Animal Studies Journal


As an animal, crocodiles loom large in the human imagination. Crocodiles also grow to very large sizes in the real world, large enough to consume humans. Eco-philosopher Val Plumwood came to the realisation, while being churned under water within a crocodile’s jaws, that for the crocodile she was food, merely a piece of meat. The intention of this paper is to instigate thought on how views can differ from the portrayal of the crocodile as a primitive monster. In northeast Arnhem Land, the saltwater crocodile is commonly encountered as a moving shape out on the water, or through fresh signs of large lumbering tracks upon a beach. For individual Yolngu, whose clan totem includes the saltwater crocodile, or Bäru, this being is an integral part of social existence. Bäru features in ceremony, within song, dance and in bark paintings. I examine how Yolngu negotiate with the saltwater crocodile as a very real threat to human life; but also how Yolngu have a deep respect for the crocodile through a mutual essence and connection to country.