As Tourism Manager for the Macarthur region I got to know the people and dogs at the Merigal Dingo Sanctuary (Australian Native Dog Conservation Society) in Bargo.
I became close friends with founder, Berenice Walters (known as the Dingo Lady) and through her learnt about Dingoes. I loved each and every one of these beautiful dogs but of course had my favourites.
My job involved very long hours and often a lot of stress and I would often visit the sanctuary and hour or so before closing.
After saying hello to all the Dingoes, I would spend time with each of my favourite Dingoes. They were:
- Wattle - who hid under her rock when strangers were around but had a collection of hair accessories hidden in her cave having pulled them from my head.
- Her mate Paterson - who preferred the more Australian name of Patto.
- The big cuddly Harry (we were not allowed to call him ‘fat’).
After closing, Berenice and I would enjoy a glass of wine in the sanctuary as the sun set. The Dingoes often broke into song, if they didn’t Berenice was always able to get them started. I am blessed to have been able to experience this on many occasions and always went home revitalised.
Spending a lot of my leisure time at the sanctuary, I became confident talking about Dingoes to sanctuary visitors, bringing my favourites ones out for them to meet.
Much of my own time was spent doing promotional work for the society and the little attraction was invaluable in the promotion of Macarthur in general and Wollondilly in particular.
I was honoured to be one of the few volunteers trusted by Berenice to take a Dingo out for socialisation or promotional activities; either for the sanctuary itself or for the region’s tourism promotion.
One of my roles as tourism manager was regional co-ordination and promotion of the AussieHost customer service training program. The sanctuary had a littler of pups due and I offered to personally sponsor one of the pups. I spoke to Berenice about my idea of this pup being the mascot for AussieHost attending certificate presentations and other events.
|Hostie at her first photo shoot|
The irony of this event was that it was held in a Camden Council building previously used by the Moss Vale Pastures Protection Board; the organisation that had been responsible for the Dingo ‘control’ activities in the district.
My reasoning behind using a Dingo as a mascot for the program was twofold. Using a Dingo would draw attention to the training program and to the sanctuary and its work.
We had been successful in taking Dingoes to a variety of local and big tourism events including the annual Tourism Expo at Darling Harbour. Their presence always drew attention to our displays. Another ironic situation was when the sanctuary received an invitation to set up a display in conjunction with the dog judging at the Sydney Royal Easter Show many years after Berenice first began to fight for recognition of the Dingo as Australia’s native dog.
But, back to Hostie. Attending promotional activities from the age of 8 weeks, she was a hit with everyone she met and very relaxed under any situation although car travel wasn’t her favourite thing.
“Um, yes, that’s what I said.”
“Oh! I don’t know I’ll have to check with the manager.” The manager came on the line and I explained that THIS dingo was the mascot for the function, extremely well behaved and socialised.
All went well until the food was served. Everyone was lined up waiting to help themselves from the buffet when Hostie decided she was the most important one there and tried to jump on the food table. I think in the end she got more to eat than anyone else because they wanted to feed her tidbits.
Once, she even attended a Nationalisation ceremony for Wollondilly Shire Council and got more attention than the Mayor.
The Dingo Sanctuary rarely bred stock but did breed for other sanctuaries and zoos.
One litter was selected by Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo for the new Dingo enclosure. I had spent a lot of time with these pups and had the pleasure of being at the sanctuary when their new handlers came to collect them.
|Reunited at Taronga Plains Zoo, Dubbo|
I don’t remember learning anything in particular about dogs in my volunteer role but I was over the moon the first time I visited Merigal (23 years after my RSPCA days) when Berenice exclaimed excitedly; “You’re such a natural with dogs! You know exactly what to do to gain their confidence.”
As I write about this special time in my life I am working on what has become known as the Dingo Lady project. A few years ago I met up again with Berenice’s daughter, Christine, who was also one of my staff at the Macarthur Country Tourist Association. (Sadly since writing this piece Christine has passed away)
I had been out of touch with Christine and Berenice for some years and hadn’t heard about Berenice’s passing following a long illness. Christine was concerned about the future of her mother’s records. I jumped at the opportunity to help out and agreed to sort through all her records and manuscripts. This is also involves digitising everything so that her years of research and work will be available to future generations of researchers and students. The ultimate aim is to publish Berenice's biography.
My time with the Dingoes taught me a lot about them and I was very lucky to have a lot of contact and receive their love in return.
But, mostly I was honoured to have known the inspirational Berenice Walters who dedicated most of her adult life to educating people about the wonderful Dingo.