I love Kangaroos. Like most people my age I grew up eating my dinner off a Skippy plate. Seeing Sonny and Skip was a real incentive to finish my dinner. I wanted a kangaroo friend too. I wanted to say ‘What’s that, Skip?’ And Skip would tell me ‘There was a murder down at the gorge’ or ‘There’s bushranger treasure down by the creek bed’. Or maybe even alert me to a paedophile at the school gate. Skip was a hero. She cared about human safety. She was on the side of good. She was an ally.
I later found out that Skippy was not one, but nine kangaroos, and that when Skippy did amazing stuff like open doors – it was a kangaroo paw nailed to a stick and operated by one of the crew. A friend who had a role in one of the episodes told me that he arrived on set to find (one of) the stars of the show in a sugar bag. This was her dressing room. Apparently this made the kangaroos docile.
When I knew this; that kangaroos were kept on set in sacks, I felt weird about the show I once loved. That’s cruel. I had that Rolf Harris feeling all over again. The stuff I loved in my childhood just doesn’t stack up once you know what happened behind the scenes.
More broadly, our romantic Australian notion of kangaroos doesn’t match the reality either.
We have a strange relationship with this iconic animal. In many parts of our country this extraordinary macropod is seen as a pest. It’s hard to understand just how a native species can become a ‘pest’. I guess it’s when they are perceived to be a threat to grazing land, agriculture and cars. Out west, many bodies of dead kangaroos lie on the roadside, victims of everyday motoring atrocities. Once, driving past at 100km/h, I glimpsed the little face of a joey. I turned back and felt the grief of pulling a baby animal from its dead mother.
The fires that ripped through our country from September 2019 to March 2020 destroyed millions of acres of bushland. The estimate of native animals killed is about three billion. Many of those were kangaroos. Kangaroo numbers were already in decline. Many species are now endangered, especially here in NSW. The real pest in this country is us; we need to find a more sustainable way to live with our native animals.
The reason the kangaroo and the emu were chosen for our national emblem is that they can’t move backwards. Ironically we cull our national emblem while our federal government moves backwards on climate. We have been called out on the world stage as having the worst climate plan of any developed nation. Perhaps what needs culling to protect our country, to protect our native species, is the ideology that puts profits before the planet.
So, as I write this, it’s National Kangaroo Day. Maybe it’s a good time to reflect on our relationship with Country, on our relationship with kangaroos. How much do you know about them? Did you know they’re the largest marsupial on Earth; that they’re left handed; they can use their tail as a fifth leg; and that once they’re grown they don’t like to be kept in sacks? And they don’t like being hit by trucks. Or being fenced away from the grasslands where they graze.
That joey I rescued survived. He was a red kangaroo. He was cared for by a wildlife carer. And now he’s free, back on his Country. Well, that’s the fairytale I hope for. The reality is that he has probably perished from unprecedented bushfire, or speeding trucks, or shotguns defending grass. There was a moment when I almost had my own Skippy, but wild animals don’t belong to us. They belong to Country. So let’s learn from kangaroos and stop moving backwards.
‘What’s that, Skip? Our Prime Minister is a climate criminal? Let’s get help’.