Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Dingoes, Dogs and Sheep

This article is based on several pieces Berenice wrote in the mid-late 1970s and should be read in the context of that period.

In her first book published in 1979 Berenice wrote:

All breeds of dogs are highly excited by sheep, particularly ewes and lambs. Following white settlement, it was not long before more remote farms, many of them established in country that should never have been used for farming, were reporting sheep losses.

No doubt many were due to dingoes, but the ranks of dogs in the wild were being filled by a far greater enemy; the European domestic dog gone wild or running uncontrolled. The reputation of the Dingo was being further damaged by the fact that all dogs running wild were being lumped together as dingoes, and the Agricultural Departments set up 'Dingo Destruction Boards’ to control their numbers.

However, because dingoes (and dogs generally) cannot co-exist with sheep, a relentless war of destruction has been waged against our native dog for over 200 years.

The first report of sheep killing was in 1788; the bodies, or remains, were found close to the natives' camp. Whether the native people had killed them, or their dogs, or whether the settlers themselves were guilty and made it look as if the natives or their dogs had, was never established. Fortunately, Governor Phillip's scrupulousness for fair play and the rights of every individual, protected the innocent, and his report made mention that the settlers were hungry, and could have been guilty of the slaughter.

People were very much under the influence of the superstitions of the Middle Ages – the big bad wolf image. To the early settlers, Dingo became Australia’s version – despite the fact the wolf could be three times the size and weight of the average dingo. It has been proven the wolf’s indiscretions are greatly exaggerated and there are very few if any proven cases of wolves attacking humans, or stock unless sick or weak.

In the early days, many told stories of terrified people followed by dingoes. Perhaps like the wolf they followed out of curiosity only.

We know it is historically correct that cattle brought out by the First Fleet were lost and then found seven years later near Camden, NSW. The herd had grown from 7 to 60. If dingoes were so murderous in their attacks on stock is it not strange they didn’t clean them up immediately?

In the early-mid 1970s, when Berenice and others kept dingoes illegally, very few were privileged to know this much maligned animal for what it is.

The dingo people kept quiet because their hands were tied, and their mouths gagged for fear of bringing the law down on themselves and their beloved, respected dingo who had to masquerade as a cross-breed, sheep dog, cattle dog - anything but what it is.

In the eyes of the law Dingo was, and still is in parts of the country, a noxious animal, vermin, a price on his head. has up to date information about the legalities of keeping a dingo state by state.

The body responsible for controlling dingoes was known as the Dingo Destruction Board. It was renamed the Wild Dog Destruction Board in the late 1970s and defined a wild dog as:
"Any dingo or native dog or any dog which has become wild, or any dog which apparently has no owner and is not under control".

This meant any dingo was guilty simply because he was a dingo. He may live in isolated ranges on mice, rats, frogs, rabbits, wallabies; in other words, keep a balance of nature, but because he is a Dingo, he is guilty.

He may have been a well-trained working dog, or a well-mannered, obedience trained house dog, but he had to be destroyed because he was a dingo and therefore guilty.

The shocking cruelties metered out to dingoes were, and still are, unbelievable; dingoes with their leg caught in a trap, dying after days of torture; left to starve to death in pits; skinned alive or kicked to death.

All dogs chase sheep. Try to run sheep near towns and you have every loose dog within miles chasing

them. In times of drought even a starving dingo will venture into farming areas.

It is the domesticated breeds that have been specifically bred for stamina, aggression, savagery. The wild animal for the most part kills to eat – and sleeps two thirds of the time.

Berenice recorded:

I have seen sheep torn to pieces, cows calving attacked, prime stock put through fences and chased till they lay exhausted. I have seen a cow with her inside strewn over the ground, and still alive; all the work of domesticated breeds. And yet, people who live in isolated mountain country say they have heard the howl of the dingo in the breeding season but seldom, if ever, seen one. Naturally you get exceptions and some dogs for some reason or another develop a taste for sheep and these must be controlled. A farmer I know employs a dog trapper full time; Labradors, Dobermans, shepherds, various working dogs are the main stock killers. Dingoes are protected on his property.

In August 1976 then Premier, Neville Wran, expressed his horror at the indiscriminate use of 1080 poison and general contamination of our wilderness areas. He called a Dingo Seminar to question the use and need of aerial baiting, and predator control generally.

Berenice recorded her interaction with pro poisoning attendees:

The meeting was well attended by the grazing fraternity who waylaid most of the women who attended (the "greenies"), with copies of horrific photos of sheep torn apart by "dingoes". I reacted in disgust at the slaughter and in all innocence asked, "Did you see this happen?". "Oh no. You never see them. You just find the results of their lust for killing."

"But if you did not see the attack, how do you know that dingoes were the culprits" I asked, adding that in New Zealand they had similar attacks on sheep, and there were no dingoes there. The attackers were uncontrolled or feral domestic breeds.

This argument seemed to cool the enthusiasm of all who approached me, and they seemed to shrink in stature and disappear into the crowd to await a less prepared victim.

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