Saturday, November 3, 2012


Koalas and the Opera House are well known symbols of Australia, but the two critters on our coat of arms are the Kangaroo and the Emu.

To many people – including those who live in Australia’s built up areas and have rarely seen a chicken or sheep let alone a native beastie – our weird wildlife looks cute.

Many of our native animals including kangaroos, koalas, possums, wombats and the Tasmanian devil are marsupials.

All marsupials are mammals, but few mammals are marsupials.

Like other mammals, marsupials have hair and suckle their young with milk. The significant difference is that shortly after the ovum are fertilised the new foetus is born, leaving the womb and making it’s way to a pouch where it spends its “gestation period” and infancy suckling.

An alternative definition of marsupial was offered by the writer Gretel Killeen who described a trip along a major highway with her children. “What’s a marsupial, Mum?” one of them asked. “A dead animal on the side of the road,” she replied.

In this early Australian footage, the first minute is enough to give you the gist of the way marsupials reproduce, though the rest of the clip also has some more interesting info to add.

For decades, Disney Studios have been engaged in a conspiracy to convince the world this bird is called an “e-moo”. As “emu” is an indigenous word, this pronunciation might be politically incorrect [assuming, of course, that white Australians have got it right themselves].

An “e-moo” would be an i-phone app about cows. In Australia, we pronounce the name of the bird “eem-you”.

The next clip is slightly amusing, but it also provides a chance to draw a direct comparison of the way an emu’s wings develop with the way a kangaroos front feet develop.

Some people are horrified that we could even consider shooting or culling kangaroos – one of the animals on our coat of arms.

Sometimes – especially in times of drought – kangaroos can reach plague proportions. While it is a problem for farmers when they compete with stock for pasture, they also have a tendency to move towards built-up areas. On rare occasions, people have been trapped inside their homes or even hurt in their front yards because a lone ‘roo has dropped in and is too disoriented and distressed to do anything but lash out.

This clip shows just how many had moved into our national capital, Canberra, at one stage. We can’t have international diplomats inconvenienced while discussing important issues on a golf-course!

A huge increase in the roo population exposes them to the prospect of starvation as fodder becomes increasingly scarce. In this context, culling them is the right thing to do. Harvested roo meat often ends up in dog food cans, though some [non-Indigenous] people are starting to eat it. Apparently it is very lean and exceptionally nourishing. I’ve also heard it can be quite tough, and tastes “gamey”. The hides are also used to make cute little stuffed koalas for tourists.

Kangaroos are native to Australia, but not exclusively Australian animals. Some varieties of these macropods [Bigfoots] are also native to New Guinea.

Wallabies are kangaroos [but not all kangaroos are wallabies]. Wallabies tend to inhabit rocky areas, whereas roos are better designed to travel quickly over vast distances in search of food. Another related member of the family is the Potoroo, sometimes known as a Kangaroo Rat which is about the size of a rabbit.

There would be few countries in the world where drivers are not at risk from some kind of native animal occasionally wandering onto a road.

A lot of YouTube clips show roo vs vehicle damage that is quite minimal, or damage caused when a ‘roo and vehicle collide at 100 kms per hour [60 mph]. A work van I was driving on a dirt road at about 40 km per hour had the whole front end mangled when I hit a small roo. [The van was less than a week old and the boss was not happy.

What makes them particularly dangerous on the roads is that they move so fast because of the huge bounding leaps they take. Their intended path or direction is usually impossible to guess as they simply cannot make up their minds which way to go if they encounter something unexpected.

If two or three fly out of the bush onto a road, sometimes the safest thing to do is stop and wait. There is always one slowcoach who hasn’t kept up with the rest, and just when you think it’s safe to go, it’ll leap onto the road to prove you wrong. 

Some people attach ultrasonic whistles about 2 inches long to their vehicles, though true sophisticates go for expensive gizmos the size of a portable stereo.

Road signs warning there are kangaroos ahead can be taken seriously. They tend to take the same paths from A to B, and in the bush everyone exchanges info about which part of which road to be careful on at dawn or dusk.

In one part of Victoria there are heaps of racehorse stables, agistment farms and horse quarantine facilities. These places attract horsey backpackers, happy to temporarily work long hours for crappy money. One Irish lass thought someone was having a lend of her when she was told her first job in the morning was to go up to the top paddocks of the property, and shoo away the roos. She soon realised no one was joking.

Hopefully, before she went home, she learned that if we say somebody ‘has a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’ we mean they are a tad crazy.


  1. So your kangroo are much like our deer here, in fact we use that same gadget on our cars too! Go figure.

    1. That gadget is probably not an Australian invention. The question is, do they work?

      Personally, I wear garlic around my neck to keep away vampires. I've never been attacked by a vampire, so it must be working.

    2. I never knew there was a gismo for the car. Thats interesting. However, as we have got older we don't find ourselves on the road at dawn or dusk very often. We have wallabies eating the garden when it is too dry in the local forest. We had to put a fence around the veggie patch.

    3. Hi Diane, I try to avoid driving at those times, and it's rare now for me to be in a situation where I have to.
      As for wallabies in the local forest, the more I hear about your place, the more inviting it sounds.

  2. OMG the video of the kangaroo giving birth was fascinating, believe it or not but that's the first time I've seen how it all goes down..I knew the procedure but not seen, it really is amazing that the newborn knows exactly what to do. In the vid where the wombat was licking the tourist I kept thinking ..'any minute now its going to bite her, I'm glad I was wrong haha! Really interesting series of visuals FC..

    1. Until I decided to post something about 'roos I had no idea myself what it was really like. Fascinating stuff, eh?

  3. Like a proper American, I've been mispronouncing Emu all this time.

    Thanks for enlightening me!

    1. Hello Dina, it's very nice to have you back :)

      One more word you can speak with a truly distinctive dinky di Aussie accent!

  4. Can't believe I missed this one!!! Must have been off having fun somewhere ...

    1. Given a choice between reading this post or being off having an adventure... I'd probably be off having an adventure!

    2. Ah, that's not what I meant!!! But given a choice of writing a post for my own blog & having an adventure?? No contest!!