Australia’s Conflict of Values over Live Exports: Backlash by Bidda Jones and Julian Davies

Posted on August 12, 2016 by in Verity La Reviews

live exportReview by P.S. Cottier

As I was reading Backlash, the NSW State Liberal Government and the ACT Labor (with a dash of Green) Government announced that they would both abolish greyhound racing in their respective jurisdictions. When this happens, in mid 2017, I believe it may be the first time in Australia that a whole industry will close based on animal welfare concerns.*

The campaign against the live export industry is different, in that it is not calling for an end to beef cattle and sheep being raised in Australia; it is not a demand for an end to farming. About three million animals are sent overseas per year to meet their fate.  While this export represents the ‘largest planned mass transport of animals in human history’ (Backlash, p189), it actually involves only a small proportion of the number of animals raised in Australia.  Most are killed at home for our own people, and for export as meat.

Backlash is a fascinating book in that it deals with the ethical and political background to live export, while having an actual narrative shaping the discussion of these issues. The narrative pivots around the 2011 program ‘A Bloody Business’, with the lead-up to that Four Corners exposé of slaughter of cattle in Indonesia, and the follow-up, forming the arc of the story. There is a colourful cast of characters in the book, ranging from Barnaby Joyce to Lyn White of Animals Australia, through to one of the authors, Bidda Jones, who ‘leads the science and policy team’ at the RSPCA.

In 2011, after the program was broadcast, live export was briefly banned under the Gillard Government.  The ‘backlash’ of the title refers to the reaction of subsequent governments and the industry to that decision, and the way that criticisms of live export have been managed and distorted.

The detail in the book will fascinate those who would like an insight into how our political system works. The committees, the enquiries, the lobbyists, the spin merchants and the media all take their places on the pages. Canberra residents and fly-ins will recognise some of the places in which discussions, both official and non-official, took place.

I can remember the rallies that occurred after the broadcast of the program, and attended the Canberra one, where the author (Jones) apparently spoke, although I can’t remember that. (I was too busy patting dogs.) For me, and for many other people, the revelations of the Four Corners program demanded a response. Indeed, the public response was unprecedented. Over 100,000 letters to the PM were generated within a few weeks through the Ban Live Exports site, for example (p102).

Backlash coverHowever, the Abbott Government has since closed down animal welfare committees and abolished parts of the relevant department that concerned itself with animal welfare. These moves are detailed in Backlash. Malcolm Turnbull has not changed this, although the Productivity Commission has recently said that an independent national animal welfare body should be established.

There is an obvious impossibility in enforcing Australian standards of slaughter once the cattle leave our shores, and the book investigates the minimal standards that do exist, and the ways that these minimal standards are now only subject to self-regulation in practice. Having all animals slaughtered in Australia would obviously create more jobs here, and avoid the industry’s exposure to rabid fluctuations in the market, which are an inevitable part of this trade.  It would mean that the way animals are killed can be monitored and legally enforced.

I find it fascinating that one of the tactics used by the animal welfare groups in publicity material was to name the animals portrayed in the footage of violent slaughter. If not humanising them, this elevates them closer to the status of a pet; that privileged caste of animal that crosses into the household. This is, I believe, why greyhound racing may actually be on the way out (despite NSW Labor’s shameful support of the industry); people see dogs as a special category. Cattle (the word derives from the same old French one that gives us ‘chattel’) or livestock are not often given this status. Malcolm Turnbull’s website contains a sub-blog apparently written by a cute pet dog called JoJo (now egregiously out of date); this type of anthropomorphism is a staple of the web, but is not so often extended to other animals, particularly the ones that most of us eat.

Some of the responses to calls for animal welfare are quite hilarious, implying that ‘city-slickers’ have no right to comment on how animals (except, one assumes, the JoJos of suburbia) are treated. This is in stark contrast to the supermarket chains, which are responding to pressure by consumers and animal welfare groups and sourcing more ethically produced meat and eggs. The urban and the rural are inextricably linked, and all Australians have a right to comment on what our governments allow, whether it affects animals, people, or both. The moves towards a cessation of ‘mulesing’ (stripping away a sheep’s skin to avoid fly-strike in the Australian wool industry) show how those with little direct experience of raising animals can bring about positive changes in an industry, and Backlash touches on this.

In amongst the fog of ugly manoeuvring that Backlash navigates, a few things shine brightly, primarily the gut-wrenching commitment to hard work by the various animal welfare professionals. People like Bidda Jones and Lyn White. Occasionally even a politician emerges over the ramparts of murk; Andrew Wilkie has been a consistent spokesperson for animal welfare, for example.

