What do you think about the kangaroo?

By Aaron Smith 7 November 2013
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A new study will look at the human interaction with ‘roos – why they’re loved, hated and chosen as icons.

SINCE THE DREAMTIME, when Kupirri, the giant red kangaroo roamed,  the ‘roo has sat at the very heart of the Australian psyche. Its place in our folklore is undisputed. However, little is known of our perception of this famous marsupial and this is something a new study at the University of Western Sydney aims to address. 

We all have a symbolic connection with the ‘roo. Maybe you remember Channel Nine’s 1960s TV series, ‘Skippy the Bush Kangaroo‘, or Maltida, the long eye-lashed mascot of the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Or maybe you sat up all night in September 1983, watching the Boxing Kangaroo flag on the mast of the Ben Lexcen-designed yacht when it won the America’s Cup.

It’s appeared on the pre-decimal penny coins as well as our dollar coins, and on our warships, and is on RAAF aircraft. Qantas also uses its image, while the Socceroos and Hockeyroos have adapted its name. 

Oh, and it’s part of our national coat of arms as well.


PhD candidate Pip Chalk of the university’s School of Natural Science, is conducting a unique survey studying these ‘human dimensions’ of kangaroos. Data from an online survey will capture views that Australians have of our most famous national animal, and may help us manage them in the future.

While completing her honours studying the Eastern grey kangaroo in NSW’s Hawkesbury region, Pip became interested in how the rural community interacted with the animal. “I realised there had never been a comprehensive study of the relationship we have with the ‘roo; that is, what the ‘roo means to us, not just ecologically but also socially – from tourism to sport. I have an interest in human-wildlife conflict, the controversy and angst that surrounds it and how to mitigate it.

“From being considered simultaneously a natural resource, vermin and a national icon that needs protection, kangaroos polarise opinions, making their relationships with people a complex one…A kangaroo bounding across the Australian landscape can inspire awe, but for people who are adversely affected by its adaptability and prolific breeding it can represent a threat to the local environment,” Pip says.

The online survey of the study aims to collect the widest diversity of Australian views and voices – hopefully “taking the heat out of the kangaroo debate”, she says. There’s even a question about Skippy. 

A now debunked legend, tells how Captain Cook misunderstood the word ‘kangaroo’ from a Guugu Yimithirr phrase. Maybe this survey at last offers a chance to better understand the animal and our relationship with it.

Participate in the survey