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'The Lucky Ones' - entered into the Voiceless Writing Prize 2012

One of the finalists in the 2012 Voiceless Writing prize from Professor Steve Garlick is a poignant true story expressing intimate moments between humans and our native kangaroo. The story gives extraordinary insights that enrich our understanding of animals who are too often ignored and give us cause for hope when treated with respect and compassion. While the story is not included in the final Voiceless Anthology we think it is of significant merit to include it here in its entirety. You can read Voiceless' top ten stories at ...... it's only $1.81. Let us know what YOU think.

The Lucky Ones

(Of all the holes in the human heart, perhaps none is bigger than the space once occupied by our connections to wild things and the rhythms of nature…our self-imposed exile from our original network of natural relationships is civilisation’s most disorienting misstep.
Carl Safina
Song for the Blue Ocean and Voyage of the Turtle

The last rays of sun filter across the low grey-green hills and through the tops of the long yellow grass as Rosemary and I reach our destination deep into a large private wildlife sanctuary. There are thousands of acres here. It is not an easy place to get to, but that is one of the attractions for the wildlife that have made this place their home away from destructive humans and their motor vehicles, dogs and guns.

This is the place where for many years we have translocated and released into the wild hundreds of kangaroos that we have helped recover from serious injury and illness or the loss of their mother. We come to this place to monitor the progress of these gentle, affectionate and nurturing creatures. They are strong and resilient in their own sometimes harsh environment, but they are fragile and vulnerable in the human world. These animals have many of the qualities we might wish humans would have so as to ensure that all creatures can co-exist in a better world. Like responsible parents we want to make sure that they are adjusting from the pampered life of our wildlife recovery centre to their new home in the wild, where they need to fend for themselves.

This is also the place to which we come from time to time to renew ourselves, to spend time with the kangaroo friends we have grown to admire over the months and years they have been recovering in our care. We have treated, nursed and encouraged them, marvelled at their determination, watched their growing confidence, and celebrated their success. The response from these animals is our reward for the long hours of attention we have given them, the disappointment when things do not work out, the large personal expense, and the negativity and disregard of a human society which seems never to have the time or the interest to understand the remarkable qualities and world of these iconic creatures. These visits lift our spirits and give us impetus to keep going with the hundreds of severely injured and sick kangaroos that come to us for help every year. The world of these animals plays on our mind in contradistinction to a dissatisfying and insensitive human society into which we feel shoehorned and institutionally controlled.

Rosemary calls out a number of times in a loud voice, “hey bubbie, dubbies”. After just a few minutes, away into the distance little heads can be seen popping up above the long grass and are silhouetted against the fading light. “Hey bubbie dubbies, hey bubbie dubbies”, Rosemary calls out again. For the kangaroo the words themselves are not important, it’s the sound of the voice that makes the difference for them. The hearing of these animals is amazingly acute and their navigation skills are extraordinary.

Hearing is the main sense of the kangaroo. Their long ears rotate 360 degrees independently of each other like antennae to pick up and decode every sound with extraordinary accuracy. Their very life depends on their judgement and reactions based on this sense. It is only when they get close that their sense of smell takes on added importance. We must be at least two kilometres away. Despite these wild animals being very wary of humans, they quickly and confidently recognise Rosemary’s voice and soon make their way towards us, stopping now and then to call out in their distinctive chatter-cough as if to say, “I hear you, I’ll be there shortly, so don’t leave yet”.

By now a dark yellow full moon is beginning to emerge above the horizon and a gentle breeze from the east brings a crispness that reminds us that autumn is on the way. Within thirty minutes a mob of thirty one kangaroos has bounded and skipped its way to our special meeting place. Rosemary recognises and welcomes each and every one by name, even though some have been released to the wild for more than four years and their physique has changed. Each has a distinctive manner and personality that is recognisable to the trained eye if you take a close interest in them. The wise words of the fox in de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince seem appropriate:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (de Saint-Exupery 1991: 68).

