How Many Kangaroos Were There?

How Many Kangaroos
Were There?
by Marjorie Wilson OAM, Director of the Kangaroo Protection Cooperative, Chairperson, Australians Against Commercialisation of Wildlife.

Red Kangaroos Drinking

How many times have you heard scientists and others say, “There are more kangaroos now than when Captain Cook arrived or when Australia was first settled? I was tired of people quoting this to me, so I decided to visit the Mitchell Library and check on the records of the early explorers.”


1788
NSW Port Jackson- “Kangaroos are very numerous here.”
1790 Tench “They’re sociable animals and unite in droves to the number of 50 or 60 together”
1802 Barrallie “The hills were covered by kangaroos”.
1813 Evans “Killed a kangaroo…there were plenty. Kangaroos can be provided at any time”
1814 Cox “Timber thin and kangaroos a plenty”
1815 Anthill “Chased kangaroos”
1817 Oxley “Dogs killed several kangaroos”
1817 Oxley “A flock of large kangaroos. There were plenty”
1818 Oxley “flocks of kangaroos like sheep. I do not exaggerate when I say that some hundreds were seen in the vicinity of this hill.”
1819 Howden “Kangaroos appeared in great numbers”
1820 Sutherland “A great number of kangaroos in South Australia.”
1828 Sturt “There were very many kangaroos, the intervening brush was full of kangaroos”
1833 Bennett “Kangaroos and emus were numerous”
1836 Mitchell “During the day we saw a great number of kangaroos”
1837 Oakden “Startled a dozen kangaroos”
1938 Hawden “During the day we saw numerous kangaroos”
1938 Hawden “Kangaroos in great abundance”
1836 Hamilton “Kangaroos rats, Toolache Wallabies were numerous ”
1840 Hall, Victoria “Game, most plentiful. Kangaroos tail soup in abundance”
1842 Henderson SA “Numbers of kangaroos”
1842 Hawker “We saw a great number of kangaroos”
1849 Sturt “There was no want of game of the largest kangaroos”
1882 Lyne “Kangaroos and emus! A plenty!


Historian Dr. John Auty writes:

Reference to historical records suggest high populations of kangaroos over much of their range. Early historical records are dotted with references to large numbers of kangaroos. For example in 1818, John Oxley reported hundreds of kangaroos at the foot of a hill in western New South Wales, now known as the Warrumbungles. Gilbert, collecting in the southwest corner of Western Australia in 1840 counted over five hundred kangaroos on the Gordon River Plains.

On the other hand some explorers noted the absence of kangaroos. For example the explorer Allan Cunningham in his diaries referred to days where there was “…scarcely a trace of either Indian or kangaroos”

In 1844, Leichardt confessed that his hopes of living off the land in his journey from Moreton Bay to Port Essington were dashed. He wrote: “It had now become painfully evident to me that I had become too sanguine in my calculations as to our finding a sufficiency of game to furnish my party with animal food.”

The fact that explorers based their provisions on the assumption that kangaroos would be available, and indeed found their absence noteworthy indicates that kangaroos were generally abundant. It is these references to the lack of kangaroos, however, that have perpetuated the myth that kangaroos were only in small numbers pre-European settlement.

Victoria now supports relatively few kangaroos, but in the 1830’s, we find squatters and officials noting significant kangaroo populations. Jamieson, the first squatter in the Mornington Peninsula recalling 1838, states “kangaroos were running literally in large herds.”

Sheep were run in ‘normal’ flocks of six hundred, cattle in smaller groups, so we may interpret “large herds” of kangaroos as being in the hundreds. Only small mobs in very few locations remain on the peninsula today.

By the 1850’s the kangaroo had become a scapegoat for land mismanagement. It was seen as one more problem facing the man on the land. But unlike many other environmental and economic problems facing these folk, the kangaroo could be dealt with by the age old expedient method of extermination.

Site Content ©2004 Australian Wildlife Protection Council l HOME l Web Design/Editor- Deb Barnden

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