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Kangaroos - The 100 Days Project

The kangaroo is Australia’s national emblem. It’s on our coat-of-arms, our stamps, our currency; it’s the logo that indicates ‘Australian made’. Strange, then, how little we know about it. Or them. Is it kangaroo or kangaroos? a mob, a pod, or a court? And which kangaroo are we talking about? There are fifty-four species. Or is it now fifty-two? Out on their taxonomic fringes the extinction rate is alarming. Indeed I’m told that the kangaroo, as a genus, is extinct in many regions of the country. And yet, of course, they’re supposedly ‘in plague proportions’. Some of us, certainly, have seen them in their hundreds, though I know that at least one of the groups of a several hundred I saw was only where it was because, driven out of the Brindabella range by fire, they’d been cruelly bottlenecked by a couple of fences, forced into a seething mass just by the turn-off (sad irony!) to the Tidbinbilla wildlife reserve.

Night after night, in all parts of Australia where they are still to be found, kangaroos are being slaughtered as they graze. The state governments come up with annual population estimates of their larger species – typically these are Red Kangaroos, Eastern Greys, Western Greys, and Wallaroos (or Euros) – and suggest a ‘harvest’ quota for approval.

I read today that the ‘common’ Boobook Owl is becoming far less common than it was thanks to our use of rat poisons. The owl, a hunter of rodents, eats the dying rats – for of course the poisons drive them outside in search of water – and is therefore poisoned himself. It’s hard, sometimes, not to think of the mere presence of the human as the most toxic element in the environment.

"an honest, and probably unintentional, pictorial representation of humans’ tendency to prioritise property over lives..."

'The Kangaroo' by Barron Field

Kangaroo, Kangaroo!

Thou Spirit of Australia,

That redeems from utter failure,

From perfect desolation,

And warrants the creation

Of this fifth part of the Earth,

How many creatures live around you? How many will die if a fire sweeps through?

Here in the mountains we are told it’s not a question of if our houses are threatened by bushfire, but when. And bushfires, because they are just that, tend to threaten the lives of non-human animals far more than the lives of human ones.

Did Charles Darwin’s encounter with a kangaroo-rat and a platypus in Bathurst, New South Wales, in January 1836, change history? Who knows? Certainly there are those who think it might have. Darwin arrived in Sydney on the Beagle on 12 January, 1836. He was twenty-six years of age – he would turn twenty-seven while in Australia – and had already been at sea for four years. A few days after arriving he hired a man & two horses to take [him] to Bathurst…

Peppermint and Fencepost had strayed away from the mob to investigate a rumour of a patch of specially nice grass down at the bottom of the valley. Fencepost had gone on about it for days.

“It’s a bit out of the way, that’s why nobody goes there. And it’s not enough for everybody.”

Peppermint was sceptical. If it was so perfect, why didn’t the others go there? Ironbark, their boss male, went far and wide every day to investigate, and if he found something good, he often let the does with the joeys follow him. Most of the other males also roamed, but they didn’t all share what they found. Some did, though. Peppermint’s older brother Paperbark said they weren’t selfish.

Extending from the coast on the west to the Western Australia/Northern territory border in the east, it is prime range for the red kangaroo and western wallaroo.

So what has happened? At a time when kangaroos are supposedly ‘in plague proportions’ throughout the country, the indigenous humans and traditional custodians of the Pilbara, with many thousands of years’ experience in hunting kangaroos, have been finding them so few on the ground that, in September 2017, for the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation’s Yule River bush meeting, kangaroo flesh was brought in from Carnarvon.

The kangaroos are getting smaller. The cruel ways in which unwanted joeys are slaughtered by the shooter/hunter/killers – their heads tramped into the ground, or bashed against the roo-bars of the 4-wheel drives (etc.) – have led to bans, in the kangaroo ‘industry’, upon the shooting of females and a consequent ‘male only’ killing policy. And of course the larger bucks – the ‘boss’ males – have been the first to go. This is in part simply because they are more desirable (carry more meat) and easier targets, but also in part because the ‘boss’ male is the principal protector of the group.

A baby is born with a need to be loved – and never outgrows it.                                       (Frank A. Clark)

Once, they say, the skies over parts of the eastern United States were overcast for days, not from the clouds but from the mass migrations of passenger pigeons. The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st 1914. A few decades before no one would have thought such a thing possible, but it happened. By the same token I imagine many would think me crazy for holding out the possibility that, in little more than twenty or thirty years, kangaroos will be extinct, or at least have vanished from the wild, be seen only in zoos. But, especially now that they have become such playthings of government and industry, I do fear it, much as I hope, earnestly, to be proved wrong.


by R.F. Brissenden

After the angry voices

The misunderstandings

The loud and dubious promises

I went home sick,

Excited, shaking.


