(Above is a narration of the following story)
Very few people dispute that the childhood we experience determines what sort of adult we become. Or as William Wordsworth puts it “The child is father of the man” more widely interpreted as “The Child maketh the Man”.
I was bought up in a medium sized country town in NSW, Australia. It was a very beautiful town, it had a crystal clear river running through it, with willows on its banks and sandy shores. But the town also had its darker side.
One of my best friends who was in my class, lived a couple of doors from our house, we walked to school together each day. My friend’s younger nephew, Graham, who lived in Sydney, would come and stay with him most Christmas holidays and over the years I got to be close to him also.
Graham’s parents in Sydney ended up winning the first Opera House lottery in Australia in 1960 (a lottery that was organized to fund the building of the Sydney Opera House). In the first major kidnap case in Australia, young Graham, my friend, was kidnapped from near his home in Sydney, for ransom.
But, ever so sadly, he was killed by the kidnapper a few days later. I was 11 years old, my first brush with the darker side of life.
When I was 13, a girl in my class, who I was quite close to as we had been in the same class since pre-school, was playing on the school oval on sports day, which was bordered by that picturesque willow lined river. She was somehow taken unseen and molested and killed by someone recently released from a mental institution.
There was no counseling for us, her classmates, in those days. I have strong memories of our teacher crying and dismissing the class for the next 2 days.
I had another friend I use to hang out with a lot, he told me one day that he would catch cats and slit their throats because he wanted to experience what it was like to watch them die.
But the close friend I wanted to talk to you about liked to hunt. This was not unusual in a country town. When he was 13 he saved up his pocket money and bought a rifle, a 22 rifle, which was the envy of most of the other boys. Every opportunity he got he would go shooting, mainly for rabbits and foxes. His next door neighbor, who was considerably older, and in the army, would take him to different properties on the weekend, shooting for rabbits. He became a very good shot.
So during the school holidays he would leave the town where his parents were and go back to his family farm, which had been in his family for 4 generations. His grandfather, uncles and nephew lived there (and yes, those are my uncles in the photo). I did visit that place on occasions and it was in the high country where it was always a cold, windswept and a harsh place, with bracken ferns and logs from cleared timber everywhere.
As soon as he arrived he would go and get as many traps as he could carry and sent out with his rifle and set a trap line, probably over 3 or 4 klms long. The next morning, while it was still dark, he would set out in the bitter cold and go around those traps and see what he had caught overnight, taking more traps with him, expanding the trap line.
When he found a rabbit caught in one of his traps it would be it total fear. With a broken foot or leg caught in the trap, it would try to escape, only to be pulled back by the secured chain.
The kid would walk up to the trap, lift the rabbit by his hind legs, and break the neck of the rabbit with his hands. Then put the animal on his belt reset the trap, then onto the next one.
Occasionally a fox would be caught in his trap. Foxes would chew off their own leg to try and escape, so sometimes there was only their leg left in the trap. If the fox was still there it would be frantically be trying to do that, and when it saw him it would go crazy, running and tearing at the trap trying to escape in total fear. The boy would shoot it and cut off the tail as a souvenir. These days those traps are banned because of their cruelty, but in those days they were not.
He did this for 3 or 4 years, from when he was 13 until he was about 16. He killed 100’s of animals. I knew him very well. And I know what happened to him….. because ….I AM him.
That boy is me!
And that wasn’t the extent of it. Many nights I would go spotlight shooting with my uncles (and yes, those are my uncles in the photo below). And because I was a good shot with my rifle, and they had shotguns, I would take the shot that killed the animal. My ammunition was much cheaper than theirs. It wasn’t unusual for me to shoot 50 to 100 rabbits in a night.
My father was a keen fisherman, but never liked to shoot after being in WW2. He knew many of the famers around the town along the river, and he would go to all these obscure fishing spots accessible through these farms on dirt tracks.
So every weekend my father and brother went fishing and I went with them with my rifle. Fishing did not appeal to me, but I would explore the surrounds of the river while they fished. As we were driving in along one of these dirt tracks a large kangaroo appeared ahead of us. I asked my father to stop the car and I got out with my rifle, aimed at his heart and shot him. But I missed his heart by a few inches, and hit his vertebrae, and paralyzed him. He could not move, he just stood upright, immobile.
I walked up to him slowly and when I was very close, I looked into his dark brown large eyes. They were full of fear, he was shaking with fear. But….he looked into my eyes. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and at that point I realized that there was a person inside that body.
I was 16, and I started to cry. My father saw this and said “You have to shoot him and put him out of his misery!” I knew this, and I did, I shot him in the head as he was looking at me. I started to walk back to the car, still with tears in my eyes, and my father spoke again “you have to skin him, otherwise what was his death for?”
I didn’t argue, I was numb. I skinned him and took the skin home and stretched and tanned it…
………and I never shot another animal again.
To this day I can still hear the terrible quiet crunch and the way that feels when breaking those animal necks. There is a certain way it’s done that is unmistakable. There is never a week goes by that those eyes do not haunt me. I do not want to forget it, I need to remember….remember what I was like.
If each of us examined our lives, and could examine our past lives, we may all find such similar histories….
About 5 years on from when I killed that kangaroo, and I had just become vegetarian, influenced by this experience. Then, to my great good fortune and salvation, at the age of 22 I met my now spiritual teacher, Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda.
He introduced me to kirtan and Japa meditation, the singing and saying of the ancient mantras of the Holy Names of the Lord. My dear friend reached down, grabbed my heart, and pulled me up.
Thank you and Namaste.