From a young age I have always been my own best friend. I love my partner, family and group of good girlfriends, but I love hanging out by myself. Some of my best memories are travelling by myself and being alone with my thoughts. My grade 5 school teacher had a ‘chat’ to mum once. He was concerned about me, “She has a group of great girlfriends, but I see her wandering alone a lot of the time at recess”. When I was asked about it, I didn’t know what to say except; “I just like being alone sometimes”. Still to this day, if I don’t get enough alone time, I feel, I just, ….. I don’t feel myself. I don’t feel sad or isolated like some people do, rather I feel content with the thoughts and feelings I experience. It’s just me, hanging out with me having a good old time.
I grew up in a small town called Ballarat. Having a younger and older brother, I was a bit of a tomboy and loved to hunt and fish. Some of my earliest memories are hanging onto the back of a blue Toyota ute, whistling up foxes and chasing down rabbits. My brothers, cousins and I would eagerly run to fetch the rabbits once they had been shot. If the shot didn’t kill the rabbits, we would pick them up wounded, kicking and squealing and bring them back to the ute. Dad would wring their necks by holding onto their hind legs with one hand and stretching their necks with the other over his hip. Done correctly, the rabbit would stop squealing instantly and fall limp, eyes bulging and head flopping loosely. On really cold nights I would pile the dead rabbits in my lap to keep me warm.
I tried to break the rabbits necks so many times, but I was too little and wasn’t strong enough. I would try and imitate dad, as the rabbits screamed in agony from having their necks stretched, but not quite killing them. But as I grew older, I could confidently shoot, kill, skin and gut a rabbit, getting it ready for cooking. Sometimes Dad would skin a rabbit in such a way, you could turn it into a puppet, with the head still attached. Dad would put on his renowned Donal Duck voice while making the ‘puppet rabbit’ move about and say funny things. We would all watch and laugh and think it was the best thing ever.
Every Easter we would go camping in Victoria along the Murray River towards Boundary Bend. Fishing was my thing. I enjoyed wandering off alone, trying out new spots, cherishing the peace and quiet. That’s probably why I loved fishing so much, it’s something you can really enjoy alone. One day while camping at Boundary bend, I had enough of fishing and decided to go for a walk with my brothers air rifle. I was around fourteen or fifteen the time and I felt like crocodile Dundee, wandering the bush on the hunt for some food.
I set off from camp, along the fine dusty gravel walking track. The great Murray river on my left and bushland to my right. I walked along, eventually veering off the track, being careful of my foot placement so I didn’t make too much noise on the crunchy bark.
I had a pocket full of little iron ‘slugs’ to load into the rifle. I kept one in the barrel ready to go, with the breach of the rifle open like dad had shown us. We did lots of target practice, while camping. Shooting at cardboard from VB slabs nailed to trees or beer cans lined along the banks of the river. The air rifle had no scope, instead it had ‘open’ sights. You had to line the little metal prongs closet to your eyes up to the V at the end of the barrel. Once you were on target and had the rear sight lined up with the front sights, you’d be good to pull the trigger.
I was hoping to get a rabbit, I could imagine myself bringing it back to the camp, triumphant in providing dinner. I walked for about and hour, the sun now directly above me, I hadn’t seen or heard anything. As I got further into the bush, it became dense and thick, I had to make my way around big gums and over fallen logs. Just as I was making my way over a fallen gumtree, I spotted a herd of big grey kangaroos. There was twenty or so, only thirty meters away, munching on a small patch of grass in the clearing up ahead. They hadn’t spotted me.
A rush of adrenaline and excitement hit me as I slid extra quietly back down, my back resting upon the fallen gum. Squatting behind the log I gently closed the breach, making sure I heard it click into place. I was so excited to see some game to shoot at, I slowed my breathing and turned around as I stood up. Positioning myself standing, with the rifle resting on the log, I starting looking for a young, small roo.
Now, I’m not sure what you know about firearms, but an air rifle – or slug gun as we call it, isn’t a very powerful weapon. Basically, if you got shot in the leg from twenty meters, it would just piss you off. I knew in the back of my head it wasn’t powerful enough to bring down a roo. But being young I had hope. Hope that maybe if I shot one of them in the head, in just the right spot, just maybe I could.
I spotted a young one just off to the left, he was upright with his mouth full of grass munching away, totally off-guard. I took a deep breath and lined up the sights, aiming for the side of his skull. I held my breath as I slowly squeezed the trigger. The rifle let off a familiar THUNK as the compressed air pushed the tiny slug through the barrel. I watched my shot, it went straight into the young roo’s neck.
