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Roadkill of the week – Kangaroos & Wallabies of the NT

Antelopine Wallaby (?) near katherine 2006

Antelopine Wallaby (?) near Katherine 2006

I’ll be chairing a session on Monday next as part of the Alice Springs Writers Festival at the wonderful Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in a session called Roadkill – the Festival program tells me that:

“The roadtrip is iconic in Territorian culture. Join Jennifer Mills, Richard J Frankland, Shane Maloney & Mary Anne Butler for some fine, highway cuisine and roadhouse yarns. Facilitator: Bob Gosford. Roo stew; free coffee to every driver. 12:30-2:00pm Courtyard, Olive Pink.”

So – be there or be elsewhere! as a Swamp Jockey once told me.

Unidentified kangaroo species, Tanami Track, 2007

Unidentified kangaroo species, Tanami Track, 2007

But more seriously, I’ve been taking photos of roadkill I’ve come across on the side of – or just on – the various roads I’ve spent so many hours driving and riding on over the years and I look forward to adding to my selection over the coming months as I travel the country to meet and talk with various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and groups about their local bird knowledge.

One day I’ll work on putting them together for an exhibition – and in this I’m mindful of the – apparently excellent – eponymous exhibition put together some years ago by the wonderful Fairfax snapper Narelle Autio.

Among many other national and international awards, in 2001, Narelle won a 1st Prize World Press Photo Award in nature and environment for her series on Australian roadkill – unfortunately I haven’t found any of these images online to share a link to…

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Unidentified Wallaby species - Stuart Highway 2006

For me these images of dead things are ineffably sad – they vary from the freshly dead – covered in flies and picked over by dingoes, eagles and hawks – to the dispersed and dessicated carcasses – sometimes scattered across the roadside – sometimes slowly being ground to paste or dust – dependent on the season or the location – on the roadway.

Unidentified species, Stuart Highway 2006

Unidentified species, Stuart Highway 2006

I have a compelling fascination with these poor dead and lost souls left on the highway – in some parts, particularly on the more well-traveled NT roads like the Stuart Highway, there are literally hundreds of carcasses littered along the particular stretches of the road – often near drainage lines and floodways – sometimes clustered together in an area with no indication as to why they cross the road at that point.

Many of the victims are birds – too many birds – and kangaroos and wallabies, horses, cattle, pigs, cats…all that crosses or intersects the road will at some time fall victim to our fast foolishness…

Wallaby, Stuart Highway 2006

Wallaby, Stuart Highway 2006

More, many more, to come…sadly…but I feel a need to bring these things to you – as a witness to the fact of their deaths, to prove that they did die and still live – in an image or in our minds and hearts – even as we pass their wrecked bodies in our behemoths, uncaring and unseeing.

deadFor most of us wildlife on the road are little more than bothersome intruders on our time or convenience – think of how we view them – “a kangaroo hit my car”, “A dingo ran into me”, “A bird hit my windscreen” – maybe instead of blaming the animals we should instead be saying “I committed a murder of a kangaroo today”, “I was driving too fast to let the Wedge-tailed Eagle get enough height to get off the roadway” or “I didn’t slow down to let that Goanna cross the road safely”.

Got a roadkill story – share it with us by leaving a comment.

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  • 1
    Frank Campbell
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t think people are “foolish” in killing wildlife on the road. This country wallows in ersatz environmentalism. The typical Green is alert to the rights of species, not individual animals. The average Australian cares about neither and drives straight over animals without a qualm. Some do it deliberately. I heard a truck driver boasting to the woman taking his money at the petrol station the other day that he’d killed three kangaroos the night before. Notches on his moronic dick. How is it that my neighbour (80) and I have never killed a roo even though we drive 40,000 km a year on mountain roads? I’ve hit two, but had slowed sufficiently not to do much damage. Every spring in Victoria is the Magpie killing season. I’ve counted up to one per km per day on some stretches of road in the Western District. All it takes to avoid them is a toot and/or avoiding action. On these largely empty rural roads that’s no problem. If a bird is facing the road, it will most likely fly in front of you. The can’t fly backwards. Magpie chicks often will not move at all. Simple knowledge of varied species behaviour would save most. But of course the self-centred human couldn’t give a stuff. Unless it’s an urban dog, of course.

  • 2
    Jenny d'Arcy
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I heard about a guy in Tasmania who, when driving at night, saw a creature he’d never seen before – so he swerved across the road to hit it. The animal turned out to be a female quoll (Not sure which species) with her joeys clinging to her; she was killed, as were all of the juveniles, except one which gave to his partner to care for. (I guess he wasn’t completely devoid of ethics)
    My partner once hit a small kangaroo – he’d moved across to the left of a dirt track to give a pedestrian plenty of room and, as he rounded the bend, the kangaroo leaped out of tall weeds and contact was made before my partner could react. The kangaroo was badly injured, but still alive so my partner had to euthanase it – it was a truly horrible business (he was rather upset; he was still unhappy about the spider he may have accidentally caught in the back door) – which is why I can’t understand why anybody would want to deliberately injure or kill any of our wildlife. What sort of mindset does it take to do that? I shudder to think.

  • 3
    Jon Hunt
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    As unsympathetic as it sounds if they aren’t killed by a vehicle operated by a blood thirsty truckie, they would sooner or later die from something else, excepting probably more slowly. I can remember driving past a flock (?) of emus near the road, and upon the return journey came across three or four of them who had been cleverly struck by something/somebody. There wasn’t much in the way of vegetation to hide them from view. Goodness knows how you could not see half a dozen emus in front of you in time to avoid them. But kangaroos do have a habit of jumping out in front of you, sometimes to stand right in your path with a fixed stare. If they are about I always slow down (quite a novel idea that). So far I’ve not managed to hit anything.

  • 4
    fredex
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    We stop at recent roadkill in our region and check the pouch for young.
    And that is how Mcduff ["from his mother's womb [sic] untimely ripped”], male southern hairy-nosed wombat, entered our lives and lived with us for about 3 years, from when he was half the size of my hand till he was a muscular brute about a metre long and weighing close to 40kg [he was well fed].
    He has left us now, gone to a better place, no he’s not dead, just relocated to a place that is his version of paradise.
    We carry plastic gloves in the car for pouch inspection and have all purpose marsupial powdered milk at home along with essential supplies, just in case we find another baby.

  • 5
    bunjil
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    As a Victorian wildlife rescuer, I am constantly appalled at the attitude of some Australians to the rights of wildlife to live in safety and respect for their being. I have never killed a kangaroo or wallaby in my travels, as I use my knowledge of their territorial paths and habits to drive slowly and keep scanning the roadsides for their appearance.

    Kangaroos and wallabies do not “just jump out” at our cars, rather our cars “just whizz through” their ancient pathways which were transversed long before we came along with our relentless machines pursuing our need to be somewhere at the fastest speed possible.

    To know the habits of wildlife, especially kangaroos and wallabies, when they are on the move, when they are most likely to be out of their resting places looking for food, where they are moving from bush to paddock and water, is to be able to drive carefully and at a reduced speed so as to avoid hitting them with a deadly result.

    From dusk to dawn, the recommended speed is 70kph. When it is misty, drizzling rain, is a time when they are likely to be on the move. When an approaching vehicle is dimming its headlights, and you also dim yours, there is a period of poor vision which means you are less likely to notice a macropod on the side of the road, so it is a good idea to reduce your speed.

    Unless we become more wildlife friendly, we will continue to kill our unique and innocent animals, until, like the Tasmanian Thylacine, there will be none left.

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