Pic: of Simon de Little
It all started right here on Tasmanian Times.
One slow, fuzzy morning I came across an article that began with one of my favourite poems - Antigonish. This guy has taste I thunk to self; I must read on.
The article (Dr Clive Marks: The Fox that wasn’t There) outlined a thoroughly convincing argument as to why the evidence of foxes in Tasmania was based more on belief than known facts.
Now, I’d always been a tad sceptical about things having spent a healthy amount of time following the commentary of Obendorf and Rist but this article really grabbed me with a glorious mixture of humour and persuasive logic.
I immediately set about reading every article and seemingly endless comment threads that had ever mentioned the word ‘Fox’ on TT. Two long days and nights later I was thoroughly hooked …. and just a touch insane. I became the nightmare dinner party guest: “Don’t mention the war (on foxes)” was whispered with increased regularity in my presence. But the truth was out there (or so I thought) and I was gunna find it!
I decided that a documentary film would be the perfect medium to chronicle the history of the Fox Program and get to the bottom of the rumours, hearsay, scuttlebutt, gossip, tittle-tattle and lies that have plagued the eradication effort for the past decade. Armed with a wealth of information and advice from Rist, Obendorf, Marks and Mooney I set out with my camera to interview as many people as would put up with me in the hope of getting to the bottom of the issue once and for all.
Two years on I find myself with a lot of relatively interesting footage but completely devoid of the time, money or interest to edit it together. Put simply - I’m feckin’ over it.
I figure now the only sensible course of action is to put it all out in the public domain for anyone who might still be interested to muse over. So that is what I have done.
As will become apparent to anyone with the stamina to watch the interviews, I am not a journalist. My voice was never meant to be included in the film so the awkwardness and fumbling confusion at deciphering my own notes is there in all its glorious dysfunction.
The YouTube Playlist is -
And the YouTube channel is creatively called TasFoxDocumentary
Here you can find 13 interviews totalling around 20 hours of Fox related discussion. The footage is raw, just as it came off the camera - no editing, colour correction, audio mixing etc. I didn’t even bother beeping out certain names that might cause legal problems.
I appreciate that a number of people gave up a lot of their time to help me with this project and I apologise if this seems like a cop out. In particular, thanks to David Obendorf who painstakingly transcribed every minute of every interview and offered wonderful feedback and ideas. Also, Ian Rist who, although we haven’t seen eye to eye for a while now, was extremely generous with his time and will always be ‘The Fox Man’ in my mind (and I’ll be a Greens spy funded by the CIA in his).
Others who assisted with informal chats, email correspondence and research but were not interviewed on camera include - Dr Kevin Bonham, Dr Graham Hall, Dr Clive Marks, Cassy O’Conner, Des LeFerve, Dr Bob Brown, BP Franklin, Jack Kinnear, Maxine Piggott, Glen Saunders, Oliver Breeze, Peter Cremasco, Max Kitchell, Chris Dickman and of course, Lindsay Tuffin.
Many thanks to y’all.
So after two long years immersed in this debate where do I stand and what have I learnt?
Firstly, I have learnt to see the funny side of it. It is a ripping yarn and all the personalities involved are thoroughly entertaining. On both sides of the divide there are wonderful people who are trying to do the right thing, but they consistently fuck up. Well, don’t we all! Tis not the end of the world.
Has a lot of money been wasted?
Sure. But that happens everywhere Government gets involved. Take Forestry Tasmania….. Please!
Was it all worthwhile?
Absolutely. There is so much to be learnt from this ‘experiment’ in eradication. If ever, god forbid, foxes were to establish a presence in Tasmania, we are so much better prepared then we were 11 years ago and that risk will always exist; the consequences - utterly devastating. The money was available and it would have been foolish not to take it.
Is there any evidence that hoaxing or fraud has been committed by the FEP?
