Sunday, the store’s closed. The hunters grow restless. Primordial urges stir them to kicking dust with one foot, staring at ant tracks in red sand. Fifty people have no food, another hundred not much more. A virus has decimated the rabbits, shooters in helicopters have scattered the camels.
But for a few months, there was rain. Kangaroos bred, and bred, far past the point where inevitable drought could support them. The sun is high, and hot. The malu will be idling in the last grass, in the shade of a creek line leading to a swamp that’s almost dry. “When I was a small boy,” says tall, thin Travis, “I remember Grandfather killing malu with his spear.” His eyes glazed, focused on the mulga trees studding plains rolling across his mind.
At the sound of an engine, heads look up. Someone has fuel. No red kangaroo is safe now. Hector is first away, his rifle that he can never legally own carefully rolled inside a sheet, 6 bullets in his pockets, a friend behind the pickup’s wheel. Hector will go the furthest, for his catches will be the easiest: a bullet, a bang, another family fed.
Mikey leaves next, on a motorbike, his friend with a stick riding pillion. A camp dog pokes its head out of one window of the old Ford cruising out behind them. A last vehicle follows, an old Toyota troop carrier, with dents, and six men on board. They’ll all come back with something. Every animal has its weakness. They’ll put their minds inside the heads of animals, go where the malu went. Their brainpower would not light a candle. Their long legs and high speed are no substitute for peripheral vision.
When a malu finally notices noises, downwind, on its blind side, it will notice them too late. It can only blindly stare ahead and hop for the horizons as a motorbike pulls in beside, from behind. One kick will send the kangaroo spinning. The friend with a stick will off the motorbike before it regains its balance. Beside another malu, the person in the nearest seat will open a battered Toyota door.
Spears may be for making statements, and tourist sales, now that tyres cover the same distances upwind, but not everyone has completely adapted to modern life. A dog three parts dingo will outrace a malu, ride the kangaroo’s back till it comes down. The old Ford stops well short of its quarry.
Back in a community that was once a camp for stockmens’ firestick wives, adolescents will gather and break branches, ready for the men to cook the kangaroos as they should be cooked, fresh roasted in their skins, before dividing and sharing them in ways dictated by tradition. Malu skins save waste of rare and highly prized greases, greases with food values up there with fish oils.
Time had moved on in the stock mans’ camps. Travelling without gatherers, they’d carried stores as they moved the mobs. Often they’d slept in the saddle, circling the mob through the night, dismounting only to changing mount, or for a meal. Roy and his brother in law had lived that way for years. As they traveled they encountered “Afghans,” descendants of South Asian cameleers, and Europeans hunting opal and fortunes, cooking in water, buying tins and bags of root vegetables, garlic, spices, dried herbs. While the stock men were away, rations, meat from fat bullocks, white flour, white sugar slowly killed their wives and station managers without discrimination.
Later in life, close to hospitals with dialysis chairs, Roy discovered game factories sold malu tails by tens. His time in the stock camps equipped him to cook meals compatible with diets for diabetes, and to stretch the tails round visiting mouths. “I always came south to marry,” Roy said. At Christmas, most of Central Australia came south too, seekingbrief respite before facing up to January’s centigrade temperatures in high forties.
“Ay! You fellers, skin those tails!” A brother and sister looked at each other. Their grandmother supervised. “Fire ban, better use the barbecue,” muttered Roy, deftly chopping tails reduced to bone, meat and sinew. He dropped the joints in a boiling pot. After a cup of tea, the vegetables followed. So did the children, as Roy ladled. Just as quickly, news Roy was making soup spread on the bush telegraph, Facebook on a smartphone by another name. “Mary X:Roy can i have some soup its mary palya im at frome street”
Roy’s roo tail soup fed 12 people and the rest.
Cooking time approximately one hour on open fire or on barbecue plate
Adjust up or down @ 6 people per tail, dividing or multiplying vegetables and water in the same proportions
Stockpot, serving spoons, ladle, large chinese soup bowls/enamel bowls
2 gallons/8 litres of water
2 large red kangaroo tails (to feed 12; easy to )
¼ kent pumpkin (or half a butternut pumpkin)
1/2 cup wholemeal flour (Gravox gravy powder was used in the camps)
1 tin peas
1 tin of sweetcorn
2 dessert spoons of spice mix (Keen’s curry powder was used in the camps)
1 heaped dessert spoon cumin
1 heaped dessert spoon turmeric
1 level dessert spoon fenugreek
1 level dessert spoon garam marsala
2 bay leaves
½ tea spoon salt
2 tea spoons pepper
Put the water on to boil
Make up the spice mix if none on hand
Skin the onion, add to water
Add spice mix to water
Peel and cut the vegetables in chunky pieces
Drain the tinned vegetables
Add ¼ parsnip and 1/3 turnip to water
Skin the tails and cut them into pieces at the joints
(to find joints, feel the tail- the tail bone thickens, and a knob protrudes next to each joint)
Add the joints to the water
Simmer for approximately 30 minutes
Add the carrots
Wait 5 minutes
Add the potatoes, turnip, parsnip and pumpkin pieces
Wait 10 minutes
Ladle out 200 ml (approximately 2 cups) of the stock, add the flour, stir until there are no lumps, and then stir the liquid back into the stock
Add the drained tinned vegetables and the cabbage pieces
Simmer for approximately 5 more minutes, until the potato pieces are soft, not mushy
Ladle joint(s) and mixed vegetable chunks into each bowl, then add stock to fill each bowl
Serve with damper (flour, water baking powder, cooked on a griddle or in the ashes) or bread and butter, and hot black tea with milk and sugar