Backlash also describes how farmers have been recast as the victims of the temporary stay on exports. This is despite the fact that most farmers are not engaged in live export, and many argue that its existence distorts the industry and holds Australia back from gaining a reputation for ethically produced meat. New Zealand, for example, has concentrated on exporting meat based on such a reputation, and does not export live animals for slaughter elsewhere.

After the outrage at the Four Corners program, and the temporary suspension of exports, there has been the development of a system designed to track each head of cattle from Australia to slaughter. (Sheep are not individually tracked.) Backlash examines how this system seems to have inadequate safeguards, and the government seems content, if not delighted, to stand back from any real role in regulation, thus avoiding responsibility. Attempts to introduce ‘ag-gag’ legislation, whereby anyone filming inside private facilities is necessarily committing an offence, walk hand-in-hand with such policies. (The attempt to legislate was by a private member’s bill.)  Without such film, it is impossible for anyone outside the industry to know what is happening. Such people are to be commended, not treated as criminals.

The arguments that Australia can improve animal welfare outcomes by exporting animals to countries with dubious welfare practices is dissected by this book. A special sort of slaughter box we exported, for example, has been shown to contribute to animals’ suffering, and the whole idea that we can enforce our own expectations in another country is highly problematic. The oft-repeated argument that we have a responsibility to export meat is, of course, not an argument for live export, and is also subject to scrutiny in Backlash.

The actual journey of animals for weeks in inadequate conditions is as important as the way they are killed, and the book thoroughly details this aspect of the industry, which is less dramatic than the slaughter, but arguably, at least as cruel.

Indeed, the thoroughness of Backlash is admirable, and my only criticisms are minor.  Firstly, I did not like the fact that so many people featured in the book as involved in the campaign against live export also provided blurbs for the back. No-one believes that blurbs are neutral missives fallen from the sky, but many of these seem a little too embedded. Secondly, the cover’s bleakness, while in some ways appropriate to the content, showing an extreme close up of an animal’s body against a black background, is rather off-putting, and may discourage a casual reader. Both of these criticisms are of presentation, rather than of the content, which is invaluable.

I hope to live to see the end of live exports, as it is a stupid and brutal industry, providing only insecure employment to people and certain pain to animals.  The vested interests supporting the industry have a great influence on the Government though, far more than is the case in the greyhound industry (putting aside the gambling lobby, of course). Barnaby Joyce is quoted in the book from a press release: ’If it’s protein and walks on four legs or hops on two and is bigger than a guinea pig than we are going to try and find a market for it’.

Animal welfare is back on the back-burner, it might seem, at least as far as live export is concerned.  But the numbers of responses generated by the Four Corners program show that the ground is shifting. Backlash is an important book, detailing one incident in the long process of sentience being accorded respect. Cattle are not dogs, but gradually they are being seen as so much more than four-legged commodities.

* True, there was once a bounty on koalas, that may have resulted in as many as eight million being slaughtered for fur.  Whether the cessation of that trade was based purely on animal welfare concerns is another issue.

Backlash: Australia’s Conflict of Values over Live Exports
Bidda Jones and Julian Davies
Finlay Lloyd, 2016
208 pages, RRP $22



image credit: Geoffrey Dunn

P.S. Cottier
is a poet, anthologist and writer who lives in Canberra.  She wrote a PhD at ANU on animal imagery in the works of Charles Dickens.  Her latest book is a pamphlet called Paths Into Inner Canberra, which describes a bike ride and the animals that live near, if not in, Parliament House.  This work was described as ‘engaging’ in The Canberra Times.  Her blog as is updated with a new poem nearly every Tuesday, and she even reads poems in public.



Peaks from Start to Finish:
Blemish Books' Triptych Poets Issue Three

Posted on December 18, 2012 by in Verity La Reviews

tp3_cover1Review by Mark William Jackson

A year ago I was sitting here telling you about Triptych Poets Issue 2 from the good people at Blemish Books. I told you about the Penguin Modern Poets series, and how Triptych continues the same tradition – take three poets, produce their chapbooks, shove them all between one set of covers and BAM! introductions and value-for-money all in one neat package. A year is a long time in poetry (well, not really, a century is a short time in poetry), and in the last year I’ve stopped submitting and reviewing. That was until Verity La asked me for a review. I said, ‘No, I don’t do reviews anymore.’ Verity La said, ‘It’s for Triptych number 3.’ I said, ‘Cool, send it over.’