In the dusk outside our house,

First off, Be Prepared: make sure that, somewhere in your vehicle, you have an old blanket (or retired beach towel), some light-weight rubber gloves, an old pillow-slip or large sock (or last year’s felt Christmas stocking), and a can of white spray paint.

We need a Mabo decision for Australia’s wild animals, a legal recognition of their special status as original residents of Australia, alongside its original [human] inhabitants. The only ethical approach...

Leaving the actual mating to a later post, the gestation period for an eastern grey kangaroo is 36 days, give or take a day or two. At that point the embryo is somewhere in the vicinity of 10 millimetres long: the size of a small bean. One can identify the head readily enough, but the hind legs, so definitive to the genus, are so little developed as to be barely identifiable. The arms, on the other hand, are quite another matter.

The Cull

by David Brooks

Tired and reluctant this

evening on the desert’s edge I

pick up a pen again, don’t

know if I have a poem in me but maybe another

A friend to whom I was describing this project a few days ago told me of a time he and another had been working out in the forest in the south-west of Western Australia. My friend, the poet Andrew Burke, had injured himself somehow and his friend had driven him up the long drive-way of the property to the main road and into town, where he could get treatment. It was dusk, he said, and all the way up the long, rough drive were kangaroos, lining the edges of the track, watching the car go by.

and a Car-free, Fire-free, Gun-free New Year…

You’ve seen photographs of them already in the posts for Day 6, Day 8, and yesterday (Day 19): two at-foot Eastern Grey Kangaroo joeys deeply and lovingly bonded. They were orphaned in the bushfires that devastated so much of southern Victoria on Black Saturday (February 7th) 2009, and met when they were each brought, separately, to the Wildhaven Wildlife Shelter, which had itself been destroyed in those same fires.

We ask for the Meat Hole and the man at the gate gestures down the track to a large, red-dirt compound on the far side of the dump. As our car approaches, a murder of a thirty or forty crows rises in protest, settles on the ridge of a tall mound of earth beside a twenty metre trench. They say still-living horses have been found discarded here, not to speak of goats, dogs, pups, kittens, cats, but today nothing stirs.

The origins of the word ‘cull’ have nothing to do with those of the word ‘culture’, though certainly, in Australia, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Here, it can seem all too often that the idea of killing is almost synonymous with that of – well, what would you call it? ‘conservation’? ‘land management’? Not all that surprising, I suppose, when one considers how rapidly the application of inappropriate farming and grazing practices has destroyed so much of the friable soil surface, creating such intense competition for the dramatically reduced fodder that the land can still produce.

Kangaroos taking the blame for the shortcomings of an inappropriate industry

A scapegoat, according to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, is a person (or animal) blamed for the shortcomings of others. The idea is initially presented in the Old Testament, in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, where ‘the Lord’ details to Moses the process by which animals are to be offered up in sacrifice for the expiation of sin.

Kangaroos are not only the largest of the macropods, but the largest of the marsupials generally. Although there are clines (gradations in one or more characteristics within a species, especially between different populations) across their ranges, there are in fact only four main species in Australia: the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, the closely-related Western Grey Kangaroo, the Red Kangaroo and the Wallaroo/Euro (or Hill Kangaroo).

The Grey Kangaroos split from the rest of the macropus eight to nine million years ago (Meredith 2008); the Red Kangaroo and Wallaroos appeared in the Pleistocene about five million years ago. We’ll begin with the Eastern Grey for purely selfish reasons, as it is the most populous in my own part of Australia, and are the one in my own gully.


by Judith Beveridge

I am happy to live with them, though they pre-date us;

the ones with bruised eyes and an outback look,

in their fur, grey dust and red rock,

in their teeth the stains of grasses,

in their stride the long legs of miles –

A tiny, innocuous piece. You’d think nothing was going on. But you might be wrong. On the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) news site two days ago (29 December), about a U.S. country singer’s gift to his wife this Christmas of two kangaroo joeys. The piece comes with a photograph, of the joeys, wearing nappies, lying on a living-room hearth, a fire blazing behind them.

Concerning, of course. How had the joeys been made available to this singer in the first place? Did this couple have the slightest clue as to how to look after them? Etc. And it seems numerous ‘animal rights’ people had already expressed their concern. But also, when one read the item again, a little odd.

You may be interested in reading a little more about Ned, whose paws and nose featured so helpfully in the post about Eastern Greys. If Ned truly did weigh in at ninety-five kilograms – and, as I have said, I have no reason to doubt it – the n he would be one of the heaviest Eastern Greys ever recorded – and largest, as you can see from the first two photographs below, one of the Great Greys now almost lost to us.

