Tim Faulkner’s Aussie Ark by Tim Faulkner

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Tim Faulkner is one of those blokes in the green gear who mesmerises kids with his stories about Australian wildlife, while demonstrating how to milk a venomous snake or grab an enraged croc.  He channels decades of similar characters – from Harry Butler to Steve Irwin and Ranger Stacey – who helped Australians to understand more about our wildlife and why they should be valued.

Tim runs two related but distinct organisations – the Australian Reptile Park (ARP) in NSW and Aussie Ark. The former is a commercial operation that also educates people and nurtures native wildlife. The latter – of the book title – is a non-profit that “is creating a long-term future for threatened Australian species.” Media appearances include guest spots on Bondi Vet and his own shows The Wild Life of Tim Faulkner and Outback Adventures with Tim Faulkner.

This book is described by the publishers as “Tim Faulkner’s battle to save Australia’s threatened wildlife – a fully illustrated biography featuring stories and lessons from a remarkable life on the frontline of animal conservation”.

The first three chapters are formative years and Chapter 4 morphs from Tim’s experience at ARP, to self-promotion, ending in photos of the team winning business awards in 2018. Chapter 5 is about starting out in media and in chapter 6 he searches for threatened species in West Papua. The next few chapters deal with the establishment of Tassie Ark and later Aussie Ark, both ventures based in NSW and aimed at establishing “insurance populations” in the event of species extinction.

The final chapters include tales about his boys and their wildlife encounters and Tim’s work in rescuing animals affected by recent bushfires and floods. This is sometimes heartbreaking work and is clearly essential both for animal welfare and for helping the animals to survive until they can be reintroduced as destroyed areas start to recover.

The focus of Aussie Ark in breeding threatened species in predator free enclosures is unarguably important. But it is part of a much larger picture that involves conservation policy, national parks and reserves, rural land management, responses to climate change and many more.  Tim’s thoughts on all this stop short of analysis, but he isn’t backward in calling out sectors that aren’t pulling their weight – notably governments.  He admits to being “guilty of long-winded rambles about how Australia isn’t as pristine as the world likes to think……” [p193].

My disappointment was that having read this book, I have little idea just how important Tim’s activities with Aussie Ark will be to the future of each species, let alone conservation in general. Apart from Tim’s assertions that this is a new way, no scientific evidence is gathered for the book.  There are many similar, and longer, breeding programs by other NGOs around Australia and a   comparative evaluation would have been useful in addressing many questions that arise. What is the long-term fate of the fenced populations if feral predators are never eliminated in the surrounding areas? How large should the reserves be? What percentage of the reserves’ area should be fenced?

I realise that these are tough for anyone to answer and Aussie Ark’s work is probably helping to at least prevent total elimination of some species. But if one of the aims of the book is to seek volunteers and funding and to encourage similar initiatives elsewhere, then we need to better understand how directing more resources to this particular kind of conservation is the best use. The salutes to Aussie Ark need more than assertion. Some validation is needed to convince people to act.

Many of the sponsors – Australian Geographic, ARP and the Packers are rightly thanked, but sometimes it seems a little self-serving, particularly when sponsors of other similar NGO programs are not acknowledged. This is not to detract from what they do, but if the book starts to read like a promotional brochure, its effectiveness is diminished.

It is great to see Echo publishing Australian books and especially those with a message that is important to the future of Australia. This book is part biography, part organisational promotion and part homespun philosophy – often interwoven confusingly within chapters. I can’t help thinking that a biography compiled by an outsider would have been more compelling, with less self-promotion and more detailed understanding of who Tim is and why he is important to the country.

It is obvious from the front cover onwards that Tim Faulkner’s heart is in the right place. He loves his wife and his two boys, he respects and admires his mentors and workmates and he is a passionate advocate for nature. He is evidently a man of action, whose energy and skills have made successes out of challenging ventures that many others would have failed at.

Tim Faulkner’s Aussie Ark

(October 2022)

by Tim Faulkner

Echo Publishing Australia

ISBN: 978 176068 695 6

$45.00; 277pp

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