The Big Issue : Edition 578
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 11–24 JAN 2019 17 PHOTOBYGETTY UNIQUELY FOR A wild animal, kangaroos have many guises: beloved native mammal, pest, cute TV companion, food source and the more charismatic half of the coat of arms. Tourists to our shores are sold both plush kangaroo toys and kangaroo scrotum coin purses – a scenario that symbolises our relationship with the animals, where loving kangaroos does not preclude killing them. Eating a kangaroo steak, it could be argued, is a rare point of common ground between Australians across the political spectrum. The harvest of kangaroos for the national menu allows farmers to protect their pasture from roo plagues, and also satisfies the appetites of environmentally conscious urbanites, concerned about the greenhouse gas emitted by farting sheep and cows. Perhaps both parties celebrate the cheeky Aussie spirit embodied in barbecuing our national symbol. Certainly, this is the story told by the kangaroo meat industry and, anecdotally, it has become conventional wisdom. But a closer look suggests the situation is more fraught than it might appear. Monash University academic Charlotte Craw, who has researched the politics of kangaroo meat, writes that “a kangaroo steak is never merely meat in the media”. If the nation has gathered for a roo meat barbecue, the other attendees would include some protesting animal rights activists, a pair of brawling scientists and some traditional owners looking on in bemusement. EUROPEANS WERE TYPICALLY blindsided by their first glimpses of Australian fauna. John Simons, author of the natural history book Kangaroo, writes that, faced with the unknown, the first impulse of colonisers was to bestow familiar names on unfamiliar species. That’s how we ended up with the koala bear, the Tasmanian tiger and the flying squirrel. While attempts were made to describe the kangaroo in such terms, including comparisons to a deer or greyhound, Simons argues that kangaroos are so strange they defied the naming trend.