This essay is part of a new Sydney Review of Books essay series devoted to nature writing titled the New Nature. We’ve asked critics, essayists, poets, artists and scholars to reflect on nature in the twenty-first century and to grapple with the literary conventions of writing nature. Look out for a bold series of contemporary engagements with nature and nature writing over the coming months. Read the other essays in the New Nature series here.
Every January: another lamb ad.
In 2015, Richie Benaud hosted an ‘Australia Day’ barbeque, a pantheon of colonial historical figures on his invite list. Benaud gathered the English navigator, Captain James Cook, who remapped and renamed the east coast of this continent in 1770, and Burke and Wills, whose agonising deaths at Coopers Creek in 1861 were possibly in part the result of them coming to rely on the seeds of an aquatic fern, nardoo (Marsilea drummondii), for nutrition.
Burke, Wills and King had observed local Indigenous people harvest nardoo, and were given it to eat, but in the absence of strong relations they failed to correctly imitate Indigenous methods of preparation. Grinding it without sluicing the seeds through water, and consuming the resulting paste raw rather than baked, Burke and Wills probably died from a combination of malnutrition and Vitamin B deficiency—nardoo is rich in the enzyme thiaminase, which would have further blocked their ability to absorb the vitamin. Benaud also invited Ned Kelly. The Irishman was the object of ridicule, possibly a vegetarian, definitely gluten intolerant.
The following year, Lee Lin Chin starred in Operation Boomerang. Playful, militarised multicultural nationalism came to the rescue of those Australian souls faced with the prospect of not eating lamb on 26 January.
Then came the Meat and Livestock Association’s feelgood foray into refugee politics in early 2017.
Indigenous people set up their barbeque in a beautiful spot, commenting that they were ‘first here’. No, this was not Babakiueria, the pre-Bicentenary piss-take, which saw Indigenous actors become intrusive ethnographers exploring the significance of whitefella rituals, places and families. Instead, Indigenous people were the first to barbeque, making welcome successive waves of boat people to eventually host a big gay beach party, fireworks bursting over the water.
Redfern’s Cope Street Collective’s response, the ‘Historically Accurate Lamb Ad’, came quick and funny. Again, two Aboriginal fellas are ‘first here’, arriving at a coastal location coveted by others. In military stripes, grubby coats and bare feet, a couple of white guys steal up the beach, shoot those beginning to barbeque, and pinch the Weber. #changethedate, their advert concludes.
So I am wondering where things stand in this ‘nation of meat-eaters’, as Michael Symons tagged it. This landmass —its tired soils, tough grasses and open vistas—was long ago remade by meat eating, and the colonised continent came to remake meat eating; in the process, squatter’s sheep flocks played a crucial part in the bloody dispossession of Aboriginal people in many southeastern areas and the northern pastoral industry was established on and relied upon a raced, exploited labour force. If Australia’s colonial history ties together beasts, mud, water, crops, death and unequal peoples, what does this past have to do with meat eating today? It is well documented in the US that the repetitive, enervating task of animal slaughter is undertaken by raced, ‘socially invisible’ workers. Is this also true of Australia, whose abattoir workers organised into a militant union throughout the twentieth century? What of halal hysteria? Why pour so much creative energy into urging the consumption of lamb as another summer rolls around?
I haven’t eaten meat since I was 15, apart from little tastes of wardu (wombat) and gibbera (bush turkey), camping with Nunga friends in South Australia, and spontaneously ordering bacon once while pregnant with my eldest son and holidaying on the Adriatic coast. In the first case I was a guest in another’s home, or Country, in the second, I was just having a moment. But for some time I’ve been deeply uneasy with my teenage assumption that vegetarianism provides an innocent vantage point from which to look upon the ecological damage wrought by the industrialised global food system. Of course I’m also caught up in its interconnected processes and the wrecking of waterways, land, and the atmosphere; the damage imprinted on and inhaled by those who labour to produce food on this scale, and ingested and embodied by many of those who consume it. Perhaps even especially so.
