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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 23 [78]


‘The Scapegoat’, William Holman Hunt, 1854

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. A bullock is to be used for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and two goats, over whom lots should be cast, to determine which one should be slaughtered, and which one loaded up with the sins of the people and sent into the wilderness, ‘unto a land not inhabited’. I.E. deal with your sins by loading them up upon some unsuspecting creature, and send that creature as far away into the wilderness as you can.

I’m not sure that it isn’t that way with the kangaroos: loaded with the sins of the people, and then, rather than sent into the wilderness (for what wilderness is there, not claimed by the sheep or cattle industries?), shot, as if they were the sinners. There are various reasons for the deep-seated , almost pathological hatred so many Australians have toward the kangaroo, and I’ve already discussed some of them, but surely a kind of scapegoating is part of it. Those who would use a land harshly, for purposes it is not well suited to serve, find themselves, whether consciously or not (one suspects it’s the not), generating myths of its harshness. Australia, for example, is known as a land affected by frequent droughts, but is it? What is a drought? Did the indigenous Australians experience these long, rainless periods as drought? Or does drought come about as a term – enter the mind and the discourse – when one needs rain, or at least more rain than is given (when one has brought to this place crops, herds, that need rain; when one has made them the source of one’s livelihood, so that one needs rain for one’s livelihood)? The Australian grazier can do nothing about drought, cannot go out and shout at the skies, demanding it cease. He/she, in this regard, is impotent. He/she cannot make rain happen, cannot make what he/she sees as his/her grass grow. He/she sees his/her herds starving, sees kangaroos managing – for they, after all, are adapted to the land and its cycles – better than the sheep, the cattle, and hates them for it, blames them for the lack of grass. The grazier cannot do anything about drought, but he/she can do something about kangaroos. The kangaroos become the focus of the grazier’s frustration, and killing them becomes a means of relieving him/her of his/her pent impotence.  When sheep and cattle are the priority, in landscapes not suited to them, landscapes they in so many ways damage and denude, what chance do kangaroos have?

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