Deer in Australia

Fallow / Red / Hog / Sambar / Chital / Rusa

Our fascination with deer goes back a long way. Earlier than our relationships with dogs and horses in fact.

The Bradshaw cave paintings in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia have been dated at up to 65,000 years old. They clearly show what have since been determined to be sambar deer. By comparison, Dingos are only thought to have been brought to Australia as little as 3,500 years ago.


In biblical times, Solomon farmed deer, and Venison is classified as the most Kosher of all food.

In India, Buddha first taught the Dharma at the deer park at Sarnath. That Deer Park was a forest gifted to the deer by the king, where the deer might wander unmolested. It is still there today.

In all continents where deer are native, they hold a special place in the social psyche. It’s as if an appreciation of deer was hard wired into human DNA.

If you doubt that, ask yourself why purveyors of fine scotch, and some beers, choose the image of the Monarch of the Glenn to market their product to men. Why has Bambi taken over $267 million at the box office?

Chital deer have the distinction of being the first deer species brought to Australia.

Dr John Harris, surgeon to the NSW Corps, had chital enclosed at his 34 acre “hobby farm” at Blackwattle Swamp in Sydney as early as 1803. To put this in context, that rural hobby farm is now known as Darling Harbour.

To appreciate the significance of this achievement, we must also remember that in 1803

  • Queensland, Victoria and New Zealand were all still parts of NSW.
  • The first fleet had only arrived 15 years earlier in 1788. The journey took just 252 days.
  • Flinders had just returned from circumnavigating Australia for the first time ever.
  • It would be 10 years before Blaxland would discover a pathway across the Blue Mountains.
  • The colony was in serious trouble, with starvation a very real threat for many as European crops failed due to drought, and supplies dwindled. And yet there is no record of these deer being poached.
  • The Rum rebellion was still 5 years away.

A typical ships manifest of that period was made up of rum, sugar, salt, canvas, anchors & hardware, linen, and an occasional box of cheap jewellery.

Rum of course was one of 3 main currencies in use in the colony. When Australia’s first church was built in 1793, the Reverend Richard Johnson paid the workers’ wages in rum. Macquarie latter paid for the building of a road between Sydney and Liverpool with 400 gallons of rum.

Imagine the wealth that a ship’s captain on his way to the new world could amass if he could squeeze on, officially or unofficially, just one or two more barrels of rum, or a box of axe heads, or guns. Instead, they bought deer.

Later, the P&O line had a standing policy of providing free passage to any deer being imported for liberation, such was the regard deer were held in. And such was the trouble our forebears went to in order to bring them here. Remember, live animals, plus enough food for them for 252 days, instead of the equivalent weight of liquid gold, transported for free.

The 19th century was very much an era when Acclimatisation Societies would flourish all over Australia. This was a world-wide movement to ‘share the world’s most beautiful and useful things’. The Acclimatisation Society was the first important conservation group that Australia ever had, and was responsible for importing and releasing deer into Australia.

The Sydney group, led by Dr George Bennett at the Australian Museum and Charles Moore the director of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, became active in 1852.

In 1861 the Society reported that Victoria had wild herds of Red, Fallow and Axis deer. In 1862 the Society reported it had herds of Fallow, Ceylon Elk (Sambar), Ceylon Hog, Ceylon Moose Deer (Mouse deer or Chevrotain), and Axis all in their pens (what we now know as zoo’s). In 1865 the Society released Fallow, Axis and Sambar at Wilson’s Promontory. Also released were Axis in the Wimmera, Sambar and Axis at Mt Sugarloaf, Fallow at Bunyip.

In 1873 after Queensland was eventually separated from NSW, Queen Victoria gifted the newly created colony a herd of red deer from her royal hunting ground. The Queenslanders were obviously impressed since they eventually included a red deer on their states coat of arms, where it remains today.