I grew up on a small property of sparse paddocks flecked with rocks, where remaining knots of yellow box, stringybarks and bent scribbly gums stand on the hills. My hobby-farming parents raise Angus beef cattle as well as sheep. When I was a kid Dad learned to slaughter lambs himself; I pedaled down to the shed to watch the carcasses swing from a chain and milled around my mum where she labelled plastic bags, into which she divided the rough-hewn cuts. This is no doubt a healthy, relatively responsible way to eat, intimately connected with processes that transform living, breathing creatures into a meal.
In recent years, my partner has turned to hunting, describing the quiet of the bush at night and the pleasure of moving fully across the paddocks I played in as a child by torch- and moon-light, rather than following established tracks. I’ve watched him busily toil, as he carefully gutted, butchered and skinned a buck in the sun. Seeing him hold the knife’s smooth wooden handle and manipulate its sharp blade, tug with his hands at stringy sinew, and scooping out gloopy excess to toss to the dog, I was reminded of journalist Michael Pollan’s emphasis on the physical pleasures of cooking. The satisfaction derived from cooking is perhaps heightened in the age of immaterial labour: chopping, kneading, stirring, weighing and creating something tangible and aromatic can be immensely satisfying after a day spent dealing with screens and squiggles.
But a longer family history connects me more deeply and darkly to the wealth derived out of animal killing in a settler colonial society. My great-grandfather was the Australian general manager of London-based meat processing company Borthwicks between 1911 and 1945, my grandfather’s twin later taking over this mantle among other roles in the northern meat industry, while my grandfather became, eventually, a Western District grazier.
The official history of Borthwicks relates that in mid-nineteenth-century England, Thomas Borthwicks, the son of a butcher, observed the emaciation of growing urban populations—Malthus’s ‘crowded masses’— and hoped to remedy it. Meanwhile, in the Antipodean colonies, ‘Large flocks roamed over huge tracts of land, unfenced and tended by lonely shepherds.’ Wool was exported, along with a little canned meat, however whenever the price of wool slumped, sheep were boiled for tallow.
This was to change in 1879, when a group of Queensland squatters installed refrigeration technology on a chartered ship, dispatching frozen beef, mutton and lamb from Port Jackson to the Port of London. A carcass of lamb was presented to Queen Victoria a little over two months later. Borthwicks seized on this development. By the early twentieth century, his firm had acquired freezing works in Waitara on the North Island of Aoteaoroa/New Zealand and in Portland, Victoria and steadily became involved in other aspects of the meat export supply chain.
So because of that meat money, generated by Presbyterian capitalists, whose ventures enjoined the fact of Indigenous dispossession with the hunger of an industrial economy’s newly urban poor, passed down to my generous baby boomer parents and then transferred to me, I have managed to secure myself a Sydney-sized mortgage and a freezer in the Western suburbs filled with cuts of venison (the rubbing of deer antlers trashes native vegetation), diced feral goat (their hooves erode already degraded hillsides), and bags of minced kangaroo (their numbers swell across rangelands in some seasons). And still I buy my hunks of packaged tofu from the local Korean grocery store, as if agri-business’s soy mono cropping makes possible… what … an ‘ethical’ way to eat?
In September 1790, around two hundred Aboriginal people gathered to eat a whale carcass, which had washed up on Manly beach. Bennelong was present; the smallpox epidemic survivor had escaped after being kidnapped in December 1789, at which point the colony faced starvation. For the colonists, these were ‘the hungry years’, as mid-twentieth century historians characterised them. Governor Arthur Phillip came late to the feasting, and it was here that he was speared above the right collarbone with a shaft that emerged on his lower back, for reasons that can only be speculated about now: Inga Clendinnen hypothesised that this was a ritual spearing, to settle accumulated grievances.
While a whale carcass occasioned collective feasting, the Sydney Basin provided a plentiful supply of fish and sea-food such as oysters year-round. As with the rainforests rich with protein-packed nuts, from which toxins were leached with running water, this area and others on teeming waterways supported high population densities prior to colonisation.