The Triptych Poets Issue 3 covers try to contain the words of P.S. Cottier, Joan Kerr, and J.C. Inman.

The sample I’ve taken of Cottier’s poetry from the collection is observational. In ‘Five Stupid Women’ she sits watching some sort of Stepford wives reunion. Five ladies sitting around discussing nothing much deeper than Paris Hilton and dietary tips:

That one mistakes her daughter’s asides
for intelligence. Her son’s violence,
pushing through toddlers, crowing,
she calls fun, and sniggers.

We’ve all sat at cafes, listening in on the next table, rolling our eyes, internally screaming. Cottier captures the moment with an acerbic, black comedic tone, and a rhythm that marches to a regimented expectation, as I’d imagine the pounding of the shallow ladies jowls would have flapped out their rhythm.

The sporty one, restless in shorts and runners,
speaks sprintingly of lowered GI, then soldiers on…
…Comparing income in the stream
of decaffeinated soyacino.

The poem is effectively one stanza, to aid the reader’s rhythm, the regiment of which I spoke. Except for the last two lines, where Cottier looks back at the poetic persona.

And I sit alone, reading the big boys’ words,
sharpening my little quill.

‘My father’s steps’ by Joan Kerr is eulogic, as you’d expect from the title. In four sections, non-rhyming couples number 6-7-8-6, no noticeable metre. The form slows the reader, extracts the pathos – we are reading about a life lived and worthy of note. The narrative voice, the child of the man, both strong and weak at the same time, and in awe of the man and the subtleties of a time past.

…When he sees I’m trying to keep
in step he alters his rhythm, short long

slow quick. He pretends he doesn’t see how I skip
and stride to keep in step.

There’s a slight smile at the corners of his mouth
but he’ll never stop and laugh, or let me win.

From section one, these lines demonstrate a controlled playfulness in the man, but he maintains a distance, leading the reader to the closing couples of the section:

I always wondered what he thought of me
a question with no boundary

like wondering how the world
that was so big could fit into my eye.

A big question dragged out from childhood memories.

Sections two and three of this poem talk of the house, first empty of people, then the clearing of possessions. The distant tone is maintained in describing the ease in which the house is cleared, people amazed that items are being thrown:

but it was easy in the rhythm of the work.
Two days, not thinking. It was done.

There’s nothing sacred here.
There’s nothing that won’t sink.

Section four folds time into itself:

Under this moon, the earth seems uninhabited.
It might be 80 years ago, the moon unnoticed

by a boy with his head full of Latin,
it might be 80 days ago, the moon unnoticed

 by an old man asleep at 6 o’clock at night…

 … Ninety years, spanning three thousand years

close into distance, silence and the moon
going its way across this little world.

J.C. Inman launches into ‘Your Grandfather’ with a long line, no punctuation:

We held our breath around the breathless beanpole of your grandfather

In a hospital room a family stands around in support:

Hands holding a thread that linked each to each.
I think a rope woven from such silk
Would be called family ties.

The narrative voice is family only through a relationship, as such a distant tone seeps through, similar to Kerr’s ‘My father’s steps’, but providing a more emotional reportage:

For years he had battled the Minotaur with tightened lips and squared jaw.
In the dark he dropped the string and forgot your face.
Lost in a labyrinth, the flesh that fathered the family was laid on a bed
Of stainless and strap until eyes dull-mirrored the fluorescent lights.

 Contrast this tone with ‘Elegy for the Decadents’. A longing for poetic tools of the past, now replaced by laptops and blackberries.

Lament the quill in tinctured tears!…
…Ars Poetica is dead!

Exclaimed lamentations, angry cries as new poets are

crouched around computers and coffee shops!

The sadness, worthy of the title, closes the poem:

Weep! Weep for the poets past who
lived the art
drinking wine and drenched in cunt.

I didn’t want to write too much analysis in this review; I think the poets’ words speak for themselves. I would have liked to have posted more poems but space is constrained. However, I can post another of my favourite Inman poems, ‘Mantra’, in its entirety:


What else can we do?

The Triptych series continues to impress.  How three different poets can be knit together into one seamless collection is a credit to the publishers. The poems flow without troughs, just straight peaks from start to finish.

Triptych Poets Issue 3
P.S Cottier, Joan Kerr, J.C. Inman
Blemish Books, 2012
85 pages, $15.