Shot under cover of darkness, buried in mass graves in the forest. But this isn’t Srebrenica in 1995, this isn’t Poland in 1942. The shooters aren’t rogue militants or members of the SS. They are sub-contractors paid by the government of the Australian Capital Territory, and the victims are not humans but a different species of animal. Many of them female, with, at foot or in the pouch, joeys who will be clubbed to death, decapitated, or otherwise summarily dispatched, if they are found at all.

Peppermint had noticed that his tail or his hindlegs often stuck out of the pouch these days. Also, it seemed to take forever now to get settled. That was weird, after all the pouch was the comfiest place Peppermint knew. When he climbed in, he had to crick his neck and then just when he thought he had it right, his tail would flip out again. Or he’d try to somersault over like he always did, and get stuck half-way, so he had to kick and push to get out of this awkward position. He tried to think what he’d done about this in the past, but he just couldn’t remember.

Another early voice, warning of extinction.

John Gould, the renowned zoologist, illustrator and taxidermist, had already been working on illustrations of (dead) Australian birds when, with his illustrator wife, their eldest son, and a small entourage of assistants, he set sail for Australia on the Parsee in May 1838. Although he left Australia in April 1940, his work in Australia had already been so extensive as to place him in the league of such as Joseph Banks and François Peron in terms of the discovery, registration, classification and early visual record of Australian fauna.

In the hidden valley in which we live – that is, I call it the Hidden Valley, though there is nothing very hidden about it at all – holly is a problem. Indeed the local council has determined holly to be a weed, a pest, along with agapanthus, blackberry, and numerous other exotic plants introduced by the early white settlers. And the council poisoners – who have described themselves to me, very emphatically, as conservationists (it’s even painted on the side of their truck…) ­– have numerous times, as they’ve sprayed a not-to-be-named weed-killer on the ivy and broom and blackberry that have come to dominate the copse at the bottom of the dead-end road beside us, asked me to eradicate it ...

River Bend

by Judith Wright


What killed that kangaroo-doe, slender skeleton

tumbled above the water with her long shanks

cleaned white as moonlight?

Pad-tracks in sand where something drank fresh blood.


It’s time – under the sceptical eye of one of Canberra’s Eastern Greys, to remind us of the living creatures at issue here – that we looked at some figures. I’ve been reluctant to introduce them, since figures can be so – what terms to use here? – unreliable?  Political? ‘subject to the desires and manipulations of those who prepare them’?.  As I indicated in the very first post, the federal government’s Department of Environment and Energy, based upon reports submitted by the various state governments involved, draws up annually, state by state, a set of ‘cull’ quotas for each of the major ’roo species in that state ...

The Eastern Grey and the Western Grey kangaroos are the closest of cousins, yet sufficiently distinct from one another to be designated separate species. The Tasmanian Forester kangaroo (Macropus giganteus tasmaniensis), on the other hand, with less than 1% difference from the mainland Eastern Grey in terms of mitochondrial DNA (occasioned by its ten to fifteen thousand years separated from the Australian mainland), is designated as a subspecies.

Although it is currently listed as ‘not endangered’, the Forester is in fact lucky to be here at all, as we might extrapolate from the cartoon above, which depicts the Tasmanian Tiger (thylacine), the Tasmanian Emu and the Forester kangaroo fleeing hunters.

Thin face, deep-tanned, eyes full of distance, pronounced Adam’s apple: there’s a certain Australian physiognomy developed over the last hundred years or so – I speak only from a white western/invader perspective, have no right to speak from any other – that makes one think of a kangaroo (my own grandfather, for example). And some people you’d be more inclined, from the look of their faces, to think Wombat or Possum, Koala or Emu. It’s a game I used to find myself playing, at dinner parties or academic meetings ...

An extraordinary piece in the The Australian on December 28th, to the effect that, at some point in the twelve months between the 2016 and the 2017 estimates of the overall kangaroo population – estimates drawn up in order to arrive at a ‘harvest’ quota – a mysterious disease has killed off over three million kangaroos in far western New South Wales.  

In Henry Lawson’s great short story, ‘The Drover’s Wife’, as the woman in question settles her children to sleep on the table in the kitchen of her two-room slab-and-bark hut before commencing her all-night watch for the snake that has come in from the wood-pile, her son Tommy, struggling to stay awake, asks Mother! Do you think they’ll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?

On a Photograph of Young Kangaroos Boxing

by David Brooks

arms raised, heads
thrown back, faces
pointed to the sky
the tall trees
swirling about them


"aerial surveys are undertaken with the use of fixed-wing aircraft and, in Queensland and New South Wales, also with helicopters. The fixed-wing aircraft technique is known as strip transect sampling. Two trained observers, travelling at 185 kilometres per hour at about 76 metres (250 feet) above the ground, count the animals within a 100- or 200-metre wide area on the ground that is delineated by streamers or fibreglass rods attached to the wing struts on either side of the aircraft and trailing parallel to the fuselage (...)"

