Imagining New Human-Animal Futures in Australia

by Jane Mummery (Author) Debbie Rodan (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 348 Pages


Examining social imaginaries is important for exploring how we might live differently. This interdisciplinary book combines ethical, narrative, and media analysis to investigate emerging ideas regarding human-animal interaction and cohabitation in Australia in the twenty-first century. The authors appraise the range of conventions, standards, and narratives that have driven Australians’ interactions with animals. They further trace how animal advocates, activist groups, and other influencers are calling for change, together with inspiring everyday Australians to better consider the status and wellbeing of animals in Australia. In this work they draw on a wide range of sources: from activist campaigning and well-known cultural narratives to diverse forms of mainstream media production and scientific analysis. They examine the treatment of livestock animals, common understandings of companion animals, the protection of threatened species, the complexity of living alongside native animals, and the possible rewilding of Australian communities and landscapes. The book also addresses the question of what living in more-than-human, multispecies communities might mean and look like in practice. In every chapter the authors endeavour to better understand how Australians live alongside animals and imagine how better models for interaction, cohabitation, and communal living with animals might be built.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • CHAPTER 1. Imagining Human-Animal Relations in the Australian Anthropocene
  • CHAPTER 2. Riding the Sheep’s Back: From Live Stock to Sentience
  • CHAPTER 3. Transitioning Australia’s Meat-Eating Culture
  • CHAPTER 4. Making Friends and Kin with Companion Animals: Skippy to Red Dog
  • CHAPTER 5. Neither Food nor Friend: Cohabiting with the Animals Out There
  • CHAPTER 6. Stewardship, Sustainability, and Protecting the Great Barrier Reef
  • CHAPTER 7. Different/Together: Building More-Than-Human Communities
  • POSTSCRIPT. Making Change
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Figure 1. An illustration of the impact of bauxite mining in mature Jarrah forest near Dwellingup, Western Australia. This image, taken in May 2021, shows the three phases of mining in one frame: (a) clearing and stacking of mature Jarrah before burning (lower area); (b) strip mining (upper left and centre); (c) replanting (top right). Key issues are that restoration cannot reinstate the full ecological functionality and resilience of old growth forest and it is uncertain in a drying climate whether restoration areas will achieve old growth status at all. Source: Photo courtesy of Dave Osborne, WalkGPS.com.au.

Figure 2. ‘Aussie Spirit’ mural created by Melbourne’s Murals at Black Rock, Victoria, to pay tribute to the many volunteers who worked to support Australia’s wildlife after the Black Summer fires of 2019–2020. Source: Photo courtesy of Kevin Rennie.

Figure 3. Intensive poultry farming for meat at a South Australian farm in 2016. Source: Photo courtesy of the Farm Transparency Project.

Figure 4. RSPCA, Animals Australia, leading politicians, and thousands of concerned Australians gathered in Australian capital cities to rally for a kinder future free from the cruelty of live export. Image from Ban Live Export National Rally in 2011 in Sydney, New South Wales. Source: Photo courtesy of James Morgan and Nikki To.

Figure 5. Vegan activist groups such as Vegan Australia strive to remind Australians that there is no substantive ←vii | viii→difference between the animals we choose as companions and those we treat as resources for our consumption – both are sentient. This image is from a ‘Choose Vegan’ campaign carried out by Vegan Australia in Melbourne, Victoria, in 2017. Source: Photo courtesy of Vegan Australia.

Figure 6. Make It Possible campaign poster from Animals Australia. Source: Photo by author.

Figure 7. Many Australian birds such as these wild sulphur crested cockatoos in Sherbrooke, Victoria, are intensely curious, intelligent, social and prepared to interact with humans. Such transient interactions could be considered as a building block for the extension of kinship outside of companion species. Source: Photo by Laya Clode on Unsplash.

Figure 8. Kangaroo Island, South Australia, has been described as an Australian equivalent of the Galapagos. As this satellite image released by NASA shows, over half a million acres – almost half – of the island was burnt during the 2019–2020 Black Summer bushfires. This included 96 per cent of Flinders Chase National Park, one of Australia’s oldest national parks, and a home to a vibrant diversity of species, including many endangered animals and birds. Source: Photo from NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin.

Figure 9. A volunteer in Canberra topping up water containers to support wildlife on Black Mountain, Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), while guarding against smoke inhalation from the 2019–2020 Black Summer bush fires. Source: Photo courtesy of Josephine Mummery.

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Figure 10. Brumbies in the Snowy Mountains, Kosciuszko National Park, Australia. Source: Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash.

Figure 11. Land clearing in north Queensland. Queensland remains a deforestation front in Australia with most clearing in the state linked to the cattle industry. Source: Photo courtesy of Bill Laurance.

