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A Giant Lizard Ate My Pants: “Into the Wild” on the Moth Podcast

February 27th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

I had the honor of performing in The Moth’s GrandSLAM back in January at the Highline Ballroom here in New York City. The night’s theme was “Into the Wild.” Naturally, I told another story about the brief period of time I spent working as an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback.

I’ve been to that well before, and I think I’ve about beat that thing to death by now. Still, I’m glad I was able to squeeze another story out of it.

It’s not every day that a giant lizard tries to eat your blood-soaked pants. And the opportunity to talk about having a giant lizard steal my pants on a kangaroo shooting trip doesn’t really come up in conversation at the office all that much either.

So I’m really glad I got to use that little gem for something. I’ve probably forced it a few times too many over the years.

The Moth was awesome enough to include my story in their podcast today, too. I’ve wanted to make their podcast for years, and it’s a pretty huge honor. I feel like running down the hall at work high-fiving people, but I’m pretty sure that opportunity’s not going to present itself either.

Here’s a video of me telling that story from today’s Moth podcast at the January GrandSLAM, in case you’re stumbling in off the Internet and wondering if I am, in fact, a bald-headed white dude with glasses and a suit:

If you want to see more stories, you can do that here, here, and here.
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Harryhausen’s Outback Showdown: Deliver or Die, Skippy

January 20th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon
Harryhausen's Outback Showdown

I’ve been writing and editing and re-writing my story for this Monday’s Moth GrandSLAM, just scribbling it over and over on a legal pad to make sure I’ve got it. The theme is “Into the Wild,” which poses a challenge. I’ve pretty much told and re-told what I like to think is a pretty solid story on that theme. I’ve told that thing right into the red dirt, to be honest. I’m sure my friends, family, and the odd person I am totally trying to impress is sick to their guts of it. I think I’ve worn a track in my brain from repeating it so damn much.

I got one of the best passive-aggressive guilt trips about this that I’ve ever had from anyone that wasn’t my own mother recently. She’s a great friend I met through the Moth, and when I suggested I wanted to visit that old incarnation of that story for the theme, she said “Yeah, I mean, you could do that. But if you won with it, I think you’d feel pretty cheap.”

She’s right. So I’m working on it, but brother, you never know you’ve got something until it’s over and done with. The challenge here is to find other material in that experience, stuff that didn’t make the first cut and massaging it into something brand-new.
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‘Roo Shooter at The Moth

November 13th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

Kangaroo, Ute, Moon

In early 2004 I was an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback. Pretty much the only experience more bizarre and terrifying would be if I were to have worked with a kangaroo shooter at the National Zoo.

Before you go getting all fired up, remember that kangaroos are pests in Australia, and people eat their meat all the time. And meat does not just cheerfully lie itself down on the burger bun, either. Kangaroo meat is as free-range and organic as it gets, but you’ve still got to do a fair bit of old-fashioned killing to make it happen — and the process is disturbing, gory, and pretty hideous. Not unlike the rest of nature, the parts they don’t show you on the television programs.

But not a day goes by that I don’t think of that experience in some way or another. It taught me a lot. I learned to get tough, how to do some hard, hard work, and how to put aside all my pussified city liberal ideas and face the realities of the food chain.

I told this story at The Moth on October 22, 2009. I’d told it at the Moth last year, as well as at The Liar Show, Risk!, and Seth Lind’s Told. I’ve also told parts of this story to pretty much anyone that will sit still in my presence since early 2004. I think D.Billy, my co-blogger here, has seen me tell the thing each time, too.

I’ve pitched it to This American Life twice now, and had Ira Glass personally tell me to my face, that while he really likes the story as long as he is a broadcaster in the United States of America, it will not appear on his show. He was actually really nice about it – and he’s right. The story, in its original and best incarnation, has tons of appalling gore in it, the killing of defenseless baby kangaroos and uses the word “cunt” more times in ten minutes than most Americans have heard in their entire lives. And cutting that stuff out kinda neuters the whole enterprise.

If I’m this sick of telling this story, I can only imagine how tired my friends are of hearing it. And I’ve sure made a lot of hay off the experience on this blog.

Unless something tremendous happens, I feel like I can safely say that this story’s been done to death and put to bed here in New York City. It feels good to be all the way through this one and kinda wipe the slate clean for a batch of new stuff.

