Australia’s Megafauna

My new book – the one I’m writing after Unwrapped Sky‘s sequel The Stars Askew – is a steampunk novel set in Australia. The world is an 1890s version of my noir 1950s steampunk story ‘Int. Morgue. Night.’ Here’s a bit from the synopsis I’ve written.

The 1890s in an Australia both strange and familiar: everything is subtly changed by discovery by an 1839 expedition of the inland sea, spanning much of the Lake Eyre/Artesian basin. Together with the gold rush, immigrants have flooded into Melbourne from England and Ireland, China and Malay, Burma and French Indochina. Melbourne is a city of four million, its buildings constructed in a ramshackle over-the-top extravagance, as if a child has piled blocks upon blocks, disregarding their size. Balconies hang over the streets, all iron lace-work, while beneath them emu-driven rickshaws rattle over the cobblestones. Opium dens are hidden in the laneways of Chinatown while in the bay, Chinese junks huddle close to great steamers. Some of the population favour the new technologies: steam trains and trams, airships and mechanical gliders, photography, typewriters, and phonographs (including Bell’s, which used a human ear to record sounds!). Others are enamoured with hypnotism, spiritualism and the occult. Polite society promenades around Collins Street’s famous ‘block’ and the inner city slums are filled with anarchists preaching revolution and suffragettes calling for women’s rights. In the Victorian countryside, groups of utopian socialists set up their communal farms.

To go along with the steampunkery, Australia’s megafauna still exist. So part of my research for the novel has been about this megafauna (I suspect this is the first fiction to feature it), which is really extraordinary. Here’s the ‘marsupial lion’, also known as the thylacaleo carnifex:


And here’s my other favourite, the diprotodon, as large as a bullock:


There’s some debate about what caused the extinction of these species. Was it a changing climate or the arrival of humans. The former seems more likely. I know it would be cool if they were still around, along with, of course, the thylacine. How sad that that has gone, and the Tasmanian devil is under threat too. Here is the poor old thylacine, hunted to extinction because for years there was a bounty on its head. It still haunts me, and though The Hunter was a very uneven film (not sure about the book), it still moved me.


Comments (3 Responses )

  1. m1k3y - 22 March, 2014 - 11:35 pm #

    I think you were overseas when it aired here, so if you haven’t seen it the doc First Footprints has some nuggets about terraforming of Australia by its first peoples and their coexistence with megafauna. My favourite being rock art of land crocodiles.

  2. m1k3y - 22 March, 2014 - 11:38 pm #

    And I believe Stewart Brand has his eye in the thylacine being an early subject for the Restore & Revive project. aka mundane “Jurassic Park”

  3. Rjurik - 23 March, 2014 - 6:27 am #

    I would love the Thylacine to be reintroduced. I’m guessing they do it with DNA and a Tasmanian Tiger?

    Ah yes, the land crocs – they were scary things.

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