And so I was surprised and impressed when SBS – the best of the Australian channels, screened a programme called Death of the Megabeasts last night.
It was not the content that surprised me – I had read about it at some length before – but that they prepared to screen it. For the gist of the programme was that the Australian megafauna were all wiped off the face of the earth, not by global warming, not by the big oil companies, not by modern industrial society, but by the aborigines.
The weave-your-own knickers brigade have long peddled the notion that the aborigines are guardians of the land in some mystical way, who preserve ancient ways and who are much better to be trusted than modern society to leave the environment safe and prevent change. Turns out to be the exact opposite. When the aborigines arrived, Australia was populated by a wide range of enormous mammals – huge kangaroos, wombat-like creatures the size of hippos, a carnivorous marsupial the size and speed of a tiger but with jaws twice as strong, a lizard the size of a bus, a flightless bird the size of a small helicopter and so on. When the aborigines arrived, about 50,000 years ago, they killed the lot within a few thousand years, and while they were at it, turned much of the continent into desert by their policy of burning the vegetation.
Not that I blame them, particularly. If you were a stone age bod 50,000 years ago, you would probably have better things to worry about that whether some awful whingebag, in Doc Martin boots and black dungarees and who would not be born for several tens more millennia, might get terribly exercised about the loss of this Sunday’s lunch for you and all your pals.