Kangaroos - The 100 Days Project: Day 1
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. Far more of us, sad to say, have only ever seen them in photographs, on TV, on one-dollar coins, on the tails of aeroplanes, or lying beside the highways and country roads, swelling in the heat. We’re supposed, when we see those ones, to stop our cars, get out and, if they’re female, feel inside their pouches for joeys that might still be living. How many of us do that? And how many of us would know what to do if we found any?
Some of us work hard to protect them; some of us hate them with a murderous passion. The very signs we put up on our roads, in places where kangaroo might be crossing, typify our ambivalence. Are they there to warn us to slow down, for fear that we might hit one, or to warn us that, should we do so – i.e. should we hit one – we might damage our cars? There are those who put roo-bars on their vehicles to minimize the injury to the animal; there are those who design them, as I’ve heard it described, ‘for maximum bounce’. I have heard of graziers and other rural workers setting themselves targets of six or eight road-kills a day. Many hunt them for sport. Many – encouraged by annual Federal Government culling targets – shoot them professionally. For their skins. For their meat. Kangaroo is served in some of the finest restaurants. The average urban middle-sized dog, though it may never see a kangaroo, might be eating three or four of them a year. The government kill quotas – perhaps exaggerated for effect – are substantial: nearly eight million in 2016. When you add in road-kill, which a recent conservative estimate set at about 350,000 a year, the number of kangaroo of various kinds slaughtered by humans each year is mind boggling.
And yet, of course, the kangaroo is our national emblem. In our own contemporary version of totemism, we call the Australian rugby league team the Kangaroos, and the North Melbourne AFL team the same; we call our rugby union team the Wallabies, our men’s soccer team the Socceroos, our women’s hockey team the Hockeyroos, our men’s basketball team the Boomers. But – in a further indication of our deep ambivalence – we hold an annual ’roo slaughter right in the heart of our national capital.
A love-hate relationship? You bet. And it seems that a new film, Kangaroo: A Love Hate Story, directed by Michael McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere, is about to explore just that. I not only greet this news enthusiastically, but would like to celebrate it in my own way. There are approximately one hundred days between the advertised Australian releases of the trailer for that film, and the film itself. Welcome, then, to the 100 Days Project.