Defender is a work based on the endangered bettong, the little marsupial creatures who are prey to feral dogs. Sadly, bettongs just haven’t evolved to deal with these violent newcomers. It’s a common problem for most indigenous creatures. Like tree kangaroos, bettongs just haven’t evolved to deal with these violent newcomers.

Tasmanian Bettong (Bettongia gaimardi), Waterworks Reserve, Tasmania, Australia. The photo taken at night with off camera flashes.
Image by JJ Harrison

Bettongs play a vital role in the ecology because they dig up and eat truffles, which are a kind of mushroom, and help distribute the spores. These truffles are also important to the wellbeing of the plants that they are connected to. So, if we lose the bettongs, we also lose the truffles and their mycelium and that impacts the plants too. There are far reaching consequences to extinctions beyond just losing a beautiful animal.

So, I imagined how someone might genetically engineer the bettong so they could protect themselves by making them bigger, and armoured and ferocious.

The problem with this solution is that what you’re left with isn’t really a bettong anymore. Bettongs are gorgeous and peaceful, and this creature is not. This creature makes me feel anxious and brings up questions around how this creature might turn around and bite the hand that made her. And would you blame her? Could she become the new pestilence?

What happens when we upset the natural equilibrium of the environment by introducing new things? How do we know when to stop? And what are our responsibilities to the creatures that we do create. What happens when we do the wrong thing for the right reasons?

My work asks a lot of questions. I don’t have the solutions, but I want to be part of the discussion, a discussion that involves you and the people around you. It is my hope that these works will inspire a discussion about the stuff we face together. And together — together with all the other animals — we can go forward.