P.S. Cottier

Posted on October 2, 2012 by in Lighthouse Yarns

LOOKING UP ELEPHANTS' TESTICLES: an interview with <br />P.S. Cottier

P.S. Cottier, also known as PS Cottier, also known as Penelope Cottier, is a poet and short story writer who lives in Canberra, the national capital of Australia. Her book of short stories A Quiet Day and her two poetry collections The Glass Violin and The Cancellation of Clouds have been published by Ginninderra Press. Her poems have found homes in myriad places, both Australian and international, from The Canberra Times to extempore to Gloom Cupboard and beyond. She endeavours to publish a poem a week on her blog,  Thanks to Blemish Books, her poems are sharing the pages of Triptych Poets 3 with those of JC Inman and Joan Kerr. Thanks to Verity La, you get a glimpse at the person behind the poetry, plus a pun or two. Play is serious business, you see. Alliteration and rhyme too.

Interviewer: Duncan Felton


Penelope, your collection Selection Criteria For Death is upcoming in Triptych Poets 3. With a respectable handful of other books published, along with poems in journals, e-zines and on your blog, what does being published in print mean to you? Does the whole submission/acceptance/launch/review process still give just as much of a buzz? And to what extent is this kind of acceptance a motivator, rather than the pure joy/hard slog of the solo creative process?


I think I’m of a generation — or the generations — for whom a book in print is still unquestionably the most important object when we are talking of literature. Now, to contradict myself and question that emphatic statement a little, I also love seeing my work in e-zines and even on my own blog. And Triptych Poets 3 will be an ebook as well. But the sensuality of a book, its ability to stroke the reader as she reads, to have a presence in a room when we leave it… The trees still make a noise, even when wedged between covers.

This book is a little different, as I am being published with people whose work I have not read, something that has only happened to me before in anthologies. So there will be a real sense of discovery reading the other 66%, after, of course, having a good long gloat over my 33%.

I worked on poetry for ages before sending off any for possible publication, and when writing itself is going well, that is still the best thing. However, when people say yes, produce a book, and feed me cheese at launches, that is indeed nice.

Sending off my work is the least best part of the process, particularly if it’s to the type of journal that sits on decisions for twenty years. I’m over sending to certain journals because of that. Those extra slow ones, and the ones that publish two poems by women every third issue and call it a ‘Special Women’s Edition’, are another of my least favourite entities. I’d rather occupy the intertubes (spellcheck made that interludes, which was almost appropriate) and publish on my blog instead. I truly hate the fact that there is a hierarchy of publication in poetry, which would seem to defeat the purpose of using words to show the world in a slightly different light. But I always was an incorrigible idealist.


In Selection Criteria for Death many of your poems feature animals as subject, as metaphor and otherwise. I noticed: cockatoo, crow, crabs, elephant, swan, gecko, guinea pig, wolf, and the list goes on. And your PhD thesis was on animals in the works of Charles Dickens. What is it that keeps you returning to animals in your writing?


That is truly a challenging question, Duncan. About halfway through writing my thesis (which quickly developed the pet name ‘Dogs in Dickens’, despite there being a whole lotta diverse animal in there) I had a vivid memory of borrowing a book from the mobile library near my parents’ house as a young child. It was called The Encyclopedia of Dogs or All About Dogs or some such, and I remembered seeing a rather disturbing illustration in black and white of a man with a dog in it, which fascinated me. About twenty-five years later, I realised that the man was Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist, and the dog was Bullseye. So perhaps all my life I’d been waiting to rediscover that particular dog? Which kind of throws a tack amongst pedestrian ideas of linear progress, doesn’t it?

As long as I can remember I have found it hard to draw the divisions between animals and people that others find easy. I first became vegetarian at eleven, for example, simply because of a sudden realisation of the cruelty involved in any slaughter. (It’s been on and off since then. Oysters are usually my downfall.) Yet other people who are kind think nothing of chomping down on dead things, which I find mystifying. I suppose they just dwell on the deliciousness more than the morality.

The energy and diversity of animals make some of my poems motor along, to use inappropriate Top Gear terminology. ‘The elephant quits the room’ in the new suite, for example, is about an escape of animals used as metaphor from the stale menagerie of cliché. You will note that it contains the phrase ‘coconut-sized cliché’ which originally started as a reference to elephants’ testicles.  I awoke one night from uneasy dreams into the shadow of the knowledge, probably gleaned from David Attenborough, that elephants’ testicles are internal and therefore can not be seen, as can coconuts. Scurrying to Google, I confirmed that this was right. I decided to leave the image, as I liked it anyway. But it occurred to me that this is perhaps the modern definition of a poet: the person looking up elephants’ testicles at 2 a.m., for purely literary purposes.