Some of our visitors want to rub noses as they did when in our care, a few want to embrace with firm hugs, and some just want to lie at our feet and have their necks scratched. Some of the females we raised now have infants of their own. But their mothers have taught their little ones well to be wary of humans; they are instructed to wait some 20 or 30 metres away while mum has her special time with those who cared and took an interest in her when she was injured or orphaned and needed help. These thirty one visiting kangaroos are just a small fraction of the hundreds of severely injured kangaroos we have rehabilitated, translocated and released to the wild over the past twelve years. We have, with the assistance of our veterinarian, mended their bones and their wounds and hopefully through the care we have given even mended their hearts. Sometimes when these kangaroos visit us in the wild they are accompanied by other wild kangaroos – their new mob. These other wild kangaroos stand at what they consider a safe distance and watch the odd behaviour of their animal friends as they closely interact with a genus of which they would normally be afraid.

These animals have excellent memories for what is important. They would not come to any other person. But they have come to visit us because they remember the kindness and care they received when they needed it most. We gave them a second chance.

On such a night there is something ethereal about being in intimate company with a mob of large wild animals. It is a privilege that cannot be bought with money and it costs little more than a large dose of kindness and compassion. It is hard to reconcile that anyone could be cruel to such heart-warming and graceful creatures… but they are. Indeed, the gentle kangaroo is the victim of the largest land-based wildlife slaughter by humans on the planet, employing some of the most brutal means imaginable. This is an unenviable record for a country to have and we, in the presence of these same unique animals, are tormented that we are part of this human world.

Rosemary rattles off the names of our visitors. First to arrive is Blanket and her infant BB. We named Blanket because like many small children she had a security blanket to comfort her when in our care. Some small joeys suck their grooming claw (just like a thumb), some suck their toes, some their tails and some suck their bags for security. Next to arrive is the ever-friendly Skippy who had a severe fracture of the pelvis when he came to our recovery centre, but with lots of rest and some physiotherapy made a full recovery. Skippy acts as a big brother to many of the other released joeys. Even now long after his release he arrives at the release site from what seems like nowhere when we translocate a new group of joeys. He then visits often to communicate with the new arrivals and they find great comfort in his presence.

At the last translocation of an initial seven joeys to the release enclosure, Rosemary slept under the stars to keep the joeys company. Jordan, a very sensitive joey, spent several hours lying next to Rosemary before she gained enough confidence to explore the new environment with her friends. All the while Skippy was just nearby munching on grass, keeping Rosemary company and acting as her minder. Rosemary says she always feels safe and never feels lonely when the kangaroos are with her, even in this isolated location.

Tish follows soon after Skippy. She came to us with severe malnutrition and the veterinarian did not think she would recover, but she has confounded everyone with her success. She still sucks her toe when she feels safe and relaxed. Maddie, her joey Macca, and Macca’s friends Betty, Joe and Bawley are the next to arrive. Maddie and Macca were in care with us together and we had the privilege of seeing Macca develop from a small frightened at-heel joey. Maddie had to have her toe amputated following a dog attack, while little Macca had to have two teeth removed due to an infection caused by a grass seed. What an extraordinary mother Maddie was. At our recovery centre she nurtured Betty, Joe and Bawley as well as her own Macca.

Bawley was brought to us with severe myopathy and after some intense treatment recovered well. Joe recovered from wire fence entanglement injuries and became a devoted friend to little Betty who was a miracle joey. She came to us as a small joey after having to leave her mother’s pouch early because her mother was injured. Betty was suffering from malnourishment, hypothermia, aspiration pneumonia, myopathy, fox attack wounds to the head and face and a laceration to the foot from a dog attack. Betty is always calm even in adversity and other gentle joeys like Joe are drawn to her. Joe would often be seen standing next to Betty sucking her ear.

