Pig Politics: The Great Barrier debate over wild pigs

by Vomle Springford / 02 January, 2019

A new documentary series gives an insight into life on Great Barrier Island and a growing problem facing the small community.

Tensions are rising on Great Barrier Island over an out-of-control wild pig population, with some residents urging local authorities to eradicate the pigs but as a new doco series highlights, the issue is not so black and white.

Pig Politics investigates whether the wild pigs are pests, pork or pets from the different, and sometimes comically contradictory, perspectives of the island’s residents. 

Director Sophie Black says life on the island is tough with many people growing their own food, and the pigs upset the balance when they root up plants, pasture and gardens. They can also destroy native bush areas, and disturb ground-nesting birds and their eggs.

“People describe it like a rotary hoe has come through the garden.”

Black says at the heart of the debate about the pigs, which were introduced to the island by European settlers in the 1800s, is how they are classified.

DOC considers the pigs pests but they are also ‘mahinga kai’ – a natural food source for customary harvest.

The Blackwells, who feature in the series and are firmly “pro-pig”, say many people on the island rely on wild pork to help feed their families and friends.

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Wayde Blackwell, a keen pig hunter with his pet pig, Pumba, who was the runt of a wild pig litter. Blackwell found him nearly dead on the side of the road; now fully grown Pumba spends his days rooting around the Blackwell's paddocks.

Wayde Blackwell, a keen pig hunter with his pet pig, Pumba, who was the runt of a wild pig litter. Blackwell found him nearly dead on the side of the road; now fully grown Pumba spends his days rooting around the Blackwell's paddocks.

Wayde Blackwell, a fifth-generation islander loves pigs, hunting pigs and even has a pet pig he rescued from the wild, called Pumba.

“For Wayde's whole lifetime and generations before him, it’s always been a food source,” says Black.

“It’s something quite important for them to sustain their lifestyle.”

While filming, Black discovered some residents have taken it into their own hands to get rid of the pigs.

John* who owns a property near Medlands Beach, says they annihilate his land every year so he set up two pig traps, and has “no scruples about killing them”. He’s also a vegetarian.

Black says it was these contradictions and the interesting dynamic on the island between ‘locals’ and ‘off-islanders’, that drew her to document the issue.

“It became clear that this one topic had so many points of view.”

She says one of her favourite parts of filming was when she and the director of photography, Pepe de Hoyos, went out hunting with Johnny and Wayde Blackwell, chasing them through the bush with cameras.

As a vegetarian herself, she says it was interesting for her personally to reconcile her own beliefs about killing animals at the same time as trying to get to the truth of the story.

“In that way, I can definitely relate to everyone we met life's complex, there are no simple answers.”

Watch the full series of Pig Politics here.

*John is a pseudonym 

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