‘Mum’s army’ standing up to government power
On various Canberra reserves during the ACT government kangaroo killing program (now in its 5th year) citizens have been engaging in monitoring and/or civil disobedience, risking heavy fines and drawing public slander from government officials. For some the objective is to bear witness and for others it is also to disrupt the killing and to the extent possible protect some kangaroos and their joeys from the shooters. The cull was unexpectedly cut short on 7 July with 1689 adult eastern grey kangaroos and 701 pouch young killed and buried since the beginning of May.
The ‘diary’ is compiled from the accounts and anecdotes of various watchers and protectors on two reserves, Callum Brae and Wanniassa Hills. Personal names are used only when they are a matter of public record, and pronouns are kept vague to allow the perspective to move seamlessly from protestor to protestor. This is an abridged version of a longer diary and will be presented in segments of May, June, July.
MAY: MONTH 1 of killing season
Thursday April 30
Reserves close today. We hope for no killing anywhere tonight.
So we just strung shut all the gates to Callum Brae with string or wool. It’s not supposed to stop them getting in or even slow them down, just tells us whether they have been around since last time we put the string on.
Ever since they realised why we were doing it, they take the string down wherever they find it, irrespective of whether the rangers or the hired killers have actually driven through the gates. But it still tells us when they have not been around! Which is important when we can’t watch all gates sixteen hours out of every 24. The last watch checks all gates. String in place, we know they haven’t snuck in – via that gate at least – while we weren’t looking.
Saturday 2 May
Four shots fired at Callum Brae around 9 or 10 pm. Saw some dim light where the furthest gate might be – but couldn’t be sure it was there. Fourth shot was very close. Went up to our high hide. No spotlights or headlights, but could hear their voices. Sounded horn for several seconds, then a second blast, then beat a retreat. Must have scared the bejesus out of them. Half an hour later, heard one more shot, much further away, and called for back-up. But there were no more shots after that.
Only a day off full moon, and moon close to its zenith when the shooting occurred. So much for shooters not liking moonlight because it screws their night vision equipment.
One day future holo-vid makers might make a sympathetic comedy series called ‘Mum’s Army’. It will tell the stories of the women (and occasional bloke), mainly aged between 50 and 80, who tried to save Australia’s national animal from extinction in Australia’s national capital.
We will be hilariously depicted, clambering laboriously over fences, belly-crawling through wombat holes, diving (carefully) into ditches to avoid detection – and it will all be true.
At least we seem to be smarter than the average ranger.
Tuesday 5 May
Wild wind warning tonight, so unlikely to shoot (according to the parks administration). Still kept surveillance for several hours.
Saw a car blow up in a fireball on the road, police and fireys arrive. Police asked one of us if we had seen anything. We worried about our own cars, parked out there on the road unwatched most nights. It was probably just a stolen car, burned to destroy finger prints, forensics etc, but it’s still a bit disconcerting. What if someone takes it into their heads to believe those media stories about activists vandalising government cars last year, and has decided to get even by blowing up any cars left unoccupied around the reserves because they might belong to activists? (Dark, lonely nights can make you jump at shadows.)
Saturday 9 May
One of our cars was vandalised tonight while its owner was walking back to it along the road near Wanniassa Hills (WH). Drivable, but off the road for repairs for a couple of weeks. Fortunately he lives close enough to walk to the reserve – the kangas there are his personal friends and he is not about to abandon them. The police were called but didn’t bother coming out.
Soon afterwards, a couple of utes went hooning past our gate watch at Callum Bray (CB), flashing high beam and honking their horns as they passed. Passed us three times, repeating this behaviour. Don’t know if the two events are connected: either to each other; to our protest; to the strange vehicle seen hiding in his nook across the road last week; or to the fire-bombing last Monday. But we are going to have to be careful about keeping an eye on our cars for a while. Or else get dropped off and picked up after our watches.
Wild, freezing, slicing wind up in the high places tonight. Still felt cold with five layers including padded parka, full thermal underwear, gloves, scarf, beanie, blanket and two self-heating gel packs! Could have walked around to keep a bit warmer, but the ground is so treacherous in the pitch dark with tree stumps, fallen logs, sharp rocks, trenches, brambles, thistles, floating strings of barbed wire and so forth, don’t want to walk more than we already have to just to get there. Fall and break something in there and you could freeze to death before help reached you. Very glad to come out after a three hours watch.
No shooting while we were there as far as we could tell, but the wind is noisy, so we might miss shooting if it’s over the far side. Just hope the government is true to its word on at least the minor point of not shooting during wild wind events.
Twelve more weeks of this!
Wednesday 13 May
Saturday 16 May
Thirty five shots heard at Crace around 3 am. All over before anyone could get out there. Rumours that they are using silencers on their guns at Pinnacle.
Tuesday 19 May
All quiet again while we were there but, usual problem, we can’t be there 16 hours a night. Maybe they wait till they see no cars on guard. If so, it’s rather a dangerous game because, of course, sometimes we just get dropped off and picked up – so there are no tell-tale cars at the gates! Dangerous for both us and them. Imagine their surprise, thinking they’ve got free rein to shoot to their hearts’ content, and an air horn suddenly goes off right in their ears.