Phoebe arrives with her close friend Chloe and they both have small joeys in their pouches. They were raised together and are inseparable and while Phoebe is quiet and confident, Chloe is shy and nervous. Phoebe had a fractured tail, fractured tibia and a traumatic cataract in one eye and Chloe was orphaned. Others to follow include Tara, who was orphaned; Bonnie who recovered from pneumonia and hypothermia; Malcolm who had fence wire entanglement injuries; and Donnie who had recovered from having barbed fencing wire embedded in the skin of his abdomen. Malcolm was always one of Rosemary’s favourites, a gentle and affectionate joey who loved chasing and playing with the smaller joeys.

Every one of these kangaroos has a harrowing story to tell about what had befallen them before they arrived at our recovery centre. There is no ambulance service or hospital for these creatures. We have been able to construct a narrative for each of them and it only increases our respect for these stoic creatures and our disdain for human disregard. For these once injured animals a picture does not account for the words that can be said and the emotion that can be felt about their ordeal. Every animal is an individual with its own life story and each has a different personality. Many humans would crumble if they had to endure what these kangaroos have been through.

The only way you will deeply know kangaroos is if you understand their everyday emotions – happiness, shyness, distress, fear, anger, nurturing, nervousness, inquisitiveness, and playfulness. You can only identify these emotions if you have a relational ethic of care of the ‘being-for’ kind with them over a long period. ‘Being-for’ relationships are about unconditional giving, with no expectation of reciprocity. The insights gained through such relationships with a kangaroo enable non-verbal communication between wild animal and human. Once you master communication with a wild animal so many things become clear. To believe you know a kangaroo without this personal insight is fraudulent. There is something profoundly disturbing about scientists and other humans claiming to know wildlife only through their disingenuous tinkering and experimentation, through the lens of a camera, or through media coverage designed more for entertainment than enlightenment.

But we have come to this meeting with our special friends for one other reason. We have come to apologise for being human and to gain some solace in their company from a self-interested and cruel human world. Like an out-of-control grand panjandrum, this human world shows no bounds to its ingenuity in finding even more grotesque ways, based on even more flaccid argument, to make a misery of the lives of innocent non-human animals of all kinds and in all situations – farm, wild, companion, introduced, and used for entertainment. The cruelty and disregard of humans toward animals torments us and every day of our lives we are confronted by the reality of it everywhere we turn. In return for our support for these animals we in turn also receive abuse from members of the human world.

We empathise with Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (‘The Lives of Animals’, 2001). Sometimes giving up on human society and adopting the life of a recluse vegan seems attractive. At other times there is a determination to confront the human disregard toward animals head on, with the hope that a few attitudes might change for the better. Unable to become reclusive in a world that constantly nags at you, wants you and then disregards you, periods of depression result – but this is the lot of those at the coalface of animal cruelty, who fight for justice for creatures whose voice is unheard.

At the butt-end of our torment are neoliberal politicians exhibiting Faustian principles; those pillaging farmers who have cleared and poisoned the soil and treated the animals in their care and other animals they come across with diabolical disregard; unethical scientists who tinker with and experiment on these animals for their own ends; and the self-interested who simply do not want to know about animal misery. These people prefer to have a life that is desensitised to the plight of others, rather than be embarrassed by what they eat and wear. These people turn away from the inconvenience of assisting an animal quietly whimpering in distress. They all earn our derision.

The air has turned noticeably chilly as we sit amongst the kangaroos. It is this chill and the shiver it creates that reminds us that at this same time, less than one hour away, an episode in extreme brutality is being played out against the same gentle animals by insensitive humans with SUVs, blinding spotlights and high-powered guns, contracted by the very people meant to be protecting our country. You can be certain that the government which has employed these contractors has not sought any due diligence, probity or professional indemnity evidence and it is highly unlikely there was any competitive tendering, as the rest of us might expect if the normal rules of transparency and accountability apply in contracting for government services in a free, fair and democratic society.

