Australia and the “biological cringe”

The cultural cringe was the name given to the Australian self-loathing/assumption that all things British were Better, which only became seriously challenged in the 70s and 80s, and can still be found in some people’s brains today.  Clock this below for an interesting take on how “we” hated and feared the weird animals and plants we “found.” (Scare quotes because there were people here first, who’d been here for at least 40,000 years).

Australia revealed the paradox of the ‘new lands’ most sharply – it was newly discovered and settled by Europeans and it was new in the sense of being seen to be raw, unclaimed, unformed and full of promise. But the land, its nature and peoples, was also typecast as ancient, primitive and endemically resistant to progress. It was a land of living fossils, a continental museum where the past was made present in nature, a ‘paleontological penal colony’. Marsupials like the kangaroo and koala and monotremes like the platypus and echidna were considered undeveloped or inefficient compared to placental mammals. Following ‘cosmic laws’, natives of all kinds were expected to ‘fade away’ in the face of exotics because they were inferior – and many settlers felt it wise to help such a process along in case the aboriginality of the country should reassert itself. Acclimatization societies systematically imported species that were regarded as useful, aesthetic or respectably wild to fill the perceived gaps in primitive Australian nature. This ‘biological cringe’ was remarkably persistent and even informed twentieth-century preservation movements, when people came to feel that the remnants of the relic fauna, flora and peoples, genetically unable to fend for themselves, should be ‘saved’.

[Footnote 12 Biological cringe is an adaptation of a famous Australian phrase ‘cultural cringe,’ and was recently used by Nick Drayson in ‘Comparing Australian Animals: Australia and the ‘Biological Cringe’” paper presented to the British Australian Studies Association, 30 August 1996]
Page 3 of Ecology and Empire: Towards an Australian history of the world by Tom Griffiths, the introductory chapter to Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies edited by Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin Keele University Press 1997

Here’s a scribd page of the book.

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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2 Responses to Australia and the “biological cringe”

  1. robpatrob says:

    Got me thinking – sheep are the new animals that struggle in the dry conditions – but Roos thrive and Roo meat is I believe good to eat. In America we killed 60 million buffalo and replaced them with as many sick cows in feed lots – see where I am going Dwight?

    If we work with the local fit – we get a lot with so much less damage

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Roos, yes. At moment they get turned into pet food. Camels (not indigenous, of course) are also in the firing line as a source of meat…


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