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“The Bird was a Valuable One”

Keeping Australian Native Animals, 1803–1939

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 School of Humanities and Social Science, The University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  • | 2 School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia
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Abstract

Australian native, nonhuman animals at first intrigued and then disappointed newcomers as Australia was colonized by the British in the late eighteenth century. They were disparaged as unproductive and unpalatable oddities, killed as competitors to introduced species, or harvested as a source of fur and feathers for export. Focusing on the period 1803 to 1939, this paper examines one exception to this general pattern: the keeping of native animals as “pets.” Contemporary newspaper articles and advertisements are drawn upon to demonstrate that the Australian native fauna kept as pets were highly valued both emotionally by their “owners” and economically in the commercial trade and the courts. This valuation had few direct benefits to species overall because it remained focused on individual pets and was not shared with free-living animals, but it did keep alive an interest in native animals that greatly expanded in the mid-twentieth century.

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