We know we can’t stop this massacre with so few people. But last year, we know we saved about 450. This year, with three months to cover, we doubt we’ll save that many, if any. All we can do is make them so jumpy so often they cannot kill quite as many as they want to.
Thursday 21 May
We keep thinking they must start seriously here soon, or they’ll run out of time. But then we remember – today we are only three weeks into this horror. A bit more than ten more weeks to go. Still plenty of time. That’s if they haven’t already been and gone in the hours we haven’t been able to keep watch.
Friday 22 May
Shooting going on at CB when we arrived at 7.30 last night. Horn-blasted them after the third shot. There was a fourth shot. A second horn blast ended the shooting.
Waxing moon, an hour and a half off setting. Every time we’ve caught them, there has been a different type of moonlight! Clearly the moon is completely irrelevant to their killing schedules.
They weren’t shooting in the same big open space below the ridge where we’ve found them several times before, nor down near Narrabundah Lane where we found them shooting once last year. Thought they might be down the far end of the reserve at the gate into Jerrabomberra West, so did the long trek round to look, but all quiet by then. They could also have been shooting along the chain of ponds that runs across the reserve. Will have to investigate new hides in that area.
Monday 25 May
We heard two shots at CB, sounded horn twice once from Narrabundah Lane gate, then from Narra hide. No more shots. But we went round to our ‘eyrie hide’ to be sure. Saw lights down in the valley – and then an astonishing four vehicles climbing the hill away from the reserve! As far as we can work out, they were heading towards Jerrabomberra Reserve through the adjoining farm, not through the part of the reserve that would take them directly to the Jerrabomberra gate.
Two rangers were waiting for us as we returned to the gate via ‘the long way’, as though we were just strolling along the road. At least we assume they were rangers. They were standing in the dark next to the cars that had been left for us at the gates and could just as easily have been vandals. One of them, without identifying himself or showing ID, started to ask, “What were you doing…?” We cut him off, answering, “We weren’t. But we are leaving,” and got into one of the cars. While we were starting the engine, turning on headlights, fastening seatbelts, they shone very bright lights into the car, possibly taking photographs. We hope they got our best sides – we worry about things like that at our age.
Wednesday 27 May
More action tonight. A couple of shots heard from Narra Lane coming from the direction of Mugga Lane. As we made our way towards our hide, two of us saw the lights of a vehicle almost on top of us, and went to ground. The headlights seemed to go off towards Narra Lane, so one of us hurried back to the hide round that end of the reserve, while the other kept watch from the Mugga end. Someone with a torch seemed to be searching for something (probably us) along the quarry fence. But no more shots were fired.
Signs about shooting at WH have moved from the reserve fence to the fences of the adjoining land. The government’s published information mentions some areas where they are shooting on adjoining unleased land but WH is not one of them. Wonder what’s going on. There were suspicions that they were illegally shooting in those paddocks in 2012.
One of us stumbled on some homemade flares, plastic bottle and lots of plastic soldiers in the Rose Cottage horse paddocks near the ACTEW water reservoir. Collected them thinking it was just kids’ rubbish: three homemade flares, some exploded plastic bottles, many plastic soldiers (some burned) and what looked like burned thin aluminium foil. Threw it in the garbage bin at home.
Friday 29 May
This morning at WH, the watch came across a much bigger homemade device, about the size of a WW2 hand grenade. Should have left it and called the police to the scene, but instead collected it and took it to hand it in at Tuggeranong police station, thought it might be related to loud bangs heard at WH last week (doesn’t recall which night).
Naturally, the police station went into lock down! The front desk staff became quite abusive. Our watcher was taken for questioning, asked all type of things about the horse paddocks, cutting of fences, whether there were others involved in the cull protest – did not seem at all interested in the apparent use of explosives in the horse paddocks.
Saturday 30 May
Shooting at Pinnacle, stopped by protestors entering the reserve.
An astonishing article in the CT today, [Simon] Corbell accuses us of releasing horses from the Rose Cottage horse paddock as some kind of bizarre protest action. In the same article, the police admitted that they have no reason to see a link between the horse paddock vandalism and our protest action, but Corbell waltzes in with an explicit accusation. And this man is the Attorney General!
Seems reasonable to wonder if the flares and bangs were deliberately intended to scare the horses into leaving the paddocks after the gates were vandalised – and if so why. Just to create mayhem, or a vendetta against the equestrians, or was it done intentionally as something to blame on us – something deliberately intended to try to turn other animal lovers in the community against us? Reichstag burning theories are tempting, but why the plastic soldiers? Just hope the police bother doing a really good, honest job of investigating the horse paddock incident and find those who did it.
There has also been a report of someone stuffing a dead joey in the letterbox of a senior public servant. Naturally they think it’s connected to the slaughter, and in this case they are probably right. The government has not even begun to understand the emotional trauma they are putting their own citizens through by pursuing this policy. Not only by the murder of kangas who are like personal friends to people who see and greet them ever day, and know every individual in the mob. Also the loss of faith in our political and judicial system through the failure of the ACAT to do its job.
Sunday 31 May
Two more shots heard at Pinnacle up north. Think it might have been a local farmer rather than the government’s hired guns back for another go.
TO BE CONTINUED