On the other hand, I’m about to go to Australia again for two weeks starting Saturday. And if I can claw my way in front of a microphone after a couple or six VBs, this thing might rise again. If any of you know of storytelling shows or reading series or something similar in Adelaide or Melbourne, please let me know. I’d love to try this or other stories in front of an Aussie audience.

Performing at Seth Lind’s Told! Tonight at 7PM

July 19th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

I’ll be performing a story at my man Seth Lind’s story show TOLD! tomorrow night at Under Saint Mark’s Theatre. My story’s always a work in progress — it’s about the time I was a kangaroo shooter in the Outback. My close friends are so tired of this one, because even though I had the actual experience back in early 2004, I have only just recently stopped talking about it.

So if you’re new to this blog and you live in New York, come on down. It’s the right price, too: Free dollars and free cents!

Seth runs a pretty interesting show, too. He brings a lot of what he’s learned from his day job at “This American Life” to the experience as well as his training in comic improv, creating a show that’s informal and experimental, a little bit talk show and always really, really interesting to see.

Here’s the description straight from the show’s Facebook page:

Hi. You are cordially invited to the ninth installment of TOLD, the free monthly storytelling show at Under St. Mark’s Theatre.

This month… ‘The Rough Guide’ – riveting stories from out on the road. Our totally sweet performers include:

Actor and Comic Book writer CHRIS KIPINIAK, who will show us that a trip to Egypt can have more in common with the plot of ‘The Hangover’ than you might think. Well, part of the plot of ‘The Hangover.’ Tyson doesn’t sing.

Moth Grandslammer DAISY ROSARIO, tells about a crazy drug trip… not the kind you’re thinking.

Comedian KEVIN ALLISON (The State) with a tale of arriving at a place where I know you’ve been, and deciding to do something I hope you haven’t.

And JEFF SIMMERMON, who just had a story on “This American Life” last week, tells about heading Down Under… to be a hired killer. For real.

Plus, if the tech gods and schedule gods are with us, MELANIE HAMLETT will join us between stories via live video feed, to report in on her current cross-country adventure living in her truck.

Hope to see you there.

TOLD #9: The Rough Guide
Monday July 20th – 7PM
Under St. Mark’s Theatre
94 Saint Mark’s Place
FREE FREE FREE

Hosted by Seth Lind
Produced by Heidi Grumelot
Presented by Horse Trade Theatre Group

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‘Culture Shock’ at the Moth

May 14th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon


“Culture Shock” was the theme for last night’s Moth, and man, was I ever ready. I’d written, edited, rewritten, and I felt like I had a fairly solid story — unless someone else had also worked as a kangaroo shooter in Western Australia, I had the topic pretty well locked up. So yeah, I was psyched, that combination of anxiety and jittery and *pow* that usually makes something happen.

I was pretty tough to be around, I’d imagine, especially to a good friend who came out to support me. I couldn’t help myself, I was a rubber band ball made out of thrashing fire ants — couldn’t focus on sentences, couldn’t relax into his jokes or anything.

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Roo Shooter, Part 5

May 4th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

Scouting

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.

Outback

The closest parallel to Australian ’roo-shooting is perhaps the us$600 million a year hunting industry that has thrived on deer overpopulation in the United States. Drastic reductions in the numbers of wolves and coyote have created an ideal, predator-free environment for deer that has allowed their numbers to skyrocket. Herds ride roughshod over gardens, parks and roadways; in rural areas, they drastically heighten the dangers of driving at night.

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.”

**********
This is part 5 of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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Roo Shooter, Part 4

May 2nd, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

Rifle

As you can imagine, a raging debate exists in Australia over the ethics of kangaroo shooting. A dozen Australian environmental groups have joined forces to mount a legal challenge to the hunting. This bloc has also found a powerful ally in the British animal-rights group Viva! (Vegetarians’ International Voice for Animals). Viva!’s Save the Kangaroo campaign has attracted sympathizers outside of Australia, including famous vegetarians like Paul McCartney. Accusing Australia of conducting “the biggest wildlife massacre the world has every seen,” Viva! has scared major UK supermarket chains into removing kangaroo meat from their shelves and has also targeted soccer stars like David Beckham for wearing Adidas kangaroo-hide soccer boots.