It took a while for the Western Grey to be differentiated from the Eastern, let alone designated a separate species. It first entered western/invader discourse in 1802, when Matthew Flinders and his very hungry crew landed on Kangaroo Island (which took its name from the visit) in March 1802. ‘On going towards the shore,’ he wrote in his Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), 'a number of dark-brown kangaroos were seen feeding upon a grass plat by the side of the wood; and our landing gave them no disturbance. I had with me a double-barrelled gun, fitted with a bayonet, and the gentlemen my companions had muskets. It would be difficult to guess how many kangaroos were seen; but I killed ten' 

Sometimes, when you come across things like ‘Ten Surprising Facts About Kangaroos’, you’ll find one telling you that female kangaroos have three vaginas. Perhaps there’ll be another about kangaroos having long, thin, pointy penises, or about their penises coming out from behind or below, rather than above or in front of their scrotum. There might even be something about kangaroos having fork-tipped penises (they don’t: some other marsupials do, but not kangaroos). It’s time we got it out of the way (the subject, not the scrotum), not only because these things are amongst the very interesting parts of kangaroo anatomy, but because the penis will figure rather significantly in a later post, and the ‘three vaginas’ story has led to a bit of misunderstanding and contributed, via the notion/myth that all kangaroos, in good seasons, will have three joeys on the go at any one time, to exaggerations of their fecundity, and so to their exploitation.

The disease that broke out in far western New South Wales over a two-to-three week period in September/October 2016 and which subsequently has been blamed for the deaths of the ‘millions’ of kangaroos who seem to have gone missing was indeed mysterious, but perhaps not quite in the manner the recent article in the Australian (28th December 2017) makes out. 

‘It was predictable,’ Dr Greg Curran told the ABC shortly after the 2016 outbreak. Dr Curran said he ‘knew kangaroo deaths were imminent, as weather conditions were similar to those that had accompanied mass mystery die-offs in previous seasons, when it was estimated hundreds of thousands of roos [died] within two-week periods.’

After the incident with the fox, Peppermint paid more attention to their boss male, Ironbark. He must’ve been aware of Ironbark before, but he was just a mass of fur and muscle with a head very high up. Ironbark ignored the young ones, though he wouldn’t hop over you or push you over. Well he would hop over you, but not on you. There was little reason a joey should pay attention to anything else but his mum, and the joeys his own age. But after Ironbark had rescued them from the fox, Peppermint watched closely what Ironbark got up to. Later he’d replay whatever he’d noticed with his mum. So if Ironbark had lost patience with one of the young ones, playfully accosting him and cuffed him over the ear, Peppermint would try to cuff his mum Wattle with a similar casually powerful stroke. If Ironbark had gripped a bush like he was strangling the fox again, Peppermint reached high to get a grip of his mum’s neck. 

We live under a regime of numbers. And without doubt numbers are a matter of life and death for kangaroos – perhaps for all of us, but kangaroos, and the cruel exploitation of kangaroos, are our subjects here. A government determining how many may be killed each year, always overstating the figure, to encourage the killing. A government determining what percentage of the overall kangaroo population may be slaughtered without affecting the sustainability of the kangaroo ‘harvest’. 

Found all over Australia save for broad swathes on the northern and eastern coasts and the southernmost tip of the western, the Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) has the widest, if most arid range and, by a half-head, is the largest of the macropods – the adult males (‘boomers’), in any case: females (‘fliers’) are considerably smaller (a male will reach two metres in height and up to 80 kilograms in weight; a female will be somewhat shorter and most likely weight in at between 25 and 35 kilograms) – though there can’t be many who reach the size (2.7 metres) of the extraordinary gentleman, photographed in 1932 in Mt Isa, Queensland.

Kangaroos in torchlight

by John Kinsella

Stillness makes you shiver inside, skin

unmoving; there is no part of our biographies

feeding the torchlight, only the kangaroos

trying to look gently past the flickering beam

at what’s moving, what makes light out

of darkness; they don’t get to select

their deaths and call it ‘madness’ or ‘okay,

I took the risk’, they just try

to stay out of its reach. In this

Almost as mysterious as the disease we have been discussing itself is the apparent reluctance of State and Commonwealth governments to spend much time or money looking into it. Lynda Staker, in her Macropod Husbandry, Healthcare and Medicinals, writes of a detailed report into the 1990 post flood die-off (Epidemic Mortality in Large Macropods of Central Queensland during May 1990) written by Professor Richard Speare (James Cook University), Peter Johnson (National Parks and Wildlife Service), and Timothy Pulsford (NPWS). 

Australia has often been typified as the land of the tall story. A good many of those stories seem to stand on large kangaroo feet. Although, as already stated, there would appear to be only the one instance recorded of a human killed by a kangaroo, the myth of the killer kangaroo is strong.


