Australian Tongue and Ag-gag Law

Iris Ralph


In this essay, I comment on two histories of animal farming in Australia in an ecocritical reading of several works of Australian literature: Tim Winton’s novel Shallows (1984), Susan Hawthorne’s collection of poetry, Cow (2011) and Francesca Rendle-Short’s novel Bite Your Tongue (2011). The first of those histories, the background of Shallows, refers to the whaling industry that operated in Western Australian waters up through the 1970s and the growing public awareness of that industry that eventually drove it to a halt in 1978, the year the main events of the novel take place. Cow and Bite Your Tongue, the texts that I mostly discuss, carry references to the history of industrial farming of cows in Australia, which, along with the industrial farming of other domesticated animal species, exploded after 1970 (in Australia and elsewhere in urban-industrialising countries), the same decade when Australians were beginning to rally behind animal rights activists’ opposition to whale slaughter. Today, almost half a century later, animal advocacy activists continue to raise pressing questions about animal species that are industrially farmed. They are doing so at the same time as the meat industry is attempting to restrict public access to and information about its operations. I address those questions in my reading of Hawthorne’s paean to cows and Rendle-Short’s references to the Moral Right movement in Queensland in the 1970s and attempts by its supporters to remove works of literature from school book shelves.


Australian literature, animal studies, ecocriticism, Susan Hawthorne, Francesca Rendle-Short, Tim Winton

Full Text:



Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat. New York: Continuum, 1990. Print.

‘Ag-gag’. The Animal Protection Institute. Accessed 10 July 2015.

‘Ag-gag laws’. SourceWatch. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

‘Ag-gag Legislation’. Animal Liberation NSW. Accessed 5 Feb 2017.

‘Animal rights activists “akin to terrorists”, says NSW minister Katrina Hodgkinson’. ABC News. 18 July 2013. Accessed 24 July 2014.

Australia. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Prod. Luhrmann, Catherine Knapman and G. Mac Brown. 20th Century Fox, 2008.

Babe. Dir. Chris Noonan. Prod. Kennedy Miller Productions. Universal Pictures, 1995.

Bekoff, Mark. ‘Who are you eating? That is the question’. The Age. 22 Feb 2013. Accessed 20 July 2014.

Bladow, Kyle. ‘Selves at the Fringes: Expanding Material Ecocriticism’. New International Voices in Ecocriticism.

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014. 27-40. Print.

Bruce, Joan. ‘Rona Joyner and the Society to Outlaw Pornography’. State Library of Queensland. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

Calarco, Matthew. Zoographies: The Question of the Animal

from Heidegger to Derrida. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

Chan, Gabrielle. ‘Another Country’. Meanjin Quarterly (Autumn 2016): 46-55. Print.

Chen, Peter. Animal Welfare in Australia. Sydney UP, 2016. Print.

Chiasson, Dan. ‘Fire Down Below. The Poetry of Les Murray’.

The New Yorker (11 & 18 June 2007): 136-139. Print.

Clark, Timothy. The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.

‘Evolution of Factory Farming’. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.


Fast Food Nation. Dir. Richard Linklater. Screenplay by Eric Schlosser. The Weinstein Co., 2006. Print.

Franklin, Adrian. Animal Nation: The Story of Animals and Australia. Sydney: U of New South Wales, 2006. Print.

Free, Ann Cottrell. ‘A Tribute to Ruth Harrison’. Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly 49.4 (Fall 2000): 14. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

Freeman, Carol, Elizabeth Leane, and Yvette Watt, eds. Considering Animals, Contemporary, Studies in Human–Animal Relations. Surrey, England and Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2011. Print.

Garner, Robert and Siobhan O’Sullivan, eds. The Political Turn in Animal Ethics. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. Print.

Gartland, Annette. ‘Ag-gag law defeated in Australia’. Changing Times. 26 Sept 2014. Accessed 5 Oct 2015.

Gray, Steve. ‘Forging a state in his own image’. Brisbane Times, 1 Jan 2009. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Hawthorne, Susan. Cow. North Melbourne, Vic: Spinifex Press, 2011. Print.

Iovino, Serenella, and Serpil Oppermann. Introduction. Material Ecocriticism.Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2014. 1-17. Print.

Kane, Paul. Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity. Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

King-Smith, Dick. The Sheep-Pig. U.K: Gollanz, 1963. Print.

Kinsella, John. ‘Les Murray’. Accessed 24 Feb 2017. http://www/

McCance, Dawn. Critical Animal Studies: An Introduction. Albany: State U of New York P, 2013. Print.

McCooey, David. ‘Les Murray’. Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature. Gen. Ed. Nicholas Jose. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2009. 900-901. Print.

Murray, Les. On Bunyah. Collingwood, Vic: Black Inc.: 2015. Print.

——. Translations from the Natural World. Paddington, NSW: Isabella Press, 1992. Print.

O’Sullivan, Siobhan. ‘“Ag gag” laws: The battle for animal welfare is a battle over information’. Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 May 2014. Accessed 4 Aug 2015.

Plumwood, Val. The Eye of the Crocodile. Ed. Lorraine Shannon. Australian National University E-Press, 2012.

Rendle-Short, Francesca. Bite Your Tongue. North Melbourne, Vic: Spinifex Press, 2011. Print.

A River of Waste: The Hazardous Truth About Factory Farms. Dir. Don McCorkell. Cinema Libre Studio, 2009.

Robin, Marie-Monique. The World According to Monsanto. North Melbourne, Vic: Spinifex Press, 2010. Print.

Rose, Deborah Bird. Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2013. Print.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-

American Meal. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print.

Slovic, Scott. ‘Editor’s Note’. ISLE 19.3 (Summer 2012): 443-444. Print.

Speciesism. Mark Devries. Mark Devries Productions, Inc. 2013.

Tiffin, Helen. ‘The Speech of Dumb Beasts’. Considering Animals, Contemporary, Studies in Human–Animal Relations. Eds. Carol Freeman, Elizabeth Leane, and Yvette Watt. Surrey, England and Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2011. 137-151. Print.

Tredinnick, Mark. ‘Under the Mountains and Beside a Creek: Robert Gray and the Shepherding of Antipodean Being’. The Littoral Zone: Australian Contexts and Their Writers. Eds. CA. Cranston and Robert Zeller. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2007. 124-143. Print.

Twine, Richard. Animals as Biotechnology. Ethics, Sustainability and Critical Animal Studies. London: Earthscan, 2010. Print.

Waldau, Paul. Animal Studies: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

Ward, Elizabeth. ‘Whales at the World’s End’. The Washington Post. 10 Aug 1986. Accessed 4 Aug 2016.

We Feed the World. Dir. Erwin Wagenhoffer. KimStim Studio, 2005.

‘What is “Factory Farming?”’ Animals Australia. Accessed 17 Feb 2017.

Winton, Tim. Shallows. Camberwell, Vic: Penguin, 1984. Print.

Wilde, William H., Hooton, Joy, and Andrews, Barry. ‘Les Murray Overview’. Accessed 24 Feb 2017.

Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. Print.

——. What Is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. Print.

Wolfe, Cary, ed. Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Minneapolis and London:

U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.


  • There are currently no refbacks.