Early colonists also ate fish to supplement rations, among broader experiments with native foodstuffs and flavours. Roasted ground wattle seed might sound like a hipster-foodie thing but historians have unearthed the place of local ingredients in the early colonial diet. Charlotte Craw writes, ‘The British settlement at Port Jackson was a hotpot of adventurous eating in 1788 as the starving newcomers tried desperately to supplement rations with local flora and fauna.’ The records and recipe books show that echidna, seals, wombats, swans, lyrebirds, wild geese, snakes, fruit bats and possum were eaten. Mina Rawson’s 1895 Antipodean Cookbook included recipes for parrots, wallaby, wild mushrooms, fig tree shoots and native pigweed, and Rawson also encouraged readers to eat grasshoppers and witjuti grubs.
Kangaroo was particularly prominent in Tasmania. James Boyce describes the emergence of Van Diemen’s Land’s ‘kangaroo economy’ in the early nineteenth century, a crucial development in scorbutic convicts’ return to health. While there was talk of starvation and famine, Boyce argues that this should be understood as a particular kind of anguish associated with the dearth of that British staple, bread. In fact, kangaroo was in steady supply. Boyce shows that most convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land accessed far greater amounts of protein from a variety of sources than did labourers in England in the same period. But as hunters moved further and further afield Aboriginal people resisted their incursions and by the mid-1820s the colony had descended into a devastating frontier war.
The kangaroo economy itself was short-lived: by 1820 mutton was the principal meat consumed by British people living in Van Diemen’s Land. And native foodstuffs disappeared from recipe books by the early twentieth century, although these always made a minor contribution in other places.
Michael Symons classic gastronomic history of Australia, which stressed the central role of meat, remains illuminating. Symons’ starting point is not that Australian food habits were derived, in a generic sense, from English and Irish ones. The more specific historic detail was important: Australia inherited the English diet of a particular moment in time, after peasants were moved off their land and into urban areas by the upheaval of enclosures.
In this period, new categories of crime such as petty theft and industrial sabotage were created—and circumstances necessitated partaking in them—developments that led to those hulks overflowing with convicted felons. To New South Wales, this riffraff brought with them little gardening knowhow, although there were of course exceptions. But many of those shipped to the colony were dependent on the monotonous, nutritionally deficient factory fare of early industrial capitalism. Or they were Irish, and colonisation had already brutalised that local population as English landlords usurped land for grazing and grains. In summary: ‘the continual devastation reduced the rich Irish culture and agriculture to an impoverished life sustained by a single, safely stored, nutritious arrival, the potato’.
Symons details that while the First Fleet’s decks had been optimistically ‘crowded with pens of sheep, hogs, goats, kids, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, pigeons, dogs and cats’, and cows and horses were taken aboard at the Cape of Good Hope, ‘cattle died at sea or were sacrificed as fresh meat’, and in late 1788, the ‘remaining herd … wandered off into the bush’, and were only rediscovered in 1795. Grazing, of course, eventually expanded. In the nineteenth century sheep and later cattle grazing became hugely profitable, helping create an itinerant, overwhelmingly male workforce sustained by monotonous rations—flour, meat, sugar, tea and salt. The colonial diet put a premium on portability, hence unleavened damper, but also, again, involved the consumption of meat in quantities unimaginable among the equivalent social classes of England in the same period.
Eric Rolls described the ecological destruction this expansion set in train. As the colony began to ‘thrive’, in material terms, many Australian grasses floundered. ‘They were accustomed to fire, to drought and flood, to deficiency of nitrogen and phosphorous, to the gentle feeding of sharp-toothed kangaroos at the clumped butts, and the picking of their seeds by parrots and pigeons and rats.’ As grazing took hold, new conditions proved favourable for more hardy species, while other species struggled. ‘They have never had their whole seed heads snatched in one mouthful; they had never been trampled by cloven hooves; their surface roots had never run in hard ground.’
