'Shocking cruelty': Controversial fight to end 'devastating' tradition in Victoria

A 77-year-old man’s marathon fight to end Victoria’s duck shooting season could end in victory as pressure mounts on government to ban the 2020 hunt.

Coalition Against Duck Shooting founder Laurie Levy first waded into Victoria’s wetlands on a dark morning in 1986.

“We put together a small team to challenge Victoria’s 100,000 duck shooters,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“There were guys dressed up in camouflage gear, using semi-automatic and pump action shot guns.

“Birds were falling out of the sky - it was a frightening experience.”

Split screen. Dead waterbirds lay dead on a white sheet. A family sit on the back of a ute displaying dead ducks.
Anti duck shooting campaigners (pictured left) want to see Anthony Grogan and his friends (pictured right) banned from hunting ducks. Source: CADS / Anthony Grogan
Split screen. Close up of an injured duck. Andy Meddick releases the duck from a cage.
Andy Meddick MP releases a duck that was rehabilitated after being shot in the bill. Source: AJP / CADS

Throughout the 1970s, Mr Levy worked on the successful Project Jonah campaign to see whaling in Australia banned, and then helped establish a national program for assisting beached marine mammals.

He was riding on the coat-tails of these successes when he turned his attention to protecting Victoria’s native waterbirds.

“I didn’t expect to spend 34 years working on this issue,” he said.

“But once you’ve been out there on the wetlands and you’ve seen the shocking violence and cruelty that duck shooters inflict on Australian’s native waterbirds, you can’t turn your back on them.”

Ducks ‘left to drown’

Mr Levy is confident the bill to ban duck hunting, introduced by Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick, will see the annual event stopped before the 2020 season.

If passed, Victorian law would come into line with NSW, Queensland and Western Australia where native waterbirds are protected throughout the year.

Laurie Levy stands behind an array of dead birds in from of an official looking building.
Every year Laurie Levy and his supporters display endangered birds killed by hunters in front of parliamentary offices. Source: CADS
Two dead swans lie dead on a white sheet surrounded by other dead birds and eggs.
Coalition Against Duck Shooting members claim many non-target species like these swans are killed during duck season. Source: CADS

Mr Meddick told Yahoo News Australia polling shows the bulk of the Victorian population don’t support duck hunting and the state Labor government needs to shift its position in line with community concern.

“We don’t see a downside here for the government,” he said.

“I’ve seen the devastation that can happen to native wildlife each year.

“Ducks are left to die, they are left drown, they’re in pain and other types of native wildlife also get shot, like swans and egrets.”

Earlier this year, Mr Meddick released a duck back into the wild that had been found by rescuers with a gunshot wound to the bill.

“Hopefully when we get duck shooting banned in Victoria, that duck will live a full and fruitful life,” he said.

‘Duck hunters aren’t bloodthirsty lunatics’

Duck shooter Anthony Grogan hopes the government won’t support the ban.

He has fond memories of learning to hunt with his father and he wants to pass the tradition down to his children.

“Duck hunters aren’t blood thirsty lunatics that just want to kill,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“One of the big misconceptions about people that hunt is that they get some sort of thrill and some sort of joy from going out and killing things.

Split screen. Anthony Grogan wears sunglasses and stares at the camera with a gun in hand and a dead duck. Mr Grogan's son Duke sits on the back of a ute holding a dead duck. There is a gun behind him.
Anthony Grogan (left) wants to pass the tradition of duck shooting down to his son Duke. Source: Anthony Grogan

“For me it’s not just about going out and shooting ducks.

“It’s something where I get to spend time with my kids, with family, with friends - it’s a good break from work.

“Duck opening coming around is one of the things I look forward to every year.”

Mr Grogan finds it rewarding to provide his family with animals that he has hunted, rather than just buying meat from the supermarket.

“A lot of the footage I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard of meat coming out of abattoirs isn’t great,” he said.

“I’d like to think that everyone in those places is doing the right thing and obeying the law, but unfortunately there’s a lot of places out there that are putting a lot of stress on the animal.

“Going out and hunting it’s a quick, clean kill.

“Every once in a while it doesn’t die straight away, but there are new updated laws that have come out recently that say a hunter must gather their fallen duck straight away and dispatch it humanely before shooting another one.”

Leading the campaign a ‘privilege and an honour’

The 2019 duck season in Victoria was cut from 12 weeks to nine, due to concerns about lower bird numbers due to drought.

The number of duck hunters has also dropped since the heady days of the 1980s, while the number of anti duck hunting campaigners has swelled.

Mr Grogan said he respects the abolitionists’ right to protest against the hunt, but maintains their presence can be challenging - especially when he has been at the receiving end of verbal abuse.

Volunteers from Coalition Against Duck Hunting maintain they use non-violent tactics to rescue injured birds and ferry them to tents for veterinary attention and rehabilitation.

Each year, non-target species killed by the hunters are placed outside parliamentary offices to highlight the affect on threatened and endangered birds.

At an age when most people have retired, Mr Levy works full-time throughout the year to lobby against duck hunting, and during the season his working day drags out to about 15 hours-long.

“It’s really been a privilege and an honour to work with all the volunteers,” he said.

“Once duck shooting comes to an end, I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do.

“I haven’t really thought that far ahead.”

The Animal Justice Party are hoping to bring the bill to ban duck shooting to a vote in parliament before the 2020 season commences in March.

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