The serpent's stare meets the tourist's gaze: strategies of display at the Australian Reptile Park
Markwell K & Cushing, N 2009, 'The serpent's stare meets the tourist's gaze: strategies of display at the Australian Reptile Park', Current Issues in Tourism, vol. 12, no. 5-6, pp. 475-488.
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This article explores approaches to the display and subsequent viewing of reptiles, a group of animals that simultaneously fascinate and repulse, through a case study of a wildlife attraction, the Australian Reptile Park (ARP), established in 1959 by charismatic naturalist Eric Worrell. From its inception, Worrell explicitly situated the park's activities within the domains of research, education and conservation. The park also provides venom from snake and spider species for the development of antivenom, positioning the park within the additional domain of public health. Today, the park assertively markets itself as a nationally significant tourist attraction. Through analysis of archival material spanning the park's 50-year history, interviews with former and current staff and associates, and ethnography of visitor experiences, this article provides an analysis of the strategies used to exhibit, interpret and make meaning of the captive animals at the ARP within shifting frameworks of presentation from modern to postmodern. Underpinning this analysis is a critical focus on the way the park has negotiated tensions between entertainment and education in the context of its role as a visitor attraction.