Looking back, it was fucking obvious who the killer was. But I was in the wrong headspace that morning to pull some Sherlock Holmes-style competence porn instant crime solving montage bullshit. When I stepped into my backyard for the first time in days all I wanted was some eggs to make my latest workout worth all the moaning and groaning. The last thing I expected was to turn a corner and find myself closer than ever to going Full Eco Radical.
But there I was, worming my way between the back fence and the chicken fence, trying to find where my feathered housemates had cached their zero-mile, garden-to-table, ethically-sourced, organic protein. What I found wasn’t just a series of empty nests, but the almost complete absence of chickens. Until, looking up from their most recent stash house, I found myself in the aftermath of a fucking massacre. A single wing of the brown chicken just lying there, torn from its torso.
Taking in the crime scene – no helpful chalk outlines or white body-suited forensic scientists to read me in – my eyes followed the trail of carnage. Far too many feathers from the little white chicken marked the path to the second wing of the brown chicken. And that was all that remained of them. No other remains to be found.
Proper shook, I paced around the backyard seeking more clues as to who or what had murdered the fuck out of my chickens.
I call them friends, and joke about them being housemates, but those unnamed birds weren’t pets, but charges. What I was reeling from was my failure to protect the animals with whom I’d made an unspoken pact: ‘You give me eggs. I feed and protect you.’ And they were always on the menu as a meal of last resort.
I’d moved into this share house for the chickens and the backyard. I was also shifting from a preoccupation with surviving an impending economic collapse to understanding how to navigate an unending ecological one. The garden I set up, and those chickens, were my testing grounds for becoming a better caretaker of the land under my care. The chickens got most of the kitchen scraps. What they couldn’t eat composted amongst the native trees and bushes. Our green bin never went out onto the nature strip I still mean to rewild. The investigation I needed to perform was on just how this plan – and this pact – had been dramatically torn apart.
In my four-year stint as co-guardian of the small flock, we’d lost chickens to various factors, but the cause had always been obvious.
Until a few months ago, the primary suspect would’ve been my dog Shiva – but she’d since passed onto the next realm. Unless her soul was trapped in purgatory and her unfinished business was killing those chickens, I’d have to stick to less supernatural explanations.
Yeah, that chicken fence I laboured to build wasn’t to keep them in, but to keep her out. Left alone with a larger flock by my ex-wife years ago, she’d solved the puzzle of where meat came from and must’ve seen old Looney Tunes-style roast chicken-outlines permanently overlaid.
And boy, did I labour to construct that barrier! Hauling huge chunks of bluestone to secure its base, propping it up with old mop handles and garden stakes. Tying lengths of chicken wire together with cable ties found at the bottom of my desk drawer. Yeah, total kludge job, less picturesque than Mad Max-esque, but that’s totally my aesthetic and it did the fucking job.
The Easter before moving into this place I was in full Mad Max-mode, exiting Coober Pedy to explore the post-apocalyptic badlands where the British Army tested their first atomic bombs – which was all those fucks thought that land was good for. The pact they made was to join the ranks of ‘the destroyer[s] of worlds,’ as Oppenheimer put it – an escalation of the mindset that first brought the British Empire here.
Departing at dawn, our sole companions were kangaroos leaping beside our kitted-out 4WD. Peeling off the main road, leaving behind the-world-as-we-knew-it, I clambered down from the passenger seat to open a giant gate. The threshold we were crossing was the largest fence in the world, far grander than what I’d fashioned in my backyard: The Dingo Fence. Roughly twice the length of the Great Wall of China, it exists to keep dingoes out of the fertile areas of eastern Australia. ‘Cause whitey don’t like ’em eating their sheep, any more than cattle raisers in the US like wolves feasting on their stock. And that is, in my somewhat expert opinion, total bullshit.
If there was a right time to build a Dingo Fence, it was 5000 years ago when dingoes arrived here. Instead, a pact was made between the First Australians and their canine companions – with both prospering as a result. Together, they found a way through dramatic change.
Look at a map of Indigenous Australian cultures prior to settler colonisation and you’ll find the entire continent occupied, each culture adapted to their habitat. Compare that to the largely coastal population centres today, still forcing European agriculture on land that can’t bear it, from bases whitey established wherever their ships landed a couple of centuries ago.