A passage, then – a powerful and disturbing passage – from John Scott’s N, a remarkable novel set in a mid-twentieth century fascist Australia

Federation occurred in 1901, but it was a full twelve years before a regular stamp, for widespread use, with the word ‘Australia’ on it, made its bow. There are various reasons for the delay, but perhaps the principal concerned a debate in the new Federal parliament as to whether Australia wanted to affirm its monarchism by following the convention of the time to place the King of England’s portrait squarely at the centre of its postage stamps, or whether, by replacing it with some other image, to emphasise the new federation’s identity and (relative) independence. In short, if it didn’t always wear these titles, a monarchist/republican thing.

As if they didn’t have enough to worry about, kangaroos have a new and very nasty threat on their block. ‘Cluster’ fencing. It doesn’t sound too sinister, perhaps, and certainly none of those who are marketing or considering it are presenting it as such, but then they’re not roos.

You could well envisage many a young human buck, fortunate enough to witness male kangaroos in their ‘boxing’ ritual, imagining themselves taking on a kangaroo in such a way, from well before white settlement, let alone from almost the dawn thereof. Perhaps the only thing that surprises one about the organisation of such bouts for public entertainment (and private gain) is that it took so long.

In a promotional video – call it an infomercial – for cluster fencing, one more menacing development in the kangaroos’ dire predicament, a representative of a Queensland Wild Dog Advisory Group made the extraordinary claim that it was the ‘massive’ kangaroo population which had brought about an explosion in the dingo population

There are some interesting things you observe, as you’re writing about animals. The disrespect of and distance from them that are built into the language, so that even as you try to approach them you’re doing so through a hostile medium.

The mere fact that one finds it so natural to talk about ‘animals’ in the first place is part of it. Derrida says (in The Animal That Therefore I Am) that to speak about ‘animals’ – a lump-term to cover so many utterly different creatures, and to submerge to fact that we are ourselves creatures amongst those creatures – is an intellectual violence, and despite my many disagreements with Derrida I have to applaud him for this.

Do a little Google-hopping and you’ll find numerous sites telling you ‘wallaroo’ is a combination of ‘kangaroo’ and ‘wallaby’. It makes sense, after all. With the exception of the diminutive Barrow Island wallaroos, about half the size of their mainland cousins, wallaroos do sit between the larger Red and Grey kangaroos and the smaller wallabies. But the word in fact comes from ‘walaru’, from the Dharug language of what we might now call the Sydney basin.

One of those sad ironies, and perhaps a plank in the strange national ambivalence toward the kangaroo, that some of the contingents of volunteers sent to fight the Boers, or Australian Infantry Force’s crack shots of the First World War should have honed their skills shooting kangaroos, and yet, now overseas, keen to mark themselves out as Australian, kangaroos should mean so much to them they would use them as mascots.

Just when Peppermint thought he had understood how things worked, something happened. After that, he didn’t feel like he understood anything for a long time. It was an evening like all others, neither warm nor cold, not even windy. The kangaroos were grazing on the clearing, some of the bucks had left to roam. Not all of them, the grass was a little better after the drizzle. Peppermint enjoyed the sound of the mob around him, the tearing at the grass...

First it was the Pilbara, two months ago – an item in the ABC News about the concern of the local indigenous populations that kangaroos were getting harder and harder to find – and now a piece on the same site attempting to answer a reader’s question as to ‘why there are no kangaroos in the Kimberley’. The reader has been going to the Kimberley for twenty years now, and has long wondered why he never sees roos

Brush-tailed Wallaby

by Christine Townend

Breakfast was ordinary.

I ate toast and drank tea

and afterward showered a body

rumoured to be my own.


The wallaby came loping down the road

Pause, for a second, to look at the photograph. Over and over again, as you read accounts of kangaroos, you’ll be told that their characteristic diet is of grasses and forbs. A forb is an herbaceous plant – sometimes, as this young doe seems to think, a wondrous thing.


Kangaroos are herbivores. More specifically, they are grazers.

On the one hand young men who had perfected their marksmanship by shooting kangaroos taking their skills into the battles of the First World War, in some cases in regiments using live kangaroos as their mascots, and, on the other, men choosing to stay at home – in this case continuing to hunt kangaroos – and risking a white feather (symbol of cowardice) for doing so.

One of the things that distinguishes the Antilopine kangaroo/wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus) from the rest of the major roos is that the others perhaps don’t have to worry quite so much about crocodiles (an enticement to visit Kakadu National Park suggests one might be lucky enough to see there a crocodile ‘take’ an Antilopine). And one of the things that would seem also to distinguish the Antilopine, and perhaps worry those who would try to think about it – one can’t imagine it would worry the Antilopines themselves (I’m sure they know exactly who they are) – is a certain amount of taxonomic confusion. Are they Antilopine kangaroos, Antilopine walleroos, or Antilopine wallabies? They seem to have been called all three.

