A reader writes:
Reading your roadkill thread, I’m surprised you haven’t had any Aussies write in. You haven’t really experienced roadkill until you’ve driven Down Under. Wombats regularly take out the undercarriages of cars and leave ugly skid marks and chunks down the road. But it’s really kangaroos that cause the biggest problems. With an estimated 20 million Big Reds – which easily grow to six feet tall in the vast Outback – and several million Eastern Greys that grow almost as big along the Pacific coast, driving Down Under can be downright dangerous. The PBS series Nature actually aired an episode titled Kangaroo Mob (available to watch here) about the dangers of kangaroo overpopulation around the city of Canberra, including driving hazards and the controversial practice of culling.
Rural citizens have what some call “roo-guards” on the fronts of vehicles (see attached photo), but that only offers minimal protection if they hit a big one. My friend who lives in Bathurst, NSW, showed me a photo of the front end of his family sized car after hitting an adult male grey and I was shocked that it looked like he had hit a telephone pole! Kangaroos go farther than just freezing in headlights, my Bathurst friend claims; they charge the lights, making for an especially frightening driving experience. His kids were in the back seat screaming as the animal charged and exploded on impact.
Because of such animal road obstacles, I’ve avoided driving at night in Australia and learned that many rural Aussies only do so when absolutely necessary. I opted for a bus to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the summer of 2012 because we wouldn’t be returning to Alice Springs until midnight. Shortly after sunset I was attempting to doze when I was startled by my traveling companion letting out a blood-curdling scream that I had never heard before, immediately followed by THWACK-THUMP with the bus tires pitching up like they hit a large speed bump. My friend was frozen in place as I asked “Did we hit a roo?!” … all he could do was stare forward and nod in the affirmative while shaking like he had seen a ghost.
In the headlights I could see the road ahead was thick with roos hopping in all directions, many coming very close to suffering the same grizzly fate as their mangled comrade, but luckily they started to thin out and we didn’t have any other incidents. The roo-guard on the bus took most of the impact but the animal was in mid-hop when it hit so the head slapped the glass. But the only damage done was to my friend’s psyche. At a rest stop, the driver pointed out the dents on the side of the bus from other impacts, where we could see head and tail indentations. He bragged that he only brakes for cattle and camels. Comforting.
I’ve probably caused you to wonder if Aussies eat roadkill. Yes, they do, but only about as uncommonly as rural North Americans would butcher roadkill deer. I’ve eaten kangaroo that was properly marinated to remove the gaminess and it tasted like some beef I’ve had, but my Bathurst friend joked that roo meat is not very popular, since half the population considers them vermin and the other half feels guilty about eating the national animal.
Update from a reader:
G’day Andrew. Mate, it’s a roo bar, not a roo guard. And it’s an emblem of a culture. No doubt while in Australia, the reader followed the tried and tested methods for effectively deterring Thylarctos plummetus (drop bear) attacks – placing forks in the hair, having Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears or in the armpits, urinating on yourself, and only speaking English in an Australian accent. In a dangerous land of colourful story tellers, you don’t want to be a few sangers short of picnic, eh?
Roo-bar pie, anyone?
Just a quick note for warning for people thinking of “car-harvesting” next time they hit a deer but also don’t know how to butcher a deer themselves. My dad owned a small locker store when I was growing up. One day a guy who had hit a pretty decent sized deer brought it in to be butchered. After we had processed it, my dad got a call from the guy’s insurance company. They wanted to know the value of the deer meat because they planned to deduct it from what they paid out for the damage to the vehicle. Seriously.