“What’s it like to be a modern day kangaroo hunter?” by Andrew George

A story about sustainability, culture and food I wrote whilst on the Engineers without Borders Dialogue On Development Murray – Darling program in October 2012

What’s it like to be a modern-day kangaroo hunter?

Well it requires a lot less patience, skill and understanding of the land then it did in the pre-colonisation era.  Muscular development, cardio-vascular fitness and 20-20 vision have been more or less superseded by technological advances and fossil-fuel powered 4WDs.  I’m not complaining, it has enabled me – a suburban, white Aussie with scrawny arms, glasses and a concern for ethics in eating- to experience the thrill and horrors of hunting, of knowing how my meat went from wild animal to dinner.  It’s also an example of how the traditional culture of kangaroo hunting of the Gwamu people of the area has continued in the modern era.  As Nash – a man connected both by blood and marriage to the Gwamu tribe – our ‘Roo shooting guide and generally hilarious story teller says, ‘why muck around with spears when the gun is available?’ I reckon the kangaroo would be pretty grateful too – no longer getting his legs broken by a blow with a boomerang before getting finished off with a knife to the throat.

It’s quite incredible that the second shot of my life, about 30 minutes after the first, would end the life of a beautiful young Red Kangaroo, but that is what happened.  Before setting off on the hunt I was not keen to be the one to pull the trigger.  I had heard of how it needed to be a head shot, otherwise either the meat would be wasted and/or you would have to go finish off a twitching, suffering animal and I didn’t want to be responsible for that and wasn’t confident in my abilities.  But coming into the EWB dialogues trip I always knew Roo shooting would be an option and that it was an opportunity that I, as a wannabe ethical and minimal meat eater, wanted to take up.  Turns out that my fate ended up finding me – Matt had two shots at two ‘Roo’s and missed so the gun was in my hands.

Nash kept saying that we wanted a young buck because their meat is a lot tenderer than an older, bigger Roo, but still when we spotted this little fella and had him in the light and Nash was telling me to go for it, I felt like he was too small.  According to the regulations for commercial shooting the roo needs to be around 20 kg.  However, as I was out on country with a traditional owner I wasn’t thinking the rules applied.  I felt that having Nash tell me to go for it – to kill this Kangaroo on his land – was permission enough.  I got the rifle up and found him in the sight, adjusting the focus to about 40 meters (something Matt was not told to do, potentially contributing to his misses).  The bullet was already in the chamber so all I had to do was cock the gun (I think that’s the correct terminology!?), then I saw the lil guys face turn towards me, found it in the sight, and said something like ‘here goes’ as I held my breath and pulled the trigger.  BANG! A flash of light and a huge crack as the gun went off- shattering the outback tranquillity, followed by an audible thud as he fell to the ground.  I guess I was relieved at this point.  But as I jumped out the car and raced towards the body my knees trembled.

There is nothing that connects you more to the land, than life and death.  Growing vegetables, raising an animal, hunting – these are the times when we humans can truly and consciously be connected to the ecosystem, if for a brief moment.  And I tell you what, what happened next connected me well and truly.  I’m going to go into details here because it is very significant – this is what meat is – if you’re not partial to a bit of gore-truth then skip ahead now.

Nash drove the car over to the body, then turned on the bright lights around the tray and the butchery began on this surreal outback operating table.  He pulled out his butchering knife and proceeded to slice between the tibia and fibula of the scrawny kangaroo leg, I then lifted the ‘Roo up and hung him up by a hook between the bones.  Unlike the cardboard bullet box we had previously used as target practise, the Kangaroo did not have a neat hole in his head, rather a section of his face was blown off, it made me cringe but it was my doing and I accepted that.  Nash then demonstrated and I followed suit as we skinned the legs (much like in Terminator Two) and I put my fingers under the skin and pulled it off the flesh, pulling the skin off all the way to the midriff.  At this point the whole carcass was giving off a not un-pleasant, but still striking smell of fresh, hot meat – unlike any thing I’ve experienced.  Nash then cut the belly skin open so all the guts hung out.  This is the crucial part now, because if you accidentally pierce the innards then the meat is ruined.  At this point some clear fluid splashed out onto the ground – but no blood which was surprising – and Nash continued to point out the various parts of the entrails and organs.  How incredible to be seeing the inner workings of this animal that was fully functioning minutes before, I thought at the time.  Then, what was really disturbing was I had to cut around the sphincter of the ‘roo to allow the digestive system to disconnect.  Then we cut under the bottom ribs all the way to the spine and with Nash’s help I had to grab the animal by the ribs and twist it quite firmly til the spine severed and the top half of the roo and much of the skin fell to the ground and was discarded to the side, for the pigs and foxes to eat.

The whole process was surprisingly easy, emotionally and physically.  I expected it to be more confronting.  Mind you, seeing the freshly cut fillets that Nash had masterfully separated from the bone twitching and squirming surreally on the back of the ute, too used to being alive to stop moving within fifteen minutes of death, was something I won’t forget in a hurry.  But all in all it was so natural, and satisfying, to finally be playing such a direct role in the drama of food- instead of coming in at the end of the production line, surrounded by Styrofoam and plastic, bright supermarket lights and checkout chicks.

Would I be so comfortable working in a beef or sheep abattoir?  Or what about being the person who has to discard the male chicks to the mincer in a commercial chicken farm?  The answer is obvious.  From my experience, and talking with shooters and on-sellers in the kangaroo meat industry, when undertaken correctly and respectfully it is a remarkably ethical and environmentally friendly source of animal protein.  The kangaroo I killed did not suffer in his death.  He was free as can be in life, eating grasses and treading lightly on the land that had evolved with him, then in an instant it was done.  As part of transitioning towards a sustainable culture, we need to have a sustainable food source.  Well-managed kangaroo hunting is almost a no-brainer for this country – and offers an amazing opportunity to develop employment opportunities for aboriginal peoples in remote areas all over Australia, in an industry that combines both traditional and contemporary practices.  The biggest question is, how to get this industry accepted and embraced, both by the meat eating Aussie public and the existing livestock farmers?

If you’re interested to learn more about the Dialogues on Development trip, hear more stories from the other participants and see the route we traveled why don’t you check out the interactive map we produced here:

Kooma Nation, South-West Queensland

Posted November 20th, 2012

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