Introduction to the Kangaroo Virus Project

I’d not long been back from Cambridge, England, when my partner and I decided to spend a day with my brother in Dryandra Forest near his home in Williams. We visited Congelin dam not far off the York-Williams road. My brother had been there a week earlier and found a number of dead kangaroos through the bush. On arriving, we immediately found a corpse floating in the dam like the rotting hulk of a whale. The dam was built to service the railway that used to cut its way through the forest late last century. Gnarled and petrified corpses in grotesque foetal-like positions were to be found through the bush. My brother recounted how in recent months kangaroos, not only in this district but throughout the wheatbelt, had been struck down by a mysterious “virus” that left them blind. He’d seen them hopping into fences and ploughing into tractors, dead in their dozens along the roads. Farmers had been shooting them in the fields, rangers had been shooting them in the bush. We talked about the release of the calici rabbit virus, how it had “escaped” before “release” from Kangaroo Island off South Australia. It seemed like a sick coincidence.

A couple of weeks later, my Uncle up at York mentioned that one of their ‘roos (they kept a number of kangaroos that had been saved from the pouches of does shot by hunters) had fallen prey to the blindness. He also added that old-timers had seen this three or four times over the last fifty years.

Greatly disturbed, I started writing the Kangaroo Virus Poem, and later, talking with my friend Ron Sims, mentioned that there seemed to be something that needed exploring. Without scientific methods at hand, we decided to approach it through art – words, sound, and images. Science and art have much in common. As a poet, I explore the data of language for codes and truths. I develop hypotheses and search for answers. Of course, much never progresses beyond the state of exploration, but it is the search that counts. This collaboration is both artistic and moral. As artists and collectors of data, we are in many ways impassive observers, but as people witnessing something profoundly unsettling and seemingly symptomatic of a greater ill, we can’t help but have strong opinions. Everywhere we look there are the signs of human intervention. Not least, ironically, in our use of language and image. But what we hear, and what lies before our eyes, can’t be ignored. Our visitation is problematic, but we don’t want to leave the environment any more disturbed than it already is.