Some of Symons’ assumptions now seem dated. Symons described the continent as ‘never cultivated’: for him Australia was inhabited by ‘hunter gatherers’ and then switched to an industrialised food supply, never supporting an agrarian society. Brief mention is made of the Aboriginal use of fire as a kind of ‘husbandry’ but Symons largely gives the impression that prior to colonisation Indigenous people were best described as ‘hunter gatherers’ and as such ‘scarcely disturbed the prehistoric world in search of nourishment’.
Contemporary readers are no doubt aware of Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage’s interventions into this notion. When Indigenous author Bruce Pascoe revisits the beginnings of grazing, he points out ‘the settlers hardly had to fell a tree to begin grazing stock, but almost none credited these conditions to Aboriginal management’. Gammage and Pascoe both stress that this was a human-created continent, shaped especially by fire.
One of the many reasons for Aboriginal people’s frequent, low intensity burning was to ensure a regular supply of larger game, such as kangaroos, which were attracted to the open grasslands. More contemporary uses of fire for small game hunting in Martu country, in north west Australia, gives insight into how fire is still used by some Aboriginal people to access and renew a bush food supply. Anthropologists Douglas Bird and Rebecca Bliege Bird describe the way Martu women and children hunt with a wana (digging stick), to go after smaller burrowing game. Clearing the spinifex savanna using fire makes it easier to collect burrowed sand goannas, lizards, and also pythons, feral cat, skinks and ridge-tailed goanna. The cessation of burning after Martu people left the Western Desert in the 1960s and moved into permanent settlements resulted in a loss of small-sized marsupial species and plant diversity in the area, the Birds show. From the 1980s, Martu people resumed mosaic burning, and the food supply increased.
Pascoe also details the import of grain, which was stored, to the pre-colonial Aboriginal diet across dry regions; in wetter areas, yam daisy was a crucial staple. Yam daisy beds were carefully regenerated near water sources and when sheep moved in they trampled these crops, and fouled water, precipitating frontier violence in many areas.
The cruelty of the northern pastoral industry, which was established in the late nineteenth century, is well known. Oral historian Charlie Ward characterises the regime that was established as ‘rawhide feudalism’, in which Aboriginal people ‘lived as second-class citizens during the dry season, and enjoyed a semblance of traditional life each monsoonal summer’. This was an era that came to the end with the 1966 Gurindji walk-off, of which Ward provides a vivid and complex account in his 2016 book A Handful of Sand.
Gurindji people at Wave Hill station were under the employ of Vesteys, a giant of the beef industry in the twentieth century. This British family company were absentee landlords who obtained vast pastoral holdings in the Northern Territory and northwest Western Australia between 1914 and 1916, and ‘were long regarded as poor employers who were keen to monopolise the beef industry in Australia’, according to historian Geoffrey Gray. ‘An empire almost as large as England’, wrote Frank Hardy, ‘and rented for peppercorns.’ Vesteys, among other large land-holders, consistently flaunted regulations that required them to make ‘improvements’ to the country under their control; inquiries conducted in the first half of the twentieth century highlighted the soil erosion and overstocking that resulted from their non-compliance. Towards the end of the second world war the anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt conducted a survey at Vesteys’ behest, documenting the conditions and treatment of Aboriginal workers and their dependents on some of the company’s holdings. Vestey engaged these young researchers for their own reasons: they wanted to find out how to bolster their Aboriginal workforce as Aboriginal men left to work in army camps or to enlist. Meanwhile, Vesteys won the contract to supply meat to the Australian armed forces.
The Berndts hoped to capture what they called an ‘[A]boriginal viewpoint’, which would spur change to the conditions they described. Within weeks of arriving at Wave Hill the young couple formed the opinion that the substandard diet of those Aboriginal people camped on the Wave Hill lease as well as that of the station’s Aboriginal workforce needed urgent attention. Those camping received rations of flour, sugar, a pinch or small fist of tea, tobacco and occasionally treacle. The flour was riddled with weevils. Employees received a slice of dry bread, a billy of tea and a little meat three times a day. Stockmen worked for six and half or seven days a week. They were, the Berndts observed, exhausted. The Berndts attributed the prevalence of sores among those Aboriginal people with whom they talked to malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. The health of Gurindji country, Ward says, also deteriorated terribly in this period: there was no upper limit on stock, and cattle joined with feral donkeys to degrade the station’s waterways.