In 1879 the Society released the following deer into the wild in New South Wales; Red, Fallow and Sambar, the Sambar was later found to be Rusa.  In 1885 Fallow deer were released in to the Royal National Park. Red deer in 1886 were released into the Park. In 1886 Fallow deer were released in to the Queanbeyan area. Red deer escaped from their pens in 1918 in the Quidong area. In 1924 Fallow deer were released in to the New England range.

The first deer to be imported to Tasmania were Chital on the 30th October 1829, by Mr John Bisdee. This stock came from the Bisdee English properties in Somerset (Banwell 2002). The Acclimatisation Society of Tasmania formed. On the 9th December 1862 Fallow deer were brought in to Tasmania. In 1865 further releases of Fallow deer were reported. In 1928 the Animal and Bird Protection Act in Tasmania limited the bag of deer.

John Bisdee gave fallow deer to the Society in 1865 from Tasmania. In 1873 the first Red deer were brought in to Queensland. The next recorded liberation was in 1874. The 1878 report by the Society stated that the Reds were in no doubt increasing in numbers.

In 1899, Red and Fallow deer were released in Western Australia.  1903 and 1906 more deer were released but their species aren’t recorded. Indian Blackbuck were also released late last century.

In 1861 Fallow deer were well established in South Australia. Red and Fallow were also released in 1914. Another release of Fallow occurred in 1917. In 1936 deer purchased from the Society were released near Clare.

Today there are six free-roaming members of the deer family within Australia. It’s been estimated that 85% of Australia’s wild deer today are descendants of herds originally liberated by acclimatisation societies. 100% legal at the time, with active government support and encouragement.

Further reading is essential for better understanding and greater enjoyment of an exciting and complex subject.  Don’t overlook the importance of reading all you can about your chosen subject.

Many books on deer and deer hunting are becoming difficult to buy. The following titles are readily available to purchase online from the Australian Deer research Foundation:




An introduction to the Deer of Australia

Bentley, A. Forests Commission Victoria 1978

Fallow Deer

Chapman, D&N Dalton, Deer Advisory Council of Victoria.

The Hog Deer

Moore, G. & Mayze, R ADRF LTD, 1990

Walking Them U

Pearce, K ADRF LTD, 1987


Chaplin, R.E. Blandford Press, 1977

Living With Deer

Prior, R., Deutsch, 1965

Papers Presented At Deer Management Conference, November 1974

Fisheries and Wildlife Division, F. & W.Wildlife Paper NO. 8 1975

Deer Of The World

Whitehead. G.K. Constable 1972

Australian Deer ADA

Bi-monthly magazine of the Australian Deer Association 1976-
ADA News > more
Facts Should Matter in the Forestry debate

‘It can promise different groups different things, but it cannot promise them contradictory things. It must accept that there are times when it cannot satisfy both constituencies and that it has no choice but to identify either with the outer suburbs and regions or with the inner metropolitan voter.’ The Brompton Report – A new approach for Labor. Commissioned by the CFMEU Forestry and Furniture Products Division in the wake of Labor’s 2004 Federal Election defeat.

The above advice was given to the federal Labor Party in response to a situation concerning Tasmanian forestry back in 2004. It could equally apply to those governing Victoria in 2017.

The Victorian Forest Industry Taskforce was an attempt to promise contradictory things to different constituencies. At the 2014 Victorian state election, the (then) incumbent made a commitment to refrain from creating any new national parks during the next term of government. The Labor Party did not go that far and, instead, promised to establish a Forest Industry Taskforce.

‘Labor strongly supports a consensus approach in the establishment of any new national parks. We will facilitate and support the establishment of an Industry Taskforce to provide leadership to reach common ground on the future issues facing the industry, job protection, economic activity, protection of our unique native flora and fauna and threatened species, such as the Leadbeater’s possum. The taskforce will have members from the forestry and forest products industry, unions, environmental groups and scientists, threatened species experts, land owners, timber communities and other relevant stakeholders.’ Our Environment, Our Future. Victorian Labor Election Policy, 2014.

