This one’s a children’s story I wrote recently. It’s about kangaroo culling and drought. Hope you like it.
Cracks grew deep in the barren, parched soil; baked hard like a wrinkled old face. Hot and dusty – the sort of dust that got in your bones. No rain, no clouds, just the blazing hot, unforgiving sun. We have owned, lived and loved on this property for twenty-four years. Twenty-four dry, hard years that neither man nor beast could enjoy. We pray for rain. When will our prayers be answered?
I stand outside our homestead gazing across a barren horizon. I feel hot breeze on my cheeks and I taste the dust in my mouth. I see a dust devil – some call them whirly-whirly’s – rise up and start to spin its pocket of hot air. As I peer across the olive plantation, the smouldering heat begins to play tricks with my eyes. The trees look blurry as nature’s fever glistens upon the air.
Drought conditions are a worsening bad dream; only tufts full of yellow, knee-high grass are left. The native animals, kangaroos especially, are near death’s door. They are each waging a brave and desperate struggle to find food and water.
The dams are pitifully low. Our hearts are heavy with worry, as soon we will have to disconnect the pipes and turn off the olive plant watering system, going back to watering by hand. Even in day time, kangaroos are scattered like battle-weary soldiers amongst the olive trees, simply to nibble the juicy tips of young leaves. They hold a desperate hunger that makes them brave enough to come close to the homestead in search of food.
Then, as I sit on the veranda, I overhear my dad and uncle having a conversation about a practice they call ‘culling’.
“I say we target the big grey males first. It’ll disperse the herd,” says Dad.
“It’s time to go spotlighting tonight,” adds my uncle, then he calls me and asks, ”Can I count on you to hold the spotlight, Paulie?”
In answer I nod obediently. I really have no other choice.
As darkness falls, so do my spirits. Doubts fill my mind and I start to feel uneasy and nervous about killing our native animals. I realize the battalion-sized troops of kangaroos on our land are a pest, but I am a stranger to the act of ending the life of any living thing. It is not something I have ever done before.
We set off in the “Bushpig”, my name for our trusty old Hilux. I’m propped up in the front seat gripping tightly onto the big spotlight – it’s golden beam baths the field in light. Before long I’m a magnet for all sorts of winged bugs, drawn as they are to the light.
It isn’t long before we come face to face with a mob. Uncle looks through the sights and aims the 22. A pair of big red, innocent eyes, unaware of the mortal danger about to unfold, are shining back at me. My stomach is in knots of unease. I desperately don’t want it to die. Then, at the speed of thought, an idea enters my mind. I move the spotlight ever so slightly. The shot explodes into the night… and misses!
“Whose side are you on kid?” bellows my Uncle.
No words come from my trembling lips. This time I must hold the light steadier – or he will know. This time he doesn’t miss. In an instance the sick feeling rises up in my stomach, followed by a wave of sadness. I can see the kangaroo is somehow still alive, writhing in pain from the bullet wound. My right knee begins to shake uncontrollably. Uncle shoots it again; this time up close. By 1am, there are eight more bodies.
When there are no more bullets left and the killing spree finally ends, we arrive back home. Guilt keeps me awake. I cannot sleep. It was my light that helped Uncle aim. The stench of death still fills my nostrils. In the darkness on my knees I pray beside my bed for the drought to end soon.
By the next night, my aching soul has grown to accept what happened – mostly – and I sleep more soundly. But then a noise awakens me. The sound of large droplets of rain splashing on the tin roof starts slowly and then gets louder. Louder and faster, like thousands of bullets landing from above.
I race onto the veranda for a better view. Nature has finally, finally waved it’s magic wand! I see the ground being soaked with rain and I feel joy; joy and overwhelming relief. The drought has broken. After making us wait for so long, the watery alphabet of the clouds has now come to sing upon our roof; and our land. I breathe a deep sigh and press my palm to my heart. My lips part and I whisper to myself,“Thank you”. I will never have to go spotlighting again.
Since I’ve now swapped my once regular cinema-going habit (it had been dwindling for a number of years for a variety of reasons before Covid finally put the sword to it – for good) for the far more immediate and present live-theater-experience, and will be seeing eight plays in 2023 on a Queensland Theatre Company subscriber’s package, I thought I may as well go ahead and tell you about FAMILY VALUES, the play I went to see last Saturday.
The name David Williamson has been synonymous with Australian theater since the 1970’s. He wrote FAMILY VALUES in 2020. It’s what you’d label an ‘issue-heavy’ play. Characters are used as mouthpieces to voice views on various social causes and concerns. The juxtaposition of various characters with opposing views creates the drama.
It’s talk-heavy and, if I’m being candid, not traditionally what I go looking for in a piece of entertainment, but for what it was, it was very well-done. Among a great many issues dissected and ‘unpacked’ in FAMILY VALUES is Australia’s treatment of it’s refugees. The most common description of this play I’ve read is ‘thought-provoking’.
Commiserations to the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (est. 1933) who lost this week’s U.S Superbowl to the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (est. 1959).
I was kind of hoping in a not-too-serious way the EAGLES may have gotten up, since the team included two Aussies – Jordan Mailata, who plays left tackle and Arryn Siposs, who plays punter. (The EAGLES Aussie connection actually extended to a third player, Matt Leo – originally from Adelaide – who was in their practice squad.) But it wasn’t to be.
Sidenote: The Aussie connection to Superbowl extended even further when Melbourne man Eamonn Dixon caught the game ball (which he gets to keep) after it was kicked through the posts to score the match-winning field goal by the Chiefs. The ball has now been valued at in excess of $400 000.
In the lead-up to this game, I re-watched the classic Oliver Stone directed ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. Featuring a to-die-for cast that included the likes of ‘old-timers’ Charlton Heston and Anne Margaret, this film is one of the most seminal, five-star sports movies ever put to celluloid. I am completely soul-jiggling proud (lol) to have it in my personal DVD collection.
3 thoughts on “A Day Too Late”
I liked your short story here. Very good !
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That means a lot.
It’s a kids story with what I guess could be labelled a very Australian flavor.
For kids and everybody else, I think. Even for kangaroos…, despite the painful subject matter. And, yeah, it could not feel more Australian ! It also has a clear flavour of an actual memory of yours.
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