The Kangaroo-Meat Debate
Kangaroos - should we eat them? On one hand, the animal rights lobby claims that killing kangaroos is cruel and that the meat itself may not be disease-free. On the other, farmers and ecologists say the culling of kangaroos is a humane way to bring population numbers down to levels the environment can tolerate. Meat-industry representatives say that meat harvested by licensed shooters is properly inspected and safe to eat; it's generally accepted that kangaroo meat is a healthy low-cholesterol alternative to beef and mutton.
A lot is at stake. The kangaroo meat and hide industry employs about 4000 people in Australia and generates more than A$200 million a year. In Britain, kangaroo meat sales have been booming, helped along by fears of mad-cow disease, which have put people off beef. However, in September 1997 giant British supermarket chain Tesco banned kangaroo meat from 350 stores after a Sunday newspaper ran a disturbing feature, with pictures, on a kangaroo hunt in the Australian outback. The farmer involved was not a licensed hunter and was not working in the meat industry. Nevertheless, kangaroo meat was taken off the shelves. This left Australian meat-industry representatives fuming, as kangaroo meat sold for human consumption in supermarkets and restaurants comes from licensed hunters governed by a code of practice, and is subject to strict hygiene standards.
Kangaroos are indigenous to Australia and the species hunted for human consumption are not endangered. Government estimates put the total population at between 15 million and 25 million (depending on the availability of food and water from one season to another). Each year the government earmarks a certain number (about 10% to 15% of the total) for harvesting. State and territory governments issue permits to shooters who may then, with landholders' consent, hunt on private property (national parks and reserves are off-limits).
While emus and crocodiles are farmed for their meat, the kangaroo is shot in the field at night, using spotlights, high calibre rifles and telescopic sights. Hunters and wildlife authorities claim that a bullet shot straight into the head is quick and humane; certainly better than steel traps or poison. However, animal rights advocates claim otherwise. They claim the hunt itself (with its lights and noise), let alone the killing, is highly stressful. Others would say this is a lot less stressful than death by starvation.
Unfortunately, a fair amount of killing goes on by unlicensed hunters who aren't working for the meat industry, and distressing tales of cruelty surface from time to time. The RSPCA and conservation agencies prosecute occasionally, but it's difficult to positively identify the perpetrators.
Formerly seen as a pest, the kangaroo is now increasingly viewed as a resource to be managed along with other variables to ensure the land remains fertile and productive. For the kangaroo this could mean more room to roam, as graziers are encouraged to take cloven-hoofed animals off marginal land that should never have been conventionally farmed anyway. The payoff for farmers would be money earned from harvesting kangaroos when they become too numerous and destructive, and for the environment it means a chance to regenerate.
A Beer, By Any Other Name ...
Around Australia, beer, the containers it comes in, and the receptacles you drink it from are all called by different names. The standard bottle is 750mL, and costs around $3 for full-strength beer and $2.50 for light. Cans (or tinnies) hold 375mL and come in cartons of 24, known as slabs, and these cost around $30/25 for full-strength/light, although you can of course buy them as individual cans.
Half-size bottles with twist-top caps are known as stubbies (echoes in SA), except in the NT where a stubby is also a 1.25 litre bottle, although these are not in everyday use and are really only a novelty souvenir. Low-alcohol beer is marginally cheaper than full-strength beer. Boutique beers generally only come in stubbies, and are significantly more expensive than your common or garden variety.
Ordering at the bar can be an intimidating business for the uninitiated. Beer by the glass basically comes in three sizes - 200, 285 and 425mL - but knowing what to ask for when the barman/maid queries you with an eloquent 'Yeah, mate?' is not quite so simple. A 200mL (7oz) beer is a 'glass' (Victoria and Queensland), a 'butcher' (SA) or a 'beer' (WA or NSW). Tasmanians like to be different, and so there they have a 6oz glass. A 285mL (10oz) beer is a 'pot' (Victoria and Queensland), a 'schooner' (SA), a 'handle' (NT), a 'middie' (NSW and WA) or a '10 ounce' (Tasmania). Lastly, there's the 425mL (15oz) glass, which is a 'schooner' (NSW and NT) or a 'pint' (SA).
Art & the Dreaming
All early Aboriginal art was based on the various peoples' ancestral Dreaming - the `Creation', when the earth's physical features were formed by the struggles between powerful supernatural ancestors such as the Rainbow Serpent, the Lightning Men and the Wandjina. Codes of behaviour were also laid down in the Dreaming, and although these laws have been diluted and adapted in the last 200 years, they still provide the basis for today's Aborigines. Ceremonies, rituals and sacred paintings are all based on the Dreaming.
A Dreaming can relate to a person, an animal or a physical feature, while others are more general, relating to a region, a group of people, or natural forces such as floods and wind. Australia is covered by a vast network of Dreamings, and any one person may have connections to several.
The Environment: What You Can Do
Tourism places strains on the environment, although often inadvertently and often despite the best of intentions. Whether you're an international tourist or a local visitor, there are certain things you can do to minimise your impact on Australia's fragile and unique environment:
When travelling by 4WD, never venture off established tracks, especially in sensitive areas such as Fraser Island, Uluru Katatjuta and other national parks.
Bushwalkers will find that there are fewer and fewer places where they can light a camp or cooking fire, so be prepared and carry a fuel stove. All rubbish should be carried out and disposed of properly.
It seems obvious, but don't light fires on days of Total Fire Ban. Ignorance of a ban is no excuse - keep yourself informed and be aware of the dangers (and the penalties!).
The Great Barrier Reef is a national park, so the usual rules apply - don't damage or remove anything, and definitely do not walk on or otherwise touch the coral.
When taking organised adventure tours through remote and fragile areas, if possible, try to choose operators who are aware of environmentally sound practices and stick to them. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cowboys out there whose bank balance means much more than any eco-balance.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.