Rebecca Dempsey, “Thylaseen”


We want them to be true.

I mean, some of us are desperate for them to be real, still. Being real would assuage or relieve us of our collective and inherited guilt.

Many have been extinct for a hundred years or more, through losing the competition with introduced species, and the actions of irresponsible humans, ignorance of their needs or existence, and loss of habitat.

They no longer bound in mobs across the arid plains of the interior, nor nestle into the sides of mountain cliffs, nor call and shelter amongst the sedges and grasses of coastal dunes, or track through the last stands of flowering Mountain Ash. It’s our loss.

Now, some are myths, their passing writ large on the national psyche. So much so we imagine them still.  Others went without remark, like the mainland Boodie and Toolache Wallaby, whose lyrical names feel unusual on our lips, so seldom are they pronounced. Or, they were designated only through comparison with distant cognates: the Pig-Footed Bandicoot, the Rabbit-Rat, the Hare Wallaby. And most mythical of all: Tasmanian Tiger.

There is nothing left to do but read about them.

Whisper their names: they won’t come at our call.

On moonless nights, late, in the undergrowth beside isolated roads, or quietly at dusk along drying creek beds, creatures we think we recognise, but don’t, give us pause as we flash by. Eyes burning in the forests of the night, they are uncanny but gone in a moment. We feel their presence, but forget. Or, if we remember, we are not believed.

We deserve no less.

This land is a vast graveyard for the highest mammalian extinction rate in the world. It’s not poetry. It is a fact. It’s a record we don’t want. But we earned it.

They died, but we shouldn’t expect them to move on.

Taking their accustomed routes more carefully, they remain to haunt a few of us, for this nature we’ve traduced. Ancient paths thus remain trackless but not unused. Silent footfalls padding across the shifting soil that holds their bones fail to startle the new predators: foxes, dogs, cats.

The last of their world is disappearing. Choked with exotic weeds with romantic names: Salvation Jane, Horehound, Tiger Pear, it is polluted and politicised. Their homes are overrun by pigs and goats and horses – infested by newcomers who have thrived without ever being asked if they wanted to be here.

Today, squeezed into ever narrowing vestiges between expanding towns, farms and mines, some yet stay where they did not survive alive.

How their sharp teeth glint in the moonlight.
How their dark eyes see through us, as they go.

We shouldn’t exorcise the land as we do our consciences.

It’s our tragedy they died, and their ghosts remind us.




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