When the Taskforce was established a number of relevant stakeholders were omitted including land owners, recreational users, indigenous owners and expert land managers. The exclusion of important groups was not even the most significant flaw in the make-up of the Forest Industry Taskforce – it’s most serious flaw was that it gave equal weight to stakeholders who don’t have equal importance to society. Small green activist groups with a handful of members were given equal billing with employers upon whom thousands of Victorians rely for their livelihood. Ideologically driven lobby groups were given equal billing with businesses with tens of millions of dollars invested in the forest industry.

The taskforce has provided a report to the Victorian Government which (at the time of publication) has not been released publicly. Little if any ‘common ground’ has been reached.

Victoria has around eight million hectares of forest across crown and private land. Over the past thirty years the total area of forest cover has either remained the same or increased across Victoria’s eleven bioregions. Around three million hectares of Victoria is managed as State Forest, less than two million hectares of that is available for timber harvesting. An average of five thousand hectares is harvested in a given year.

In early February, the twenty year East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement was extended by thirteen months within just twenty-four hours of the time it was due to expire. Its expiry will now coincide with that of the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (the area under the most contention) in March next year.

Also in early February, the Wilderness Society released a report that it had commissioned from a consultancy (the Nous Group) entitled ‘Great Forest National Park: economic contribution of park establishment, park management, and visitor expenditure’ – the release of the report was accompanied by a media release heralding the potential creation of a new park would create ‘760 jobs’. The report itself puts the actual figure associated with creating a new park at just 50 full-time jobs, and, in doing so, ignores the thousands of jobs which could be lost across the native timber industry. The authors of the report (Nous Group) in fact went to lengths to ensure that the deficiencies within the report were clear and obvious (a fact clearly missed by some media outlets which faithfully reported the Wilderness Society’s spin). The first paragraph of the report is worth reproducing here – the bold type emphasis on words is as presented in the report.

‘Nous Group (Nous) was engaged by The Wilderness Society to undertake a narrowly scoped analysis, projecting the additional economic activity generated by the Great Forest National Park (GFNP) through park establishment, park management and potential additional visitor expenditure. The impact of the establishment of the GFNP on other forms of economic activity was specifically not in scope.’ First paragraph, Executive Summary, Great Forest National Park: economic contribution of park establishment, park management, and visitor expenditure.

In contrast to this, a recent report by Deloitte Access Economics found that the timber industry in Victoria’s Central Highlands generates $573 million in revenue annually and is directly responsible for the employment of 2,117 full time equivalent workers.

This is not the first time that the green movement has relied on narrowly scoped or otherwise inadequate reports to support economic arguments against the forest industry. A claim regularly advanced is that Vic-Forests (the government owned forestry regulator) is a loss making enterprise – the implication being that the industry is ‘subsidised’ by the Victorian taxpayer. In 2013 NEAS, a business unit of the Australian Conservation Foundation, produced a report on which this contention is based (‘An assessment of Vic-Forests finances’).

The Australian Deer Association has seen an analysis of the NEAS report which was conducted by a senior experienced economist and CPA. The analysis highlights serious flaws with the NEAS report including the omission of such critical information as Vic-Forests profit and loss report and advises that ‘the NEAS report is superficial and substantially flawed, containing biased misinformation’.

The practical consequence of the ongoing uncertainty of supply for the timber industry is that thousands of blue collar jobs and entire communities have their very future placed under a cloud.

One might ask why any of this matters to an organisation like the Australian Deer Association. It matters because the attack on forestry is, in effect, an attack on access to public land. Any loss of state forest in the Central Highlands will inevitably result in a loss of access for hound hunters and gundog hunters in particular and will likely result in greatly diminished access for all hunters. The ADA insists that decisions which affect us be based on clear evidence and data, not on intuition, prejudice or political expediency. We have seen nothing to convince us that the current proposals for a national park go anywhere close to meeting that simple and fundamental test.

This issue sadly has very little to do with policy and a great deal to do with electoral politics.

This is not a choice between the environment and industry, all of the evidence makes it clear that as a society we have the wit and the means to get that balance right. This is a choice between being responsive to the whims of elites in the inner suburbs or the needs of blue collar workers and communities in the outer suburbs and the regions.