Another element that stood out to me in your poetry was a sense of play: wordplay, humour, puns and such. Is this an essential element for you when writing? And where should poetry and comedy meet?


Comedy is propping himself up at the bar. In saunters Poetry.  ‘Hey love, why the feminine ending?’ Boom boom and apologies.

When I look back — and I’ll soon be getting to the age where I’ll be expected to bore the shit out of ‘the young uns’ with that sort of phrase — I can remember no happier moment than playing in the sandpit of the neighbouring boy, with his cars. He wanted a proper game of broom broom here come the cops, whereas I wanted to bury the cars and pretend they were treasure. I have been beholden to play and pun ever since. (See?) Perhaps I believe there is an ideal joke somewhere, an ideal play of words, which will transport me into God’s sandpit, and all the special buried vehicles will be revealed. (Perhaps I don’t.)

But I find the prevalence of a certain type of poetry rather offputting. The smooth move from landscape to internal musing. The notion of the self as a strangely unsocial being (although I am an intensely private person myself). The overuse of words such inchoate and luminescence. It really is all bad, IMHO. I don’t want any of that in my own work; I want energy, frequent tickling and an occasional pinch. The natural world is there, but not, I hope, contemplation of it at leisure.

I have always preferred Shakespeare’s comedies, to his tragedies, with all the fervency that only a sometimes depressed person can generate. The notion that bleak and sad is more true than quirky or comic is rather adolescent, and often produces poetry that is only a hop skip and limp from ‘no-one loves me and the weather is crap’. No names will be mentioned.

Of all the literary competitions in Australia, the one I would most like to win is the Cricket Poetry Prize, which probably says a lot about my sometimes hidden love of sport, alongside less structured play. My poem ‘All the blond Jesuses’, from the new collection, began from noticing that Jesus is often depicted as a David Gower doppelgänger in stained glass windows, and then imagining him (Jesus, that is) or multiple hims, playing in a match. I hope this poem shows how play can also be serious.

Some great poetry can be produced within traditional forms, even today. But for me, play tends to lead me to free verse and tributes to forms such as the advertisement and the blog. I’m just so incredibly playful… It’s a duty. I’m like a Staffie after a stick, I sometimes think, totally oblivious to possible splinters. However, if play does ever become a tired trick, as one sees with superannuated comedians prostituting themselves for laughs, it’ll truly be time to put myself down.


I feel like Canberra is another essential element, a character or a backdrop in a good portion your work. What’s it like being a poet in The Nation’s Capital?


When I first arrived in Canberra from Melbourne, about twenty years ago, I thought it was Mongolia without the comfort of yurts. I had not trained myself in the methods by which to recognise its worth. I literally didn’t see the beauty. Now I wonder round and gaze at the cockatoos and wattle and think original things like ‘this is pretty’ and ‘those hills are a fine sight’.

I am far more engaged in the world of poetry than I used to be, so perhaps the recognition of natural beauty is linked to my ability to write. (Careful, Penelope, you’ll be using the word ‘luminescence’ next…)

There is a slight divide between the worlds of poets who write primarily for the page, and those who write for performance in Canberra, and I am glad to see some movement between these worlds. One of the things that made me submit to Blemish Books, was frankly, the fact that it is run by people who have contacts with both these two worlds.

Looking away from Canberra, I am delighted that I am now part of the Tuesday Poem blog group, and have a poem published in New Zealand once a week. Most of my science fiction poetry is published in the United States, too.


Everyone asks ‘what’s next?’ for their last question, but not me, not this time. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you become a poet?


I was never destined to be an accountant, although I did try to be a lawyer for a little while, and that almost killed me. I have always written, but after having a baby and writing the PhD, I decided to try for more publication.

I became a poet, to answer the question a different way, because I am infested by words. I look at the world and can’t help but think of weird ways of describing it. I think I am slightly blessed with synaesthesia. Smelling a flower can transport me to where I last smelt that type of flower, and I can feel the dress I was wearing back then, or taste what I had been eating, and that sudden memory, while not necessarily forming the subject matter, energises the next poem.

So it’s a bit like Proust, but shorter. And with a lot more puns.


Interviews with JC Inman and Joan Kerr, the other two poets in Triptych Poets 3 (click on the link to purchase the book), have their homes at Scissors Paper Pen  and on Virgule the blog of Voiceworks Magazine, respectively.