Monday, 10 August 2020
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The great Fassifern marsupial hunt: A dire and dreadful slaughter

IN the 18 months to July 1878, more than 30,000 kangaroos were killed by hunting parties on the Fassifern station run.

The countryside was in extreme drought, with one report describing the whole of the West Moreton district … “as barren of vegetation as if blasted by the simoon [the dust laden desert wind of Arabia] that withers all before it”.

The station was held within the vast and ever expanding pastoral empire of the Wienholt brothers. And at the time of the ‘kangaroo hunting parties’ report, the station represented the amalgamation of the old station runs of Fassifern, Tarome and Moogerah. Even after a government resumption of 7,200 hectares, the Wienholt’s could claim 48,800 hectares within its boundaries.

Kangaroos were not the only marsupials preyed upon in the much celebrated hunts but they were the prime targets. the bigger animals were considered as competitors with the station’s sheep and cattle for the much depleted resources.

“In this neighbourhood,” wrote a reporter for The Queenslander newspaper, “the pest is of no mean magnitude. Kangaroos and wallabies are in the thousands; not only do they consume immense quantities of grass and water, but they kill out the best herbage.”

But a 30,000 cull didn’t “mitigate the evil pest”.

“A stranger would suppose,” the reporter said, “that to kill 30,000 on a small station would clear the run of marsupials.

“It is not so. The evil is decreased but by no means abolished.

“Shooting still continues and several miles of paling fence are in the course of erection to prevent kangaroos and wallabies from neighbouring properties encroaching on the Fassifern estate.

“All honour to the enterprise of the Wienholt brothers - would that their example was more generally followed.”

And in case the reader should wonder how the haul of scalps could number in the tens of thousands in just 18 months, the reporter went on to describe a kangaroo hunt.

“Whoever is organising the shoot carefully notes the ‘beat’ of the kangaroos, and the direction in which they usually travel when disturbed. 

“He then invites his ‘guns’, bidding them come the evening before the slaughter is to take place, [as] an early start to the ground is necessary. Beaters are easily procured, [as] the farmers of the neighbourhood readily recognise the importance of the work, and willingly lend themselves and their horses to assist in the grand object of ‘death to the marsupial’.

“Early on the morning of the day appointed, the beaters are marshalled under the command of some person who thoroughly knows his work, appointed by the organiser of the ‘drive,’ and are led off to scour the country and drive the kangaroos towards the spot where the guns are stationed. 

“These latter are conveyed to their posts under the command of another person appointed for that purpose, and are placed by him in a line at distances of about 100 yards from each other. 

“They are told in what direction the game will probably appear, and are strictly cautioned not to shoot either directly to their right or left or at any object to the rear of the line. No bullets are allowed. BR shot is the rule. 

“After a while, the marsupials commence to hop towards them, being thither impelled by the shouts and whip cracking of the drivers. 

“All unconscious of their doom, the victims approach within range; then begins a slaughter ‘dire and dreadful’. The shots ring out in an almost unceasing volley until the approach of the beaters proclaims that drive over. 

“Scalps are then collected and the marksmen gather round the baggage wagon to compare notes and to recruit exhausted nature with a glass of water. “They then proceed to another spot, perhaps two or three miles away, where the same scene is enacted, time, place, and victims being changed. 

“After which a convivial lunch, then two or three more drives in the afternoon, when men, horses, and kangaroos all have had about enough of the sport and are glad to be allowed to rest. 

“The men all declare the fun excellent; as for the horses and marsupials; their opinion has not been taken on the subject.”

And thus was the kangaroo considered a pestilence on the land.

We continue our story next week with …

• When Britain and Australia warred over a kangaroo