Well, if you hold the same standards for irrefutable proof for presence of foxes and hoaxing, then I’d have to say no. There is no evidence that it has taken place. Some things do admittedly look rather dodgy, but that is not proof of fraud.
Given the amount of money involved it is perfectly natural for the public to be sceptical but there is simply no proof that anything other than that honest mistakes and a culture of ‘larrikinism’ have dogged the work of the FEP. Look at these things close enough and add a healthy dose of rumour and you can put together a pretty tight theory on how evidence came about. But it is still nothing more than a theory and two personal opinions lead me to conclude that most accusations of impropriety against the program are most likely false -
1. The staff turnover has been phenomenal and many have come forward with complaints about various issues. No one has ever stated that hoaxing or fraud has taken place and given the seriousness of such an act it would be near impossible to cover up.
2. If evidence had indeed been hoaxed then the people who did it are so lacking in intelligence and creativity that they would have been ratted out by fellow employees for bringing the whole program into disrepute. They couldn’t make it look any more dodgy if they tried! I believe that the FEP are just as bewildered by the evidence map as the critics of the program and to not respond to it would be negligent. How they have responded to it is an entirely different matter.
Am I content to sit back and watch the program run out of steam?
Well, yes and no. I can appreciate that commitments have been made to lock in federal dollars and the Program is beginning to take steps towards a more wide ranging mission, ie dealing with the plague of feral cats. I also feel that money should continue to be put toward developing, improving and maintaining monitoring programs for foxes.
What I can’t abide is the continuing baiting of 1080 across the state. This absurd practice must be stopped immediately.
I can appreciate that the FEP would lose face if they were to pull the pin at this stage and public perception is a burden they struggle with on a daily basis. But the systematic poison baiting that is based on so little scientific data is not only a waste of money and resources, but also potentially damaging to the natural fauna we are trying to protect. It just does not make sense to take such a risk at the moment when we know so little about the behaviour of foxes in Tasmania. Maybe nothing. By the looks of things, they probably aren’t even here now.
So that’s a wrap on ‘The Documentary That Wasn’t There’. I do still hope that people with an interest in this story will take some time to plough through the footage and make up their own minds.
To give a bit of context, here are some notes on each of the interviews.
Tim Bloomfield http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z7wdWt0sQU
I travelled over to Sunbury, Vic. to interview Tim after a number of long phone conversations. Tim was one of the experts brought down to advise the folks involved in the response to ‘The Longford Incident’. I found Tim to be very easy to talk to and he offered some wonderful insights into issues he faced at the time and fox ecology in general.
Erick Bosworth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkLa6S_KCxs
The man who shot the fox. Erick was extremely ill (only a couple of days out of intensive care) when I interviewed him and I was very grateful and surprised that he offered to spend the time going over things that had over the years caused him a great amount of stress.
Peter Darke http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_tscJd4MOs
President of the Field and Game Association, Peter has been involved with the Fox Program from the start, primarily on the board of stakeholders but also under contract for a couple of years. Living in Longford he offered some interesting opinions on the suspected ‘founding event’.
The most vocal critic of the Fox program in Parliament, Dean was keen to get his story on the record. He spoke about his experience in the Police force when the investigation of the so called ‘Fox Plot’ and the events that followed which led to his doubting of the credibility of physical evidence discovered by the FEP. I had to use a bit of ‘witness protection’ blur on this one due to the personal nature of the photos on his screensaver.
Alan Johnston http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQl7oOb6c6M
FEP Manager from 2006-2010, Alan was very patient and restrained as I politely bashed him with all the criticisms I could think of. Naturally I fell into the old Fox News “Some people say….” routine. Seemed quite apt.
Matt Marrison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6ZmnnKvIRc
Community Liaison Officer for the FEP - An unenviable assignment if ever there was one! Matt is a lovely guy who was extremely helpful to me and took my incessant badgering in good spirits. This was the first interview that I shot and no amount of valium could help steady the ship. Tis a rather awkward thing to watch but it is a pretty good indicator of how the fox storyline can appear even more confused than a phoney journalist.