Our representations and legal challenges in opposing this act of gross indecency against a gentle and inoffensive resident of this land for 16 million years are met with nothing but neo-con politics and later proven false statements. It seems impossible to escape those politicians and their insensitive brand of politics. Their attitude is always bad for animals. Seven thousand innocent, free-living individuals are massacred based on the lies of politicians, the actions of a few bureaucrats more concerned about their next promotion than animal suffering, and a single ‘local’ scientist whose simplistic work can but give the field of ecology a bad reputation. None will know these animals as we do on this night in their company and few, if any, are interested in finding out. Killing, except to end pain and suffering, is the act of the unconnected human. Such a scene is like the 1995 Srebrenica massacres – thinking and feeling beings herded, cornered and slaughtered. We feel their terror before they feel the bullets that extinguish their innocent lives.

Having sat through every day of the Tribunal hearing of the Majura kangaroo killing and read the transcript of the decision, one can only be shocked at the low level of concern for animal life and the poor evidence the Court was prepared to accept in allowing the governments involved to carry out their programme of slaughter. Two questionable actions underpinned their decision.

The first was that photographs were accepted as the cornerstone of evidence of apparent kangaroo overgrazing – the prime reason given for the need to slaughter them. No evidence of causality was ever provided to this Tribunal and nor was it asked for - only photographic evidence of association. They said in paragraph 111 of the transcript of the hearing: "We accept that the photos are not representative of the MTA [military training area] as a whole, but they do demonstrate the existence of substantial damage caused by kangaroos to significant areas of the MTA." To rely on a photo without other relevant and comprehensive data and analysis is bad science. As scientists we know photos can never be a substitute for the full scientific analysis that demonstrates causality. This is tantamount to saying that because 99 per cent of people who develop bowel cancer drink coffee, then coffee must cause bowel cancer! Based on good science, the Tribunal’s statement connecting photographs with causality is just plain wrong.

The second action of the Tribunal was accepting the evidence of a scientist with no peer-reviewed research record, simply because he was ‘local’, whilst ignoring the contrary evidence of ‘outside’ scientists with internationally recognised knowledge and experience in kangaroo ecology. Statements that purport to be science that are not peer scrutinised must remain only opinion.
It is hard to imagine the sheer terror and panic the Majura kangaroos experienced this night; infants losing their mothers and being trampled in the pandemonium, others suffering great pain from inaccurate shots from the so-called ‘expert marksmen’, some suffering fractures and other injuries in the chaos, conscious pouch-bound infant joeys clubbed to death, beheaded or buried alive with their dead mothers, and vulnerable at-heel offspring left to be predated on.

Where was the politician who gave the orders to carry out the Majura murder this night? My vision is of him sitting down to a dinner of beef, lamb, chicken, or some other dead farm animal who had been through the same misery. Maybe he is having some ‘quality’ time with his family, as the children of other mammals are subjected to agony and terror before losing their lives. There is no quiet dinner for them on this night. And we, just one hour away, are in the company of the same creatures he is having murdered – not as intruders into a much gentler world, but as guests with lost souls seeking some meaning to being human from those who are not. There is little to find emotionally satisfying in this human world when exposed to the world of non-human animals.

How odd it is that some humans are slaughtering gentle kangaroos inhumanely with apparent complete indifference, while we humans not far away seek some guidance in life from the same creatures. How can an animal so frightened and distrustful of humans be so willing to share its world with us? How can two worlds be so different? We are so tormented by the illogicality of being a human animal in a world that is so mean spirited and brutal, while being temporarily accepted into a world of another animal species that is the target of human brutality, but in which the values of sharing, gentleness, and nurturing are commonplace. It leaves us with no answer.

Above the entrance to Australia’s Parliament House sits the nation’s coat of arms, the distinctly Australian kangaroo and emu. Every day politicians walk beneath this coat of arms, no doubt full of self-importance and conceit in the belief that they are making lofty decisions of meaning and significance for the nation and all its inhabitants. Most of these politicians would not take a second glance at this coat of arms, let alone stop to muse as to why these animals are an important symbol of what ought to be a moral platform upon which to build a nation. In fact, many of these same politicians have been directly complicit in the brutality toward these animals - a brutality that reflects post-colonial attitudes of taking what you can from the land while it is still available to take and a nasty interpretation of neoliberal economics that puts ‘the self’ and not ‘the other’ at the centre of importance.

