A combination of animal welfare law and nature conservation law establishes a hierarchy of protection for wild animals in Australia, with rare, threatened or endangered native animals receiving the highest levels of protection, plentiful native animals lying in the middle — sometimes well protected, sometimes not — and introduced wild animals at the bottom. In reading beyond the accounts of contemporary law, especially in sociology and environmental history, a plausible argument can be made for the proposition that this prevailing general schema of protection reflects an early 20th century assertion of a distinctive Australian identity, combined with the emergence of a conservation ethic and the decline of attempts to acclimatise British wild animals in Australia. Prior to federation the legal protection of wild animals was quite different, with native animals receiving little protection until the late 19th century. Introduced wild animals were initially protected to allow their flourishing, but by the late 19th century were increasingly being characterised as ‘pests’ and their protection wound back. This article explores how and why attitudes to native wild animals and introduced wild animals in Australia have changed over time, and how these changes continue to be reflected in Australian law.