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“The Kangaroo Plague.

Sydney Morning Herald 21/2/1876

(From the Capricornian.)

The disquieting accounts which continually reach us from the Mackenzie, Comet, Nogoa, and Peak Downs districts of the rapid increase of native game, suggest the necessity of combined action of the graziers in order to effectually grapple with the evil. For years past marsupials and rodents have been multiplying, but of late the augmentation of numbers has been prodigious. When the runs were first occupied the aboriginal blacks and native dogs waged a relentless warfare against the grass-eating animals indigenous to the country. Its natural aridity, moreover, was often destructive to animal life, every severe drought well-nigh cleared large stretches of country of its native game. But now the blacks have disappeared, great numbers of native dogs have been poisoned, and water has been artificially conserved for the sustenance of livestock,- all of which has proved as conducive to the increase of wild animals as to the multiplication of sheep and cattle. Indeed, game has a clear advantage, for on many stations it has been found impossible to do more than maintain the numbers of the flocks through the overstocking of sheep runs and paddocks by the hardy marsupial. There are runs up-country on which it is estimated that fully one-half the grass is devoured by grass is devoured by kangaroos. An instance has been cited to us of a single paddock which is actually occupied by three thousand of these interesting creatures and which in consequence will only sustain one-half the sheep it would otherwise carry. But the loss of increase is not the only mischief, for many runs which formerly turned off a good annual cast of sheep fit for the butcher will not fatten at all now. The evil has therefore become serious and as it is growing with constantly accelerating speed, there is the utmost necessity for a prompt remedy which shall not only be efficacious as a means of destroying game, but shall not be impractical through economical considerations.


Two or three years ago native dog destruction associations were formed in several of the inland districts, and it is within the mark to say that during their brief existence they caused the destruction of five thousand dingoes. Now the habits of these voracious creatures are well known. They do not eat the carcases of the beast they kill unless impelled by hunger. It is perhaps fair to assume that every dog killed one grass-eating animal per diem. In many cases they no doubt killed many more, for animals bearing young were peculiarly the victims of the merciless dingo. To assume that each dog annually killed 365 grass-feeders- including kangaroos, paddy-melons, wallabies &c.- is therefore well within the mark. This means that the native dog destruction associations gave immunity to nearly two million head of native game during the first year after they ceased paying so much for each dog’s head. The increase of these two millions during the subsequent year was formidable, and hence our squatters find themselves confronted by an enemy more formidable than the free selector. The balance of nature has been destroyed by the disappearance of the native race and the slaughter of the dingoes, and it is clear that further steps must be taken unless the run holders mean to be driven out of the country by the ever-increasing and almost irresistible army of marsupials.


It has been said that a great mistake was made in trying to extirpate the native dog; and some of our squatters have throughout cherished this interesting quadruped. But they are exceptional thinkers, and the evidence available does not convince us that they are right. There are runs up-country afflicted severely with the marsupial scourge, and still under the necessity of killing the audacious dingo. Even the paddocks where the kangaroos contend for the sparse supply of grass, there the dog worries the flocks beyond endurance. The consequence is that on some runs, even though pest is a source of anxiety to the occupants, it is still found necessary to lay poison for the dogs. It is not a choice of evils, for both are encountered, and if the country is to be inhabited profitable both must be abated. There are cases where paddocks occupied by thousands of kangaroos are found to be practically useless, and have been abandoned in the old system of shepherding because of the ravages of the dingo. The desideratum, therefore, evidently is some expedient for the wholesale destruction of all native animals.  

The same evil has been encountered elsewhere. In Victoria, years ago, squatters were at their wit’s end for a means of extirpating the countless mobs of kangaroos which jeopardised the very existence of their sheep. On some runs pitfalls were sunk, and a large number of unsuspecting animals were driven into them and slaughtered. Miles of fencing, converging to a point from different directions were erected, and on one occasion as many as three thousand kangaroos were reported to have been destroyed in one day. Another plan of extirpation is by placing troughs of arsenical water near the scrubs which form secure haunts for native animals, and this expedient, in dry seasons, has been found very effective. On the Darling Downs the plan has been tried of surrounding waterless scrubs with a close-paled fence, and that proceeding is also effective where practicable. In other places men have been constantly employed in shooting, but that is an expensive process the cost of ammunition, added to that of human labour, being very considerable. On one station, where the resident owner gives twopence for each wallaby or kangaroo’s head, we learn that two young men have shot numbers which, if stated, would seem incredible. Their plan is to take up a position at daybreak and nightfall on the edge of the scrub, and there pepper away at the living masses promiscuously. By this means they have been making a very good livelihood, and there is still abundant scope for their labour. On some Peak Downs stations the marsupials are being kept down by men employed with horses and dogs, but this plan is also objectionable on the score of expense. Still in default of less costly methods of extermination it has to be resorted to, and threatens to prove a permanent and costly item of station management." [4] 


[4] Sydney Morning Herald 21/2/1876