This self-centred interpretation of a free market economy was not the one intended by Adam Smith. For Smith, the ‘invisible hand’ would only distribute the benefits of private enterprise more widely throughout society if there were some moral basis to it predicated on fairness. He reckoned humans had a ‘natural sympathy’ in seeing others benefit from their labour. This is not the neoliberal ‘free market’ economics we see everywhere around us today. Instead there is a culture of not wanting others to benefit from the labour of more capable individuals. The ‘natural sympathy’ of humans spoken about by Adam Smith is today regarded as a ‘free-rider’ effect, where the free-riders are despised. Unfortunately, we have allowed society to adopt the uncaring position: There is no compassion where there is a lack of capability. What chance do non-human animals have when vulnerable humans in our society are thought of in this way? Animal capability is not given any thought in this dialectic.

The kangaroo’s place on the Australian coat of arms and as a symbol in many other fields of endeavour is not only because it is uniquely Australian, but because it portrays a sense of survival in the sixteen million years it has lived in this fragile land, and because it reflects speed, strength and gracefulness. For those of us who know these animals well it also reflects deeper qualities than the simple biophysical. For us the kangaroo demonstrates a gentle and nurturing demeanour toward others and towards the land they have resided in for so long. These are characteristics that are important in creating a sustainable planet for all.

One year earlier, these same politicians were complicit in another brutal programme of kangaroo killing. In what has become known as the Belconnen Mother’s Day massacre, 514 free-living kangaroos were slaughtered to make way for yet another uninspiring ‘project-built’ housing estate. The significant feature of this gruesome event was that it was carried out within sight of the coat of arms and flag of Australia’s national Parliament House. Non-lethal alternatives were made available to the politicians, but their self-interest would not allow them to comprehend such ethical approaches that might help another species apparently less capable then them. Watching this traumatic event, not as some cruelty-loving voyeur but as someone with intense sadness and anger, it is hard to reconcile that we, in the company of such gentle, honest and nurturing creatures this night, are of the same species as the individuals employed to carry out these horrendous deeds and an overzealous police force whose numbers exceeded the quiet protestors on those fateful days. So deep is the cronyism between the government and the police that quiet and peaceful protestors face the maximum charge when arrested. Fortunately the court system sees the nonsense, lists no charges and imposes no fines, despite government lawyers seeking to have the charges increased with maximum fine.

My thoughts go to other events of extreme animal cruelty against the kangaroo initiated by governments across this country that deepen our torment toward those who unfeelingly contribute to a burgeoning world of animal cruelty. There is something morally very wrong when humans who have not sought to better themselves, or contribute to a better nation, are supported by governments in brutally killing thousands of kangaroos for a most unethical, unsustainable and uneconomic industry that makes private gain for a few from the misery of the native animals who belong to all of us. It is hard for caring people to imagine that their elected governments would stoop to such base practices, always in the name of money and supposed jobs, not for once realising that an immoral society provides no basis for a strong economy.

“Follow the money” was the famous one-liner used by the Deep Throat reporters on the trail of those behind the Watergate break-in as portrayed in the movie All the President’s Men. What is happening to animals in this country at the hands of politicians, their bureaucrats, ‘chosen’ scientists, consultants, farmers and the grubby end of business has the same ugly smell about it. That government in this country should support the commercial kangaroo killing industry as a crude way of making money and winning rural electorate votes smacks of cold-hearted and valueless politics that make Faust look like a junior league player. Nothing stacks up to support the continuance of the commercial kangaroo killing industry. Next to the Statue of Liberty, the kangaroo is one of the most recognised global icons and, along with other Australian wildlife, is a significant tourism booster that contributes many times more in national revenue than any commercial killing programme. The commercial killing of kangaroos fails all the tests of economics, human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability criteria.

How is it that some farmers who have drenched the earth with chemicals, clear-felled and overgrazed the landscape, and over-used scarce water supplies in a fragile land, and have an appalling record of animal welfare, have the temerity to blame kangaroos for environmental damage and loss in productivity?

