Per kind permission Top Dog Journal
Dingoes came to visit us , sniffing for scraps around the fireplace at night. We used to see their tracks in the mornings. Dingo tracks are different from those of domestic dogs, and desert people like Kurnti can easily tell them apart.
One night when there was a full moon, I awakened to see two pale and silent ghosts slinking quickly through the camp. After that we started to leave bones for our dingo visitors.
When the lake ran dry, we shifted our camp to an abandoned mining bore, and installed a hand pump. The dingoes were not long in following us. Soon after we had settled into our camp, articles began to disappear; a milk tin, an enamel mug, toiletries. We recovered the missing items later from the surrounding bush; soap partly eaten, a new toothpaste tube punctured. As the heat increased we started leaving water for the dingoes in a bowl by the pump. When we moved to our third camp, forty kilometers north of the second, the dingoes found us again, visiting our fireside at night. Our new pump stood at the foot of the sandhill on which we lived, and we resumed leaving water.
One evening we cooked a bush turkey, and left it buried in the coals when we went to bed. Kurnti got up in the night to pull it out of the ground oven and stow it safely in a tree. For a bad moment he thought it had vanished. One of the dingoes had found and tugged at the head of the turkey, which, fortunately for us, had detached itself from the overcooked neck.
The dingoes had an uncanny way of knowing when we were absent during the day,and we often found their tracks when we came home from hunting.
If we had been careless in packing up before we left, they got into our food supplies. More than one packet of Weetbix went missing, and we followed the departing tracks to find its ripped remains amongst the spinifex.
Once we cut up and salted a bullock’s leg, and stored the pieces on a shelf of wire netting. We came home one day to find a hole ripped in the netting from underneath, and all the salt meat gone.We were not entirely sympathetic to the dingoes for the thirst they must have suffered afterwards.
Dingoes mate early in the dry season. Sometimes at night we would wake to hear them calling to each other, the yearning cries carrying far across the desert sandhills. The pups are born a couple of months later. One day we followed dingo tracks to the crest of a sandhill, where Kurnti pointed out some tiny puppy footprints.
The dingo’s den was concealed behind tussocks of grass. Kurnti knelt down and put his arm into the deep cavity. He pulled out three little female pups, all brown with white socks. Kurnti wanted to keep one of them. Though wisdom told me to leave them where they were, I allowed myself to be persuaded. We put two of the pups back inside their den, and carried the third away with us to our camp. I will not tell the story of our little dingo here. In her short life we grew to love her like a child, but at the age of only five months we lost her.
When we visited the dingo’s den a few days later, we found it abandoned. The mother had moved the remaining pups to a safer place a few sandhills away. During our second year in the desert we acquired a dog, a Bull terrier cross from a community near Fitzroy Crossing. Nip was a fat, round puppy, who soon grew into a stocky and energetic young dog. When he smelt dingoes approaching the camp after dark, he would stand up with hackles raised and bark hysterically, or rush off into the darkness to challenge the intruder.
Sometimes the visiting dingo stood his ground and there would be a brief struggle, then Nip would come tearing back to the safety of the fireside. One afternoon when we were walking down the sandhill to the pump, Nip suddenly charged off ahead of us. We heard a dog fight, more prolonged than the usual brief skirmish after dark. As we hurried to Nip’s rescue the noise stopped, and moments later we met a wild eyed Nip, racing full tilt back up the slope towards us, the big male dingo hard on his heels. The dingo was so enraged that he almost bowled into us, at the last moment veering off into the bush
Once, when we were absent for a while during the hottest time of the year, we found no dingo tracks when we returned. Kurnti concluded that the dingoes had traveled north to the nearest water, a permanent stream at the foot of a range of hills on a cattle station property. Station country is dangerous territory for dingoes, where they risk being trapped or poisoned. Happily, our dingoes came back safely.
After the first couple of years of visiting us by night, the male dingo became bolder, and no longer bothered to conceal himself. In the late afternoons we would see him strolling along the top of the ridge above our camp, then he’d settle himself amongst the spinifex to watch and wait. As soon as we went to bed he’d come down to explore our living space. Eventually we moved away from our desert camp to live in town. We left some of our belongings there and went to visit now and then, but our full time desert life was over.
Over the next few years we managed to keep track of the dingo couple, who still ranged over the same territory. Kurnti read their movements from the sand. The male had distinctive tracks: a front paw had once been injured, and the claws were splayed. They traveled sometimes as a pair, walking the road together. At other times they split up for days or weeks at a time, the male going one way, the female the other. Then they would find each other again. We saw no evidence of new litters, and all their adult offspring had gone.
Following good rain one year, we returned to camp for a while by the lakeside, and the dingoes found us. But they had become wary of us again, and no longer showed themselves during the day. Eight years after we first met our dingo neighbours, they still traveled up and down the mining road, but their steps were slowing down. Then last year we looked for their familiar tracks in vain. They have vanished from the sandhills, and we do not expect to see them anymore.=