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Tougher Than Nails

Jeff Simmermon describes kangaroo hunting in the Australian outback

In "The Kangaroo Shooter” (Issue 17), Jeff Simmermon writes about what it was like to live and work alongside a professional kangaroo hunter (known to readers only as Craig) for eight memorable days and nights in the Australian outback. Recently, staff writer Alana Coates talked to Simmermon about his time in Australia and the questions his piece leaves unanswered.

Was this the only time you went ’roo shooting?
Oh, absolutely! Craig called me back a few weeks later to see if I wanted to go on another trip—he was impressed with my work. I needed the money, but nuh-uh.

What does kangaroo taste like?
Kinda gamy. It’s very dark meat and very low in fat. It’s not unlike venison. Kangaroos are almost all fast-twitch muscle, which is what makes meat dark. A kangaroo’s very existence is a constant workout, so they have almost no fat on them at all. It’s incredibly rich and can give the uninitiated some heavy, urgent intestinal experiences. When cooking it, it’s best to sear it on both sides and leave the middle raw. Fresh off the barbie, it’s delicious. Cook it too long and you might as well have yourself a Goodyear sandwich.

Tell us what happened on the eighth night, when you guys were driving back to Perth with a load of meat on the truck.
Well. We kind of sat around all day and got real excited. I probably had packed my bag up by noon, and then it was just a matter of locking up the ute [pickup truck], hiding the petrol, tools and anything else that might be stolen [in Craig’s absence], then waiting for sunset. We waited until the sun was low enough so that the shadow from the fridge stretched over the ute, then backed the trailer up and started loading four and a half tons of chilled kangaroo carcass in the trailer.

Once that was done, we tied tarps all over the top of the trailer to keep the flies off, cooked up the rest of our food, had a big dinner and a shitload of coffee and went home.

We had this Tupperware container in the cab of the ute, full of cooked sausages, and two gallons of water. The rule was, since I was riding shotgun, I was not allowed to fall asleep, because it would make Craig fall asleep. There’s no radio signal out in that part of the outback, and no pulling over for coffee. So we ate sausages to keep ourselves awake … just the sensory gear-shift that came from chewing spicy meat sort of helped us wake up.

We also drank shitloads of water, the idea being that it’s really hard to sleep when you have to pee. We just tried to sort of have to pee for the whole drive as a backup plan in case the sausages didn’t work, and pulled over when we absolutely couldn’t stand it anymore. I nodded off one time, so he did too, for a couple of seconds. He must have jerked awake, terrified, because all of a sudden he was shouting at me, “Quick, mate! Fuckin’ wake up!!! I can’t risk killing us andwasting all this fuckin’ meat! Eat a sausage! Take a piss! Just fucking do something and stay awake!!!

At any point were you tempted toward vegetarianism?
No. I’m not going to get all Ted Nugent here, but vegetarianism in the twenty-first century is no more natural than eating steroid-soaked meat. Ask anyone who’s ever worked as a fruit-picker. Don’t even get me started on veganism. That’s an eating disorder that’s popular among hippies and judgmental emo-rockers, if you ask me. And not to get all granola on you here either, but we’re all on this big wheel of life. And it takes death to make life, plain and simple. I strongly believe that if you are going to eat meat, you have a responsibility to participate in that cycle at some point and understand what it is you’re really doing. I mean, a cow does not just walk up to a palette of Styrofoam containers and smilingly allow itself to be shrink-wrapped. There’s a potentially unpleasant backstory to every burger you bite, and if you’re going to do that, you owe it to the wheel of life to get some blood on your hands. [Animal sciences professor] Temple Grandin has a number of fascinating ideas about this, if you are keen to do some reading on the subject.

Also, my story makes a big production of how violent and disgusting the kangaroo hunting was, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s the best way to get meat that I can imagine. Those things are as free-range and organic as it gets, and barring the odd accident, they never have any idea what’s happening to them. Kangaroos are nearly impossible to factory-farm and they’re this weird combination of stupid and wilful, so they jump over or through any fence they come across.

Craig and his peers are also choosing to be ’roo shooters. They’re not illegal aliens that have to work in slaughterhouses to support their families. These are not guys that are easily brutalized or taken advantage of, and there’s no way some foreman can push them around in a factory slaughterhouse sort of workplace. If you have read Fast Food Nation, or The Jungle (as everybody should—that’s any meat-eater’s second responsibility), then you know the repulsive, shocking conditions in slaughterhouses. Kangaroo shooting is the exact opposite of that.

Long story short, and soapbox aside, I eat meat, and ate meat three meals a day while we were shooting. At one point while breaking kangaroo legs with a machete and tagging the carcasses through the rectal cavity, I caught myself daydreaming about the steaks we were going to fry up once the night’s work was over.

Did you shoot any other wild animals besides kangaroos?
’Roos were kinda scarce out there, so we shot feral goats to make up in sheer meat poundage. Feral goats are also a real problem in Western Australia, along with foxes and house cats. Basically, the ecosystem in Australia is so highly specialized and fragile that introduced species just go nuts there and really wreck shop. Goats get huge and will gnaw water pipes out in the bush, causing tremendously expensive leaks of precious water. Consequently, it is perfectly legal to just roll out and shoot a bunch of goats on a slow afternoon, and just leave ’em where they fall.

Did ’roo shooting shatter any of your preconceived notions about Australia, Australians or kangaroos?
Hmmm. Not really. If anything, it just confirmed some. It taught me something, though: Australians are the toughest white people on earth. They’re incredibly hardworking, friendly and can be very harsh—but it ends quickly. They say exactly what they are thinking the moment they think it, regardless of the consequences. You always know where you are with Aussies, and it’s usually a pretty fun place. I also learned that kangaroos are very well equipped to defend themselves. They have this massive sharp claw on the front of their foot, and if necessary, they will grab a potential threat with their paws, rear back on their tails, and literally kick the attacker’s guts out. I got kicked by a lot of dying kangaroos, and it still hurts sometimes…

What happened after you came home from the ’roo shooting (and what happened with your Australian girlfriend)?
I went to Natasha’s work and looked for her. She had no idea when I was coming home, and I thought I would surprise her. I got hassled by the cops on the train because I reeked, and my shirt was filthy and bloodstained. My shoes were just wearable scabs. I took the longest, hottest shower of my life, cleaned the hell out of my fingernails, and then Tash came home. We reconnected … I’ll leave that to your imagination. I stayed in Australia for maybe four more months, then had to come home. We have since broken up.

Do kangaroos give you nightmares now?
No, not at all. They make me feel pretty weird, though. I live right down the street from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and when I see them in their little habitat, I just feel completely bizarre. I can’t look at them without thinking about dragging them someplace by their back legs. I like them, though, and I kind of want to apologize at the same time.