The Berndts’ report had little impact. But wartime experiences, of equal wages and interactions with different kinds of whitefellas, spurred Gurindji activism throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The story from here on in is told in a well-known song and an iconic image: equal wages and land rights legislation were realised in decades to come. Lesser known is the story Ward sensitively attends to: the difficulties and disappointments that followed as Gurindji strived to run a cattle business on their own terms after 1972. There were many factors at play: inter-generational tensions; changing gender relations; the legion contradictions of the self-determination era, in which Aboriginal people might have ambitious commercial goals, which they never held or expressed, imputed to them by well-meaning advisers, quickly losing control of enterprises supposedly under their direction.
And then came the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign. Ward describes this as a ‘land-management revolution dressed as an animal health initiative’. The campaign arrived at Wave Hill in 1979-1980. It involved transforming the north’s large, barely fenced properties into smaller paddocks with more watering points for cattle. The demands for testing and monitoring made it inadvisable to muster without helicopters, although Gurindji people persisted in working manually as the rest of the industry machinated. The era in which skilled Indigenous horsemen were critical to northern pastoralism was finally over. And the shift to live export from the 1980s onwards further transformed the industry. Despite this, Indigenous enterprises remain in the present, some of them reportedly thriving.
Aboriginal people were exploited as they mustered living, lowing animals around their ancestral country and droving them further afield. Those cattle were destined for market and mealtimes. In turning my attention to the next stage of the process, I’ve found deeper and richer accounts of meat-work outside of Australia.
American political scientist Timothy Pachirat, for example, went undercover and took a job in a Nebraskan slaughterhouse in 2004. For six months Pachirat undertook low wage, monotonous, and malodorous work full-time on the ‘kill floor’, working Monday-Friday, nine to twelve hours a day alongside eight hundred non-unionised workers, the vast majority of them immigrants and refugees from Central and South America, Southeast Asia and East Africa. His experience resulted in a gripping account of industrialised killing from the perspective of those who participate in it, Every Twelve Seconds.
Pachirat details each of the 121 distinct tasks associated with the job of killing one steer or heifer every twelve seconds, undertaken repetitively. While a liver hanger, he explains, cold air seeped though multiple layers of clothing, settled under his skin and crept into his bones: the cooler temperature ranged from 0 to 2 degrees Celsius. The 121 tasks, which involve handling knives, electric saws, hydraulic shears, and high pressure hoses and demand different levels of skill, also include tail cutter, spinal cord remover, kidney dropper, tongue trimmer, and number 36, the ear/nose cutter, in which a hand knife is used to slice off the left ear and left nostril of cow. This worker stands on the floor and wears full- face shield to protect against copious amounts of blood. Pachirat even voluntarily takes a turn as a ‘knocker’, pulling the trigger, a decision his coworkers condemn. It’s then he discovers that even those working in a slaughterhouse have distanced themselves from the actual killing: those 121 jobs are actually 120 jobs plus one. The knocker alone carries the moral burden of animal death. Pachiract concludes that the industrial slaughterhouse, ‘authorises physical, linguistic, and social concealment to allow those who consume the products of this violence to remain blind to it’. By ‘social concealment’ he refers to the fact this work is undertaken by socially invisible members of society, particularly non-citizens. Smell cannot be contained, however, and Pachirat describes it as miasmic, a kind of vapour that seeped out of the slaughterhouse and into the surrounding town.
That’s Crazy Ol’ America for you, right? A low-wage economy afloat on non-white undocumented migrants where anyone can buy a gun. Here, the meat industry has long been strongly unionised and wages relatively high. The official history of Borthwicks recounts that in the 1930s the Australian Meat Employees’ union resisted the introduction of the chain system, which transformed butchering from skilled work into factory-like tasks. The Depression, however, saw wages cut; a strike ensued and the chain was installed before workers returned.
