Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Lucy and Narada: The Mount Panorama Dingoes

This story about Lucy and Narada is based on articles submitted to Merigal Magazine by naturalist Ian McArtney. He was manager of the Sir Joseph Banks Nature Park, once located at Mount Panorama, Bathurst in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.


Lucy lived with the McArtney family in their home travelling each day to work with Ian. Narada lived at the Reserve.  On New Year’s Day 1982, the dingo compound gates were destroyed when a tree fell across the fence and allowing Narada to escape.  He did not turn up again until the next day.

He was well and had killed a large 1.5 metres long goanna within the Reserve.  The same goanna had bitten Ian a month earlier. He needed 33 stitches in his left arm from the bite. Maybe Narada was getting revenge for Ian.

Until the fence was repaired Ian took Narada home each day.  Narada loved it and did not want to go back to work each morning with Lucy and Ian.

Meanwhile, Lucy was getting into a fair share of mischief. She chewed toys, books and killed the odd pet rabbit, guinea pig, possum. Ian realised this was part of being a Dingo along with the occasional "escape".  Her behaviour pattern was to do a lap of the block, sniff a few posts and turds, have a pee, and be back whingeing at the door, sometimes before she was even missed.

Both Lucy and Narada were much loved by the McArtney family and considered themselves lucky to share their lives with the two dingoes.

As well as travelling to work each day with Ian, Lucy was well known in the district for her public appearances around the Bathurst district attending school, street fairs etc.

Ian loved his beautiful Lucy, admitting he had never had anything to do with any animal like her.  She was cautious with strangers and a bit of a snapper to boorish adults, aggressive kids, or certain others for reasons known only to herself.  She was not always well-behaved, but always an instinctive killer of small prey.  She would give him the slip at the Nature Park and go off to kill a wallaby or a small kangaroo before giving herself up. She knew full well he did not like her killing and had an amazing ability to apologise, showing how sorry she was for her crimes; but seemed to convey she couldn’t help but to chase and kill roos.  After all, that's what Dingoes are all about, aren't they?

Narada had perfect manners and was affectionate to the extreme.  He put Lucy to shame in that area, but he was no watch dog. He usually disappeared under the house when strangers appeared.

Early one evening, Ian received a phone call from the local police advising a kangaroo was trapped in the spillway sump at Ben Chifley Dam 15 kilometres from Bathurst.  It was late in the evening so there was not much could be done until next morning.  Setting out to see if there was anything he could do he took Lucy with him as always.

The trapped animal was a Black Swamp Wallaby. It had fallen or jumped down 12 metres onto a cement floor with sheer cement walls on three sides.  Fortunately, due to dry conditions there was no water falling into the sump.  But, between the wallaby and freedom, there was a pool over 15 metres long and six metres wide, holding one and a half metres of water in depth then a long, cement slope of 90 metres (dry) leading to the main spillway pool.  It was 35 metres from one end to the other and full of very cold, deep water, not to mention heaps of water-weed and tangled fishing line.

Ian and Lucy jumped in.  Lucy was not impressed with the cold water, so Ian dragged her. They swam the first pool, climbed the long, cement slope, then Ian waded, and Lucy swam, the remaining 15 metres of cold and somewhat stagnant water to where the wallaby was stranded.

Lucy arrived first but did not attempt to hurt it.  The wallaby, on seeing a dingo, perhaps his most feared enemy next to man, panicked, and tried to climb the wall from where he had fallen, then bounded into the stagnant water with both Lucy and Ian in hot pursuit.

He soon discovered wallabies don't swim very well, and within a few yards it was floundering, but managed to scramble onto the slope with a little help from Ian, and a bite on the butt from Lucy.  Then down the dry slope to the main pool we all went.

Still in a state of panic, the wallaby jumped in, but almost immediately began to sink.  Being close enough to grab, Ian set out to swim the final 35 metres, swimming with one arm, and supporting the wallaby with the other.  By this time, he was freezing, and tiring from struggling with the tangles of waterweed and fishing line.  But Lucy was doing it with ease, just swimming in circles around him.

With about 18 metres to go, Ian thought he may have to release the wallaby.  But, there, was all that was needed, Lucy's tail.  He grabbed on. Lucy easily towed both the wallaby and Ian the final few metres to the edge.

Ian did not claim Lucy saved his life.  He could have made it himself, but his beautiful Dingo, certainly made a difficult job very much easier.

Back on dry land, an examination found the wallaby was almost dead from cold, starvation, and exhaustion. Its claws and toe nails had been worn away in its attempts to climb the walls.  However, it recovered and became part of a colony of Black Swamp Wallabies at the nature park.

The Easter weekend at Bathurst became a legend in its own time.  The Mount Panorama Motor Cycle Races the same year attracted some 26,000 visitors, and, as usual, there was the handful of rat-bags who seemed hell bent on making things difficult for the many genuine bikers.  Ian had Lucy with him day and night, on lead, doing fence patrol, and generally keeping an eye out for vandalism.

Lucy was the star.  When Ian had occasion speak to particular lads for entering the park illegally to collect fire wood (not a serious offence), Lucy showed just enough aggression to warn offenders she COULD mean business.

Lucy also made many friends.  Dozens of bikers wanted to have their photo taken with a real live Dingo.  "Where did you get her mate?" "How can I get one?" "My dad has one." (Ian later learned the young man was the son of Harry Sara, who had Lucy’s mother, Burdekin Lady fostered through the Society) and many, many more questions all dingo people hear hundreds of times.  Lucy also got to meet a couple of other dingoes along with their owners.

