Remembering Bede Carmody

Bede Carmody with some of his beloved rescued chickens living in sanctuary at A Poultry Place. Photo: A Poultry Place/supplied.

Elizabeth Usher remembers the kind, generous and inspiring human behind the renowned animal sanctuary, A Poultry Place.

Australia’s animal rights world is in mourning after losing a true hero. Bede Carmody, the founder of A Poultry Place, has died suddenly of natural causes in his Murrumbateman home and sanctuary. 

Bede with two rescued turkeys at A Poultry Place. Photo: A Poultry Place/supplied.

Bede* was one of the first Animal Liberation members and local vegans I met when I moved back to Sydney in early 1999, after becoming vegan the year before while I was studying in the UK. I’ve looked up to him as a leader within the movement ever since, and been grateful for his friendship and advice over the last 22 years. This past week I have been feeling grief on a deep personal level, while simultaneously seeing the shockwaves of pain and loss reverberate around our animal protection community.

How can I possibly pay adequate tribute to this dear, compassionate, multi-talented man, who not only touched but manifestly improved so many lives – both human and non-human?

With Bede at Canberra’s Living Green Festival in 2015. Photo: Elizabeth Usher’s collection.

The obvious place to start is his work in setting up A Poultry Place, with its starting date of 22 January, 2001 making it one of the very earliest sanctuaries to focus on ‘farmed’ or ‘food’ animals. He described it as “a no kill sanctuary which offers a safe, permanent home to rescued and unwanted poultry (roosters, chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese)”. 

Although over the years A Poultry Place was also home to varying numbers of sheep, cats, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and goats, Bede very deliberately chose to work primarily with poultry for several reasons. In terms of sheer scale, they are the most exploited land animals used for food. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) forecasts that 678 million – i.e. over 2/3 of a billion – chickens will be slaughtered nationwide in 2021/2022 alone. 

Bede started with an empty five-acre block and created a beautiful sanctuary. Photo: A Poultry Place/supplied.

Practically speaking, the size of his five-acre block limited the scope for rehoming larger animals, and local council regulations prohibited pigs living there in residence.

There was also a level of remorsefulness that, until he became vegetarian on New Year’s Day, 1 January, 1994, Bede did eat chickens, turkeys or ducks, since he had given up red meat aged around ten simply because he didn’t like the taste. 

Finally, the first rescue he was ever personally involved in was a group of battery hens, and he was able to witness these birds begin to thrive in their new home. The moving phrase he used was that “they had found their own being”. 

Photo taken on a visit to A Poultry Place in January 2011 to celebrate 10 years of Bede running the sanctuary. Photo: Elizabeth Usher.

Over two decades, Bede helped more than four thousand residents of A Poultry Place have at least a taste of a life where they could just be themselves. The sad reality of running a sanctuary like this was that many rescued individuals were only able to enjoy their new freedoms for a relatively short period, for the simple reason that by human design they were never likely to live very long. In particular, turkeys and so-called ‘broiler’ chickens are bred to gain weight very rapidly, and their bodies do not usually survive more than a couple of years. 

Bede allowed me to name six rescued “broiler” chickens after people involved in the Veganthused project ‘Born to Die‘. Video: Veganthused!/YouTube.

One of Bede’s most inspiring qualities was his resilience. On top of a career in journalism, he worked professionally in the human rights field for many years as a community organiser for Amnesty International Australia in Canberra and southern NSW. A self-described ‘city slicker’, he grew up in Westmead and was living in the Inner West before embarking on his new sanctuary life in rural NSW. He freely admitted he had no idea what he was getting into in terms of facing dangers such as drought and fires – but he never gave up, regardless of what he encountered. 

Bede also spoke openly about his mental health struggles, particularly in relation to a sense of feeling caged while he was hiding his true identity prior to coming out as a gay man. 

Bede’s moving TEDxCanberra talk. Video: TEDx Talks/YouTube.

These experiences helped fuel his desire to promote mental wellness and coping strategies for those in the animal rights movement. He was a regular speaker at events such as the Living Green Festival and Animal Liberation’s activist emotional wellbeing events, and very generous in sharing his experiences, knowledge and resources.  

Despite being a natural introvert, Bede was a skilled and charismatic public speaker and social change activist. Anyone lucky enough to visit A Poultry Place could be regaled for hours as he shared tales of his residents that were in turns heartbreaking or entertaining, but always inspiring.

Bede came to Sydney to speak at a protest in 2014. Photo: Elizabeth Usher’s collection.

This piece opened by calling Bede a ‘true hero’. The word ‘hero’ sometimes gets bandied about too freely, but a few years ago I wrote a song in tribute to him and his work, to show just how much respect and admiration I have for him. On social media, Bede always referred to himself as “The Human of A Poultry Place”. My song was therefore called “Dear Human (A World Dreamed Up By Bede)” and one of my favourite memories was our emotional hug after I shared an early draft of it with him on location at A Poultry Place. Even though I am yet to release it officially, I’m so pleased he was able to hear the song live several times at events such as the Living Green Festival. 

The chorus lyric is:

Dear Human of A Poultry Place
Thank you for creating this space
Because of you, we were saved
Because of you, we’re safe

Farewell, dearest Human of A Poultry Place. You will be missed by so many.

Animal Liberation ACT and the Animal Defenders Office have set up a fundraiser to help cover the costs for the immediate and ongoing care of Bede’s animals, who have been taken in by Nicole and Alex, Little Oak Sanctuary, Edgar’s Mission and Whisker Woods Sanctuary. To donate, visit https://bit.ly/bede2021 or https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-a-poultry-place-animals-in-their-new-homes.

Some resources for anyone struggling with grief or other issues:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Headspace 1800 650 890
.

*The usual naming convention for Sentinel articles is to refer to people using their surname after once using their full name. However, I felt it more appropriate to use Bede’s first name throughout this tribute.

Elizabeth Usher is the vegan editor of the Sydney Sentinel.