The little kangaroo flicked his ear and turned his head to look my way before returning to eating. It hadn’t even bothered him. I kept re loading and pumping slugs into the kangaroos, every shot not bothering their thick hides. A tick could’ve probably bitten them harder. I knew this for sure now, but I was still just having some fun target practice. Every shot not quite hitting the spot I was aiming for. I wasted most of my bullets before giving up and turning to head back home.
As I was walking home I knew I wouldn’t see any rabbits, so I made my way closer to the banks of the Murray to see if I could spot some ducks. After walking stealthily for half an hour there was nothing to be seen.
I was getting closer to our camp now and it looks like I was returning empty handed.
But I had that itch. I needed to kill something.
It was mid afternoon, the hottest part of the day. There were lots of birds close to the river, all having a good old time swooping down into the water and then back into the trees. They were beautiful birds, coloured with bright reds and greens. Some had speckles of blue and black, they were loud, constantly chirping as they swooped and played.
I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t even think. I clunked my second last slug into the rifle and positioned myself, free hand with the gun in my shoulder. The birds were high up in the trees, so I had the rifle pointed almost directly upwards. Without really trying, without really aiming and without really thinking I shot at the biggest bird there.
I heard the ‘Thunk’ of the slug leaving the rifle. Then I heard the heavy thud of it hitting the birds body.
The bird let out a single sharp, loud screech and fell to the ground ten meters in front of me. The rest of the birds disappeared and the bush went quiet.
My heart raced as prickles went all over my body. My face went cold and my neck and palms turned hot and sweaty.
I remember thinking only one thing and that was ‘No’. A voice inside my head kept going ‘no, no, no, no, no….’
‘Fuck, I wasn’t supposed to actually hit that poor bird’ I thought to myself as I lowered the rifle.
I walked over hesitantly to investigate.
I will never forget that little bird. He was bright and beautiful, a parrot of some sort. He was lying on his back, his wings both spread beside him like a colourful fallen angel. He was in shock and taking rapid, loud, quick breaths like a pregnant women in hard labour. I could see where the bullet went, into his lower body in the guts somewhere. He wasn’t moving, just looking up at me and trying to breathe. He was in pain and I had caused it.
I loaded my last slug into the rifle, rested the barrel on his little head, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. I never looked down, but the heavy breathing stopped.
I started walking back to the camp, thinking the whole time, ‘you are the worst person in the whole entire word’.
“No luck sheils?” Dad asked, seeing me returning empty handed.
“Nah, no luck Digger” I said as I exchanged my brothers rifle for a fishing rod. I grabbed a bucket of worms and took off to be alone.
I thought about that bird every day for a good while. I still think about that bird from time to time now, his little face and wide shocked eyes etched into my memory forever.
Well. There you go. A little dark story from my past. That story was a lot harder to write than I thought. It’s hard writing about things that you knew you once felt but don’t feel anymore, like, ‘I had that itch. I needed to kill something.’ Especially when you now know those feelings were wrong. I felt them all the same.
It’s hard to explain. When you have been brought up being told ‘great shot’ and ‘good job’ or ‘well done’ every time you kill something you think it’s the best thing ever. It becomes a hobby or a sport. You’re told, ‘better to kill your own meat than buy it at the supermarket, it’s more natural’. You’re conditioned to not think of the animal as a living being with feelings. The animals are meat, we eat meat and that is all. Growing up watching adults do things, you don’t question it, you just do what the adults do.
So that’s the way it was for most of my life. I never felt sorry for the fish, rabbits or kangaroos, because they were ‘going to good use’ to feed us. I never felt sorry for the hundreds of foxes we killed because they were ‘pests and killing the sheep’. Even when I first went vegetarian, it was for health and I still hadn’t made that ethical connection.
When the penny dropped and I started looking at all life as equal, that’s when I started to really think about how I was living my life.
I no longer hunt or fish. As a vegan, I have excluded using animals and animal products for any purpose. It feels great to live this way both mentally and especially physically.
However, I feel a deep sadness with how the majority of humans treat and view animals. Now that I fully understand, I expect this feeling will be with me for the rest of my life. But I also understand and accept that not everyone has made the connection and not everyone wants to. I felt so sad about the beautiful bird I killed that day, but I would have been so happy had I of killed a duck. For years I was terribly guilty about shooting the bird, but continued to eat rabbits, pigs, chickens and all sorts of other animals. My brothers shot many feral cats and I wouldn’t blink an eye, but I cried for days when our first cat named Tang ran away.
I have learnt now that all animals are equal and we shouldn’t love one and eat the other. If this story of wringing rabbits necks and killing beautiful birds made you feel sad, think about what’s on your plate and how it got there. I also hope this shows that no matter what family or background you have came from, it is possible to change the way you view things for the better.
Thanks for reading, my next story will be a little less dark I promise! xxx
Amazing photo’s of these beautiful birds from Simon Gould’s Instagram account @Hilarynathan.