But more fragmentary examples suggest it is precarious, non-white workers who increasingly undertake meat-processing work in Australia, too. Political economist Frank Stillwell undertook a short study of an influx of Afghan Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) holders into the New South Wales town of Young in the early 2000s. At this time, Burrangong Meat Processors was the area’s largest employer, but struggled to secure a workforce. Stillwell found that workers stayed for an average of six months, disliking the ‘unpleasant work’, undertaken for ‘modest remuneration’. At one point over 80 Hazara TPV-holders were employed on a casual basis. Despite opponents to their presence arguing their hiring served to undercut wages, Stillwell found wages above award and uniform across Burrangong. Stillwell stressed the economic and social benefits of this scenario, arguing against the uncertainty of TPV status (a visa category since abolished and then reintroduced). Many of the Afghans he interviewed were from rural backgrounds and wished to stay in the region; while a racist leaflet was circulated locally, other community members volunteered as language tutors and formed personal bonds with the men. Another glimpse of these categories of workers in the contemporary meat industry: Borthwicks, I discovered, still has a presence in the Australian industry. In 2011 the company was sued by a Brazilian worker on a temporary visa, who alleges he suffered incapacitating work injuries after performing repetitive tasks with insufficient breaks.
A story more recent and grim than the one Stillwell tells about Young caught the attention of Australian media in 2010. A 34-year-old Punjabi man, Sarel Singh, died in a chicken processing plant when a fast-moving machine he was in the process of cleaning decapitated him. Singh’s co-workers were in fact heavily organised by the National Union of Workers, and a prolonged strike in the year after his death lifted wages and safety standards. The plant’s owner, Baiada Group, is a big player in the chicken market, producing the Lilydale and Steggles brand, and counts the big two supermarkets, and a host of multinational fast-food chains among its customers. Cheap cheap, goes this chicken. While Rolls was right to rue the impact of the hard hooves of cloven-footed animals on Australian soils, Australians, like Americans, now eat more chicken than they do lamb and beef, consumption of which continues to fall. Scientifically-enhanced chicken typify Raj Patel and Jason Moore’s analysis of the intertwined histories of imperialism, capitalism and climate change and the making of cheap nature, cheap food and cheap work.
In 2013 Baiada was in the news again with regards to underpayment of overseas workers. This eventually resulted in a Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWO) investigation into Baiada’s use of a complex supply chain involving layers of subcontractors, many of them entities that seemed to quickly dissolve upon the FWO making contact, as they were suddenly deregistered. A labour pool of 417 holiday visa holders (with work rights), from Taiwan and Hong Kong, were engaged to work grueling hours, at piece rates, living in crowded houses. ‘Thirty workers engaged within the Pham Poultry supply chain were housed in a six bedroom house with two bathrooms, with the supervisor having one bedroom for her exclusive use. Each worker was required to pay $100 per week, deducted from their wages.’ And this is how one such job was advertised on a Taiwanese site: ‘Chicken factory urgently recruiting male employees high salary … “not white job” but the weekly rate at least will get to 900 Australian dollars.’ Baida pledged to clean up its practices and compensate underpaid workers but stories keep on cropping up, here and there, claiming my attention but briefly.
‘What we eat, abstain from eating and serve for others to eat has always held a latent potential for violence’, writes Shakira Hussein. In her arresting 2017 essay on the ‘weaponisation’ of food, Hussein attends a Reclaim Australia rally where pork sausages are proudly served, noting also that bacon rashers have desecrated prayer mats in the Bankstown hospital prayer room, and Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim Association have received bacon in the mail. Hussein gains insight into the revulsion that eating halal-certified food seems to induce in Islamaphobes after organisers of another far-right event offer her a cupcake. The prospect of eating it gave rise to physical disgust. But the latent violence of the settler colonial past and present, the violence of the contemporary slaughterhouse and the chicken processing plant is so ubiquitous it remains hard to taste, hard to see, hard to face.