Nick Mooney http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3DZlPlTKrk
Shot this interview in February 2011. Nick was extremely generous with his time and very candid in all our discussions. I had only got through half of my questions when we had to wrap this interview up and I planned on shooting the rest another time. Unfortunately I never got round to it, but at just under 3 hours long, there is a hell of a lot of valuable information in this part.
Dr David Obendorf http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss7gEfSKr-A
I shot this interview with Dave after I had decided not to progress with editing the footage. I had always planned on doing this one last once I had a really good grasp of all the subject matter. Hypothetically I could have gone on interviewing people indefinitely, a thoroughly daunting prospect and I don’t think I would have turned up anything new. This seemed like a good way to round things off and we cover a lot of ground.
David O’Byrne http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KjsMdKIlWw
Minster for Foxes when I shot the interview in September 2010. One of a long line of Fox Minsters who had the unenviable tasks of trotting out the same talking points that don’t really mean very much of any substance. This interview reminded me why I would never want to work as a political reporter. I’d be surprised if anyone can watch it till the end.
Peg was the sole Greens MP left in Parliament in 2001 and the information that she was not privy to proved to be more telling than what she was made aware of. This is an interesting perspective on the politics that surrounded the establishment of the Fox Program and the backroom ‘gate-keeping of information’ that could have potentially destroyed Tasmania’s ecology had the worst case scenario of fox importations and releases proven successful.
The Fox Man. Ian was very forthcoming with information throughout the time I worked on this project. I have no doubt whatsoever that his tireless devotion to this issue has been of great benefit to all of us, including members of the Program who have necessarily had to lift their bloody game. This interview is a candid, warts and all account of his perspective on things and you have to respect that, even if you don’t agree with it.
Jim (JA) Stevenson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xblZ0SPM-m4
I interviewed Jim in his house at Wynyard in March 2011.I have great respect for Jim through his dedication to this issue and ongoing campaign to raise awareness of fox calls. He has devoted much time and money towards this goal based on a fundamental understanding of fox behaviour gleaned from a lifetime living amongst the pest. The interview is full of great yarns of fox encounters and opinions on the current situation in Tasmania.
Dr Andrea Taylor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laGzxnsnHkI
I shot this interview in Andrea’s basement in Melbourne whilst very noisy renovations were taking place. With a background in molecular ecology, Andrea was able to provide an explanation of the scat DNA evidence being used by the FEP that even plebs like myself could get a handle on. To some extent.
• Dr David Obendorf: We are merely fleas on a bear’s back
A few days before the Tasmanian Government dispensed with the Fox Eradication Program, Minister for Foxes Brian Wightman told Parliament said:
“A systematic monitoring program in place, surveying areas after [1080-meat] baiting is completed to ensure there is no evidence of foxes surviving or re-invading the area. This program deploys a number of detection dogs which provide a greater level of certainty and efficiency than human searchers”. [House of Assembly Hansard March 6th 2012.]
So the question remains, was there a fox population in Tasmania before this baiting program commenced?
Answer: There is no proof of a live fox population present before baiting. [Not in 2002, or 2003 or 2006 or 2009 or 2012.]
So the next question to be asked is: Did the buried 1080 meat baits kill any foxes?
Answer: There have been no dead foxes detected after baiting. [Not at the commencement of the baiting program, nor throughout its operation.]
Stalemate in a very lengthy (11-years), costly & embarrassing program that attempted “fox eradication” based on the escape of the ‘Agfest fox’ in May 2001.
A final question to be asked, are there any fox products out there or indeed live foxes hiding in other parts of Tasmania?
Answer: Several dead (frozen) foxes (Vulpes vulpes), their shit, their urine and various body parts do exist in DPIPWE, but who knows whether the epithet ‘fox’ is applicable to the calibre of our politicians or amongst Tasmania’s public servants. [Time is the great truth-teller.]