Kangaroos as Neighbours
A long black shadow slid across the boards of the veranda and up the wall covering the curtained bedroom window of the weatherboard cottage. Big Lennie stood and listened as he did every night when he got to number 43, but no dog or human sound came from the house. Smaller shadows appeared alongside Lennie’s then passed on as they moved across the garden.
Forget the Walking Dead and zombies and other TV window licking half-humans. Wandering home in the moonlight and becoming aware of ghostly figures standing motionless and staring at you, can be disconcerting, especially when you blink and find them gone a moment later.
All over our village and other small towns across the land – wherever the dry hand of drought has burnt away the natural ground cover and stolen all the moisture – kangaroos have become regular visitors to town parks and playing fields, camping on vacant lots or beneath trees and bushes in quiet suburban gardens, and in bush land around the perimeter of the town.
Most folk handle the invasion with a kindly attitude knowing that things are tough out there in the bush. Many people maintain water containers on the nature strip in front of their house. And the roo poo spread on paths and gardens everywhere is now so common place it’s hardly noticed.
I must confess that when I set out to write this piece I did so with a pen in one hand and a rifle in the other. I had made the mistake of seeing roos’ from my earlier life viewpoint as a farmer. But it didn’t take long for me to see that our night-time visitors were not impacting on my fight to feed hungry and thirsty livestock, and not increasing their numbers by taking advantage of my paddocks of pasture or crops, but instead, were simply climate refugees, chased from their natural homes by a lack of rain and seeking sustenance from the only place where a tiny vestige of edible grasses and plants still grew.
Culling roo numbers on rural properties is a necessary fact of farming life and while some of us might not like it or disagree, such action is quite understandable. Feeding and watering farm stock in a drought can be physically, economically and often emotionally draining.
Sharing with Skippy and the family
So how should we live with our new townies from the surrounding bush?
There seem to be very few objections and most people are tolerant and understand the animals’ plight and are sympathetic.
A thing that surprises is that the roo eats very little in your garden, seeking only grasses and a few lawn plants. Where it has been criticized is its occasional pulling down of low-hanging branches of fruit trees to eat the leaves, in particular the Prunus family – nectarines, apricots and plums. They might also enjoy fallen fruit. (It is interesting to note here that our local Black or Swamp Wallaby can decimate a garden of stuff that a roo will not ever look at, however hungry.)
The second offence is the large amount of poo that seems to cover the ground after a week or two of regular visits. Fortunately, it is a very inoffensive commodity leaving no smell and not attracting flies, and certainly unlikely to stick to the soles of your shoes.
So what else bothers us? The elderly – particularly women – living alone in a house and returning home in the evening to find a big kangaroo on their back veranda, are understandably nervous, especially when the animal shows no sign of wanting to turn and hop away. I spoke to many people regarding what could be the best solution to this and the only advice would be that if you don’t feel confident in sending the hairy critter off by using your voice, a gong of some type be it a tin can or bell on the end of a chord and conveniently placed somewhere between the car and the veranda or gate, along with something to strike it with – might be the most simple and best answer.
The animals will sometimes seem slow to move off and we can easily misread this as being defiant or threatening. The truth is they would rather be somewhere away from you and will respond to the loud sounds you make and willingly turn and leave.
A couple of people brought up that ‘other plague’ of critters that took over the local shopping area a couple of years back – namely the pigeons. These birds nested on ledges and the tops of air conditioners under shop verandas along the main street and were eventually ousted – I’ve been told – by a small group of out-of-town professionals using high-powered air rifles in the early hours over a couple of mornings.
I mention this only to point out the different circumstance between the sudden pigeon plague and the plight of the roos.
The pigeons were a direct man-made problem resulting from two seemingly unrelated events – firstly, the lack of proper management by a couple of local homing pigeon fanciers, and secondly, the increase in grain trucks passing through the town that braked and/or changed gears close to the intersection of High and Main street resulting in a regular discharge of very small quantities of grain – Manna from heaven if you are a pigeon.
So will the roos’ go home, back up onto Mt Tarrangower when the rains come back and the drought ends?
From what I can glean from the more expert people on the subject, it seem that they may well not return to the bush having become habituated to sleeping beneath your clothes line during the day and feeding on the oval, along the nature strip or in the park at night. But we don’t really know. It might be that a changing climate is simply not going to give us the opportunity to find out.
With recent calls by farmers just to the north of us for a pipeline to be brought up from the desalination plant to a region that has had less than sixty percent of average rainfall for more than three years, we cannot count on a return to a more manageable climate any time soon. Constant drought conditions may well be the new normal and we can expect the natural world around us to try to adjust.
A conversation with a person who checks the health of trees for reasons to do with maintaining power lines around Victoria, expressed deep concern that across the state, degraded tree roots from lack of deep soil moisture will present an enormous challenge to trees everywhere, not just those close to power lines. A sobering thought that evokes visions of desertification and dust storms.
My feelings are that we should accept our kangaroo refugees and learn to live side-by-side. The roos’ could be akin to the proverbial canary in the mine. Rather like the seasons, they remind us that our physical world might be changing and being forewarned is being forearmed, however unpleasant that can sometimes be.
In the meantime, if you want to impress city or overseas visitors to the town and you don’t happen to have a family of kangaroos living at your place, take them for a wander up to the footy ground at dusk. Our roos will give them something to write home about and even a nice snapshot for their facebook page.
Photos supplied by Nancy Whittaker
Country Notebook articles are written by Richard Lee for his monthly newspaper column of the same name.