Australian Economy

Photographer David Hancock’s 30-year journey documenting Australia’s wild buffalo

Ever since the buffalo was introduced to Australia nearly 200 years ago, its relationship with the land has been a complicated one.

Small herds were imported from Asia by the British in the early 19th century, as a food source.

When they abandoned their northern colony on Coburg Peninsula was abandoned in 1849, they were released into the wild.

An aerial view of a herd of buffalo bathing in a billabong with orange water, surrounded by green shubbery, on a sunny day.
Springs are especially susceptible due to lack of recharging water flow, as in river systems.(Supplied: David Hancock)

The colony was the third failed attempt at colonisation of the Northern Territory’s Top End, where the British had hoped to gain control of Dutch trading routes.

Disease, malnutrition and cyclones made it too challenging.

While the harsh conditions were too much for colonists, the rugged savannahs and wetlands of Arnhem Land – with similar climates of Timor and Indonesia – proved perfect for the buffalo.

An estimated feral population of nearly 200,000 can be now found across the entire northern-most half of the Northern Territory.

A water buffalo standing in green reeds by the side of a billabong, on a sunny day.
The vast wetlands of North-West Arnhem Land are a perfect habitat for buffalo.(Supplied: David Hancock)

New beginnings in an ancient land

For photographer David Hancock, his connection with the wild buffalo of Northern Australia began in the 1970s, and the cattle industry’s push towards a live export trade.

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