I should begin by saying I have rather stumbled into this post after reading some correspondence between the middle-aged, overweight and very powerful Joseph banks, in the earliest years of the nineteenth century, and a friend who was urging him to send a pair of live kangaroos to Napoleon, at that point First Consul of France, as a placating gift.

Do you respond to this photograph? Seem to recognise any of the emotions involved? Then you are probably guilty of anthropomorphism.

‘Anthropomorphism’? Yes. The assumption of the presence of human-like thoughts and emotions in animals. There is already a small mountain of problems in that sentence alone, of course, central amongst them the idea already explained that the lump- or umbrella-term ‘animal’ is an intellectual violence in the first place...

Ultimately it’s all about grass. There’s a lot to say about that, but for today the simplest post. A few basic figures. Comparative consumption.

Estimates vary, but the current wisdom is that one sheep exerts equivalent grazing pressure to between 2.63 and 5.00 kangaroos; that is, it takes between two-and-a-half and five kangaroos to eat the same amount of grass as one sheep.

I was going to write a post introducing the phenomenon of the kangaroo battue, popular and widespread throughout the Australian colonies and subsequently the federation from the mid nineteenth to the First World War – and still practised, if one thinks of slaughters like that at the Belconnen Naval Transmissions Centre in 2009 – but then discovered the following article, from 155 years ago, which does it all for me, in a style I could never emulate.

Now that we’ve got to the point where people are writing to the ABC to ask why there are no kangaroos in the Kimberley and the indigenous population of the neighbouring Pilbara are having to truck in their dead kangaroo flesh for ceremonies, I thought we might see if we could get some sense of the kangaroo population in the area before white occupation. I.E. have ‘we’ driven them (perhaps) almost to the point of a regional extinction, or were they not there in what we fondly call ‘the first place’?

More disturbing news from the far west of New South Wales. First millions of kangaroos supposedly succumbing to a mysterious disease (report of December 28th in The Australian);  and now, scarcely five weeks later, another ‘mass dying event’, announced in The Land on February 1st: drought, and thousands of kangaroos succumbing to starvation. Hard, from a kangaroo perspective, not to think of the region as the Badlands.

Everything was weird. Peppermint spent a lot of time thinking about Raincloud, and what he would do. He missed Ironbark. Thinking about the stories helped a little. One thing that troubled him however was imagining Old Man Snake’s living hole. The idea of somebody living in something was unusual. Peppermint had only ever thought of pouches as in. Wattle had to remind him of a particularly dense part of the forest, where passing kangaroos had formed a tunnel in the undergrowth. 

On January 13th, 2016, the Fraser Coast Chronicle published, with a sequence of four very striking photographs, a short piece entitled ‘Photographer captures kangaroo family’s grief’. The photos ‘went viral’, as the saying goes, and were viewed, and shared, by countless people around the world. One image in particular stood out. In it a kangaroo buck cradles the head of a dying doe, lifting it so that she can look more directly at a joey who is standing before her. Her arms reach out to the joey, as if to catch his forepaws one last time.

under the rim

by J.S. Harry

under the rim, 4000 feet,

going down

towards ranger valley lying low

lost blue as a myth of bushrangers

between green

hard-to-ride-over hills,

a kangaroo went up the

nearest slope, to brush,

Even the breath is involved. Kangaroos take one breath each hop: they breathe in as they leave the ground; their lungs are fullest at the height/centre of each bound, and emptiest as the hit the ground again. Amongst other things, the consequent shifts in abdominal mass contribute to the energy-efficiency of the hop. These shifts, and this breathing, has been called the kangaroo’s ‘visceral piston’. But I’m already into the technology. Let’s cover a few simpler things first.

I am not in any way comfortable advocating the killing of kangaroos, whatever the circumstance. In a sense, the whole point of these one hundred posts has been to probe for alternatives – ways out of – the killing mentality that seems so entrenched in the Australian mind that one might speak of it as a national psychosis. But nor am I very comfortable with prolonging deep suffering when it is already being experienced and where there is no prospect of its amelioration.

No, that is not a statue (though they are planning one). That is Roger. I’m coming to him.

Trawling through an umpteenth website the other day, looking for a small piece of information, I caught, or thought I did, at the corner of my eye, a link to ‘The ten Most Famous Kangaroos’, or it might have been ‘The Ten Most Amazing Kangaroos’, or ‘The Ten Greatest Kangaroos’. I dismissed it – too busy hunting for my small piece of information – but it later came back to mind, and I found myself wondering what kangaroos might have found themselves on such a list. Skippy, most probably, but who else? Yet of course – with one curious exception – when I Google-searched for any such list all I got were lists of rugby players.

