Snoopy was simply one more of the hapless and helpless victims to experience the same rude interruption to what should have been his natural life. Safe and warm in his mother’s pouch one minute; abruptly swung and jolted as she tried to bound to refuge and freedom; then her sudden hard fall that had to hurt, despite his ample cushioning. Harsh hands searched for him in what had been his sanctuary. But then he was found, and pulled rudely from the familiar warmth into the horror of blinding light, and gruff and alien sounds. The smell of fear thickened the swirling dust all around, as his captor triumphantly held him high for the others to see.
“I’ll just put this little bugger out of his misery,” he said, taking a firm grasp of the baby’s tail as he spoke, moving towards a nearby tree. Horror filled my heart. I could see what he planned.
Hours earlier the men had been discussing the increasing problems presented by the build-up of kangaroo numbers on their large farms???a serious concern in this area???in the middle of the wheatbelt area of Western Australia.
“Bastards! Fair dinkum, they’re eating us out of ‘ere,” Jack said, and took another gulp of his beer. “What with the lousy bloody prices we’re getting for the few bloody sheep can go to market, we’re sure not plannin’ to feed goddamn ‘roos as well.”
“You’re not wrong there, Jack.” Pat’s brow was deeply furrowed, his mouth tight as he put his can of beer down so hard, some came splashing out of the top.
“Should see my crop,” he continued. “Whole mob of circles all laid down flat like a lizard drinkin’, where the bastards turn around a few times, and make ’emselves a bloody bed in the long stuff.”
Frowns deepened; voices became louder, more aggressive and aggrieved as the farmers’ anger grew. Each had a story of damage to the crops they had nurtured and nursed, like their own precious children. They had more than enough to worry about with the things they couldn’t control???like the weather. This was ‘make or break’ country. It didn’t need extra hardships.
“Didja hear about Sam’s sheep gettin’ into our north paddock last week?” Jack’s face reddened and the skin around his eyes and mouth tightened. “Bloody buggers went straight through the break in the fence a ‘boomer’ made when his jump wasn’t high enough. Got trapped, well and truly, didn’t he? Serve the bugger right, but he must have thrashed about a bit before he died. The fence was cactus. Bloody great hole like a ‘welcome’ gateway for the sheep, wasn’t it? I reckon near half’er Sam’s bloody flock got into my crop.”
The others shook their heads, and muttered and sighed in sympathy. My eyes met Kanute’s unhappily. I tried to reconcile my love of these creatures with this unexpected and unsuspected viewpoint of the farmers. Here was a serious challenge to my way of thinking. The animal lover inside of me recoiled.
Our mate Sam was a quiet man and he had been silently listening; thinking deeply; and nodding in agreement???until now. Suddenly Sam spoke up.
“Time for a ‘cull’ fellers???have to go shoot a few. They’re getting out of hand. Hell, I like them orright, but our land can’t carry them, as well as our stock. Poor bloody sheep have enough trouble getting their tucker without the ‘roos stealing the feed out from under their noses. Jeez, how many kangas do you reckon we’re running to the acre?” And before anyone else could reply, Sam answered himself. “Too bloody many! That’s how many. Time’s come to stop talking about it, and go do something. Whatcha reckon?” This was a major speech for him. None could doubt his feelings.
“Too right Sam,” Pat was nodding his head vigorously. His eyes lit up like an eager puppy’s.
“Yair. Let’s go get ’em. We’ll frighten a few more away at the same time.” Sam stood up. His mind was most definitely decided.
They all threw the remainders of their tinnies down their throats, noisily pushed back their chairs and headed, as one, towards the back door, and their motley pile of boots. Sometimes they would even take them off to come inside. Yes, right??? sometimes!
Sam’s other near-neighbour, Jack, turned to Kanute and me???the ‘city slickers’ sharing their table, fascinated by the conversation and the direction it was taking. To tell the truth, we were desperately unsure what direction we should be following now. Jack challenged us with a twinkle in his eye, and a wry twist to his mouth.
“What about you townies? Coming with us?”
Sounded exciting to us then, an adventure. Quicker than you could imagine, these usually slow-moving easy-going farmers stirred themselves into action, and gathered spotlights and rifles. Kanute and I piled into the front of Sam’s utility with him, and the other farmers stood on the open back holding tightly to the tall cargo rail behind the cab. The trusty spotlights were already strapped on the same rail, with a fixture capable of swivelling every which way, allowing the shooters to have both hands free. These were no ‘cowboys’ out on a shooting spree.
These were men dedicated to their land and their stock, and they were going out to meet and eradicate this threat to the well-being of all they worked for. We drove off into the inky darkness of the farthest paddocks where scrub met open land??? and waited.
All that followed next fulfilled our expectations of a unique event. Most of the first hour was spent following false alarms, ending in only more fruitless searching???until one of the spotlights picked up a slight movement of a tussock of grass.
Suddenly, we realised a small mob grazed quietly and closely to thick scrub. They were too far away for even the best marksman’s range,?? but near enough to see how the red alert of our alien sound and smell flickered amongst the peacefully grazing group. It was as if an electric current passed through the mob as they abruptly stood tall. For a moment nothing moved except their sonar tracker ears, swivelling backwards and forwards, and then a deep sinking down saw the mighty springs of their muscles coil for flight. In three, maybe four huge leaps they were gone into the trees.
Abruptly all was quiet again, as we slowly crossed the paddock in lowest gear until we found a likely spot beside a small thicket of trees. Here we waited silently???hopeful of movement resuming.
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