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Queensland became a separate British colony from NSW in 1859, cash poor but rich in land. The first parliaments knew a prosperous pastoral industry would generate income for Queensland through wool and beef exports so the politicians listened to the wants and needs of their constituents on the land.

One pressing complaint of the rural sector, both agricultural and grazing concerned kangaroos, wallabies and other marsupials. They ate food intended for both humans and stock and drank sparse water in drought-prone areas.

The situation couldn’t go on. Action was needed, action that took the form of a new law:

1877 Title

Image 1. The header of Queensland’s new law authorising a cull of kangaroos, wallabies and other marsupials. Image from the Queensland Government Gazette 1877 Volume XXI.

‘Destruction of Marsupials’ quite simply meant money for scalps. In the 1877 Act a scalp is defined as “a portion of the skin of the head of any marsupial to which both of its ears are attached”.

BACKGROUND

The Queensland Governor, Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy introduced the Marsupial Destruction Act to the seventh parliament of Queensland. In his speech he said:

I have heard with regret of the ravages made by Marsupial animals in some of the pastoral districts. I trust that the Act which deals with this matter will be found to have a beneficial effect. (Queensland Government Gazette, 1877 volume 21 page 1021.)

THE SAUNDERS’ EXPERIENCE

George Saunders’ Springfield (now Saunders Beach) was in the Kennedy Pastoral District. Just how bad were kangaroos, wallabies and other marsupials in the Kennedy? At Springfield in particular? Newspapers and books of the time may tell us. A source giving a more human aspect are the letters of another pioneer selector of that era, Robert Logan Jack and his family.

Jack took up land in the early 1880s south-east of Townsville, in the vicinity of Mt Elliot (nowadays in the area around the Palm Creek Folk Festival), also in the Kennedy District. The Saunders’ Springfield lay about the same distance from Townsville but to the north.

Jack named his selection Strathendrick. The letters from “Strathendrick Townsville” appear in Jack’s biography Putting Queensland on the Map: The Life of Robert Logan Jack, Geologist and Explorer (Additional Material). The book was written by his great-granddaughter, Felicity Jack.

The letters to relatives in Scotland are peppered with tales of kangaroos and wallabies, so frequent as to be commonplace. Such events as:

  • wallabies eating “an acre of sweet potatoes” (from Janet Jack, 18 July 1882);
  • the flesh of a young kangaroo being “as good as beef” in soups and stews (from Jessie Love, 27 Feb 1883);
  • a kangaroo being shot. “It had a small one in the pouch and Robert was very sorry” he did not get to keep “the baby to train” (from Ellie F. Love, 14 Sep 1883);
  • a female house guest who brought a baby kangaroo – it was “as dirty and odious as a monkey” (from Jessie Love, 17 Jan 1884); and
  • hunting with “kangaroo dogs” who “killed a nice kangaroo” and “we had it stewed for tea” (from Ellie F. Love, 11 Sep 1885).

It seems reasonable to assume, because of the short geographical distance between the two properties and overall similarity in climate, that the Saunders’ experience  with kangaroos and wallabies was comparable.

The Crown Land Files from the Queensland State Archives that relate to Springfield state an inspection was carried out on the property on 5 August 1890. The inspection revealed four acres (about 1.6 hectares) was given over to “gardens and orchard”. George Saunders’ wife, Elizabeth was an Irish farmer’s daughter before she immigrated to North Queensland and would have been raised to value home grown vegetables.

It is known that the Saunders entertained with at least one house party. How frequently guests brought kangaroos is not known.

Marsupials as pets:

HOW THE ACT WORKED

The Marsupial Destruction Act went through many revisions and renewals and officially ceased operating in 1930.

For the Act to work successfully the money men received for scalps had to be worthwhile. In 1877 the Queensland Government devised a scheme in which it matched funds collected from landholders. The weighty bureaucratic structure relied on a landholder’s honesty in the first instance, in that they had to lodge a return of the number of sheep, cattle and horses by a fixed time.

An involved system of fines could be imposed along the way. Eventually the Queensland Government ceased to match the amount of the levy raised from landholders, its contribution decreasing with each successive Act.

