I literally sweated myself awake by ten. The temperature could get up to 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit) by day. Given that our quarters were made of corrugated steel and located in the middle of a shadeless desert, sleep was really just a series of naps punctuated by trips to the rainwater tank for a few glasses of water. Every time I relieved myself on the sand, a swarm of ants and flies would break their little insect necks just to slurp thirstily at my urine before it disappeared into the parched red dirt. By the time I got back to bed, the sweat, which had woken me up, had completely evaporated.
If we both happened to be awake Craig and I would chat sometimes in between siestas. I learned that his wife left him when his now-grown children were still small, after she had gambled away much of their savings and slept with a neighbour. “I’ll tell you, mate, times were tough in early days, but I kept our family together as best I could. We used to go out shooting as a family, the girls spottin’ ’roos like you’re doing now and the boys helping to gut them. I don’t have much saved in the bank, but them kids had all the books and clothes the other kids at school did. Life was hard enough for them with no mum, without other kids taking the piss out of us for lookin’ shabby.” This happened thirty years ago and Craig’s eyes still smarted from the pain.
Sometime around four in the afternoon, we’d start gearing up for another night’s shooting. I’d pull on my unspeakably foul-smelling T-shirt and the jeans that had become a giant, wearable scab, and we’d bump out into the cooling afternoon to get the feel of the land. That part of the day was the most enjoyable—four-wheeling across massive red stretches of scrub and sand, seeing feral camels and hulking yet nimble families of wild goats.
Then the night’s shooting would start, and it would go as I have described. The first ’roo of the night always would more or less fuck me up, and then I was just in it until the night was over. Craig would explode at me and call me a hopeless bloody cunt a couple of dozen times a night, balling his fists up and spitting with rage, then turn right around and ask about Natasha with genuine empathy. I’d get kicked and clawed by headless, convulsing kangaroos. Their severed heads would look serenely at me as Craig and I did unspeakable, efficient things to their bodies, and I would invariably get the creeps.
The closest parallel to Australian ’roo-shooting is perhaps the
However, deer in the US or Canada do not pose quite the same threat as Australia’s kangaroos. It’s this threat and the great numbers driving it that make killing kangaroos so commercially viable. While hunters may eat the deer they shoot, there’s no supply and demand influencing the hunting activity that allows them to make a living. Generally speaking, deer hunters will take two or three deer in a season and then call it quits. Craig and I pulled in a four-and-a-half-tonne haul on an eight-day trip.
On our last night, we got absolutely legless on VB (Victoria Bitter, Australia’s answer to Budweiser) cracking kangaroo legs and heaving the carcasses into the freezer as we told dirty jokes. I can remember slipping and falling face first into a four-foot deep pile of cold kangaroo corpses, screaming with laughter. “I don’t know whether to help you up or just hand you another beer, you drunken fuckwit,” Craig chortled.
He asked me what I was going to do when I got home, and I was about tell him I was never going back to sleepy Richmond again when he interrupted me, grinning widely. “Don’t tell me what you’re gonna do when you get home, mate. You’re a young buck with a pretty lady that loves you… You’ll have a root first chance you get. I’m an old fucka, so me and the missus are gonna sit down and watch bloody Law and Order.”
We talked about loves we’d lost and the loves we had and shared a sincere and honest belief in a divine power. To say we bonded is an understatement. I was on a million acres of desert with a foul-tempered man who was extremely good at killing large mammals; I had never felt safer in all of my life.
The next evening, after we’d spent two hours wrestling kangaroo carcasses into his trailer and tying the stack down with a tarp to keep the flies off, Craig turned to me and said the three little words that would have made anybody’s heart melt: “Let’s go home.”