In the log-book of Captain Cook's first voyage around the world we find it recorded, under date of July 14, 1770, that "Mr. Gore, who went out this day with his gun, had the good fortune to kill one of the animals which had been so much the subject of our speculation, . . . and which is called by the natives kanguroo." This specimen (so fortunately killed by Mr. Gore) was in all probability the first kangaroo ever brought down by the gun of the white man; but, apart from the question of its priority, the feat could scarcely have been otherwise remarkable, for at that time Australia swarmed from end to end with countless millions of these curious creatures. Not one of its desolate plains or ghostly eucalyptus glades but was dotted more or less thickly with some of the many species of Macropidae; and it is safe to say that never, in any other country in the world, has any animal been so widely disseminated or so numerous as was the kangaroo in primeval Australia.
But a hundred years of civilization have wrought a change. The great marsupial has entirely disappeared from the most settled portions of the country, and in many of the wilder parts has become as rare an apparition to-day as is the American bison upon the plains of Montana. Indeed, one humorous gentleman whom I met in Melbourne professed to regard the kangaroo as an entirely mythical animal, deserving only to be classed with the sea-serpent, the dragon, and the "bunyip" of the black fellow, whose awful voice is heard in the dead silence of the midnight forest, but whose form has never yet been seen of man. Without taking this waggish proposition too seriously, one would not go far wrong in accepting its general tenor as indicating fairly well the true state of the case; for it is quite certain that the kangaroo has so nearly disappeared from most of its old haunts as to have already taken on some of that legendary interest which belongs to things of other days. They are still to be found in the remote parts of Gippsland, in Queensland, and notably in the unsettled portions of western Australia; but to be found at all in the year of grace 1890, they must be sought for diligently, and the sportsman who comes to Australia to-day with the expectation of finding kangaroos behind every bush, will stand a very fair chance of disappointment.
For this state of affairs the kangaroo has only to thank his own abnormal appetite. In the early days he was not only tolerated by the colonists, but was even regarded with a certain degree of favor, as a harmless creature who could be counted upon to furnish them with a never-failing supply of fresh meat; but when a little closer acquaintance discovered the fact that he was a most voracious feeder, —that one kangaroo, in fact, devoured as much grass as four or five sheep,— the squatters declared war upon the whole stupid, mild-eyed tribe, and inaugurated a system of extermination whose relentless prosecution has finally resulted in the nearly total extermi--of the species —in Victoria, at least. Regarded from the sportsman's point of view, their disappearance is certainly to be regretted; for their keen scent, their fine sense of hearing, and their extreme fleet-ness, were all qualities which rendered them a most attractive kind of game, whether for stalking or for running with the hounds. But it must be admitted that, when viewed from the squatter's stand-point, they were little better than a noxious pest, and their extermination was a consummation much to be desired. In some parts of Victoria they formerly outnumbered the sheep as two to one; and old shepherds have told me that it was not an uncommon thing to see the sheep and the kangaroos feeding together upon the plains, as many as two or three thousand kangaroos frequently accompanying a flock of a thousand sheep. Thus it will be seen that a "station" which, in 1850, could barely graze five thousand sheep, can now be made to carry forty thousand without any danger of overstocking. Hence the very natural desire of the squatters to rid the country of so formidable a competitor.
The work of extermination was at first prosecuted by means of great stockaded kangaroo pens or yards, which were built with a wide, funnel-shaped entrance, the flanges of which extended out a mile or two into the adjacent country. These were erected at intervals over the country, wherever the kangaroos were most numerous: and once a month, or so, all the neighboring squatters would join in a grand kangaroo "drive." Fifteen or twenty square miles of country would be surrounded, and all the animals within this radius urged gently into the wide mouth of the enclosure, and then forced into the pen at its farther extremity. From three to five thousand kangaroos were frequently secured at a single drive—not to mention the hundreds of wallaby bandicoots, native cats, and other small creatures which were inevitably caught in the general round-up. The sheep, of course, had the previous day been chased out of the region of the proposed battue.
Stalking a Kangaroo.
When the animals were all within the pen the gates were closed, and the dangerous "old men" shot down with the rifle. The rest were then slaughtered with wad-dies and short iron bars, powder and ball being held far too precious for such work. When the kangaroos became so scarce that these drives could no longer be continued with advantage, the scattered survivors were hunted down with dogs and horses. This was a dangerous but very fascinating species of sport, requiring trained horses and the most expert horsemanship; for the kangaroo, when disturbed, always makes for the thickest scrub in the region, and if the rider who follows is inexpert in the ways of bush horsemanship, he stands an excellent chance of having his brains dashed out against an overhanging limb, or his legs crushed against the trunk of a tree. Sometimes, too, the mild and gentle kangaroo himself becomes a serious source of danger; for an "old man," when winded and brought to bay, frequently proves himself a most redoubtable enemy. When thus cornered, he will generally turn fiercely upon his pursuers; and as the dogs attack him, he will lift them one by one in his arms, and disembowel them with a single downward stroke of his sharp and powerful hind hoof. When his only aggressor happens to be a man, he has been known to leap upon the horse's haunches, seize the rider about the neck from behind, and drag him from his seat; and then woe betide the unfortunate wretch, for his chances are small indeed. In certain parts of Queensland and northern Australia this wild style of kangaroo- hunting is still indulged in by the rough-riders of the "back blocks;" but the day is past in Victoria when that or any other systematic method of extermination is necessary; and the day has not yet come for that leisured class of ardent sportsmen who will one day preserve the kangaroo for hunting purposes, as the deer and the wild boar are to-day preserved in the state forests of France and Germany. In the meantime it is to be regretted that someone well acquainted with the subject has not been inspired to give us the result of his knowledge and experience; and it is with the feeling that this hiatus ought to be at least partially filled up, that I have been induced to add my own mite to the intimate history of an interesting animal which is fast disappearing, and will before long exist no more in a state of nature.