Once or twice a week, farmers Lee and Geoff Williams jump in the back of their rusty old ute and spotlight for deer. They’ve been doing so for the past 25 years.
They call themselves environmental conservationists—they shoot deer to preserve their precious native vegetation and protect wildlife such as the endangered mallee fowl.
The pair also believe the biosecurity risk posed to their sheep flock is enormous.
Their 1,400 acre property is nestled between the Australian Deer Association’s property and thousands of hectares of scrub in south-east South Australia.
It’s a hunter’s paradise, but a conservationist’s hell. They loathe hunting and Lee has never shot a deer herself.
“No, I don’t shoot, I don’t think I’d like to do that,” she says.
“I find it’s an imposition I’d prefer not to have, because it does have lots and lots of conflicting views.
“They’re very nice animals to look at, they’re amazingly clever, but they just cause lots of issues.”
Lee, a wiry woman, has a dogged determination to get things done.
“I started off trying to prove a point,” she says.
“And I suppose I think I owe the scrub and the mallee fowl and everybody else my best effort.”
Her husband Geoff, an enormous man, also struggles with the ethics of hunting.
He does the bulk of the more confronting work, and is fed up with scrubbing his dirty fingernails and washing blood off his jeans.
The pervasive smell of stale urine and fresh blood hangs around you for days after butchering deer.
The sounds of skinning, dismembering and sawing into deer skull are what nightmares are made of.
The couple have what they call a “kill shed” where they skin and de-limb the deer. Sometimes they eat them, but when the meat is tainted it’s left to the dogs.
“I’ve got other things in my life I want to do than this bloody crap,” he says.
“I’d prefer to be growing things, not killing things.
“I’ve already told our crew, that on the night of my 60th birthday, in three years time, that is the last time I’m going spotlighting.”
Despite her husband’s insistence that his 60th birthday will mark the last deer he kills, Lee believes it’s almost impossible for the couple to stop shooting — at least with such a high deer population in the area.
“We can’t not do it,” she said.
“I think not doing it is more disastrous. If we stopped tomorrow we’d have 50 or 60 deer residing on the property.”
“We’re only addicted to it because the job needs to be done.”
Building a large fence might eliminate the Williams’s need to hunt so much, but would be expensive and require endless patrolling, as deer can jump and burrow under fences.
Lee says the family live a double life. Most people simply wouldn’t understand why they do what they do. An outsider might dismiss their fanatical approach to deer management as simply crazy.
“It is actually two lives that we live, because it’s just not palatable for people,” she says.
“I can’t stop doing what I’m doing.
“It’s the right thing to do.”