I am not imploring anyone to eat differently: the brilliant feminist geographer Julie Guthman, among others, has steered me away from a narcissistic politics of individual consumption. Guthman hears missionary overtures in her white middle-class Californian students’ fervent hopes to bring good food to (and change the habits of) working-class black others. We can’t all go hunting, obvs. But a constellation of circumstances, and the processes under examination here, have made it possible for my partner to kill some of the animals he eats, and when he next goes hunting I tag along.
We need only to walk five minutes, along the dam bank’s rim and up the hill, before finding a mob of kangaroos spread out across the paddock, nibbling grass, their movements languid. They notice us and edge away slowly, resuming their eating. Shane creeps closer; I shadow him. Selecting a male, his first shot misses, but the sharp, sudden sound has my ears ringing, and smoke hangs in the night air. The kangaroos are startled and hop about but not away: quickly the scene is restored.
We creep closer again, and a roo stands, alert. It is about 20 metres away, directly in front. Shane’s second shot kills this kangaroo clean. An owl reels out of the leaves of a nearby gum, and flap flaps away over the hills. Kangaroos scatter, although one stops to linger for a while, turning towards us and watching as we go over to the dead animal. Shane gives the slayed kangaroo’s warm belly a ruffle, running his hands through soft fur as one would pat a dog—affectionate, comforting. The second kangaroo bounds slowly down the gully.
Shane cuts a vee into the fur, the jagged sound that of material cut with blunt scissors. Freaky to me are its little black paws, with shiny claws as delicate as quills. Flung over the front of its body as if it was napping on a hot day, Shane gently moves them aside.
Kangaroo flesh is a deep rich burgundy, but parts of the kangaroo have mottled whites and streaks of yellow—the fat. The goriest sight is the bullet’s entry point, where the blood is bright and the body parts a mess. Otherwise it is so strange to see all of the same body parts that are inside of me, inside of this guy: neatly and compactly arranged, all connected to each other. We package the hindquarters away to mince and make bolognaise, We talk as he butchers: On other nights, says Shane, he’s seen kangaroos much more skittish, frightened of the shots. And deer involve much more stealthy tracking. He confesses a fear that he would shoot poorly, causing pain, and would have to bludgeon an animal to death in front of me. I think of the Hemingway story in which Margot’s response to her husband’s hunting eventually results in her blowing his head off from a car window. I agree it’s a good thing his aim was accurate. Shane carefully rolls up the hide to salt and send away to be tanned.
We leave the carcass for the crows.
We’re grateful to Create NSW for funding the New Nature project.
Douglas Bird, et al, Women who hunt with fire, Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2004(1), 90-96.
James Boyce, Van Diemen’s Land, Black Inc, Melbourne, 2008.
Inga Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2005.
Charlotte Craw, Gustatory Redemption? Colonial Appetites, Historical Tales and the Contemporary Consumption of Australian Native Foods, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 2012, 5 (2), 13-24.
Lois Davey, Margaret Macpherson & F.W. Clements, The hungry years: 1788–1792: A chapter in the history of the Australian and his diet, Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand, 1945, 3(11), 187-208.
Godfrey Harrison, Borthwicks. A Century in the Meat Trade, 1863-1963. Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, London, 1963.
Geoffrey Gray, Abrogating responsibility? Applied anthropology, Vesteys, Aboriginal labour, 1944-1946. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2001, 27-39.
Geoffrey Gray,’A wealthy firm like Vesteys give us our opportunity.’ An attempt to reform the Northern Territory cattle industry, Journal of Northern Territory History, 2005, 37-54.
Julie Guthman, Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies 15(4), 2008, 431-447.
Frank Hardy, The Unlucky Australians, Nelson, Melbourne, 1968.
Raj Patel and Jason Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, University of California Press, Oakland, 2017.
Timothy Pachirat, Every Twelve Seconds, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011.
Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu, Magabala Books, Broome, 2014.
Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Penguin Press, New York, 2013.
Eric Rolls, A Million Wild Acres, Nelson, Melbourne, 1981.
Frank Stilwell, Refugees in a Region: Afghans in Young, NSW, Urban Policy and Research, 21:3, 2003, 235-248
Charlie Ward, A Handful of Sand, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne, 2016.