Viva!’s most successful tool has been a video that shows an “experienced, unlicensed but commercial killer” brutalizing kangaroos in the outback at night and claims the activity is standard industry practice. The Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia (KIAA) vehemently refutes every single claim made by VIVA—chiefly that, due to underreported kill rates, kangaroos are being driven to extinction—and reserves an exceptional level of rancour for the video in question. KIAA counters that non-commercial and illegal kills are a very minor problem and that the shooter in the video “was actually entrapped into performing his misdeeds by the film crew telling him they were from an American game-shooters magazine.”

As for the Australian RSPCA, it neither categorically rejects nor condones kangaroo shooting, but takes every opportunity to clarify that certain parts of the country are overpopulated by kangaroos and culling or selective shooting of the population “is essential for a humane management of the population.” The official RSPCA line is to prevent cruelty and seek the humane treatment of kangaroos. “If kangaroos are to be killed,” the society argues, “then every effort should be made to ensure it is done humanely.”

Kangaroo shooting is, in truth, nothing so much as working in a free-range slaughterhouse. Most people don’t want to see films of their sausages being made any more than they want to see kangaroos being shot responsibly, much less brutalized by someone who may or may not have been paid to prove a lobby group’s point. Interestingly enough, while I lived in Australia, unless I raised the issue I never heard anything about it there. People talked about the surf, the weather, the war in Iraq, sheep and shearing, mining, all sorts of other things. A number of my male friends had some passing knowledge of it, having grown up in rural areas before moving to Perth. They’d either done a bit of it themselves in a responsible fashion or gone on the piss with a bunch of their yobbish friends. But they had quickly outgrown the practice. Kangaroo shooting may not be pretty, but it’s necessary; most ordinary Australians don’t give it much thought past that.

Craig and I hunted from sundown to sun-up. We trawled the flat, red flood plains, bumping over dead fences and long-dried washouts, constantly combing the land with our massive, high-powered cones of light. I would zone out and get lost in the wonder of the Australian night sky. The stark light cast on the gnarled trees and brush made it feel like we were a deep-sea craft trawling the bottom of the ocean—the trees, giant anemones; black, invisible water all around us. Occasionally the lights would sweep across a bizarre, neglected sight, like the disembodied legs of an emu wound in razor wire. I would not have been surprised in the least if we had trundled past the exposed skeleton of a massive prehistoric whale.

I started taking my thoughts away, just to cope. I would remember the way that my girlfriend looked in the ocean as she swam up to me, clutching my torso to bob together through waves. I’d think about my grandmothe’s voice, calling me for dinner as a kid, and my dog’s paws on my leg reminding me of her dinnertime. These reveries would invariably be shattered by the sound of Craig’s barks from the cab. “Move that fuckin’ light, cunt, you’re off with the fuckin’ fairies up there, I can tell!”

Bullets

The nights were really shocking and appalling to an American city kid—every time I drifted into mind-insulating escapism, we’d stop with a jerk and have to kill some more. We slowly marinated for hours in our sweat and the ’roos’ blood, dust settling into the mix to form a nearly visible, sludgy paste. Craig would take his shirt off early in the evening, exposing a torso that looked like a model of Mars built across a whale’s belly—broad expanses of craggy, handbag-quality skin marred with amateur scars from knife slips over the decades and a professional kidney removal. I was, at those moments, making a mental note: “This, Jeff … This is what happens to people who think sunscreen is for pussies.”

“What the fuck are you starin’ at, mate? If you’re a fuckin’ poof, I don’t care, just keep it to your fuckin’ self, aye?”

Once we got back to camp, the task at hand was as simple as the night was nasty: get all twenty or so kangaroos off the truck, sever the legs, slip the government-issue tag through the animal’s rump and hang it in the massive diesel-powered meat locker. One living kangaroo smells wild and pungent. Over a tonne of dead ones slowly oozing their remainder blood is an unbearable olfactory experience. After several days, the smell would worm its way into our water supply, making the water taste like it had been poured over a kangaroo’s chilled, blood-clotted hide.

We generally finished the night around five in the morning and would finally collapse onto my sweat-stained foam mattress. After about three minutes, I couldn’t even hear the diesel generator roaring outside my door.