Figure 12. Coral bleaching severity survey on Orpheus Island 2017, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Source: Photo courtesy of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Flickr account (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Figure 13. Dog agility courses have been designed to allow dogs and humans to play in ways that provide dogs with mental and physical stimulation. Agility courses can be either run competitively or just for fun. Dogs would typically run and play in such spaces off-leash. Source: Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hamilton.

Figure 14. Nesting boxes installed at a height of ten metres in trees at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Western Australia, during an artist’s residency in the spring of 2009. The residency culminated in an exhibition entitled ‘to hear the language of birds’. Nesting boxes were in use by galahs when the artist visited the site a year later. Source: Photo courtesy of Paul Uhlmann.

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As is the case for every author with every book, we are indebted to and thankful for the contributions and support offered to us by colleagues, friends, and family, as well as by our series editor and Peter Lang’s excellent staff. We are particularly thankful to Anne Brewster, editor of the series Australian Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, at Peter Lang Oxford, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. We are also appreciative of the support that Edith Cowan University and Federation University have given to this project. We would like to thank Claire Dolling, Terry Eyssens, Cheryl Lange, Josephine Mummery, Marnie Nolton, Laurel Plapp, Jessica Reeves, and David Smyth for all their varied assistance in helping us bring this book into reality as well as helping us avoid some real bloopers. We would also like to thank Sylvia Hamilton, Bill Laurance, Greg McFarlane, Josephine Mummery (again), David Osbourne, Kevin Rennie, David Smyth, and Paul Uhlmann for generously sharing some of their photographs with us. Without these various contributions this book would be significantly less rich. We would finally like to note our appreciation for the various nonhuman members of our respective households and broader communities who share our space, demand our time and care, and draw us away from the computer.

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Australian Animal Welfare Strategy


Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Australian Conservation Foundation


Australian Capital Territory


Australian Marine Conservation Society


Australian and New Zealand Army Corps


Animal Protection Index


Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation




Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act


From Paddock to Plate


Great Barrier Reef


Great Barrier Reef Foundation


Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority


Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Meat & Livestock Australia


National Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Organisation←xiii | xiv→


North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance


National Farmers’ Federation


Non-governmental organization


New South Wales


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


Wildlife Information and Rescue Service


World Wide Fund for Nature

←xiv | 1→


Australians are lucky. We live in cities and towns with green spaces – parks, reserves, botanical gardens, coastal foreshores. Many of us also have green spaces – gardens – attached to our homes. Our urban and suburban spaces are inhabited by a multitude of nonhuman species: animals as well as plants. These spaces teem not just with ubiquitous insects, spiders, and other non-vertebrate life – some of which we admittedly consider undesirable living companions (cockroaches, termites, silverfish, various wasp species, poisonous spiders, to name a few) – but with the raucous birds native to Australia, multiple species of lizards and snakes, companion as well as other introduced animals. Some of Australia’s native animals might also reside in our communities and in our backyards. Living by the coast or near other water sources – our rivers and lakes – makes other species visible to us too: fish, sharks, dolphins and whales, tortoises and turtles, rays, and other water-based species. We see and hear what is in our proximity – we marvel at the visitations of whales and dolphins, fear the visitations of sharks, groan at the noisiness of birdsong early in the morning, grumble at the ruckus and mess from cockatoos and galahs descending on our flowering shrubs and trees, and plan walking and running routes to avoid being swooped by magpies during spring nesting times. Some of us might go fishing or crabbing in nearby waterways. Many of us share our lives with companion animals, but we might also participate in backyard bird counts, take up birdwatching, swim with seals, dolphins, whale sharks or even sharks, go snorkelling, surfing or diving, or visit wildlife parks and zoos. This ubiquity of nonhuman life close to us is, however, also a problem. It can mean we do not notice the losses in biodiversity that are increasing throughout Australia.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has assessed that nearly a million species face extinction across the world (IPBES, 2019; Leahy, 2019), and the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report 2020 has reported that the ←1 | 2→past fifty years (1970 to 2020) has seen the loss of almost 70 per cent of the animals on Earth (WWF, 2020b). Through global surveying, Australia has been identified as one of the highest contributors to species extinction and biodiversity loss. Climate change is further exacerbating the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity, particularly through Australia’s increased rates of catastrophic bushfire. These issues are expected to give further impetus to what is being labelled an extinction crisis. Unfortunately, this has been a largely invisible crisis for many Australians – perhaps because we continue to see a variety of nonhuman life in our backyards and suburbs and thus assume the health of other ecosystems. At the same time, Australians loudly proclaim their care for animals, with substantial public engagement in a wide variety of animal welfare debates. Some of these examine the fates of farmed animals within agriculture and Australia’s live animal export industry; of Australia’s native animals whose habitat is destroyed through land development and agricultural use, as well as the disaster of catastrophic fire; of introduced animals perceived to threaten the remnant habitat of native species, agricultural interests or native species directly; and of those animals used and managed in entertainment industries and hunting. Such debates also extend to how conflicts between human and animal interests should be managed, whether this is to do with the tensions between preserving animal habitat and our development interests, or how to manage the threat to human life perceived posed by sharks. Australia is also a country known for its iconic and charismatic species (usually taken to mean animals with popular appeal and some symbolic value, see, e.g., Ducarme et al., 2013),1 and for the natural environment experiences – including animal experiences – it offers visitors. It is a country, in other words, where the divergent and competing interests of humans and of other species are in ongoing and sometimes very visible tension, and where there is little agreement about how to manage these tensions.

