I’ve eaten roadkill, kangaroo and cormorant, but there’s one meat I won’t touch

Rosita Boland: I went feral while hitching across Australia, but still couldn’t stomach some foods

Kangaroo a and crocodile meat skewers for sale at a food truck in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: iStock

The first experience I ever had with roadkill was back in 1987, when I was hitch-hiking around Australia by myself, with tent and rucksack. I was somewhere in western Australia, when I got picked up by two men in a Holden panel van, the large car-stroke-truck everyone drove back then.

Journeys in Western Australia were long and places to eat along the way were few. The usual thing to do was stop, make a fire, cook, eat and then continue the journey. A few hours into this road trip, the guys pulled up, and announced it was time to eat.

“You want to join us?”

“Sure!” I said.


One man set about lighting a fire, and the other busied himself with taking things from the boot of the car, including an Esky; the coolbox that lives in the back of every Australian vehicle. He looked at me and grinned, as he lifted its lid off.

A smell so strong it was almost as physical as a slap emerged from the Esky. It was not a smell I’d ever come across before. Both men were grinning evilly at me now.

“Do you know what that is?” one asked, and invited me to look into the coolbox.

I looked in to see a huge and unfamiliar piece of meat.

“Roo. Found it this morning.”


“Side of the road. Poor bugger had been hit by something. Glen here, his dad is a butcher, so he got out and did a bit of skinning, a bit of butchery. We left the rest for other critters to eat.”

Back then, kangaroo was not usually on the menu in Australian restaurants. I had certainly never come across it. Feral as I had become during my year of hitchhiking across this vast, wild and beautiful continent, I had not yet come across road kill on a barbecue. The smell was so terrible I just couldn’t do it.

“Coward!” they laughed at me, tucking into the grilled roadkill. One stuck an unopened can of tomato soup on the barbecue for me instead.

“Next course!” And they returned to the Esky again.

Another giant piece of meat was put in front of me. It was some kind of steak, but of a size I knew had to have come from an animal larger than a cow. It also smelt incredibly weird, but nothing as bad as the roadkill kangaroo. I stared at it, and then I realised what it was.

“Horse?” I whispered. “Did you find that dead at the side of the road too?”

The horse cuts they had bought in a butcher’s shop. They ate their horse. I had the can of heated tomato soup, eaten straight from the tin. Later, I deeply regretted my lack of courage to even just try samples of both kangaroo and horse.

So by the time I got to New Zealand, I was ready to eat cormorant. Yes, cormorant. Yes, it is legal to eat it in a very specific part of New Zealand; on Stewart Island, 75 kilometres from Bluff on the South Island. Getting off the ferry, I was greeted by a sign that said: Next Stop, Antarctica.

Backtrack to the ferry crossing itself over the Foveaux Strait. I had run into a fellow backpacker, a French girl. She had been camping near Bluff and had made friends with some of the Maori divers who have precious inherited rights to freedive for abalone. They were the only people who could harvest it in this way, and there was a strict quota on what they could remove from the ocean.

“They gave me some,” she told me on the ferry. “Would you like to try some?

We were both going to be staying in the island's only hostel, and we agreed to cook this exotic dinner together. Abalone is the shellfish that comes out of those gorgeous iridescent shells. Almost all of New Zealand's abalone is exported to Japan.

The divers had told her to flash fry it in butter, and that’s what we did. To be honest, it looked terrible. Like green scrambled eggs. But the taste - all buttery and salty and kind of like a chewy hybrid between oysters and scallops, both of which I love - was amazing.

There are historic rights on Stewart Island to catch the cormorant bird and cook it. I had missed out on roadkill kangaroo and shop-bought horse, but I was definitely going to try cormorant. I mean, it was completely bizarre, but it was on offer, and I was now going to say yes to new eating experiences, instead of no.

Stewart Island, where only 400 people live, is a national park, and one of the very few places you can see the nocturnal kiwi (which, thrillingly, I saw). Being so small, there were only a couple of places to eat. One was a fancy restaurant atop a cliff. The other was the village’s sole bar. I guessed the fancy restaurant would make a better attempt at cooking cormorant, but when I tried to book, it was booked out for the entire three nights I was to be on the island.

So instead of cormorant done in sauce and gussied up by the restaurant chef, I had half a roasted cormorant and chips in the pub. The half cormorant arrived on the plate with no sauce, or no culinary fanfare.

The smell made the first impression. It smelt fishy. As in, actually fishy. I ate a chip. Then I took my knife and fork and cut a piece of cormorant. My head was saying it’s a fleshy, meaty texture, but my tastebuds were registering an incredibly potent fishy and oily taste. It was such a confusing experience. I ate a few more chips. Then I went back to my roasted cormorant.

I slowly realised that the bird tasted of what it itself had eaten during its lifetime. Fish. The taste of fish permeated its flesh, with an aftertaste of oil. I didn’t finish it, but I’m glad I tried it.

For the record, I have since eaten kangaroo - that wasn’t roadkill. But I have never eaten horse and probably never will.