For Michael Howe and his gang, the skin of the Eastern Grey (Forester) Kangaroo served many varied and important uses, with a quantity of kangaroo skins, needles, thread and a thimble being found at their hut near the Fat Doe River, now called the Clyde, in early 1815. Firstly, it could be made into caps, as worn by one of the bushrangers while raiding McCarty’s house in October 1814. The hide could also be fashioned into a cloak, providing extra warmth and protection from the harsh Tasmanian winters, as Michael himself made and wore while living in seclusion at his Shannon hut.
Knapsacks were also made with the skins, which were vital to the gang when collecting, storing and carrying any number of ill-gotten valuables and foodstuffs, such as the beef suet from one of Mr. Troy’s cattle. Further to these, the gang would have also made moccasins from the kangaroo skins, in the same way they encouraged George King to make himself a pair with a piece of green cow hide. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for Michael, the skin could be used to bind books that had lost their covers by continuous use and reading, such as his journal and Pitt’s gardening book.
The application of kangaroo skins and where to source them may have been taught to the men by the Aboriginal girls that were in the gang, as well as traditional techniques for using the skin and sinews.
Illustration by Aidan Phelan