Journal Article

  • The political platypus and colonial koala – decolonising the way we talk about Australian animals
    Ashby, J.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 9, pages 35 - 45

    Australian mammals are generally considered fondly, however there are particular trends in the way that they are represented in museums and other educational settings which inadvertently perpetuate a colonial view of these species by inferring relative inferiority. These tropes include describing species as ‘weird and wonderful’, ‘strange’, ‘peculiar’ and primitive; using often unhelpful comparisons with placental mammals; implying that convergent evolution is directional; the ways that placental-derived names deny Australian mammals an individuality; and the notion that ‘everything in Australia is trying to kill you’.
    While these practices appear harmless, they risk devaluing and othering Australian wildlife. This paper traces the origins of these habits among early colonial accounts of Australia, and concludes that value judgements continue to be applied to Australian species, unlike animals from elsewhere. These subconscious suggestions that Australian animals are inferior have inevitable impact on the ability to lobby for their conservation; and were intertwined with political arguments for the British invasion and colonisation of Australia, which has had profound impacts on Indigenous Australians.

    Keywords: Decolonisation, decolonial approaches, marsupials, monotremes, Australia, history of science, museum interpretation, taxonomy, public engagement, Indigenous Australia