As a young reporter, kangaroo-paw bottle openers set my investigative juices flowing. Where did all those amputated limbs come from? While my efforts produced but few hard facts, I’m guessing they were more valuable than the latest green-inspired documentary listing kangaroos as endangered
The controversy rages over our kangaroo-meat exports to Europe, with Greens luminary Lee Rhiannon among those presenting a horror-cruelty film Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story to the snowflakes of the European Parliament. I’m a Perth boy of Kendenup-Mt Barker heritage, and in the south-west in the good old days we always treated roos as nuisances. Roo-shoots at night from a ute combined good works with entertainment.
Let me now take you in my time capsule back half a century, when you, a pale-faced Eastern Stater, have arrived at Perth Airport by a state-of-the-art TAA Boeing 727. You exit via the gift shop and browse the shelves for a souvenir to take home to loved ones to commemorate your epic and safe flight.
“Hmm! These look nice!”
They’re chopped-off paws of kangaroos, a sort of visual pun on the kangaroo paw plants flourishing in the gardens outside the building. The actual paws are about 10 inches long and the fur ranges from white through fawn to brown. At one end the five claws and palm are lacquered black, and at the other the amputation is concealed by a steel circlet. Fixed into the circlet is a bottle-opener, paper knife, can-opener or shoe horn.
One model in this novelty line has a thermometer fixed midway down the paw. The thermometer fluid seems to be red ink, and from a distance it looks as though the paw is still bleeding.
“Greetings from Perth, WA,” is inscribed on the metal fittings. Prices are $5 to $7 [$60-80 in today’s money].
In my role as The West Australian’s reporter-at-large, I see fit to look into this souvenir trade.
“Where do you get the paws from?” I ask Miss Andrea Lee-Steere behind the counter, wondering if they are a local industry.
“Kangaroos,” she says.
“Do you like them?”
“We’ve got a bottle-opener paw at home. It looks tremendous on the cocktail cabinet.”
“Do they sell well?”
“Four or five a week. Some people think they are gruesome but most people off the planes are really impressed.”
My arrival at the importers in Perth causes some consternation and steely-eyed glances, particularly when I want to know who produces the paws.
“We don’t say where we get any of our stuff from,” says a representative. “Once we told someone and people started ordering stuff through him direct instead of through our agency.”
He considers the paws are horrible, but says they sell well. It emerges they are made by a struggling migrant in a garage in an outer Melbourne suburb. He had been looking for something original to make, and the paws combined the attractiveness of kangaroo fur with absolutely unshakable authenticity.
Where does the struggling migrant get his raw material from? No-one in Perth knows.
I suggest the paws could be a by-product from the pet food industry, but they don’t think so. I eventually decide that a truck must materialise once a month and tip a load of kangaroo paws on his driveway – an interesting subject for Salvador Dali to paint.
Is anyone in Perth thinking of setting up a rival factory? This is, after all, the Kangaroo Paw State.
No, they say, there’s nothing brewing in that direction.
Being a sentimental bloke, I conclude, “Maybe it’s time to pause on the poor paws.”
Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here