This soft-footed animal has been an integral and important element in our landscape for sixteen million years. More to the point how is it that governments are persuaded by the lobbying of such unreliable witnesses? There is no factual evidence to support a case that kangaroos have a negative impact on productivity, as the farming lobby claims. Indeed, there is more scientific evidence that kangaroos have a beneficial impact on soil quality. Farmers have been one of the main agents in brutality towards kangaroos. Other animals also suffer at their hands. Such practices as sow pig stalls, caged chickens, mulesing of lambs, separating weaning calves from their mothers, and the live export trade cause farm animals extreme fear and suffering. That governments can continue to turn a blind eye to the barbaric treatment of animals, despite the overwhelming graphic evidence presented to them, is a serious indictment of their moral standing.

Human exceptionalism has got environmental sustainability completely wrong and it is time that we sought new knowledge about this from those creatures whose life has been inextricably connected to the land for millennia. Educated humans have created the global environmental mess we are in today. The argument that there is no limit to human creativity and knowledge and that this will save the planet from environmental catastrophe needs to be weighed against the notion of wisdom, since humans are, generally, a narcissistic, self-indulgent and sometimes brutal and destructive species. Their creativity and new knowledge does not always accord with a common planetary good and what a fair-minded society might expect.

This raises the question of what kind of education and learning is needed by humans to allow knowledge, innovation and creativity to wrestle effectively with the challenging and fundamental global problem of environmental sustainability. It also raises the interesting thought of the knowledge non-humans might share with humans in our learning about environmental sustainability - just as we, tormented in the presence of the kangaroos this night, seek their guidance on the important qualities of what being human could mean for a better world.

The kangaroo is an ideal creature from whom to learn about environmental sustainability. The social and gentle nature of kangaroos, their ability to range over large areas of the landscape, their vulnerability in limiting environments, and the overtness in the expression of their emotions makes them particularly suited, as wild animals, for humans to learn from about environmental integrity. A ‘new way of knowing’ about sustainability is required that seeks to learn directly from wildlife through their emotional states, as individuals and in their social groups, through a ‘being-for’ relational ethic of care. Based on this ethic, we can incorporate recent research on affective neuroscience in mammals to provide the building blocks for identifying and interpreting emotion markers in various contexts, including in the wild environment.

This approach to knowing about environmental sustainability seeks to go beyond learning superficially about animal biophysics and biota from obtuse, human, scientific experimentation and simple observation. Introducing learning into the mix of an encounter with a wild animal, underpinned by an ethic of care and a means of non-verbal communication, raises interesting implications that not only highlight the shallowness of common approaches to conservation, ecology and green politics, but also of utilitarian ethics.
Much of today’s conservation, ecology, green politics and animal welfare agenda have contributed to an increased dualism between humans and wildlife. Unfortunately, as a result, a collective, objectified, quantitative, non-relational approach to animal ‘science’ has taken precedence over the lives of individual animals, their emotions and their personalities and of how our relations with them can yield new information and learning through transformative encounters.

When it comes to wildlife, conservation and green politics rely on analysis of animal numbers in the form of a collective biota, viewing animals only as objects that respond physically to environmental stimuli, rather than as live subjects with cognition, emotion and individual personalities. If the conservationist assesses that there are ‘too many’ wild animals of a particular species in a particular environment a programme of killing is usually advocated and if ‘too few’, a programme of captive breeding is advocated. Such narrow quantitative determinism ensures that we make little real progress in our broader knowledge and learning of sustainability, because it assumes humans have all the answers and all the world’s environmental problems can be ‘managed’ and even solved by experimentation on animals by human scientists rather than by learning from them through relational transformation.
The animal rights agenda is also not always helpful in our learning about environmental sustainability from wildlife because it is built around moral and ethical concepts, value utility, and degrees of consciousness. Being in the presence of these animals and learning from them on this night, on their terms, suggests that the use of these concepts is an abstraction from the realism of a direct and prolonged meaningful relational encounter between a human and an animal. It might be argued that the animal rights and animal welfare philosophies rely too little on actual transformational connections with animals and too much on conceptual obliqueness.

