Review: Battle in the Bush

Conservation efforts in Australia have somewhat of a renewed hope at present. Buzzwords such as ‘rewilding’ and the successful translocations of animals such as the Bettong and the Western Quoll, have shown that all is not lost in the battle to stem the tide of disappearing Australian mammals.

Despite the incredible amount of excellent conservation work conducted by volunteers and researchers around Australia, very little of it is communicated in such a way that isn’t preaching to the converted. There is a clear need for scientists to communicate the importance of their work to the general public in an effective way.

Film-maker Dan Hunter. Photo: Ed Sloane

Film-maker Dan Hunter. Photo: Ed Sloane

Battle in the Bush, a film by ecologist and film-maker Dan Hunter, is about to change all that. The film opens with a somewhat dark scene, as Hunter shows the moment a red fox is shot dead mid-hunt. Already, Hunter has hooked the viewer into the plight of Australian fauna and the pervasive effects of foxes and cats.

Visually, Battle in the Bush is stunning in its cinematic quality. Hunter has managed to capture both the beauty and the brutality of the Australian landscape perfectly. Through a combination of aerial footage and brooding ground-based shots, Hunter clearly has a knack for capturing Australia on film.

Scenes featuring renowned ecologists such as Chris Johnson, Mike Letnic and Menna Jones reiterate the ineffectiveness of poisoning foxes and cats as a long-term intervention to protect native mammals. Instead, along with others, they propose the rewilding of predators across Australia. While some would argue that this topic has been done to death, Hunter’s film sheds a new light on it with supporting data and engaging interviews. However, the real treat is when Hunter brings the viewer along on his journey to film the Tasmanian Devil in its natural habitat.

A short animation made by Dan Hunter depicting some of his PhD results and the importance of apex predators in Australia. 

As he weaves us through his impressive research illustrating the complex trophic cascades occurring in New South Wales, resulting from the removal of the local apex predator, it is impossible not to feel uplifted by the prospect of restoring them. Rarely has complex ecological science been explained as well as what Hunter does in a series of animations, hammering home the importance of apex predators to ecosystem health.

Arguably the most important interview in the film is one with Gregory Andrews, the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner. Andrews shows perhaps the best indication yet of the Federal Government’s support for reintroducing apex predators, such as the Tasmanian Devil, to their historical range on mainland Australia. This is highly significant, as the controversial proposal seemingly hasn’t been on the government radar to date.

Battle in the Bush is a fantastic piece of science communication. It is so rare for ecological research to be disseminated in such a way that is as engaging and informative as what Hunter has achieved here. Already, Battle in the Bush is a key tool for exhibiting the importance of maintaining ecological function in the Australian landscape. Combine that with stunning footage from around Australia and Battle in the Bush will leave you optimistic about the future of our native mammals.  

Battle in the Bush is screening around Australia in the coming months. For more information, see Dan Hunter's website