THURINGOWA MARSUPIAL BOARD

The original Thuringowa Divisional Board was a sprawling mass, extending from beyond Ayr in the south, westwards to the Great Dividing Range (Mingela included) and north to Crystal Creek. The sea formed the eastern boundary. Not included was the Municipality of Townsville, centred on Castle Hill. The landholders of Thuringowa elected Marsupial Boards in 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1894 and 1895. In 1890 – 91 there was no Marsupial Act in force.

Some features of Thuringowa Marsupial Board:

  • It sought permission from the Queensland Government in June 1883 for the funds not used in 1882 to be carried over to 31 December 1883. The Government agreed to this.
  • It used the prescribed minimum for both the stockholder levy and the amount paid to scalpers.
  • Its area of responsibility was made up of small holdings as opposed to the big runs of outback Queensland.

The area of the Thuringowa Marsupial Board came within the Townsville Land Agent’s District. Despite the Townsville Land Agent’s District being declared “grievously infested with marsupials” in 1900 the Thuringowa Marsupial Board was not reconstituted.

A general assumption can be made from this and the fact only eleven Marsupial Board were elected in Thuringowa out of a possible fifty-three: Thuringowa landholders as represented by the Thuringowa Marsupial Board had no interest and/or confidence in Marsupial Boards ridding their lands of marsupial “pests”. Why? There could be several reasons for this:

  • Landholders in Thuringowa did not think of marsupials as “pests”. Throughout the fifty-three years Marsupial Acts were in force landholders could kill marsupials on their property without claiming a bonus. Robert Logan Jack at Strathendrick  did this, organising kangaroo hunting trips and consuming the spoils.
  • The costs of doing business for Thuringowa landholders were enough, without adding the marsupial levy.
  • Some scalpers damaged landholders property and/or stayed too long. Until it was outlawed they used poison and that poison was a risk to sheep and cattle [Hrdina 1997].

1889 – A YEAR IN THE WORKINGS OF THE THURINGOWA MARSUPIAL BOARD

George Saunders himself was a civic-minded man, willing to put himself forward for public office. In 1880 when George Saunders and his family lived at the Bohle he was elected to the first Thuringowa Divisional Board. He was elected to the Thuringowa Marsupial Board in 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1894. By then the Saunders family were living at Springfield.

1882 was the first year that stockowners in Thuringowa elected a Marsupial Board. By the time George Saunders sat on the Marsupial Board in 1887, Section 3 of the Marsupial Destruction Act of 1881 defined a Board as:

In every district there shall be a Marsupial Board which shall be composed of five owners to be elected as hereinafter provided…

The Act goes on to say that an owner of not less than 500 head of cattle or 2,500 sheep was eligible to sit on a Marsupial Board.

One of the duties of a Marsupial Board was to set rates of payment for land holders based on the number of cattle, horses and sheep they owned. To fulfil this role a Marsupial Board bore a heavy responsibility.  It was financial levy on their fellow land holders. In 1889 the Thuringowa Marsupial Board set rates as follows:

QGG1889 Rate per Head

Image 5. From Queensland Government Gazette 1889 volume 46 page 1391. The decimal currency equivalent of 1s. (shilling or 12 pence) is 10 cents.

One shilling was the lowest amount that could be levied by a Marsupial Board.

The Act in force in 1889 set the rate of bonuses (bounties) per marsupial scalp for scalpers. For handing in a scalp of a: kangaroo or wallaroo – 8 pence; and wallaby or paddamelon – 4 pence.

In the same year the Thuringowa Marsupial Board applied to the Queensland Government to include the scalp of dingoes on the list of scalps they would accept. Permission was granted at more than five shillings per scalp.

Pugh's Almanac was available in Townsville.

Image 6. Another aid for Queensland landholders in the battle against the kangaroo ‘pest’. Pugh’s Almanac 1889.

CONCLUSION

Over the period from 1877 to 1930 27 million kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, paddamelons, bandicoots, foxes and dingoes were destroyed under various Marsupial Destruction Acts. Marsupial Boards authorised payment of over £1,187,000 (one pound £ equals $2) in bonuses  to scalpers. Of that £349,000 came from the Queensland Government. [Hrdina 1997 Abstract]

Was the scheme a success? Again to quote Hrdina, page 285:

…the result of the programme was, in fact, no decrease and perhaps even an increase in the numbers of these species of large macropods [kangaroo and wallaroo] and possibly also the dingo.

He goes on to say:

The data suggest that there were significant declines among the smaller…and less numerous smaller macropods [e.g. wallaby, pademelon] and bandicoots.

