I can’t easily account for why seeing the truck heaving with sheep at the intersection near Fremantle Cemetery pulled me up sharp. There were no legs hanging out of the crate, it wasn’t a scorchingly hot day and I couldn’t hear distressed sheep bleating.
Perhaps it was because I’d lived in a farming community which serviced the live export industry at a time when opposition to the trade grew more ugly. Or because I’d embraced a mostly vegetarian diet while ditching a patriarchal dogmatic religion in favour of a gentle, earth-based spirituality centred on the connection of all life.
For whatever reason, as I waited behind a young couple in a hatchback for the light to change, when that fully-laden stock carrier thundered past I registered a feeling of sadness. Then, as if to give that feeling form and sharpness, the couple in front leaned towards one another to exchange a quick kiss before the arrow turned green and gave us safe passage onto the highway and into the day’s busy-ness.
The Old Testament image of ‘lamb to the slaughter’ came to mind: dumb, powerless, vulnerable and mercifully ignorant of its fate. In my utopian world there would be no need to raise sheep for consumption. But that’s my way of looking at things. I’ve not always held that view and not everyone shares it. Straddling the fence in an argument, seeing both sides, is an uncomfortable position, but it’s part of being a thinking, evolving human.
I appreciate how the sight of a truck packed with sheep headed to port is irksome to those who agitate to ban live animal exports. It is for me. Now. But it once wasn’t – I loved nothing more than a grilled lamb chop. And it wasn’t so long ago that I was ‘softened’ by the idea and experience of the interconnectedness of all living things. It’s an evolutionary journey, a rebirth that has everything to do with a way of looking at life and participating in that ‘wild and precious’ shared awareness. But for others, including graziers, breeding sheep for live export is nothing more or less than a legitimate business. It isn’t barbaric – it’s animal husbandry to provide food for human sustenance. And if we ban live exports, what about others – like the rock lobster industry?
It’s a conundrum. I confess to feeling conflicted. While I no longer organise barbecues or buy meat for myself, I will if I am feeding my carnivore family and friends. And if I’m the guest at someone else’s table, I’ll generally enjoy what has been prepared. I enjoy the occasional Friday night fish and chips, albeit increasingly with a side of guilt, but octopus will never pass my lips again. Not since watching the compelling documentary, My Octopus Teacher.
My own journey has humbled me and I’m not about to start proselytising. Time will tell whether the tide will turn on the live sheep export trade – or any human endeavour involving animals. Meanwhile I bow in homage to the human genius who, in creating traffic lights, expedites my daily commutes while providing endless opportunities to witness sights reflecting the mess, mystery and bounty of this adventure called life.
© Terry Finch 2022