The ‘rescue’ sheep who live with me – or is it the other way around? (they know every inch of this place, in ways I could never match) – are gardeners of a sort. The small square of grass immediately outside their coop is always the last eaten in summer, as if they keep it as their private lawn, and here and there, while they have grazed much of the rest to the ground, there are patches they simply won’t eat. I’ve often wondered why. Is it that someone once spilled some chemical there? Is it that some creature once died there? Is that grass simply different in some way I can’t see? 

Amongst the various largely specious and even self-contradictory arguments used by those seeking to expand the markets for kangaroo flesh is that that flesh is good for humans. It is not only tasty, but it is the leanest of red fleshes, according to these marketers – has more iron than other fleshes, has twice the vitamin B12 than other fleshes – and is therefore amongst the healthiest. If you can eat red flesh more healthily and without sacrificing taste, why wouldn’t you?

Rather hard to avoid Skippy in my Kangaroo Top Ten. The most famous kangaroo in the world, probably, subject of ninety-one episodes produced between 1967 and 1969 and broadcast, eventually, almost world-wide, with an estimated audience of 300 million. Except, of course, that while, on the television screen, there appeared to be one Skippy – a female Eastern Grey – there were in fact between nine and fifteen used in the production of each show, plus at least one pair of kangaroo-paw bottle-openers used for Skippy’s deft hand-movements (playing the piano, etc.).

Kangaroos are thickly supplied with veins on their forearms, close to the skin’s surface, and cool themselves, on hot days, by licking that surface (and the surface of their legs, belly, tail). Dr E, who asserted so confidently that the kangaroo male in the photograph above, had been licking his forearms in sexual arousal, does not mention that on Monday January 11th, 2016 – the day upon which these photographs were taken – the temperature in River Heads was 30 degrees plus, warm enough for a kangaroo to have been licking his/her forearms for a much more conventional reason.

by John Watson

Descending by the massive bullock train

With heavy logs attached behind our cart

Discouraging thereby that fatal forward fall,

We came at last upon the Vale of Clwydd;

And at its narrow Brook or Rivulet

Which name has now become amusingly

Corrupted to the ‘River Lett’, we saw ....

My partner and I once drove all the way from Sydney to Broken Hill, stopping every 20 kilometres or so to hammer in, beside the road, a cross commemorating roadkill. Once there we rested for two days and then drove back. As far as we could tell, 50 of our 52 crosses had already been removed, presumably by the same council workers who remove the roadkill from the highway. All of the flower-bedecked roadside crosses commemorating human deaths on the highway were still in place.

Roland Barthes, in his Camera Lucida (1980) speaks of the punctum of a photograph, that detail which seems at once to jump out at one and to focus a photograph somehow, ‘that accident which pricks, bruises me’.


What do you think is the punctum here?

The sky used to be as black as this cave. Only when the moon came out it lit up a bit. Otherwise it was dark. This story happened when Raincloud was a small buck, not yet the tall muscular beast he’d become later, just a skinny roo with long legs and sharp elbows. Even though he was young, he was already in love. Admittedly, Blossom had the prettiest tail and the longest eyelashes, and a noble turn to her nose.

It’s been a frog summer here in the mountains. Night after night I’ve gone to sleep listening to them. The most dominant has been the Péron’s tree-frog, a sound like a winch, or a long nail being pulled out of a packing-crate. But I’m not writing about them. It’s just the happenstance of things. I’m writing about Josephine Bonaparte’s kangaroos.

If kangaroos can jump up to three metres high, a guest asked at dinner the other night (perhaps they’d seen my post about cluster fencing), then how come we see all these pictures of roos panicking, running along fences? Why don’t they just jump over them? Those fences are taller than usual, but they’re nowhere near three metres!

My friend and I were discussing the pathological hatred so many seem to have toward kangaroos, this horrid war against them. He said he thought its origins might have been as early as white settlers’ first attempts to grow vegetables, in this place where the seasons were backward and even the plants did not behave as they should, finding that their first radishes, their first wheat shoots, their first shoots of corn, their first inchling tomato plants, had been razed by roos.

What has come to be known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was actually called the World’s Columbian Exposition, convened to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. Opening on May 1st, 1893, running until October 30th, and said to have attracted over 27,000,000 visitors, it was a monumental undertaking, involving the construction of numerous substantial buildings, clad in white (hence ‘White City’) and ultimately accredited with introducing a new mode of architecture.

Predictably, the Fair attracted the attention of entrepreneurs and opportunists world-wide. The craze for boxing kangaroos was at its peak...

The greatest violence is budgetary. The deep psyche of the nation – or is it just its deep apathy? – speaks through its allocation and non-allocation of funds. The allocation and/or non-allocation it is prepared to let its governments make on its behalf.

Our principal agency for the care of our wildlife and its environment, for example, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which seems to have received hit after hit in recent years, has recently received another...

