Taronga Zoo's 'New Exhibits.'

Darragh Christie, 1 August 2017 · #

The New Exhibits

Screen shot from Great War (1917) film reconstructed by National Film & Sound Archive experts. The protest placards make reference to the strike-breakers residing at Taronga Zoo.

Strike-breakers at Taronga Zoo viewing the monkey enclosure, 1917. Their tents can be seen in the trees behind them. Stanley R. Beer Studio (National Library of Australia)

Tarongo Zoo was officially opened in 1916. A poem called ‘The New Exhibits’ by R.J. Cassidy was published in the The Worker. It pokes fun at Zoo’s temporary residents – ‘free labourer’s’ being used to break the Great Strike of 1917.

‘Say, what are these exhibits called?’, the monkey asked her mate –
‘Those bipeds that the keeper has admitted through the gate,
A longing undeniable the problem to discuss
Have I – oh, tell me what they are, who come to live with us?’.

‘Your question is a poser, and my answer’s Humpty Do,
For likewise I am puzzled much’, said monkey Number two.
‘I’ve eyed them up and I’ve eyed them down, I’ve viewed them near and far-
But twist my tail if I can guess what brand of beast they are’.

Then went the Ape inquisitive, behind a pile of rocks,
And put her question to a seer, to wit the ancient fox.
‘Oh Mr. Fox’ the monkey asked, ‘I come to learn from you,
Particulars concerning those new tenants at the zoo’.

The Fox he wunk a knowing wink, peculiar to seers,
‘Oh they,’ he said, ‘are what are called, the rural volunteers.’
‘God gave to them a backbone each (but right against their wish) –
They much prefer to emulate the spineless jelly-fish!’

‘God gave them strength with which to help the weak who call for aid –
It was, I think, the one mistake that ever heaven made!’
And curious folk they are at best- the cuss’edest of all:
God gave them legs—and-yet —how strange!—they each prefer to crawl’.

‘God gave them eyes with which to see but bitter facts remind
My comprehension stubbornly that most of them are blind!
God gave them each a brain to use—but—this you wouldn’t guess –
They get their thinking done for them by ‘Bulging Belly’s Press’.

‘I thank you much,’ the monkey said, ‘I felt most strangely queer
As though impelled to vomiting whenever they came near.
It isn’t fair to our good name, to either fox or ape-
So when the night enfolds the Zoo I’m making my escape!’

Screen shot of Great War (1917) film reconstructed by NFSA experts. The protest placards make humorous reference to the Zoo’s use as a strike-breakers camp.

Mosman ’14-18 articles relating to this story:

Taronga Zoo’s ‘New Exhibits.’

A light on the Hill: The Great Strike, 1917.

Viewing the monkey enclosure: perspectives left and right.

The Blood Vote: Divisions at the Front, and at Home.

The Blood Vote: Mosman votes, YES

The Blood Vote: NO to Conscription, by a nose.