A Tiger’s Tale

The Last Known Photographs of the Now Extinct Thylacine ...
The last thylacine died in a private zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1936. Or did it?

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; William Blake – Songs of Experience

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Joni Mitchell – ‘Big Yellow Taxi’

‘What’s the major difference between Bigfoot, the Yeti and the Tasmanian Tiger?’ challenged ‘Boof’ Turnbull, the bulldog-faced Mayor of Dunnayewie (known to the locals as Dunno).

Fearing a trick question, the small gathering shuffled their feet and made asides to each other until ‘Shady’ Oaks ventured ‘There’s no Bigfoot or Yeti here in Tassie?’

‘Jesus, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. The first two don’t exist but the Tiger does!’ bellowed Boof.

Shady, wary of riling the Mayor, said ‘Well, used ter, Boof. Last one died over eighty years ago.’

Boof sighed and said ‘My point is, pea-brain, that it did exist, it’s on film and there are genuine skeletons. Not like those other cock-and-bull stories. And if it did exist, it can still exist.’

‘Tiny’ Clutterbuck stretched out his full six foot six inch frame and said dismissively ‘The only bloke around here who’s ever seen one is ‘Yabber’ Thompson and he spends half his time on the turps. Wouldn’t be surprised if he reported seein’ a pink elephant.’

All but Boof laughed and Shady said ‘Good’un, Tiny.’

‘Go on, laugh. And when you’re finished, tell me the last time any of you had paid work.’ Boof scanned the faces of the group and, after a pause, said. ‘Exactly. But that’s all about to change. None of this can go on paper, so listen carefully.’

Unusually for Boof, he spoke quietly and conspiratorially. ‘There’s been no work here to speak of since the greenies fucked over forestry and the timber mill.’ A chorus of ‘Bastards, hippies, rent-a-crowd, druggies’ rose until hushed by Boof. ‘Yeah, I know but that’s all blood under the bridge now. The only way out as I see it is tourism.’

A gasp of disgust swelled from the group and ‘Azza’ Rule vowed ‘I’d rather die than kiss a tourerrorist’s arse for a hand-out.’

‘Me too’, said Boof ‘ but the way I have it figured the ass-kissing’s gunna be the other way round. Now, here me out and wait ‘til I’ve finished this time.’

The group settled and Boof continued. ‘Now here’s the core of my plan. The Tasmanian Tiger lives and will never die out. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, as long as we can get tourists, investors and the Government to believe it. They’ll flock here like seagulls onto a bucket of chips. Dunno will become the centre of the environmental universe. Now, I want you to go home, have a think about it and come back next week with some good ideas about how we can suck everybody in and be able to sit pretty for the rest of our lives. But remember, tell no-one, including your missus, Shady, and especially not ‘Squeaker’ Ratzinger. Understood?

All nodded and a satisfied Mayor called the meeting to a close.

***

Boof reckoned that hiding in plain sight was the way to go. So next week, the Mayor’s Sub-Committee on Environmental Matters (only known to the cognoscenti as Project Thylacine) met behind the closed doors of the Council Chamber.

The energy in the room was palpable. Boof called the meeting to order and said ‘Well, what have you come up with?’

Tiny kicked off with his plan for generating sightings. ‘My son, Luther, knows a bloke who knows a bloke who knows someone in Hollywood who’s an expert in holograms. He reckons he could knock up a fair dinkum looking thylacine in no time.’

Shady interrupted with ‘But who sends telegrams anymore?’

Boof snapped ‘Hologram, you numbskull. Great idea, Tiny. Get started’

A very miffed Shady volunteered ‘There’s gotta be a Government grant we could get. I bet they’re a bit embarrassed that the Tiger is on the State coat of arms when they’ve knocked ‘em all off.’

Boof grinned and said ‘Just when I was about to write you off as a waste of space, Shady, you produce a nugget like that.’ Shady beamed.

Boof continued. ‘What about you, Azza?’

Azza drawled ‘There’s only one track into the forest and there’s no log trucks anymore. I reckon you could find a Council by-law, Boof, that gives us control over who can use the road. Namely, only us, and only in our authorised sight-seeing vehicle. I reckon a hundred bucks a ride sounds fair.’

Boof chuckled and said ‘We’ll make a capitalist out of you yet, Azza.’

