(prompt: ‘hunt’ 5/6/2020)
They shot ten kangaroos that night. Some in full flight; others as they turned away from the pitiless spotlight. The last victim was a gentle-faced grey doe, soft stricken eyes stretched wide in confusion and terror. A perfect target. After she had fallen, movement continued within her pouch. Overwhelming sickness, then red-hot rage engulfed me as a joey was pulled from her lifeless body into the horror of blinding light; gruff and alien sounds. The smell of fear thickened the swirling dust, as his captor triumphantly held him high.
“Just put this little bugger out of his misery,” he said, taking a firm grasp of the baby’s tail, moving towards a nearby tree. Horror filled my heart. I could see what he planned. Guest or not, I couldn’t control myself. Snatching the confusion of legs and tail into my jumper, I clutched this newly orphaned joey close to my heaving chest.
My horror and the hunters’ embarrassment produced a grudging promise any future joeys would be given to me. Bizarre! To commit to saving lives they had orphaned in the first place!
Earlier the men were discussing the increasing problem of the build-up of kangaroo numbers on their farms—a serious concern in this area, the middle of Western Australia’s wheatbelt.
“Bastards! Fair dinkum, they’re eating us out of ‘ere,” Jack said, with another gulp of his beer. “What with the lousy bloody prices we’re getting for the few bloody sheep can go to market, we’re sure not plannin’ to feed goddamn ‘roos as well.”
Frowns deepened; voices becoming more aggressive and aggrieved as the farmers’ anger grew with stories of damage to crops they’d nurtured and nursed, like precious children. This was ‘make or break’ country. It didn’t need extra hardships.
My eyes met Kanute’s unhappily. I tried to reconcile my love of these creatures with this unexpected and unsuspected viewpoint of the farmers—a serious challenge. My inner animal lover recoiled.
Our mate Sam had been silently listening; obviously thinking deeply; nodding his agreement—until now.
“Time for a ‘cull’ fellers—have to go shoot a few. They’re getting out of hand. Hell, I like them orright, but our land can’t carry them, as well as our stock. Jeez, how many are we running to the acre?” And before anyone else could reply, Sam answered himself. “Too bloody many! That’s how many. Time’s come to stop talking about it, and go do something. Whatcha reckon?”
In answer, they all emptied their tinnies, noisily pushed back their chairs and headed, as one, towards the back door, and their motley pile of boots
“What about you townies? Coming with us?”
Sounded exciting at first, an adventure, as these usually slow-moving easy-going farmers gathered spotlights and rifles. Kanute and I piled into the front of Sam’s utility with him, and the other farmers stood on the open back holding tightly to the tall cargo rail behind the cab. These were no ‘cowboys’ out on a shooting spree graced politely with the name ‘hunt’. These were men dedicated to their land and stock, off to meet and eradicate this threat to the well-being of all they worked for.
We drove off into the inky darkness of the farthest paddocks where scrub met open land… and waited.