About 12.30am, about to go home and with Lucy on the front seat of the truck, they got stuck in a confrontation between gangs of mostly drunken youths holding impromptu Drag Races, and who resented his somewhat official vehicle and appearance.  As a result, he received a barrage of beer bottles, cans and rocks, and one "brave" young warrior attempted to punch him through the closed window of the truck, only to be met by a mouthful of white and very sharp dingo teeth.

Believing discretion was the better part of valour at this point, he discreetly put his foot on the accelerator and left the crowd under a hail of missiles.  It was probably the most violent weekend Bathurst has ever suffered.  No police confrontations, but violence among the few misfits, and running into about $16,000 damages to the park buildings, toilet blocks etc.

Ian was most relieved to have Lucy by his side, even if only as a psychological weapon.  She commanded the respect of even the toughest biker.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Little Aussie Battler

Wooleston Blue Jack
While working on stations, Berenice’s husband, Bern had a keen interest in working dogs as a pure breed and arrived in Bargo in 1951 with four working dogs, two pure bred Border Collies, and two Border Collie-Kelpie crosses. Not long after settling in they acquired a couple of working cattle dogs.

Visiting a local show with their two cattle dogs, the show dog fraternity laughed at them. This was also the first the Walters had seen "show" cattle dogs. Seeing some very dark, almost black, heavily built dogs, they wondered what they were. 

They were much larger and heavier than their own working cattle dogs - and yet they resembled them. Charlie Worth, a well-known exhibitor at the time, told them they were Australian Cattle Dogs and that there were two types of Cattle Dogs, the smaller lighter built blue workers, and these "show" dogs. Bern made his mind up right there and then they would beat them at their own game with dogs bred exclusively from working stock.

Berenice once recounted a comment she overheard from the public at the 1954 Royal Easter Show. Looking at the Cattle Dogs in the pavilion an observer said, "I didn't know you could show street dogs (referring to the Australian Cattle Dogs) at the Royal!”

Their champion cattle dog, Wooleston Jack, and his progeny helped change that. They were beautiful dogs who played an important part in bringing respectability to this little Aussie battler developed from the cream of British heelers.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Truth about Dingoes 15: Bringing back the dingo boosts ecosystem biodiversity.

Australia is a country known for its uniqueness.

Introduced species alter the Australian ecosystem. The introduction of plants and animals has drastically changed our landscape and consequently the history of many of our most treasured species. Australia now has the highest rate of animal extinctions in the world. A third of the global mammalian extinctions in the last 400 years have occurred on our own soil. This has been largely attributed to the introduction of foreign species.

Our country is completely covered in introduced species such as rabbits, foxes, feral cats, camels, goats, donkeys and wild dogs just to name a few. It is now more common to see a rabbit in the countryside than it is to see a bandicoot; the native that fills the same ecological niche but has been out competed by the rabbit. 

Conversely, some natives are doing very well from human settlement. Land clearing and dingo culls have favoured the kangaroo’s grazing style of feeding, enabling their numbers to explode. The problem seems almost irreparable.

A simple, solution to controlling pest species; the dingo.

In addition to land clearing, the problematic boom in meso-predators (smaller predators) and herbivores (native and introduced), has also been attributed to the noticeable absence of the dingo; a native apex predator. Comparable to the lions in Africa and the sharks in the ocean, dingoes are at the top of the Australian food chain. Like many other apex predators, humans have killed dingoes in large numbers. 

This killing has been rationalised as a way to protect livestock, humans, to keep dingo numbers ‘under control’. Dingoes have even by branded as ‘wild dogs’, implying that they are not part of the native landscape and therefore should be destroyed.

Dingoes restore order to the ecosytstem.

Dingoes are actually a keystone species; an integral component of the ecosystem.

Now recognised as its own species (Canis dingo), the dingoes presence in the Australian landscape helps to sustain ecosystem biodiversity. It does this by regulating the number of meso-predators and herbivores. This prevents native animals such as kangaroos, wallabies and emus from becoming pests and reduces the number of introduced species such as goats, camels and rabbits.

Biodiversity has already been restored in areas where apex predators have been reintroduced. Primary research in Australia has found that kangaroo and wallaby numbers are lower (and not considered problematic) in areas where the dingo is present.

Ecosystem balance is regulated from the top down.

The dingo can easily boost biodiversity; strengthening the populations of many wonderful native species. All that is required is the cessation of dingo shooting. In conjunction with population and habitat rehabilitation programs, our native animals may just have a fighting chance of surviving.


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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

There is No Native Dog

Dora, Berenice's first Dingo
In the early 1970s Berenice constantly harassed a variety of officials about the welfare of the Dingo, our Native Dog and was just as often told "There is no Native Dog, lady, only a Native Cat"!

Dating back to 1972, her many requests for approval to 'keep and train a Dingo' were met with denials and monotonous repetition of the fact that the Dingo is a noxious animal and its keeping illegal without approval; that the Minister would not grant approval to private individuals to keep animals classed as noxious; that any person suspected of harbouring such animals was liable to a heavy fine and the destruction of said animals; that the Dingo was a wild animal. 

When she hastened to explain the Dingo had been the domestic companion of the aboriginal people, she was tersely told "Look lady, you would not know because you've never had one.

“True”, she thought, “but my time will come”. 

Generally, Departmental individuals were sympathetic, even in agreement, but there was always the law strictly policed by the strong grazier lobby.

From the early 1970's, there was a general softening in attitude, and more neutral articles and letters began appearing in the press.  At this time, the prolonged and intense struggle for the initial recognition and acceptance of the Dingo took another step forward. 

Berenice was told if got a pup to keep out of the press, and don't call it a Dingo.