On this occasion however we have come to these animals not only to renew a friendship and to learn about questions of environmental sustainability, but with a problem, as if travelling to Delphi to visit the Oracle, for dealing with a human torment – a torment that afflicts many right-minded caring humans. Why should we allow ourselves to be tormented and bullied by lesser beings – insensitive humans who practise brutality and disregard? In many ways they are lesser beings than those non-humans in our presence.

Whether it is the homeless, the disabled, the aged, the abused, or a fragile creature such as an infant kangaroo, wombat, magpie, lamb, chicken, calf or lizard, a better society is one in which a gentle hand is extended to all beings to give a second chance, when there is kindness and respect, when suffering is relieved and when hope and opportunity are supported to flourish. If there is no heart and no soul in this place and economic rationalism and complacency are the order of the day, society is diminished and unattractive. Where there is no recognition and responsibility toward otherness, the future will be uncertain and our cathedrals will continue to be the shopping malls, sports stadiums, plasma televisions and virtual reality, as short-term palliatives for our community’s bleakness and search for moral and ethical meaning.

It is now very late, almost midnight. Chronological time has raced along, but time for us has stood still. There has been a mass of overlapping and conflicting emotions while we have been in the presence of these wild kangaroos and we have not yet managed to logically untangle it. Perhaps it cannot be done. There has to be more to do than just wring our hands and yell out our quiet complaints to the animal abusers and the governments that facilitate animal cruelty. These animals cannot escape the harsh realities of a world made unsafe by humans by recourse to the pills, alcohol and virtual reality of the television and internet on which humans increasingly rely. These animals take it as it comes without complaint. Unlike Elizabeth Costello we cannot leave our torment unresolved – we owe it to the animals in our presence this night, to all the injured animals we rehabilitate for a second chance at life, and to all the animals suffering abuse and distress who have no voice and no money to capture attention .

Many politicians only know one language – they have been seduced by the ‘Faust factor’ and will do anything to be re-elected – to stay in power. They will respond to the loudest voice and the most money; so those with no voice and no money can hope for nothing. There is a need for a political party that appreciates that living beings of all kinds have lives of meaning in their own right and recognises that the policies and practices of governments should not put money ahead of lives, and power and ignorance ahead of understanding. The short-sighted nastiness of much of government today does not value animals for who they are, or cherish the remarkable worlds they seek to remain a part of. Government policy needs to embrace the two interconnected principles of wellbeing and capability. Wellbeing is based on fairness, so that animals can enjoy their rightful place on this Earth and be able to go about their normal lives without cruelty being inflicted on them by humans. Capability is based on the contribution of animals to our companionship, to our wonderment and joy, to our knowledge of other beings and to enhancing the sustainability of the landscape and seascape for all. It is also about an animal’s ability to nurture its young, to play, to be inquisitive, to make its home, and to grow old.

Our time in the presence of these wild animals this night comes to an abrupt and seemingly unsatisfactory end when a phone call from an animal rescuer informs us that a small injured kangaroo joey is being brought to us for help. We have to go and it is always hard to say goodbye. Seeing these animals flourishing in their own environment, but still maintaining a connection with us as a genus they ordinarily recoil from, has temporarily replenished our souls and we return again to the human world that does not want to leave you alone and does not satisfy.

When we meet the rescuer we find a very small female joey with an open fracture of the lower leg and a fractured tail as well as other wounds caused by a motor vehicle accident. Her mother is dead. She is also dehydrated, having been fully exposed near a busy road for many hours. Thousands of motorists must have passed this little injured joey without stopping to care or help. We call her Sylvie.

