Photo: Read a 1946 Canadian Geographical Journal story about turtle hunting by clicking here. (Photo: Canadian Geographic Archives, January 1946)
It’s easy to imagine a reader in, say, snowbound Saskatchewan opening the January 1946 issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal, turning to page 22 and being struck not only by the images of Australia’s sunny North Queensland Coast but also by the headline that appeared there: “Turtle-Hunting in Coral Seas.” (Read the feature.)
Over its 85 years, the magazine has produced its fair share of headlines and stories that evoke the exotic or produce a smile (I, for one, cannot stifle a snort when I read this title, which my colleague Carys Mills delved into last month), and Ewen K. Patterson’s reportage certainly does the former. In the piece, Patterson, an Australian journalist whose writing about his homeland appeared in newspapers and periodicals across the Commonwealth and in the United States, details how turtle hunters (who, judging from the pictures that accompany the story and Patterson’s references to “natives” appear to be exclusively Aboriginal) capture both green turtles and the hawksbill turtles for their flesh and shells, respectively.
“When a female is sighted making her laborious journey back to the water,” Patterson writes, “two or three hunters approach quietly, grasp the turtle by the side of the shell and lift, and over she goes with her flippers beating wildly.” Only the steaks and flippers of the green turtle are used to make “the celebrated turtle soup, which is regarded as a great delicacy in most parts of the civilized world,” Patterson explains, later adding that “between 20 and 30 pounds of soup are obtained from each turtle.”
Today, this sort of activity might elicit the mother of all face palms from conservationists, but the truth is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (whose hunting methods Patterson also covers) are legally permitted to hunt these two and other species of turtle for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs — a law that isn’t dissimilar to the hunting and fishing rights of First Nations in Canada.