First Encounter


August 14, 1770.  James Cook’s

progress arrested for 5 weeks

while H M S Endeavour

is beached at Endeavour River

in dispiriting tropical rain

for repairs to damage from the Reef.

One day, seeming beyond belief,

Amazing what you can and cannot find on the Web. I’ve just Googled, on a whim, ‘How many zoos are there in the world?’ and got the following:

According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), there are over 10,000 zoos worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the Department of Agriculture licenses 2,400 "animal exhibitors," of which 212 are members of the AZA, an organization that requires high standards of animal care, science, and conservation.

A story.


In Bathurst, New South Wales, just west of the Blue Mountains, kangaroos on Mount Panorama, outside its nature parks, were a rare sight until the last decade or so.

One evening, Fencepost bounced over the clearing even more full of excitement than usual.

‘I’ve got a whole mob of new friends!’ he crowed.

‘Where?’ Peppermint looked around. There were just the usual kangaroos grazing.

‘Come along.’ Fencepost led him over the top of the ridge, to the other side, to another, small clearing. The grazing wasn’t too good, so the kangaroos didn’t go there much. To Peppermint’s amazement, it was now filled with short fat kangaroos, all of them looking a bit like Fencepost.

Late in the evening of June 10th, 1770, a clear, moonlit night, Captain James Cook’s vessel the Endeavour struck the Great Barrier Reef and was severely holed. Some extraordinary running repairs were made and, twenty three hours later, on a high tide, the ship, freed from the reef, was able to make toward shore, though it took a full, precarious week before a suitable site was found where more permanent repairs could be attempted. 

An inventory of the ‘specimens’ brought back to England on the Endeavour in 1771 includes two skulls of kangaroos and accompanying skins. We know that one of these skull/skin sets was given, in that year, by Joseph Banks to his friend, the famous anatomist John Hunter (said, for the number of animals wandering about his house, to have been the model for Doctor Doolittle), and that, although the fate of the skin is unknown (but see below), the skull might have eventually (and unfortunately) found its way into the Hunterian collection of the Royal College of Surgeons in London – ‘unfortunately’ in that it was there destroyed during an air raid in the second world war.

by Christine Townend

The kangaroo lay on the road edge.

His struggle had shaped a saucer of mud;

His tail, thick as a python, stretched inert

over the puckered earth,

Although in this day and age we seem to know them largely by their absence, we all have a fair idea of what ‘ethics’ is supposed to mean, though maybe not ‘ethology’ which has the same root. ‘Ethology’, in this day and age, is used to describe the study of animal behaviour. The common root of these words tends to suggest that ethics are species specific, based on the specific behaviour of our species. One species’ ethics are not necessarily the same as another’s.

The team start arriving at the shed in the orchard somewhere between 6.30 and 7.00 p.m. Someone unlocks the compound and mans (or womans) the gate, letting people in and passing a few quiet words. Setting up for the night is methodical. The layout/processing area; the medic station. A mandatory call to the police to let them know what is going on, otherwise they may think there are shooters in the orchard and come to check, disturbing the whole process.

"As the mercury was hitting thirty-seven degrees that hot afternoon, the smell of her infected and decomposing body could be sensed over forty metres away. The rescuers reached the site to find the kangaroo still breathing but unable to move. Skin and bones, badly-worn down teeth, pouch lacerated and severely infected by maggots (as was her mouth), death for this twenty-year-old lady was imminent. Most people would likely have killed her, and by doing so they’d have acted in compliance with the Code of Practice for Injured, Sick and Orphaned Protected Fauna, issued by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. The Code provides standards (mandatory action) and guidelines (advisable action) to ‘achieve acceptable animal welfare levels’."

"Not a day goes past when I don’t see one or another of our Eastern Greys from previous generations of releases, or their offspring, hovering around or lying beside the kangaroos’ graves. It is almost as if the site has the same significance for them as it does for me, as if they know that very special members of their tribe lie beneath the ground in this spot"

There are still a few photographs of Cooper and Merlot you haven’t seen. It seems only appropriate, with our third-last post, to bring them to you now. Those of you who might not have joined us early enough can find their story at post 20 [81]. They have also, at various points, acted the parts of Peppermint and Fencepost.

The story goes that, in 1870, with nothing but five shillings and a one-eyed horse named Cyclops, Sidney Kidman (yes, Nicole Kidman is related) left his home in Adelaide at the age of thirteen to go droving. By the time he died in 1935 he was the richest person in Australia – the ‘Cattle King’ – and reputed to control more land than anyone else on earth.

One of the most memorable kangaroo photographs I have seen is of an Eastern Grey, high in the air, attempting to leap, over the kangaroo-proof fence, out of the killing enclosure at the Australian Defence Force’s Majura training area in Canberra during a 2009 cull of 6000 kangaroos there.

David Brooks would like to express his gratitude to people who have supported this project in various ways

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