The Colonial Kangaroo Hunt
Miegunyah Press, $34.99 pb, 338 pp
As generations of Australian tourists have found, the kangaroo is a far more recognisable symbol of nationality than our generic colonial flag. Both emblematic and problematic, this group of animals has long occupied a significant and ambiguous space in the Australian psyche. Small wonder, then, that Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver have found such rich material through which to explore our colonial history in The Colonial Kangaroo Hunt.
Despite earlier descriptions of smaller pademelons, quokkas, tammars and hare wallabies, it was the descriptions by James Cook and Joseph Banks of large hopping deer or dog-like animals, known to Guugu Yimithirr people as a ‘kanguru’, which brought these animals to European attention. As with many first-contact encounters, a brief moment of wonder swiftly ended in bloodshed, and it is this aspect – the hunt – that Gelder and Weaver focus on. Notwithstanding the long history of Indigenous hunting, they argue that the first shooting of a kangaroo can be seen as a foundational moment in Australian colonial history, foreshadowing cultural and environmental destruction and appropriation. This initial interaction with the forerunners of British colonisation contains many of the elements that the authors draw out in subsequent chapters, including Indigenous conflict, sustenance, sport, science, and aspirations to colonial aristocracy.