*********
This is part 4 of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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‘Roo Shooter, Part 3

April 30th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

Dead Fox

We wait for the sun to drop. Then Craig turns to me. “Here’s what you do. Get out of the cab and up on the back of the ute with this spotlight here. I’ve got on on my side as well. You move that light nice and slow over the left side of the road while I drive and do the right. You see any ‘roos with that thing, tap the roof with your hand.”

Simple enough, it seemed. The hard stuff came along pretty quickly. We stopped with a jerk, Craig mashing the brakes with his feet as he loaded a shell into his rifle and took aim. A kangaroo sat frozen in my spotlight’s cone of light, its eyes two tiny reflectors and its jaws the only movement.

When a kangaroo gets shot in the head, it jumps straight up and flips over backwards like some kind of weird 3-D Atari game. One leg vigorously pumps the air, a flailing faucet draining away the last of a kangaroo’s energy until it drops into the dust with the rest of the body. My job was then to leap off the Ute, run up to the kangaroo, grab it by that same recently-kicking leg or the tail and drag it back. Ninety percent of the time the animal was dead by the time I made it to the truck.

Shot 'Roo

As I walked slowly to my first dead kangaroo, processing all of what had just happened and what I was about to do through thin filter of functioning emotional shock, Craig barked at me from the Ute.

“Let’s get a wriggle on, we haven’t got all bloody night!” His shouts were punctuated with the rhythmic clacking drags of a knife on steel.

I dragged the dying beast as fast as I could, trying to block out the little shakes traveling up my arm as its shattered head bumped over uneven ground. This was even harder than it sounds because I was also trying to block out the distinct thought that I had seen something writhing in the kangaroo’s pouch as I grabbed its leg.

I didn’t have time to dwell for long. As soon as I got to the truck, Craig handed me an enormous machete and a bloodstained wooden block.

“You know how to use these? You’re gonna learn fast, mate. Watch close and listen carefully. I fuckin’ hate having to repeat meself. First, we get in there and split the heart. If ‘e’s not quite dead, that’ll do him quicker than anything. It gets all the extra blood out too so’s you don’t have such a fuckin’ mess later. Then we get the head off and put it out here.”

With this, Craig stabbed the kangaroo in the neck, rummaging around in the spine for what seemed like a particular juncture of vertebrae. Upon finding it, he quickly slashed through the remaining neck tissue, grabbing the poor creature’s head by its long ears and flinging without even looking into the dark bush, where it hit the dirt and rolled with a series of sloppy wet flopping sounds.

With maximum efficiency, he turned to the tail, severing it from the ‘roo’s rump with a few deft strokes, grunting “these’re worth a dollar apiece. Coons buy’em and make soup out of em. Bloody beautiful soup, too. Lotsa guys don’t save ‘em, but I say why throw money away? Now get over here with that block and machete.”

I was responsible for hacking the forepaws off of each kangaroo while he beheaded and be-tailed them. Craig reckoned I’d pick this skill up quickly enough. I had no prior machete experience, and found that I had to hack repeatedly at the animals’ wrists, sending a fine spray of blood and bone splinters onto my face and into the night sky. I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut at work, both literally and figuratively.

“Yeah, you’re crap at that, alright,” Craig said. “Now, take this knife and cut that bit of skin there on the back leg.” Although longer, the bit of skin Craig referred to is analogous to the skin between a human’s Achilles tendon and the bones of the ankle. Under Craig’s guidance, I guided a large, S-shaped meathook tipped with very sharp points through the hole. Surprisingly enough, I had not yet vomited.

“Now, for the big boomers, there’s no way you’re gettin’ ‘em up by yourself. I’ll help you with this’n and the other big boys. But the does, you can get those alone. That’s why you’re here. Me arm is all fucked from years of this shit.”

Female kangaroos, however, pose their own problems. Although easier to lift than male ‘roos or “boomers,” the does are often pregnant. And in those cases, the only humane thing to do for the joeys that can’t survive outside the pouch is to kill them on the spot, quickly and decisively. It can be an emotional challenge. Even for Craig, who accepted this part of the job decades ago.

The best methods for dispatching joeys include beheading them or stomping them beneath your boot. The bigger ones you grab by the back legs and smash against a nearby rock or even the truck’s tire. After we killed five or six ‘roos, Craig would stop to gut them, pulling the babies out to dispatch them en masse. After one such performance Craig peered at me through the swirling dust and sighed.“Mate, I’ve been doin’ this for fifty years, and this part always makes me feel like such a cunt.”

