A brief history of game meat in Australia

Rabbits were brought to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 and were kept as a food source and used for their fur. The European rabbit is the most common breed found in Australia. The spread of the rabbit was quick and feral rabbits were believed to exist in Tasmania in the early 1800s, but the population didn’t really take off until there was a deliberate release of the animal in 1859 for hunting purposes. From 1901 to 1907, a 1700km rabbit-proof fence was built by the Western Australian Government in an attempt to curb the spread of the animal.

As the population grew, they quickly became recognised as a pest animal, which had adverse effects on the environment. They ringbark trees and shrubs, eat seeds and seedlings that are regenerating, compete with Australia’s native wildlife for homes and food, and have contributed to the decline of many species.

Rabbits are one of the most widely distributed animals in Australia. They can be found wild in all areas, apart from the northernmost parts of the country, and are a declared pest, which means they can be hunted year round. Rabbits are also farmed for their meat in many commercial farms in Australia and there is great demand for the animal. However, production falls short both domestically and for exportation.

When purchased commercially, the meat is usually supplied as a whole carcass, but the production of rabbit sausages is increasing. Rabbit meat can be found in European-style butchers, markets and restaurants, and more supermarkets are now stocking rabbit.

Duck and quail
There are many species of duck found throughout Australia; they are known to migrate with the seasons, following water movements. Common species found in Australia include the Australian wood duck and mallard, while some species such as the freckled duck are protected in all states and territories due to their low numbers.

The migratory nature of ducks means that the flocks can be found to move as seasonal rains occur and water flows. They are most commonly found in the wet eastern and south-eastern parts of Australia. South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania have annual hunting seasons where hunters with the correct permits can take ducks for the table. Hunting seasons are managed on a sustainable basis in Australia, with states and territories setting bag limits and season dates to ensure hunting does not threaten the conservation status of any game species.

The same management approach is applied to quail in Australia. Quail is the smallest species of game bird farmed in Australia, and the bird’s meat and eggs are popular worldwide. Stubble quail is the most common species in Australia, with California quail and European quail also quite common in some areas. Quail prefer farmlands and vegetation and are commonly farmed. Quail hunting seasons are set annually according to seasonal conditions and populations, and can also be found in most specialty butcher stores.

Pigs were brought into Australia with the First Fleet as a food source, but poorly enclosed stock areas meant that a pest population soon became established. With more than 23 million feral pigs estimated to be found in Australia, their effects on the environment include lamb predation, infrastructure damage, crop and pasture damage, water fouling, disease spread, soil erosion and competition with stock for food and water. Their popular growth in some areas is so out of control that they have rendered areas unsuitable for sheep farming.

The feral pig population can be found spread across the country, but is concentrated in New South Wales, Queensland and the northern fringes of the Northern Territory. The distribution of the animals changes with the availability of food and water. They are a recognised pest animal in all states and can be hunted at any time.

The domestic pork industry is worth billions of dollars to the Australia economy and it is more popular than even beef on a worldwide scale. Pigs are also farmed for commercial meat production Australia-wide and the meat is sold in all supermarkets. The more unusual cuts of pork, such as the snout, can be found at specialty meat stores.

The milk and meat of the goat made them valuable livestock when brought over with Australia’s First Fleet. Their release onto the Australian mainland was initially for emergency food supplies in the early 19th century, but the population grew quickly and feral herds developed.

Goats cause soil damage and overgraze areas of native vegetation. They dirty water-holes and their tendency to clear areas of vegetation can cause soil erosion. They compete with native animals and stock for food and water. Indeed, yellow-footed rock wallaby populations in Australia have previously been threatened to the point of extinction because of feral goats, as they share the same habitat needs.

Today, there are more than two million feral goats in Australia, populating parts of all states, territories and many offshore islands. They are most commonly found in rocky or hilly areas in parts of inland South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Goats are classed as a pest in all states and territories and can be hunted at any time. Most states and territories also have a range of population management programs in place.

Australia is a leader in live goat export, despite being a relatively small producer. Goats are sent overseas year round, with Singapore and Malaysia being among the biggest importers of our animals. They are popular for their meat, skin, hair and dairy products.

Kangaroos have long been important to the survival of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who have hunted kangaroos for tens of thousands of years, both for their meat and skins. When Europeans arrived in Australia in the late 18th century, they too hunted kangaroos for survival.

Today, kangaroos continue to be used as a resource, but only under strict government control. Kangaroos are prolific breeders and have no set breeding cycle, which means their population can increase exponentially if there is access to food and water. At natural population levels, they live in harmony in Australia’s environment, but they can have serious negative effects when their populations are high and concentrated.

Kangaroos of different species live in all areas of Australia, adapting to all climates, from the coast to rainforests and deserts. There is no farming of kangaroos in Australia; only licensed hunters can take the animals from the wild. Kangaroo hunting and harvesting is controlled strictly by the government, with only four of the 60-plus species being able to be hunted or exported.

Kangaroos are used for their meat and fur and the products are exported to more than 50 countries, including the United States and Russia. Europe is also a major market; Australia’s kangaroo industry began exporting kangaroo meat to Europe in 1969 in response to interest from the European game meat industry.

Deer were introduced into Australia in the early 1800s and all states and territories have remaining populations of deer. Australia’s deer industry is now well-established and products include venison and velvet antler and co-products such as blood, sinew and tail. The effects of unmanaged deer on native plants and animals is relatively unknown due to a lack of large-scale academic studies in the area, but dense populations are believed to overgraze, cause ringbarking, the dispersal of weeds, the acceleration of erosion and the subsequent degradation of water quality in creek and river systems.

Deer can be found in varying populations in all parts of Australia; however, they are classed as pests in Queensland and South Australia. In all other states, hunting is permitted during regulated open seasons. Deer hunting is mostly practiced in the eastern states.

Australia also has a well-established deer industry, and deer farming is becoming increasingly popular, as is the use of venison in restaurants and homes.

Harvesting seafood has long been a source of both food and money for Australians dating back to the First Fleet’s arrival. Commercial fishing is the country’s fifth most valuable rural industry, after beef, wool, wheat and dairy.

Whaling was practised until about 1830 and fishing for turtles, pearl oysters, prawns, crabs and fish began to expand into the 1920s. From 1970 onwards, technologies allowed for increasing commercial operations for fishing and nowadays, Australians fish more than 11 million square kilometres of ocean.

Australia’s vast coastline and geographical isolation from other continents means that seafood is spread far and wide. Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland are the country’s largest producers of seafood. The most common seafood eaten in Australia is oysters, prawns and many fish varieties. Different state governments impose restrictions on fishing amounts and sizes allowed to be caught in order to maintain a sustainable approach to fishing.