

Similarly, it wouldn’t have mattered a damn to the wombat if the rock thrower causing his or her suffering was chanting a prayer or grinning like a moron.

All manner of barbarism has been and frequently still is vigorously defended using shite like culture, or religion or common practice. We haven’t expunged all the horrible practises of our white western culture by any means. We are still working, for example, on racism, something that’s been ingrained in many cultures for thousands of years. I suspect our rock thrower and his defenders wish we’d get on with ridding our culture of that time-honoured tradition.

I’ve no doubt that many Indigenous Australians will understand that animal pain and suffering is horrible; just like human pain is. I’ve no doubt that Aboriginal culture is evolving just like others to be less barbarous. Most Aboriginal people don’t stone wombats, just like most non-Aboriginals don’t shoot ducks with shotguns.

Steven Pinker in his uplifting book, Better Angels of our Nature describes the evolution of (mostly western) culture and the decline of violence; it’s been a wonderful thing.

Culture isn’t cast in stone, thank goodness.

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Geoff Russell is a regular contributor to New Matilda. He has qualifications in mathematics and has written software all of his working life, but in the past decade has devoted increasing time to writing non-fiction with a simple goal... make the world a better place. A three-decade vegan and member of the Animal Justice Party, his first book in 2009 was 'CSIRO Perfidy', a critique of the high-red-meat CSIRO 'Total Wellbeing diet'; the most environmentally destructive diet on the planet. His concerns about climate change and the ineffectiveness of renewables led to a re-examination of his lifelong opposition to nuclear power. After considerable research he realised that the reasons people fear nuclear are built on obsolete knowledge about DNA and cancer. Geoff's second book 'GreenJacked! Derailing environmental action on climate change' is an e-book available on Amazon. He has been a regular contributor to since 2008 and has had pieces published in The Monthly, Australasian Science and a number of Australian newspapers.