Academic journal article About Performance

Learning the Lunge: Motility in Crocodile Country

Academic journal article About Performance

Learning the Lunge: Motility in Crocodile Country

Article excerpt

Crocodile Country

In March 2006, a Port Douglas man in far north Queensland, Australia, found a saltwater crocodile, two and a half metres long, in his garage. It took six rangers from the wildlife sanctuary to rope the animal and return it to its nearby home. The croc had been seeking refuge from an impending cyclone and, according to rangers, it had sensed the sudden low-pressure system in the atmosphere and went searching for higher ground. The location of the man's garage had once been crocodile wetland.1

The story of the man, the croc, and the garage is recited by Port Douglas tour guides, wildlife rangers, and residents as a quaint, ridiculous tale to amuse tourists (Rossmanith 2007,17). Novel as such an encounter might be for locals, the presence of crocodiles is not. Crocodiles became a protected species in Australia in the early 1970s, after several decades of commercial crocodile hunting in which serious money was made exporting croc skins. But this enthusiasm for conservation brought with it the awkward realisation that crocodile habitat is sometimes nestled in neat suburbia (or, rather, suburbia encroaches on croc wetlands). As croc populations recover from intense hunting, people are finding that the existence of crocodiles on their beaches, rivers, lagoons, and even their golf courses (ibid., 19) is becoming part of everyday life. While "problem crocs" are removed and relocated-and while a handful of commercial crocodile farms exist for breeding, and producing croc skins, flesh, and other by-products-the emphasis is on managing healthy wild populations and protecting crocodile wetlands.2 What matters for people inhabiting northern Australia, and what matters for rangers trying to meet the challenges of wildlife protection and human safety, is that residents learn to live around Crocodylus porosus, the largest and most dangerous reptile in the world.3

Between 2006 and 2008,1 made short fieldtrips to Port Douglas, taking the threehour, 2,500-kilometre flight north from Sydney to the wet tropics of Cairns, followed by a sixty-kilometre car ride further north. The Port Douglas area lies at the intersection of tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world. Looking down from the aeroplane, the bright green coast is punctured with blue mouths of rivers-winding estuaries gulping the ocean. Port Douglas is a seven-kilometre finger of land that pokes out into the Pacific Ocean, and five-thousand-odd locals live along it and in the tiny town that sits at the end. It is surrounded by water-with Four Mile Beach running down one side, Dickson Inlet along the other, and estuaries and lakes in between-and crocodiles live in and around the water where they happily breed, using the beaches to move between rivers. During my fieldtrips I spoke with residents, wildlife rangers, and tour guides; I spent time at wildlife sanctuaries, and I spent time with locals as they moved about the area.

This essay is an account of a peculiar relationship between animals, people, performance, and place. It teases out people's lived experiences of what it means to cohabit with saltwater crocodiles; in particular, the role of movement and placial orientation in the acquisition and enactment of such knowledges. Anthropologist Sally Ann Ness writes of the ways in which place can be rethought not in terms of dwelling but in terms of motility, "the drive to move and £be,' continuously, in movement" (2007, 79, original emphasis). In the tropics of far north Queensland, people are forming a curious kinaesthetic relationship with the place where saltwater crocodiles are perhaps at their most dangerous: as residents walk along riverbanks, lakes, and beaches, they are enacting a learnt nearness and farness in relation to the potential lunge of a croc. Their movement is one of in-betweenness, mindfully advancing and retreating from the water's edge.

Human-animal relationships have been acknowledged by scholars to be deeply complex. …

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