Dangerous animals? A history of snakes, sharks and spiders in Australia

21 February 2012
Dangerous Animals
Dangerous Animals



When, and how, do animals 'become' dangerous? Perhaps surprisingly, human fear and loathing of particular animal species is a recent phenomenon in Australia. Neither sharks nor spiders were considered serious hazards to human life until the late 1920s. The subsequent stampede to science and policy to quantify, control and exterminate these beasts illustrates how readily 'dangerous' animals have been constructed in line with cultural sensitivities rather than biology. But what makes an animal dangerous? Why do ancient animosities towards snakes persist through millennia, while equally enduring fears of frogs and toads fade away? Why is the venomous platypus considered cuddly, yet furry funnel-web spiders provoke disgust? How do humans decide when it is safe to go back in the water, and why does a howl of 'Shark' empty beaches in moments? Moreover, how does perception or 'proof' of dangerousness alter the moral standing of animal species, permitting practices such as vivisection, culling or outright eradication? Drawing upon cultural theory and biology, history and current policy, this seminar will explore the aversive aspect of human-animal relations, with particular emphasis on Australian circumstances and examples.


Peter Hobbins

Department of History, University of Sydney

Christopher Neff

Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

Chair: Dr Nancy Cushing

School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle


The Human Animal Research Network (HARN) at the University of Sydney is an interdisciplinary and cross- Faculty research group comprising members from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Veterinary Science and the Faculty of Law. From the perspectives of Science, Law, Veterinary Science and the Humanities, both the 'animal' and the 'human' carry different meanings and unique philosophical genealogies, and much can be learnt when these perspectives interact, consult, teach and learn from each other. HARN aims to promote cross-disciplinary dialogue within the university and between the university and community groups, international human animal studies organizations and other Australian University based organizations.

Time: 4:30-6pm

Location: Macleay Museum, University of Sydney

Cost: FREE

Contact: Fiona Probyn-Rapsey

Phone: +61 2 9036 5342

Email: 1f280a03176b1e23003a100557172e06052d52333d1c01411f13423d14425d3b19