The Trail of the ‘Roo: Kangaroo hunt

The Trail of the ‘Roo: Kangaroo hunt
WARNING: This clip may contain animal suffering
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Kangaroos are hunted in the bush to be collected for museums and zoos. A kangaroo hide is presented to the camera. Kangaroos hop into a fenced enclosure and are trapped there. Two men force a hat on one reluctant kangaroo and hold its paws up for the camera. The captured animals are packed into wooden crates for transport to the zoo where, the narrator says, they will live in 'steady, respectable, suburban comfort’.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

The McDonagh sisters (like their contemporary Frank Hurley) were still experimenting with the best ways to effectively combine sound and image for audience entertainment, with both sound effects and use of voice-over. This style of commentary is common to newsreels and documentary featurettes at the time (see Frank Hurley’s travelogues, such as Jewel of the Pacific from 1932, or an edition of the Cinesound Review). The informal and chatty tone, sprinkled with puns, aspires to connect with the audience and presents the kangaroo as a character. The animals are variously described as 'victims’ (after being skinned in the name of science), 'chaps’ and 'prisoners’ (when put into crates for transport). There are kangaroo-themed puns aplenty, such as 'here’s where the hops come from’ and 'no wonder it’s leap year’, making light of the serious work of capturing specimens for zoos and scientific purposes.

This clip includes kangaroos being kicked and provoked, and two men forcing a hat onto a reluctant kangaroo. In a later scene, a man boxes a kangaroo. In Frank Hurley’s Siege of the South (1931), made a year earlier, members of the Antarctic expedition ride the backs of distressed elephant seals. These scenes are examples of action shaped precisely for the camera for audience entertainment and were not uncommon in short documentaries of the period, even if today they might seem cruel. Kangaroo boxing also features in Ken G Hall’s feature Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), made a few years later.

Synopsis for The Trail of the Roo

This short documentary produced by the McDonagh sisters for cinema audiences is about the capture of kangaroos and rock wallabies for zoos and museums in Australia and overseas. It follows an expedition leaving Widgiewa Station in the Riverina region of New South Wales, the ensuing roo hunt and the transportation of captured kangaroos to their new zoo environments. It includes a voice-over narration scripted by poet and journalist Kenneth Slessor.

Curator's Notes for The Trail of the Roo

The Trail of the 'Roo is one of a handful of documentary featurettes made by the McDonagh sisters – Paulette, Phyllis and Isabel – pioneers of Australia’s early motion picture industry. As well as their four feature films, the sisters produced short documentaries for Neville Macken of Standardtone Sound Recording Studios, one of the first companies to specialise in the production of sound films. In 1932 they collaborated to produce Australia in the SwimStranger in his Own Land (about Aboriginal culture since European settlement), How I Play Cricket (about Don Bradman), The Mighty Conqueror (the only documentary about Phar Lap made when he was still alive) and The Trail of the 'Roo.

The McDonaghs had experimented with a sound-on-disc music score and three sequences of synchronised sound for their feature film The Cheaters (1930). In The Trail of the 'Roo they made the most of the soundtrack by employing a lively commentary scripted (but not spoken) by poet and journalist Kenneth Slessor. Slessor also wrote Stranger in his Own Land (1932) and How I Play Cricket (1932). The soundtrack in this clip was recorded separately to the images with sound effects and background noise added in the studio at the same time as the narration.

Notes by Poppy De Souza

Production Company:
MCD Productions
The McDonagh Sisters (Isabel, Paulette and Phyllis McDonagh)
Paulette McDonagh
Kenneth Slessor