Oz Film Festival: Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story Review
With all due respect to the koalas out there, if any animal could claim to be Australia’s national emblem, it’s the kangaroo. It appears on Australia’s coat of arms, some of its coinage and in the logos of Qantas and the Royal Australian Air Force. It provided the title character of what remains the country’s most successful television export. Yet for some it is also a pest, and one that needs to be culled.
As far as the film industry goes, you need look no further than a film which sits very near the beginning of the Australian film revival in the 1970s, Wake in Fright – featuring a bloody kangaroo hunt – a real one, captured for the cameras – and part of the film’s picture of a pervasive and toxic macho culture.
The animals are hunted for food, with kangaroo meat featuring on restaurant menus overseas. The fact that kangaroos are lean animals means that more of them have to be killed to supply the food industry. They are killed to protect the grazing land of animals introduced to the country such as sheep and cows. Their hide is used for leather, finding its way into, among other things, football boots.
There’s a lot of collateral damage in all this kangaroo killing. Animals not killed straight away are often left to die: we see one found with a shoulder wound, having lain where it fell for a couple of weeks. If a female kangaroo is shot, the joeys it is carrying are often left to die with their mother or have their heads smashed against trucks. Needless to say, there are vested business interests behind all this, with trade deals in the mix – including a big one with China for kangaroo meat, though we don’t hear the outcome of that. An investigation into kangaroo hunting practices was shut down by the New South Wales government, and at the time of this film’s completion, the industry was lobbying to rescind California’s ban on the import of kangaroo meat. As one interviewee says, “How is it okay to kill our national icon for thirty pieces of silver?”
Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre’s documentary – they both write and direct, and the latter is the cinematographer as well – was five years in the making. It is made up mainly of interviews, with new and archive footage of the animals, some of it inevitably harrowing. It’s clear that the filmmakers’ approach is an ecological one, placing their film in the same camp as others dealing with different species, such as The Cove and Blackfish.
The film suggests that attitudes to kangaroos has its roots in the colonisation of the country in the last two and a third centuries, with the animals being native wildlife needing to be kept under control if not eliminated. There’s an overt comparison with white Australians’ treatment of aboriginal peoples: one of them, tribal elder Uncle Max Dulamunmun Harrison, refers to kangaroos as also “first Australians”.
Other interviewees include Terri Irwin, owner of the Australian Zoo in Beerwah, Queensland, and a television personality with her late husband Steve, and Mark Pearson, the first Australian politician elected from an animal rights party. There aren’t many voices from the other side here: the film points out that Barnaby Joyce, who at the time was Minister for Agriculture, declined to be interviewed.
Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story has been inevitably controversial, with disputes over some of its claims, particularly the hints that kangaroos could become extinct in the not-too-distant future. While it’s undeniable that their numbers have declined, especially in the wild, official estimates (of which the filmmakers dispute the methodology) are around 27 million, which is more than the human population.
Another interviewee says, “As Australians, we take them for granted, that they’re always going to be there. What if they’re not?” Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story leaves you with plenty to think about.
Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story was shown at the Oz Film Festival in London. A further British release is to be confirmed.