ON A SATURDAY morning in March 2014, I found myself speaking in front of a crowd of five thousand people on the shore of Cottesloe Beach, Perth. We were there to protest a state government policy to catch and kill large sharks using baited drum lines off the metropolitan coast, a policy announced in response to five fatal great white attacks in Western -Australia between 2011 and 2012. I stood at the podium, midway up the stepped retaining wall built against the dune, racked with nerves and aware that I was not a politician or environmental scientist, like the speakers before me, but a student writer who, as I’d come to feel, had been given the job of addressing the protest under a dubious interpretation of my credentials.
A few months earlier, I’d submitted an article to the ABC’s The Drum website titled ‘A surfer’s defence of the great white shark’. It suggested that there was perhaps a time when Western Australian surfers would have railed against the killing of sharks, and described my memories of the surfers I grew up observing on the central Western Australian coast, recasting them as almost pastoral heroes, something like the noble shepherd-poet of Virgil’s Eclogues:
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