Azza snorted ‘Bugger capitalism, and socialism for that matter. I just want to know where me beer money’s comin’ from each week.’

Boof gavelled the meeting to an end, setting the meeting time for next week.

‘Hang on’ cried Shady, ‘you still haven’t told us what a hologram is.’

Eyes rolling, the group dispersed and quickly went home to Google it.

***

Shady sat with the State Premier, Yvonne ‘Needs’ Must, and the local State MP, Bernard ‘Willy’ Ever, in the Premier’s office. All advisors and other high-priced help had been excluded from the meeting.

Yvonne began. ‘So, Shady, you want a million dollars of taxpayers money to set up this tourist trap, sorry, venture. Why would we want to do that?’

‘Because, Premier, as you know, tourists spend about one and a half billion dollars here very year and that creates a lot of jobs and a lot of jobs creates a lot of taxes. And there aren’t a lot of jobs in our neck of the woods since the forest was locked up.’ Noting the flash of ire in the Premier’s eyes, Shady quickly added ‘For good environmental reasons of course.’

‘What makes you think the tourists will come?’ challenged Yvonne.

‘With respect, Premier, do you have any idea how much tourism the Loch Ness Monster attracts in Scotland or Big Foot in the US? Squillions. And that’s with zero chance of seeing either.’

‘So you’re saying the same will happen here? Even though there’s no chance of anyone seeing a thylacine?’

‘Oh, they’ll see them, Premier. Or at least, they’ll think they see them. Just often enough to keep the industry growing.’

‘But I can’t be seen to be funding a fraud!’

‘Perish the thought, Premier. You’ll be seen to be funding the greatest effort to preserve the thylacines and their habitat ever attempted, for the sake of the Tasmanian people and their coat of arms … and world heritage. I reckon we could even get David Rabbitburrow out here to spruik it.’

***

Thus was born Tigerland and, in a short time, Disneyworld was seen as passé. The founders of Project Thylacine, now renamed as the You Wouldn’t Read About It Corporation with a registered office in the Cayman Islands, had become business moguls. (Boof had to explain to Shady that this was nothing to do with skiing.)

They owned the construction company that, under Azza’s watchful eye) built a new four-lane freeway direct from Hobart airport to Tigerland, where visitors could choose from accommodation ranging from 7-star environmentally up-the-wazoo hotels (built by the Corporation) to camping grounds for the plebs with ‘Please Don’t Feed The Tigers’ signs.

Tiny managed the Corporation’s distillery that made a 40% alcohol miracle hangover cure called Hair of the Tiger, which sold by the bucketload and was a self-sustaining market.

And Boof was the patron of the not-for-profit they funded, the Save the Thylacine Movement, an environmental organisation run by people with MBAs that dressed like hippies. The Movement supplemented their funding with copyright on educational materials full of helpful facts e.g. thylacines are not really tigers as we generally know them but a striped dog-like marsupial. (Sales were constant since the Premier made their materials part of the core curriculum in schools.)

***

As Oscar Wilde once said, nothing succeeds like excess and the Corporation’s next venture moved to the Murray River on the mainland, which snakes through three States. The new cash cow (or more correctly, monster) was the Bunyip, said to be a freshwater-dwelling beast with a horse-like tail, flippers, and tusks. Legend has it that the Bunyip emerges at night to feast on other animals, including people, and is possessed of a loud bellowing cry.

The Corporation bought in Steven Spielberg to start a movie franchise that soon eclipsed Jaws and its sequels, starting with ‘The Bunyip’s Got My Baby’. The six-lane freeway from Sydney airport, the Bunyip-proof hotels and camp grounds, and the Save the Bunyip Movement followed as the Corporation’s now slick business model unfolded.

***

Meanwhile, it has been rumoured that deep in the forests of Victoria and Western Australia, remnant packs of thylacines have interbred with their marsupial cousins, the Tasmanian devil and the kangaroo, to create the Killeroo. Uncorroborated sightings of a striped carnivorous beast and evidence that they can leap six-foot fences and devour any living creature, including humans, have been dismissed by scientists.

Smelling a new opportunity for the Corporation, the now old team of Boof, Tiny, Azza and Shady set off to investigate.

They have never been seen since but rumours and claimed sightings persist.

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