Let the record show that I didn’t participate in this part of the job. The one time that I did, I made a horrible mistake. I was dragging a doe up to the Ute and could see something wriggling in the pouch. All of a sudden two legs stuck out. I grabbed them, pulling the joey free. I meant to hold it up and shout to Craig, “Hey, what should I do with this one,” but it leaped out of my hand and hopped into the distance with a chirping scream.

“You stupid fucking fuckwit, that joey’s not big enough to survive on its own out here! E’s gonna go off and get eaten or starve to death all alone all because you think you’re such a fucking animal lover! Now chop that cunt’s paws off doubletime and help me get these fuckas up on the Ute!”

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This is part 3 of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

Roo Shooter, Part 2

April 27th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

First One
My girlfriend took care of me the best that she could, and I managed occasional work as a dishwasher, furniture mover, and stonemason. But my meagre income was eating into my pride. I was tired of the wide, silver paint-lined grins that the Aborigines at the city center always flashed when they saw me shoplifting my meals. I was tired of shoplifting my meals.

Then Craig rang.

“G’day…is that Jeff?” It was.

“This is Craig Murphy. Steve Evans told me you was looking for a bit of work as an offsider to a ‘roo shooter.” That was true, yes.

“Well, I’m getting’ ready to go up to Nookawarra out bush for a couple days and I could use a bit of help. I can’t lift the boomers onto the Ute like I used to, and I’m lookin’ for someone to work the light and go get the ‘roos after I shoot ‘em. I’ll take you up there, take care of all your food, and offer you 400 bucks flat.” Sounded cool to me.

“I’ll meet you Monday at the train station,” Craig said. “Bring a couple pillows and a towel and some clothes you can get messy. We leave Tuesday morning, first thing.”

***

The kangaroo is a striking, strange creature, at once silly and majestic like the moose. It’s also the primary symbol of Australia. Portrayed on the national coat of arms, the creature has been used to advertise and anthropomorphize the Australian psyche all over the world. Not only does it adorn everything Australia produces—from postcards to foodstuff logos, from children’s books to novelty t-shirts—but it has proudly crept into the vernacular. In a nation that derogatorily calls its aboriginals “boongs,” its Asians “slants,” and its Italians “wogs,” white Aussies are referred to as “skips.”

For the Australians, the kangaroo is both a boon and pest, a national icon and creature to despise. The country is overrun with them—58 million, according to the latest census, making the species amongst the most common wild land mammal on earth. This, ironically, is mostly thanks to a sheep and cattle industry that have created an abundance of man-made pasture grasses and watering holes, and have driven dingoes—the kangaroos only predators, but “vermin” to sheep farmers—into the center of the country. These cute, fuzzy hoppers now pose a serious environmental threat to the rangelands. Travelling in packs of several hundred, they can easily cover up to 500 kilometers. A pod can bisect a farm on one of these journeys and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to valuable crops in a single night, wrecking fences and outgrazing cattle for rare desert grass.

Consequently it’s perfectly legal in Australia to kill kangaroos, but not all kangaroos. Only the four most plentiful species can be commercially harvested. And it’s not indiscriminate, but part of a far-reaching Management Plan drawn up by the Federal conservation Department. The Plan is basically a system of population monitoring and quota setting. After deciding on a maximum allowable “take” for a given year,the States Authority sells individually and sequentially numbered plastic lockable tags. To qualify as a legal kill each kangaroo must be tagged, and he circulation of these tags are also closely watched to ensure the harvest in any one area doesn’t top the quota.

So if you’re a licensed hunter, you buy tags from the government, load up a truck with a weeks’ worth of food, water and fuel and drive out into the bush to slaughter as many kangaroos as you can safely carry. You then lug the carcasses into town and sell them to a kangaroo processor. Processors will only buy those beasts you’ve humanely killed (i.e. head-shot as opposed to “skin only” which targets the legs and the neck). It works in everyone’s best interest this way: the ‘roos are killed humanely, and processors don’t buy meat that’s been contaminated with lead bullets.

