The Enchantment of the Long-haired Rat: A Rodent History of Australia
About the book
The fascinating story of a much-maligned and little-understood native Australian rodent. The long-haired rat breeds and spreads prodigiously after big rains. Its irruptions were plagues to European colonists, who feared and loathed all rats, but times of feasting for Aboriginal people.
Tim Bonyhady explores the place of the long-haired rat in Aboriginal culture. He recounts how settler Australians responded to it, learned about it and, occasionally, came to recognise the wonder of it. And he reconstructs its changing, shrinking landscape—once filled with bilbies, letter-winged kites and inland taipans, but now increasingly the domain of feral cats.
About the author
Professor Tim Bonyhady is one of Australia's foremost environmental and cultural historians. His many books include 'Images in Opposition: Australian Landscape Painting 1801-1890', 'Burke and Wills: From Melbourne to Myth', 'Places Worth Keeping: Conservationists', 'Politics and Law' and award winning 'The Colonial Earth'.
Arguing that the history of the long-haired rat is an allegory for the nation itself, Tim Bonyhady persuasively demonstrates how the decline in rat populations since the arrival of Europeans reflects a wider environmental disaster. Bonyhady notes that while the Aborigines saw the rat as a source of food, Europeans believed that they were conduits of disease. This negative attitude was reinforced by periodic rat plagues in rural Australia; with the result that even scientific practice was permeated by anti-rat prejudice.
Almost poetically Bonyhady maps a climate change and habitat reduction induced process of long-haired rat decline, which has rippled through the eco system and led to a population loss among the predators that feed on the rats. This is an unusual history but one filled with sharp insights about the fragility of the natural environment and intelligent arguments setting out the consequences of further disruption to the balance. On the one hand this is a fascinating history of a little known Australian rodent. On the other it is an ode to what we have lost and what we still have to lose.