Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kangaroo . . .

The kangaroos in Tasmania, the Forester or Gray Eastern kangaroo, are smaller than those in mainland Australia. The Forester kangaroo can weigh up to 130 pounds and reach a height of 6 feet. They're capable of traveling about 40 miles an hour in their all-out jumping mode.

If a predator (like a dingo) pursues a kangaroo into the water, the 'roo can use its short arms to hold the dingo under the water until it drowns. Also, male 'roos really do box. They may be fighting over a female 'roo or 'practicing' by boxing with another male. Sometimes they lean back on their tails so they can kick the enemy in the stomach. These strangely graceful, yet comic creatures must have been a shock for newcomers to Tasmania in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

To the half-starved early colonials, convicts, sailors, and the military, I've learned that 'roos still made a tasty meal throughout the 19th Century. For my novel, I imagined that the prisoners in Port Arthur would welcome a story-teller. Here's Jake from Years of Stone, telling how a prisoner named Billy Hunt nearly escaped from Port Arthur:

“Yeah, I got a story. One that will make you laugh.” Jake’s stomach rumbled. “Billy Hunt almost got out of here. Somehow he got a ‘roo skin big enough to cover him and bribed his way out to where he’d hidden it. In the dark, he kind of looked like a giant ‘roo. The damn guards spotted him. They was as hungry as us, and they nearly shot him. They beat him near to death. I hear he went insane over at the Separate Prison. You don’t want to go there.”