by Will Wood.
Kangaroo - A fluffy creature embedded within Australia's national Coat of Arms. Adorable. Hops like a rabbit and breeds like one too. But most Australians know that they can be aggressive, if not terrifying, with three-inch long claws and a muscular tail on which they balance whilst boxing you with their talons.
More dangerous than it looks
So here I was trekking alone, 200 km into the wilderness of Victoria's far west coast on The Great South West Walk. I'd seen lots of kangaroos thus far but they were all of average size and shied away from humans. On this particular evening I was exhausted after a long day in the full Australian sun, but content with the collection of shellfish I had made earlier. I would cook them up later in white wine and share them with some fellow campers, but I'll leave that story for another time. The section of trail on which I was walking was particularly narrow: to my right was a steep cliff, unclimbable unless you were a world-class climber crossed with a gecko; to my left was a flooded lake, the reason why the path that was normally two metres wide had been reduced to one.
Suddenly, around the bend of the track, bounded a large female grey kangaroo. Upon sighting me, she skidded to a stop and speedily back-pedaled to a distance of 10m, from where she examined me keenly. Being as tall as I was and more muscly by half, I could sense she wasn’t going to back down. I was too far along the path to retreat and the bulk of my 30 kg pack was to large for her to pass. Whilst still grappling with the conundrum of the enormous pack I was strapped into, and wondering exactly how deep was the lake beside me, the kangaroo suddenly sprinted at me, skidding to a halt a metre away before retreating back up the path. She was playing chicken with me. Thoughts were flooding through my mind. Do I have to tackle this kangaroo? How does one tackle a kangaroo, anyway? Is it legal to attack kangaroos without a license? Again, it sprinted at me full pelt, skidding to a stop only metres away.
I decided at this point to employ the more passive and less aggressive option, sticking to my Buddhist kangaroo mind-reading roots: I would try and make myself one with either the lake or the wall. I would become a nonthreatening and inconspicuous object of this kangaroo’s everyday life. Choosing the wall (the drier option), I slowly took my pack off and flattened myself, nose first, against it, staying completely still. I stood there for a full minute without making eye contact with my marsupial nemesis. Eventually I heard her sprint towards me and skid to a stop once more. I could hear her breathe, sniffing the air as she stood behind my me. The tension was unbearable. And then, in the blink of an eye, she bolted past me and along the narrow path.
Finally able to relax, I was bewildered how such a pleasant afternoon hike had suddenly turned into a unique and adrenaline-pumping experience. And also glad I hadn't lost my pack in the river!
The moral of the story? Well, there probably isn’t one. It could be that kangaroo mind control techniques and passive behaviours work well against animals that feel cornered or threatened. I wondered, as I reflected on this strange confrontation, what the kangaroo would have been thinking of me? Was it as nervous as I was? Had it, in actual fact, employed human mind control tactics and tricked me into standing harmlessly against the wall? As I laid out my sleeping bag that night, I wondered what exactly the giant 'roo would be telling her joeys at camp tonight?