Even though it is well past midnight we call our dedicated wildlife veterinarian and explain the situation. Following his advice, Sylvie has pain relief, antibiotics and is rehydrated. Her wounds are cleaned and her fractures are reduced and splinted. She then has a warm bottle of formula and sleeps peacefully in a cosy bag. Over the following months Sylvie does well and grows into as strong a kangaroo as any. She is one of the lucky kangaroos who has survived severe trauma. Our way of relieving our torment in a human world is to give wild creatures such as Sylvie a second chance so that we might enjoy her company in the wild in the future, as we have done this night with the other lucky ones.*

* Read Sylvie's story of rehabilitation at

In 2009 the author established the Animal Justice Party of Australia (AJP) which was registered as an official political party by the Australian Electoral Commission in March 2011. He was foundation president of the AJP in 2009-2012. This is Australia’s first and only political party with the specific goal of achieving better wellbeing and capability realisation for all Australia’s animals through the parliamentary system (see

Coetzee, J. M. 2001. The Lives of Animals, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
De Saint-Exupery, A. 1991. The Little Prince, Mammoth Press, London.
Safina, C. 1997. Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World’s Coasts and Beneath the Seas, Henry Holt, New York.
Safina, C. 2007. Voyage of the Turtle: In pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur, Henry Holt, New York.

Author Background
Steve Garlick is an Adjunct Professor in Sustainable Regions at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, and a Conjoint Professor in Urban and Regional studies at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. He has previously held professorial positions at Southern Cross University, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Steve is a spatial economist specializing in regional and community development and human capital, and also an applied ethicist, particularly specializing in animal ethics and animal studies.

Dr. Garlick is the immediate past Vice-President (2007-09) of the Australian Universities Community Engagement Alliance (AUCEA), and an inaugural fellow of that organization. He is a Board Member of the Pascal International Observatory, a Board Member of the Australian Government’s Innovative Regions initiative, a listed expert for the Talloires Education for Sustainable Development network, an advisor to the OECD on higher education and regional development, and founding president of the Animal Justice Party of Australia. He has been involved in international evaluation projects in higher education and regional development in Denmark, Sweden (three projects), Norway, Netherlands and Canada. In 2009 Steve was internationally recognized with the World Shining Compassion Award by the international Ching Hai organization and in 2010 was awarded the annual environment award by the Australian Wildlife Protection Council.

In his spare time, with his wife, Steve runs a recovery centre for severely injured wildlife particularly specializing in macropods and wombats.

Steve is a contributor to the upcoming book, Sustainability Frontiers: Essays from the Edges of Sustainability Education and a participant in an upcoming project on animals, ethics and education.


A new report by THINKK, the UTS-based think tank for kangaroos, has called for improved government oversight of the code of practice for the humane killing of kangaroos. The industry can't be regulated, as the shooting happens in remote, hot and dusty areas. Babies are disposed of by bashing, having no commercial value. It reduces animals to a mere commodity, rather than warm-blooded living creatures - in many ways like humans.
Authorities for animal welfare can't even supervise what happens in semi-urban abattoirs, let alone what happens when killing happens in remote bushland.
The researchers say government agencies do not regularly inspect carcasses at the point of kill and without such inspections it is impossible to ensure compliance with code. That the kangaroo meat industry is well supervised and "humane" is pure industry and political spin.
Some people see kangaroos as a "pest", a saleable "harvest, "green" meat, an industry for meat and skins. Fortunately there are people who are emotionally literate, who have their fingers on the pulse of the natural world, who understand Nature and animals for their intrinsic beauty, and empathise with the sentience of animals.

This bitter sweet story is amazing - so much beauty in the night, the kangas and the wonderful Australian bushland - makes us remember what we are supposed to be doing, rather than sitting in rooms with tech boxes etc. But one thing we shouldn't be doing is having to put lives back together after the killing industry, the government, the ag industry and the hoons have injured wildlife and orphaned these poor babies. Thank goodness for all the Steves and Rosemarys of Australia, the Davids against the Goliath of cruelty and ignorance.
As an historical record of our terrible times this is priceless - as a literary work I feel there could have been a little editing done and possibly some dramatic connections made, to vary the tone of the delivery. However, I guess time is a factor as the writer seems to living several lives simultaneously! Incredible.