All macropod species have been protected nationwide since 1952 and regulated from 1954. With kangaroos becoming valuable for their skins and meat, codes of conduct for commercial and non-commercial killings were introduced in 2008. Over two million large marsupials are harvested in four states per year, the largest in Queensland’s rangelands. The harvest is sustainable, with Queensland hunters having to comply with the national code.

 

Image 7. On a flagpole in Atoll Street the Australian Flag is proudly flown. Below is the boxing kangaroo flag, which is popular with Aussies at international sporting events.

Image 7. On a flagpole in Atoll Street the Australian Flag is proudly flown. Below it is the boxing kangaroo flag, popular with Aussies at international sporting events.

Kangaroo warning sign for motorists, Balgal Beach. This beach is another of Townsville's northern beaches.

Image 8. Kangaroo warning sign for motorists, Balgal Beach. This beach is another of Townsville’s northern beaches.

Do you have any tales of kangaroos and wallabies at Saunders Beach? If you have Saunders Beach History Project would love to hear from you via a comment below or email saundersbeachhistoryproject @ yahoo.com (To protect our address spaces are inserted either side of the @; please remove when you email us. Thank you.)

References.

Australian Government Department of the Environment 2008 National codes of practice (commercial and non-commercial) for the humane shooting of kangaroos and wallabies. Viewed 22 July 2016. https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/publications/national-codes-practice-humane-shooting-kangaroos-and-wallabies

Boom, Keely; Ben-Ami, Dror; Croft, David B.; Cushing, Nancy; Ramp, Daniel; and Boronyak, Louise, 2012 ‘Pest’ and Resource: A Legal History of Australia’s Kangaroos, Animal Studies Journal, Animal Studies Journal 1(1) 17-40. University of Wollongong. Viewed 10 August 2016. http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=asj

Crown Land Files: Queensland State Archives Item ID 62929 Selection File No. 319.

Hrdina, FC 1997 Marsupial Destruction in Queensland, 1877 – 1930. Australian Zoologist 30(3) 272-286. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. Viewed 13 July 2016.

Image 1 –

  • Queensland – because Queensland was a colony of Great Britain and because Great Britain had a monarch as its head all Queensland’s laws came into force under the monarch at the time.
  • Coat of arms belongs to the British monarchy. Dieu et mon droit – ‘God and my right’ is the motto of the British monarchy.
  • ANNO QUADRAGESIMO PRIMO – Forty first year.
  • Victoriæ Reginæ – Queen Victoria was the British monarch. 1877 was the forty-first year of her reign.
  • Assented to 5th of November 1877. All laws debated and decided upon by the Queensland Parliament had royal assent (agreement), either by the reigning monarch in England or her Governor in Brisbane.

Image 2. Australian War Memorial, ID Number 129018. Viewed 15 July 2016. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/129018/

Image 3. Australian War Memorial, ID Number C02595. Viewed 15 July 2016. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C02595/

Image 4. Australian War Memorial, ID Number 015552. Viewed 15 July 2016. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/015552/

Image 5. Queensland Government Gazette From 1 January To 30 April 1889 page 1391. Viewed 16 July 2016.  http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/2d5abccdadf85501a1636ca4bf529e7e

Image 6. Pugh’s Almanac 1889 page ii, Advertisement for Lysaght Bros. & Co. Ltd. Viewed 16 July 2016. http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/0160cca6b04fa1813b06a708bcfed30e

Jack, F 2008, Putting Queensland on the Map: The Life of Robert Logan Jack, Geologist and Explorer, UNSW Press, Sydney.

The State of Queensland (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection) 2016, Overview of the Queensland macropod industry. Viewed 16 July 2016. http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/assets/documents/plants-animals/wildlife-permits/macropods-qld/overview-qld-macropod-industry.pdf

Queensland Government Gazette, Centre for the Government of Queensland, Text Queensland:

1877 Volume XXI, Marsupial Destruction Act of 1877, page 1039.http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/268eecc2770267faa589c5ab165a9553

1900 Volume 73, Order in Council, 2 February 1900, page 395.http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/eaa2968ef0b7b3fccf2adb326baaa191

A shortened version of this article appeared in the April/May 2016 Beach Banter. The Beach Banter is the newsletter of the Saunders Beach Community Centre Inc.