News

Roos and roads are a fatal mix: Every driver has story to tell

By Vanessa Wiltshire

SIX weeks ago Sandra James was driving to work from Heathcote to Bendigo. Just like so many others who do the same each day.

It was 6.30am. Save for the reflectors on either side of the road, and the lights of oncoming cars, visibility was low.

Then, without warning, it happened.

A six, maybe seven-foot kangaroo leapt in front of her car.

Bounding across the road, it doubled back and hit the bonnet of the car. The marsupial landed so close to the windscreen that Sandra can still remember the detail and thickness of its fur.

“Although you half expect these things, it was still a shock,” Sandra said.

“I was right between Heathcote and Axedale. There were wire rope barriers on each side.

“I’m guessing the roo decided not to jump over and bounded back.’’

While Sandra escaped unharmed, her car was written off.

Unfortunately, Sandra’s experience isn’t isolated: dig a little deeper and it appears that everyone in the district has a ‘kangaroo story’.

Take Rosemary Hill for example.

She was also driving to work in Bendigo two months ago when she hit a large kangaroo.

“The force of the impact was so great that the kangaroo broke the windscreen and entered my car,” she said. “It ended up sitting next to me on the passenger seat, dead.

“I was terrified, it came out of nowhere”.

The impact was so severe that Rosemary was left with glass in her eyes and face. She firmly believes that speed saved further injury – and her life.

“I was doing 80 kilometres an hour,” she said. “Kangaroos are everywhere that time of morning, so I always slow down.’’

The car, which was a write-off, had been passed moments before by several vehicles, some driving more than 100km/h.

“Imagine if one of them had hit the kangaroo?” Rosemary said. “Everyone needs to slow down. I honestly believe that I still have my sight because I slowed down.”

A recent report by AAMI revealed that Heathcote has the third highest rate of animal collisions in Australia. Kangaroos make up the clear majority at 83 per cent.

Canberra was named the highest animal collision hotspot. This was followed by Wallan, just 65km south-east of Heathcote.

While the kangaroo problem is not new, some people are saying it is worsening as drought intensifies and Melbourne builds out.

Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said that she has raised concerns about kangaroo numbers around Heathcote on many occasions with the state government.

“While the government is spending tens of millions of dollars rolling out wire rope barriers, it is doing nothing to address kangaroo numbers, which are one of the greatest dangers on our local roads.

“The Andrews government needs to take a more active role in controlling kangaroo numbers on public land, particularly where they are having an impact on landholders.

“The government should also fence parts of the Northern Highway with kangaroo exclusion fencing, as has been done along the Calder Freeway and parts of the Hume.”

Middleton Motors spokesperson Ewan Middleton said that he has seen a ‘‘long and steady stream’’ of locals and visitors call for assistance with panel beating.

“It’s definitely a seasonal thing,’’ he said. ‘‘It tends to get much worse in the hot weather and drought. Kangaroos are in search of food and come closer in to town. That’s when accidents are more likely to happen.’’

Ewan said that it can be a costly exercise, even for people with comprehensive insurance.

“Generally the more you claim, the higher premiums and excess get,” Ewan said. “Financially a lot of people are doing it tough already. I don’t think that anyone, especially young people, should be penalised for hitting animals.”

Australian insurer Huddle may have an answer. In June they launched “Kanga Cover”, as an add-on to their comprehensive car insurance. The product covers a driver in the event of a collision with a kangaroo or other animal, meaning there is no excess. Customers can claim one animal collision a year.

While it’s unclear whether premiums are higher for people who live in collision-prone areas, Huddle does donate a portion of each Kanga Cover to the Kangaroo Protection Co-operative.

Then, if the financial impact isn’t enough, consider the cost of animal – and human – suffering.

Bob Fialkowski is known as the local ‘kangaroo euthaniser’ in Heathcote.

“I’ve been volunteering in this job for 18 months,” he said. “I’m generally called out once a day to shoot an injured kangaroo. But my record is five.”

Bob says the problem with kangaroos is two-fold.

“In the warmer months they are struggling to find fodder and come closer in to town, thereby making collisions more likely.

‘‘In the cooler months, when the rain comes, the grass grows. Along with it is a toxic weed called phalaris or bulbous-canary grass.

‘‘These kangaroos are starving from the summer and can’t stop eating. The weed is hugely poisonous to the kangaroo. They become uncoordinated, they can’t move or jump. The only humane alternative is to euthanise.’’

Bob says that although he’s a ‘‘tough person’’, things do take an impact.

“It’s all voluntary,’’ he said. ‘‘While I’m able to separate my emotions, it can be really traumatic for the person who has hit the kangaroo.

“Many people don’t even stop their car. They call WRIN, the police or council with just a vague detail of where the animal is.

‘‘But by the time we get out there, the animal has generally crawled off. It dies a long and agonising death.

Then there are the little joeys that are too young to survive outside the pouch. Or if they do get out, they’re near impossible to catch. All of this can be really hard.’’

Bob says kangaroo numbers aren’t necessarily increasing, but Heathcote is getting busier. Speed and distraction can also play a factor.

“I’d really like to see a truck bypass around Heathcote,” he said. “We want to keep the tourists here, but trucks generally don’t stop. People just don’t slow down as much as they should.”

What should you do if you hit an animal?

Stop. Move the animal off the road if it’s safe.

Call one of the following:

WRIN 0419 356 433 (save number in your phone)

Local police (03) 5433 3711 (Heathcote)

Local council ranger 03 5434 6000 (City of Greater Bendigo) 03 5734 6200 (Mitchell Shire) 03 5481 2200 (Campaspe)

Stay with the animal until help arrives

Check kangaroo’s pouch for joey

What can you do to prevent hitting an animal?

Slow down. Especially at dusk and dawn

Pay attention to your peripheral vision (trees, scrub etc)

Never swerve to avoid hitting an animal

The three H’s: Headlights, Hazards (flash), Horn (sound)

Invest in the safest car you can afford or get a bull bar

Keep a woollen blanket in your car to catch an animal

The McIvor Times contacted Huddle Insurance but did not receive a response.