The culling is vast. At its highest, in 2002, total deaths hit seven million. Twenty percent of Australia’s kangaroo population was wiped out in a single year. Little surprise, then, that the animals are now seen by many as natural resource, with the processing of their body parts one of Australia’s fastest-growing industries. Kangaroo meat is now considered a delicacy outside of Australia and exported to fifty-five countries. The soft hides are highly prized by tanneries for being very durable, yet light in weight. The kangaroo economy brings in over $200 million dollars per year and employs about 4,000 people.

Craig is a professional “harvester”, and has been shooting the animals since he was eight years old. “Most weeks, if we wanted to eat meat, we shot a ‘roo. That’s how it was in early days, mate.” After finishing high school, Craig trained as a roof carpenter, supplementing his income with money earned from ‘roo shooting trips and occasional work as an oil driller. Apparently he had never worn a shirt to work, either—the man looked like a crocodile hide stretched over giant sack of rice.

I imagine that most licensed hunters are like Craig, men who grew up in the bush their entire lives with kangaroo killing as part of the lifestyle. The most vocal of the four kangaroo shooter associations—The NSW Professional Kangaroo Cullers—have stated they’d like to see shooters recognised as a full time occupation, much like fishing. And interest does seem to be high: 6,236 occupier licences were issued for the commercial zone in 1999 and 5,130 in 2000.

That said, no one in their right mind would classify commercial kangaroo shooting as a career with long-term prospects. It’s certainly not the type of work you’d take up if there was something better to do. Nor is kangaroo shooting an aspect of Australian culture that is particularly revered or immortalized. Even the gruffest, grizzliest shooter recognizes the job has some nasty aspects and puts it behind him as quickly as possible. Craig confided in me that he no longer dreamed when he slept.

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This is part two of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

‘Roo Shooter, Part 1

April 25th, 2006 by Jeff Simmermon

You may recognize this story from this blog, over a year ago. Since then, it’s developed to a publishable state, been published, and been forgotten. In the absence of any other content, I’ll be running this in installments on here over the next couple of days…

australia.looks.like.this

We’ve been hammering at the Outback highway since dawn. Red dust and spinifex grass run to the horizon in every direction, forming a long ribbon of alien terrain under a technicolour blue sky. Craig hasn’t said a word for the last six hours. He’s already played both his Elvis tapes and is saving Jerry Lee Lewis for the all-night drive back. On the way home from a shooting trip you’ve got to drive all night so the meat doesn’t spoil.

We turn off the paved road into dirt tracks that lead us deep into the bush. Soon, we pull up to a long corrugated tin shack graced with a concrete slab porch. Two giant refrigerators sit out front like fat metal marshmallows dotted with faint crimson stains.

“Go on, pick your room, mate, just not the one with me cooler in it,” Craig orders. “I brung that up special.”

My bedroom has a low metal cot and a foam mattress. Red dust covers everything: my bed, the table, the toothbrush and wadded-up tissue the last guy left behind. A table scarred with the cuts from a million knives, stained with oil and dried blood, sits next to a dusty generator out on the front porch. Imagine an abandoned prospector’s cabin on Mars, or an axe murderer’s holiday home.

“Craig, this is so cool,” I shout. “It’s the most godforsaken place I’ve ever seen in my life!” I mean it with the sort of artificial exuberance my friends back home in Richmond use to describe roller-skating, duckpin bowling or their supposed love for Journey. You know the tone.

Craig grunts “Call it what you want, mate, but it’s me fuckin’ life, and I like it.”

Embarrassed, I stutter out an apology. I later learn it’s impossible to hurt a ‘roo shooter’s feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I’ll discover when I chop the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, my own life had already become more different than I could ever have imagined.

***

Richmond, Virginia is the sort of town that’s friendly to boredom and torpor. For a couple of years after college, I scraped by on nine bucks an hour, did my laundry at my parents’ and claimed to be a writer and musician.

After a major lifestyle hemorrhage wherein I realized how closely to squandering my twenties I had come, I donated my drums to the thrift store, sold my records and my van and bought a ticket to Sydney.

Within an amazingly short amount of time, I had a girlfriend on the other side of the continent and one of the most beautifully isolated cities in the world. It was a dream come true—my frustration and loneliness suddenly replaced with the picture-book perfection of life on a foreign beach with a gorgeous lady by my side.

Then I ran out of money.

**********
This is part one of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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