Those chickens, the little white one in particular, would still find a way out, or just straight-up fly – as effortlessly as roos leap over the Dingo Fence – to the other side of the backyard. For all the years she was with me, Shiva only once succeeded in getting her Staffy jaws locked on a chicken which, yeah I felt the worst about and was helpless to do anything but watch it die under a tree.
In my defence I’d protected the chickens from her on many occasions. Most dramatic was my housemate crash-tackling Shiva at 8am, teeth already sunk into the chicken, all of us screaming – creating such a raucous that my neighbour’s head peeked over the fence, hand ready to dial 000. But man, we saved that chicken and it gave us eggs for years to come.
My neighbours cats though, they were the first suspect on my list. Like seriously, cats are serial killers, donchaknow. I’ve read too much about the carnage felines have committed to wildlife, and these two cats in particular act like they run the whole block. But something about them being the culprits didn’t pass the smell test. Much smaller prey seemed more like their game.
The one suspect I can alibi is my dog Phoebz. I’d barely been outside because she’d gone mysteriously lame. She wasn’t up for leaving the house and neither was I. It was too soon to be caring for another injured doggo and my mind went straight to fearing she’d be joining Shiva in that farm in the sky. The emotional bond with my dogs trumped the utilitarian pact I had with the chickens, and I’d neglected my responsibilities.
My housemate? He rarely did more than throw out feed for them first thing in the morning. The pile of uneaten pellets that had accumulated pointed to this horror having taken place around a few days ago.
All the usual suspects rounded-up in my head and eliminated, only one natural cause remained. If you’ve any experience raising chickens, you prolly figured this out already. Clearly, I’ve been short-sighted in my defence strategy. But in the years I’ve been living here, it only just hit my radar.
It was during another rare trip in a gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing motor vehicle. Chatting away with my friend about whichever forgettable Hollywood blockbuster we’d infiltrated the local shopping centre to watch. In the dimness of dusk, what should run across the road but a fox?
I didn’t expect to see that invasive urban predator any more than I expected to stumble into the murder scene that, I now realised, it – or one of its den mates – had perpetrated. About the same size as Phoebz, who’d materialised beside me during more successful egg hunts. The fence I’d worked so hard to build was no barrier to either of them.
Foxes have thrived since their introduction by the settler colonists who are my problematic ancestors. When the opportunity arose to conclusively rule out my neighbour’s cats as the culprits, I recounted my grim discovery, inquiring if they’d brought her any ‘presents’ of late. She shared my horror – assuring me they hadn’t – then delivered her personal infodump on foxes. Apparently you can find a fox den within 200m of any point in Melbourne. And, she informed me, that when foxes detect the absence of doggos that protecc they’ll fill their belly with whatever opportunistic kills are available.
So bust out the -CASE CLOSED- stamp, right? Mystery solved! Time to regroup and move on. Slow your roll! See, I don’t blame those furry tricksters. Foxes gonna fox. Just as rabbits gonna rabbit – and I’ve spied a colony of those white fuckers the foxes no doubt also feast on hanging out opposite the park I take Phoebz to. The real criminals aren’t the animals, but the system they’re thriving under.
So, What is to be done? Appealing to the coal-worshipping, ecology-destroying, colonist civilisation built on the bones of genocide feels… kinda futile. Only extra-judicial action seems apt. Going Full Eco Radical. Tearing down the structures that are ruining this evermore sun-burnt country. All those suspects I’ve ruled out? They’d be no threat if dingoes were set free to do what they do best: feed on feral cats and foxes. That Dingo Fence – and all it represents – has to go.
In fact, fuck it. Let’s celebrate their return to the rest of Australia with a feast of old! Rounding up the livestock that destroy topsoil and fart methane. There’s 100M+ sheep alone right now, barely surviving yet another drought. Take a fucking hint! Better to give their tragic lives meaning in death: a dramatic ritual sacrifice – blood, bone and ashes replenishing the land. Plus, kangaroo is delicious and hunting them is far more ethical.
In the world I see, there’s no fucking barriers to a better world with nature restored. In the future I dream of, the 200+ years of colonist occupation are just a blip in the 60-80,000 years of responsible caretaking of Australia. This isn’t some noble savage hippy bullshit, but a pathway for all life to prosper, together. This country isn’t going to survive escalating climate chaos unless we lean hard into a more fruitful relationship with it. And fuck anyone who doesn’t understand that.
There’s no question in my mind who the real invasive predators are now.
Another bit of Dark Extropian Musings…