Making Animals Public

Inside the ABC’s natural history archive

Gay Hawkins and Ben Dibley

Regular price $40.00 Sale

Format: paperback
204 pages
ISBN: 9781743329719
Publication: 01 Jun 2024

Publisher: Sydney University Press

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Natural history television on the ABC has been one of the public broadcaster’s most popular formats. For many viewers, TV has been an important contact zone for engaging with animals they would never encounter in everyday life. These animals have also played a critical role in developing environmental awareness. But how did animals get to be on the small screen and what happened to them when they got there?

Making Animals Public: Inside the ABC’s Natural History Archive traces the cultural and political evolution of the natural history animal on the ABC. It explores different modes of capture from cages to cameras; what has come to count as a natural history animal over time; and the various sites they have inhabited – from nature, to the nation, to the environment, to the planet.

In early natural history programs audiences were invited to watch as sovereign humans there to learn or be entertained by animals that were exotic or aesthetic or scientifically interesting. Whatever the framing, these animals were resolutely other. In recent times, natural history animals have become more assertive. They are now posing uncomfortable questions to human viewers about exploitation, extinction and mutual implication in catastrophic whole earth processes like climate change.

Using a wide range of screen examples ranging from the 1950s to the 2020s, Making Animals Public focuses on shifting cultural and sociotechnical practices in ABC natural history television. Combining science and technology studies, screen studies and critical animal studies, this book develops an innovative interdisciplinary analysis of how televisual animality is crafted and made believable.

Making Animals Public analyses the significant role public television has played in filming and circulating a vast array of animals and habitats that had never been seen before. How these animals were visualised and accounted for has continually evolved. What has remined constant is the fact that natural history television has been a hugely important site for exploring the various politics of human-animal relations – good and bad – and for nurturing environmental awareness in audiences.

Ben Dibley is a visiting fellow at Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia.

Gay Hawkins is an Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. She is a leading researcher in the fields of environmental humanities, STS and the politics of materials.


  • Introduction: Crafting televisual animals

Part 1: Capturing

  • 1 Cages and cameras: Screen animals before television
  • 2 Captivating viewers: Early natural history television on the ABC

Part 2: Provoking

  • 3 Developing the natural history genre: How animals and the media apparatus interact
  • 4 Making-of documentaries: Turning working animals into natural history animals

Part 3: Inhabiting

  • 5 The Nature of Australia series: Nationing nature
  • 6 After nature, after animals: Inhabiting a damaged planet

  • Conclusion: Political animals



“From cages to cameras, this is an original and compelling account of how animals have inhabited and performed on Australian screens, through the lenses of natural history, national imaginaries, and planetary crisis.”

– Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley FAHA, Macquarie University


Making Animals Public is a rich and fascinating book that reveals a vital dimension of Australia’s audio-visual heritage. Drawing on extensive archival research, it is a ground-breaking study that crucially shows us how natural history animals had to be crafted not found. At a time in the extinction crisis when the continent’s wildlife is as precariously placed as ever, Making Animals Public tells us about the intricate ways animals are produced for the public imagination. Hawkins and Dibley’s book will surely offer a robust template for the study of televisual animals into the future.”

– Professor Belinda Smaill, Monash University


“Combining sophisticated theory and detailed case studies, Making Animals Public incisively unpicks the numerous means by which the Australian Broadcasting Corporation enacted animals. In the process it provides a brilliant model for analysing how the media can variously provoke human–animal relations and make distinctive publics.”

– Professor Mike Michael, University of Exeter


Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 mm
204 pages
Copyright: © 2024
ISBN: 9781743329719
Publication: 01 Jun 2024