Taking Locust Country

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


In Australia, the incursion of farmers into interior districts from the 1870s took them into locust country, populated in most years by localised high density swarms of the native Australian plague locust (Chortoicetes terminifera). Less frequent, more widespread population booms were characterised by the farmers (and later their supporting agricultural institutions) as locust plagues. In this paper I trace how the human settler population ‘made war’ with locusts on their home territory, as the two communities competed for the food being produced in these areas. Following Ed Russell, I focus on human efforts to control locusts as illuminating some of the diverse relationships between war and nature, from the prevalence of military metaphors in early locust encounters to the use of RAAF planes to spray Lindane (a persistent organochlorine pesticide) over the Victorian mallee in 1946. While Russell concluded his examination of ideological, technological and organisational links between chemical warfare and pest control in the 1960s, I follow similar connections in the Australian context into the 1970s and beyond. Prior to the 1970s the war on locusts was widely conceived of and operationalised in conventional military terms, as defensive action against a hostile invader. While this paradigm was never abandoned, the establishment of the Australian Plague Locust Commission in 1974, near the end of the Vietnam war, signalled the beginning of a shift in strategy to one more akin to guerilla warfare, based on coordinated surveillance and mobile strikes on breeding events in the arid locust heartland. By the 2000s, the locust control rhetoric closely mirrored that of the war on terror. The ongoing war on locusts highlights the entanglement of war on humans and war on nature as a key element of modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnimals Count
Subtitle of host publicationHow Population Size Matters in Animal-Human Relations
EditorsNancy Cushing, Jodi Frawley
Place of PublicationOxford
ISBN (Electronic)9781351210645
ISBN (Print)9780815381365
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Environmental Humanities


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