When Brett, my Aussie acquaintance in Hong Kong, learnt I was travelling to Australia, he gave me a mission to accomplish: to have a ‘kangaroo burger’ on his behalf! Since in any case I’m partial to exotic epicurean delights – I’ve had, among other things, moose meat in Sweden, duck’s tongue in China and ostrich in Hong Kong – I told him I’d be happy to oblige. But such was the rush of work in the first few days that I didn’t have the time for anything more than a bite on the go.
In Sydney, last Wednesday night, however, my luck changed.
Trudging back from an interview with an Aussie sociologist, I was contemplating another rushed bite before heading to my hotel room to work. But since I had the luxury of time, and since Australian multiculturalism – the subject of my interview – extends to the range of international cuisines on offer, and since it was my last night in splendid Sydney, I passed up the tame offerings of Hungry Jack’s in search of something a little less synthetic.
On the city’s arterial George Street, there is an entire universe of restaurants, but when filtered through my budgetary constraints, barely a handful remained. I was about to give up and trace my way back to Hungry Jack’s when I stumbled on a Turkish restaurant.
I perked up instantly, and dreaming of falafels and kebabs, ran my eyes over the menu – and nearly keeled over in total disbelief. For tucked away among the shawarma and baklava were a distinctly un-Turkish range of meat dishes: kangaroo steak kebab, kangaroo steak burger and kangaroo rump steak! I animatedly ordered a kangaroo steak burger and watched as the waitress pulled out a small bucketful of kangaroo meat, grilled it and slapped together a juicy steak burger.
Some six million kangaroos are slaughtered every year for their skin and meat, but being notorious breeders – and consummate survivors – they continue to outnumber the continent’s human population. The female of the species begins breeding at 15 months of age, and keeps at it for much of her 20-year life span; the average gestation period is only about 35 days. Kangaroos are also a hardy species, and can survive on little or no water. If it weren’t culled for meat, it’s a fair bet they will overrun the continent.
The waitress served me my burger, and after observing all the rites of initiation – that is, photographing the serving from eighteen angles! – I waded in, simultaneously sending Brett a text message to mark the moment. The meat felt a bit chewy, but good, with a distinctive after-taste.
“Very costly, the meat,” the waitress said, in response to my cross-examination. “More costly than Turkish meat.” I asked her if the kangaroo meat was, like all other meat there, halal. “No,” she cackled. “It was probably shot.” But it didn’t matter, she added. “All the Muslims here buy it anyway!
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This culinary indulgence aside, I was in Australia on deadly serious work: to report on a recent wave of attacks on Indian students there. I met many students who narrated their experiences. But to put that in perspective, I also met students from other nationalities, Australian journalists, sociologists, community leaders, economists, police officials and academicians. And working within the word-length limitations of writing for print, I filed several news/analytical despatches and first-person narratives (including a rather interesting experience of being heckled at by a foul-mouthed white Australian woman in a low-income neighbourhood). Here’s a representative sample:
- Reports of attacks on students here and here, their preparations for self-defence (here) and lived experiences (here)
- Analyses of the situation here, here and here
- Diary despatches on ‘Australian Values’ (here), an encounter with a foul-mouthed sheila (here), on the class divide to the ‘racial’ issue (here) and my encounter with an Indian who forged passports (twice), jumped ship (twice) and entered into a marriage of convenience with a white Australian woman – to realise his dream (here)…
- Efforts at easing the tension – through cricket in Melbourne (here) and through community initiatives in Sydney (here) – and at cracking down on hate crimes (here)
- Interview with the chief commissioner of Victoria Police on the street crimes targeted at Indian students (here)