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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 74 [27]



Photo: Andras Berkes-Brandl

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? A Tasmanian writer once told me about the Bennetts wallabies who live behind his house, and how he’d noticed a patch of grass they’d never graze, up on a top corner of the lot. He’d gone to investigate and found, at the centre, almost entirely grown over, the skeleton of a wallaby.


Ultimately, in any case, and as I’ve said already, it’s all about grass. Outside the cities you might almost say much of the nation runs on grass. And, when it comes to this supposed kangaroo-sheep/cattle competition for grass, simple an issue as some people insist upon seeing it, it is, both ethically and biologically, a complex matter, for the roos and sheep and cattle every bit as much as for us.


It seems to me nonetheless that we might gather our thinking around two central problems:


Problem 1:

People buy (or – the historical perspective – have been granted, or have squatted upon until title has been assumed) an area of land, a ‘property’, for the purposes of grazing/raising sheep or cattle for eventual profit. The grass upon that property becomes their grass; any other animal – i.e. not placed or invited there by the ‘owner’ – who eats that grass becomes, technically, a thief.


Kangaroos are (seen as) the thieves of grass.


It does not factor that the ‘owners’ are in a sense the ‘thieves’ of the land in the first place, or that the kangaroos might see sheep and cattle as the thieves of grass. It doesn’t factor that sheep and cattle aren’t well suited to much of the land they now occupy, or that their presence – their sharp hooves on the fragile soil surface (as opposed to the soft feet of roos) – may be changing/damaging it profoundly. It does not tend to factor that kangaroos and cattle do not compete for grass nearly as much as is generally assumed, or that sheep and kangaroos are biologically predisposed – and so might be encouraged – to eat different kinds of grass, etc. Nor does it tend to factor that compromises are possible. Compromises cut into profits.


Problem 2:

In a good season grass grows more rapidly and more plentifully. In a good season you might almost say there is enough grass for all, by which, here, I mean principally sheep, cattle and kangaroos. And in good seasons the numbers of sheep, cattle and kangaroos tend to increase, which ultimately, when the seasons are not so good, increases the pressure upon the remaining grass and, for all of those creatures, albeit in different ways, also increases the tragedy. In good seasons, too, it might be possible to coax sheep and kangaroos, cattle and kangaroos, to eat different kinds of grass, since they are biologically predisposed to handle different kinds of grass (and to occupy different areas of the paddock, since roos prefer grass contiguous with woodland, where they can shelter), but in not-so-good seasons the sad truth is that sheep, and cattle, and kangaroos, will eat just about anything, anywhere.


A solution? 

No. I don’t have a solution. I reject, outright, the lethal option (and default position) of waging outright war on one of these parties, i.e. of the mass murder of kangaroos until their number has been reduced to a point where they no longer represent any real competition for grass, but I am not in any way King Solomon and I have not as yet an answer. It is perhaps pointless, at this stage of things, to speak of a revised, much more patchworked pastoralism, in which the number of sheep and cattle is also controlled, the different ethologies respected (the culture of kangaroos, the culture of sheep, as well as the culture of humans) and the grassland shared.


Were we in any way serious about this matter we would have a National Council of Grass, which gathered some of the best minds in the country to work on a non-lethal resolution, but of course we are, as a nation, not very serious about such things at all. Indeed, as a race, we human animals tend to be so steeped in our felt supremacy, our us-firstness, that we would have in some radical way to transcend ourselves in order to deal with such problems at all.


A thought:

Ironic, that at the same time as we are, or are not, trying to think through this problem of grass, the very animals we are concerned about – the tribe of sheep, the tribe of kangaroos, the tribe of cattle – are, in their own ways, trying to think about it too, probably far more than we ever do. It’d be almost impossible to know their thinking, but the Council of Grass might give it a try. Kangaroos, I am assured, will not, when they have freedom of movement, graze right down an area of grass, but will move on, give it time to recover: you could say that, left to themselves, they are managers of grass.


Which takes me back to where I began. A loop. Or perhaps just a paddock I can’t, since the fences are so high, yet find a way out of.

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