Claudette Vaughan of Kangaroo Action, Australia interviews former kangaroo shooter, David Nicholls and finds out why he left the killing behind
1. Please talk about your time as a shooter. Who were you then and who are you now.
I was raised in the 50’s, when attitudes to animals and to kangaroos in particular were fairly dismal to say the least. Shooting kangaroos for sport was very common and my peer group was heavily involved in such activity. I was not a good student for a number of reasons and when it came the time to vacate the nest and to get a job; my opportunities beyond dreary manual work were educationally limited.
An advert appeared in the paper looking for someone to assist in the shooting of kangaroos on a professional level. This I did for a short while and then became a professional in my own right. On first arriving north of Broken Hill, there were large numbers of kangaroos because a thunderstorm had produced good rains in a limited area and the grass was quite good. Some months went by and that number of kangaroos diminished quite rapidly to what might be considered an average figure. Average means a great amount of country and very few kangaroos per square kilometre.
Still, I was quite good at shooting and understanding the habits of kangaroos and I got by with some financial difficulty as the price per kilogram was very low. Payment was around one dollar for a kangaroo if it was a good size. I am very sure the size of kangaroos then and now has altered drastically downward but the price has gone up considerably.
As I was not based in a town, kangaroo shooting did cause problems in the areas of vehicle maintenance, meals and living conditions in general. Self sufficiency was a big lesson I learned quickly and having a resilient character fitted quite well. Kilometres from nowhere living in a very primitive manner is not everyone’s cup of tea as a way of life, but it was mine, and I enjoyed the freedom and the wonder of the Australian outback.
Don’t get me wrong on this, but I was a mere 18 years of age, worldly uneducated to a large degree and I made mistakes concomitant with that position life had dealt me. I was a loose cannon trying to adapt to another culture, for that is what beyond city living is. Not better or worse, just different.
After shooting the first few kangaroos with some unease, even though I had been doing this on weekends for “sport”, I soon fell into the killing mode. Suppressing the actual disquiet of shooting was not that difficult a task, excepting when horrific wounding occurred but the endless killing of Joey’s was a different story. I did it but it always bothered me and it still does. As “hard” a character as I thought I was, getting used to this slaughter of the innocents was never satisfactorily achieved.
Shooting can be very arduous with extreme weather conditions, poor nutrition and equipment failure. A few flat tyres on a stinking hot or freezing cold night can soon turn the kangaroo into the “enemy”. Mental and physical frustration adds to poor shooting and poor attitude with existing terrible wounding rates accelerated. If you are shooting the “enemy”, with the added justification of ridding a menace to landholders, a mind-set is in place to accommodate all kinds of atrocities being accepted.
In those days there was no consideration at all for the at-foot Joey other than that they appeared to escape. On reflection, knowing the huge number of foxes that patrol the killing fields and that are sustained with the by-product of kangaroo processing; the survival rate would have been very low. Foxes would ring the processing area and even come in to take pieces of kangaroo as the “butting” took place. It was not unusual or uncommon, when shinning a spotlight around from this position, to illuminate a hundred or so eyes.
After a couple of years, the privation and other reasons, including the killing of the Joeys, saw me end my stint as a professional kangaroo shooter.
I have deep and hurtful regrets at ever having done this “job” and would advise all contemplating such an endeavour to think again. My involvement now, in being a part of a drive to end kangaroo killing has revived all the bad memories and that is extremely difficult to bear. Worse, is that not many ex-kangaroo shooters are willing to step forward and do likewise and it is left up to me to tell it how it was and is. I have no supernatural or spiritual feelings whatsoever, but there does seem to be a natural justice taking place with me, although that justice will not undo the deeds performed, unfortunately.
2. Why did you change sides?
I began to realise the place of humans on the planet did not come with special and intrinsic rights to do at whim with it and the creatures on it. I slowly turned vegetarian and am now a fully fledged vegan. This does not mean I am a perfectionist vegan, for I am also human! Around this time Peter Singer came into prominence and I soon worked out the commonality of our thoughts and fully realised the tyrannical nature of humanity. Since then, I have never looked back. I feel quite privileged in being an atheist, superstition free and a non spiritual vegan, knowing how the chances of life are hugely stacked against such a stance. I have been very lucky.
3. Have you witnessed any change of atmosphere coming from the general public in regard to their attitudes towards the kangaroo?
The general public has been misinformed about the reasons for kangaroo shooting since the year dot and it is no wonder a mythical tradition has built up, producing ignorance supported by apathy. Over the last few years a slight change seems to have been evolving, largely due to Juliet Gellatley of Viva! and people such as Maryland Wilson, tireless worker for kangaroos and President of Australian Wildlife Protection Council. The letters to newspapers are also reflecting a change of heart and more and more people are questioning the kangaroo killing policy.
Unfortunately, there are those in high academic places abusing their positions of the trust of ordinary citizens, by taking on the self-appointed roles of “saviours” of the environment by promoting kangaroo eating as being of benefit to the arid lands of Australia. This is being done for personal gratification as the evidence does not support them at all. In fact, not only have they got it all wrong, they are doing the “bush” a gross disservice in taking peanuts for a bloodied outback instead of a fortune in tourism. Their stupidity never ceases to amaze me.
Make no mistake, kangaroo shooting will come to an end and their role and the role of all it’s nowadays supporters will be remembered to their detriment. The public can be fooled for most of the time, but not for all of the time.
4. What, in your opinion, is a viable solution to opening up the kangaroo issue? Basically I'm asking you who are best to target?
This question has many answers. Politicians will not react if votes are at risk. The other side of this coin is of course, that votes at risk can move mountains. The people are the votes and they outnumber the interested party’s votes and influence by thousands to one.
The public must be informed that the killing of the kangaroo is only for money and that this is a poor economical choice, given the enormous interest there is in the kangaroo as a tourism icon on a world scale. Any legal and non-violent method that captures the public attention may be required. The world is on the side of the kangaroo, and governments, even though they mouth words that they will not be swayed by outside disapproval, it is a hollow sentiment with no historical support. Time eventually brings all democratic governments into line with world opinion.
Keeping on the backs of governments and their agencies with letters of concern and likewise to newspapers and talk-back radio, all helps.
5. The argument that the best way to sustain our kangaroo is to shoot it. What do you think about that?
Bovine excrement is an understatement. Apart from dismissing out of hand the cruelty issues with the killing, it does not address the relentless taking of the biggest and boldest kangaroos. They are the healthy genetic stock. There is no credible scientific evidence that supports this self explanatory ludicrous proposition, with matching examples, anywhere in the world. This is the worst type of propaganda that is generally only used by dictators and ilk. Tell a big enough lie often enough and the people will believe it. Surround it with loose language such as “culling” (ridding the weak and the informed for the benefit of the species) instead of killing, “field processors” instead of shooters, “dispatched” instead of killed, and “harvesting” instead of shooting etc. and the lie is set deep in the psyche of the unwitting listener.
6. The NSW Game Bill. Are you aware of it and what do you think of it?
I have a scant knowledge of this Bill but I would have to say that because we can call living sentient animals “game” and then allow “sports” people to get their jollies from such anti-social behaviour as killing and wounding, that is a retrograde step for any civilisation to take. Why does society support in attitude and legislation the ideals of the RSPCA? Hunting is in direct opposition to the mores and the laws of the land and is another example of the tail wagging the dog, as is commercial kangaroo shooting, if this Bill is passed.
I really do think that the World had better start re-evaluating its role as dominator of the Planet while we still have one that resembles a beautiful place to live, instead of a desolate ugly rock in space.
The human mind can take us either way: It is that simple.