This, then, is the context of this book which is aiming to identify and map some of the main assumptions and narratives of human-animal relations in common use within Australia. More specifically, this book is driven by two overlapping objectives. The first is to contextualize and outline some of the key features of human-animal relations in Australia as told through common and shared narratives of social life. The second is to explore some ←2 | 3→of the ways these relations might be – and are starting to be – imagined differently, with these imaginings slowly gaining some public visibility via the circulation of counter-narratives. Considering these imaginings together, we suggest, might lead to different, more respectful ways of living with and among animals, and new – better – futures in Australia with regards to human-animal relations and communities. As this book will endeavour to show, common Australian narratives regarding human-animal relations have generated and maintained some very particular perspectives with regards to (a) what is taken for granted in human-animal relations, and (b) what is considered normal treatment and management of animals across various contexts. These narratives not only highlight and share several assumptions and value judgements regarding nonhuman animals and human-animal relations, but further normalize individual as well as institutional understandings and practices. At the same time, such narratives need to be recognized as able to be reshaped and/or countered, and indeed, as actively being challenged through the circulation and promotion of a variety of counter-narratives. Mainstream narratives may describe normative views and practices, but they do not thereby entail the continuation of these views and practices, unchanged, into the future.

Social Imaginaries and the Functions of Narrative

In order to examine both the current dynamics and possible developments of human-animal relations in a broad Australian context, we engage the concept of social imaginary. Basically, as defined by the philosopher Charles Taylor (2004), a social imaginary refers to a very broad collective understanding about how the world should be and how members of a society should live together. It is the prevailing common sense of a society, the ‘invisible cement’ that binds a given society together (Castoriadis, 1975/1987, p. 143). More specifically, social imaginary refers to the shared, even paradigmatic, understandings that make possible the common practices, models for relationships, and widely shared senses of legitimacy that inform a society. It stands for the way the people of a given ←3 | 4→society envision their relations to others, their shared norms and ideas of existence, and how that collective sense provides legitimacy to their self-understandings, surroundings, and their everyday practices. These shared understandings of self and normative social practices are intertwined with what Taylor refers to as the ‘moral order’ of a society, by which he means ‘the rights and obligations we have as individuals in regard to each other’ in the broad societal context (2004, p. 4). More broadly, a society’s moral order refers to the models and parameters of relationships that are seen as normal by members of that society and typically reflected in that society’s legal system. These would include relationships between people, between people and their surroundings, between people and animals, and even between people and their symbolic systems (such as God). To use Taylor’s (p. 23) words, a social imaginary refers to:

something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with each other, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.


XIV, 348
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
animal welfare animal activism in Australia social change Imagining New Human-Animal Futures in Australia Jane Mummery Debbie Rodan
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 348 pp., 14 fig. col., 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Jane Mummery (Author) Debbie Rodan (Author)

Jane Mummery is Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with Federation University, having previously held the roles of Senior Lecturer and Lecturer in Philosophy at Federation University and Edith Cowan University. She is the author of four previous books and numerous articles examining ethical and political understandings of and models for social change. Her research explores the ethical and political dimensions of everyday life and currently revolves around the challenging of neoliberal and anthropocentric assumptions. Her specific interests concern the reorienting of value and identity construction across and through the public sphere, activist action, and human-animal-environmental relations. Debbie Rodan is Honorary Associate Professor in Media & Cultural Studies at Edith Cowan University, having previously held the roles of Masters of Professional Communication Coordinator, Director of a Research Centre (CREATEC), and Senior Lecturer. She is the author of three previous books and numerous articles examining identity construction in the media, digital media activism, and public deliberation about animal welfare. Her specific research interest centres on public attitudes to animal welfare, identity construction, and digital media use for social change.


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