Andrew Evans is traveling through Australia — sending us clues to his whereabouts — and discovering a newfound love of kangaroos.
My first kangaroo was served to me on a plate in a pub, amidst a dense puddle of port wine reduction. I was horrified by the thought but despite the psychological trauma of eating an animal from childhood storybooks, I have to confess the steak was quite good (and this coming from a former vegetarian).
My second kangaroo appeared as a melancholy bit of road kill, waylaid on a stretch of highway between Bendigo and Wangaratta. I immediately tried to unthink the image–the sundried blood, the missing eyes, the damaged fur–but it’s still there, upsetting me, even now.
I wanted to see a real kangaroo–one that was living, breathing, free, and wild–hopping across the landscape, reminding me with every bounce that I was really in Australia. I had already seen a dozen of the signs along the road–the giant yellow diamonds with a bold and active kangaroo silhouette, mid-jump, reminding you to slow down for the animals. And yet, after my first four days in Australia, I had still never seen what I was looking for. False advertising, I thought.
And then out of the blue, or rather, out of the blue hazy mountains in Australia’s Alpine National Park, my third kangaroo appeared. I count it as my first now because this one was very much alive. It was dusk, I was the only car driving on the road and there he was, sitting in my lane like he owned it and wanted me to pay a toll to pass. It was an eastern grey kangaroo, I knew, and he looked quite majestic in the twilight.
I just couldn’t contain myself. I was giddy. Stopping for a closer look, then continuing on until another pair of kangaroos appeared, “Number 2 and Number 3,” I counted out loud. These animals were real and they were just too cool. I had to share my discovery on Twitter. I wanted the whole world to stop and acknowledge that there really is such a thing as a kangaroo and they are so amazing, strange, wonderful, and they really do jump!
As I checked into my hotel that night, I announced to everyone in the lobby that I had just seen a real three live kangaroos. They were not impressed.
“Did ya hit it?” They asked, and when I said no, they went back to their conversations and card playing and I went back to gloating.
I decided to start keeping a tally in my notebook. Every time I saw a live kangaroo, I added a mark on the page. That is, until the next day, when, visiting the Anglesea Golf Club, I lost count at 50-something. There were kangaroos everywhere and counting them just became impossible. So instead, I just sat on the fairway and watched the kangaroos do kangaroo things. That seems to involve lounging sideways on the grass like a Roman senator at a feast, or nibbling at grass, or stuffing their babies back into their pouches, or getting spooked and taking massive leaps in the air, literally bouncing away.
What terrific, delightful animals these are! I still can’t understand why the whole world isn’t having a party in honor of kangaroos. Every Australian I meet, I find myself saying, “Hey! Did you see out there? KANGAROOS!” But no, they are not so impressed. It’s kind of like back home in Washington, D.C., when the Australians I know go crazy about the squirrels in the park. “Yes, yes.” I say to their excitement, but come on, they’re squirrels–there’s like a million of them and I grew up with hundreds in my backyard.
And that’s exactly what they say to me here in Australia: kangaroos are plentiful and eating up our backyards. In fact, a lot of people that I’ve met tell me that kangaroos are a pest.
I don’t think I’ll ever see kangaroos that way, even if one happened to pester me quite recently. In my quest for kangaroos, I drove to
Kangaroo Island–a wilderness refuge that’s just packed with Australian wildlife. The island was larger than I expected and due to a flat tire, night fell before I had made it to my destination. I drove cautiously in the dark, watching the dark ghostly shadows jumping in the corner of my eyes. There were a lot of kangaroos here–hundreds, if not thousands–and yet they were so hard to see.
And then WHAM, a giant reddish-black animal hopped on to the road and into my car, crunching my left headlight into splinters. I slammed on my brakes (and maybe swore a little): my first car crash ever and it was a kangaroo. I was in shock, I was saddened and upset and I was alarmed, but the kangaroo just kept hopping across the road, appearing unharmed.
I got out to survey the damage and folks, it was not pretty. I’d bent the hood, dented three panels and the passenger car door was jammed shut, so that henceforth, all passengers would have to enter à la Dukes of Hazzard.
Hitting a giant male kangaroo and destroying a rental car was not the reason I came to Australia. I was most distraught, and the next morning, I sat on the porch of my hotel, feeling depressed and upset about my kangaroo encounter.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
And then along hopped Beanie who made everything better. Beanie is a rescued Kangaroo Island kangaroo–saved from the pouch of her mother who was hit by a car on the very same road eight years prior. Hand-reared in a beanbag, Beanie allowed me to get a closer look at this long-haired subspecies of kangaroo that’s endemic to the island. She was also a lot of fun. I got to pet her and feed her and hold her long black claws, as if we were dancing. Now that I’ve examined one up close, I can say that kangaroos are like a mash-up of dogs, rabbits and deer. They are so weird and wonderful and honestly, I could stare at them all day. I am still upset at myself for hitting a kangaroo but meeting Beanie turned out to be timely and therapeutic.
It’s strange, but I’ve also earned some kind of cred from the Australians I meet. They see the damaged rental car or hear my story and say, “You hit a roo? Welcome to Oz!” Apparently, everyone’s hit (or almost hit) a kangaroo at some point in their life, which is why most Australians never drive in the countryside after dark. Also, why all the trucks are fitted with “roo bars” to minimize the damage kangaroos do to cars.
And so, those were my first few roos. Some cuddly like cartoons, others dead, some edible, some on golf courses, some hopping across the great Australian landscape, and one that played chicken with my car and won.
I hope to never hit a kangaroo again, but I do hope to see as many of these amazing animals as possible while I am in Australia. Common as they may seem down here, they will never be common to me.