Berenice Walters, the Dingo Lady, spent her adult life fighting the Dingoes’ cause. This Blog is a tribute to her work to have the Dingo recognised as Australia’s native dog and as an important part of the Australian ecosystem. Berenice was dedicated to educating the general public about the attributes of these wonderful primitive dogs.
After leaving school Berenice started work as a stenographer with for Nuffield (Aust) Pty Ltd and worked there for two years.
Nuffield staff photo. Berenice is on the bottom left
Nuffield Head Office, Zetland
In 1947 Nuffield Australia was initially an assembly plant for Morris minor and Morris Oxford cars. It was established on the former Victoria Park Racecourse in Zetland (Sydney). In 1954, it merged with the Austin Motor Corporation (Australia). The location of Nuffield is just five kilometres for the heart of Sydney.
Newly unpack Wolsleys with the old racecourse in the background
during this time she met her future husband, Bern. They had attended Primary
School together, but he was sent to relatives at Tumbarumba, high up in the NSW
southern Tablelands, during the war years.
to Berenice, Bern had led a very independent and free life.His experiences working out on distant
properties, of outback New South Wales and southern Queensland fascinated her
and filled her with a longing for a hitherto unknown existence.Berenice was besotted.He seemed to represent everything she dreamed
of - animals, the outback, trees, farming, a freedom from problems associated
with responsibilities; of adventure.
Last year I submitted the story of my personal involvement with Berenice and her Dingoes in a short story for the Seniors Card. I was amazed when I was recently told this story made the top 100 and will be published in a book along with the other stories. I hope you enjoy it.
I met Berenice Walters, founder of the Dingo Sanctuary, Bargo and known as the Dingo Lady about 1988 when I was Tourism Manager for Macarthur. Her passion for Dingoes was infectious and I became an enthusiastic supporter; Dingo handler, sponsor and Board member.
I spent a lot of my spare time at the sanctuary and with Berenice as my teacher and mentor became confident talking about Dingoes and introducing my favourites to visitors.
My full time job involved very long hours and a lot of stress. When things got too stressful my favourite things was to visit the sanctuary just before closing.
After saying hello to all the Dingoes, spending extra time with each of my favourites, 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.
My son, Clinton was also a welcome visitor. His favourite Dingoes were Wattle and Oola. One time Dr Harry Cooper visited and Berenice asked if Clinton could come. Clinton not only featured in the episode of Talk to the Animals, along with Wattle, but was included in the opening of each show.
The dingoes were mostly on their best behaviour on the day except for Wattle who knocked Dr Harry’s glasses off in her exuberance and Humpty-Two who chewed the expensive cover of the outdoor microphone when no one was watching.
Clinton and I also participated in the annual DingoFest which included a parade of dingoes. Clinton would parade his precious Oola and I would provide the commentary.
I was honoured to be trusted by Berenice to take a Dingo out for socialisation or promotional activities. When we organised a fair at the Liverpool Visitor Information Centre the sanctuary’s volunteers brought along several dingoes and we put on a mini Dingo Parade.
Merigal Dingoes at Liverpool Colonial Fair
One of my roles as tourism manager was co-ordination and promotion of the AussieHost customer service training program. The sanctuary had a littler of pups due and I spoke to Berenice about my idea of sponsoring a pup as the mascot for AussieHost to attend certificate presentations and other events.
My reasoning was twofold; using a Dingo would draw attention to the program as well as to the sanctuary and its work.
We had been successful in taking Dingoes to a variety of tourism events including the annual Tourism Expo at Darling Harbour. Their presence always drew attention to our displays.
The Dingo I sponsored was named ‘Hostie’. My beautiful girl was socialised early; attending her first promotional photo shoot at six weeks old.
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.
From the age of 8 weeks she attended AussieHost certificate presentations and tourism promotional events. She was a hit with everyone she met and very relaxed under any situation although car travel wasn’t her favourite thing.
One of the certificate presentations was to be held at the Campbelltown Catholic Club. I rang the club prior to the function and asked if I could bring a Dingo. A moment of silence came from the other end of the line, then a little giggle and “I thought you said a Dingo”.
“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 titbits.
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 handlers came to collect them.
Sometime later, while attending a conference in Dubbo, I contacted the handlers to see if I could visit the now adult Dingoes.
I was made very welcome by the staff and taken behind the enclosures to be let in through a back gate. To my complete delight they remembered me and jumped all over me. It was a moment I will never forget.
At Dubbo Zoo
As I write about this special time in my life I am working on Berenice’s biography. I had been out of touch with Berenice and her daughter Christine 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 manuscripts, photos and videos. This is involved digitising everything so that her years of research and work will be available to future generations of researchers and students.
I have published one a book about Berenice and three of her dingoes titled “For the Love of a Dingo”.
My time with the dingoes taught me a lot about Australia’s native dog and I was very lucky to have experienced a very personal relationship with many of them and to have received their love in return.
But, mostly it was a great honour and a privilege to be involved with an inspirational lady who had dedicated her life to educating people about our wonderful Dingo.
The short and sweet of it is having dingoes in the system the whole system benefits.
The conservation of dingoes is hampered by economic conflicts between predation and livestock production.
Dingoes are the top predator in Australia's terrestrial ecosystems but their abundance is controlled because they prey on livestock.
Dingo control (trapping, poisoning and shooting) is associated with increased populations of herbivores, which leads to reduced cattle conditioning and fertility through competition for pasture.
Research has demonstrated and proven that where dingo populations are left alone the competition for grazing reduces, so it's a win-win situation for the graziers and our ecosystems. So, education, funding and advocating for guardian animals is the way forward to dingo conservation and both sides need our support!
Extinction Rate Statistics Attributed to Foxes and Cats...
One of The Dingo Debate’s strongest factual arguments was its analysis of extinction rates where there were and were not any dingoes. Johnson from James Cook University discovered that mammals and marsupials in areas with healthy dingo populations survived much longer than they did in environments that did not have dingoes. In fact, 90% of ground dwelling mammals had gone extinct in areas where dingoes had been banished from. This local extinction rate was the direct result of foxes and feral cats. Johnson further states that “his interest in protective effect of dingoes began years ago”.
Johnson’s interest in the protective effect of dingoes began when we was working on a northern New South Wales cattle farm that was owned by “very good naturalists”.
He was conducting a study on wallabies in the area. To his surprise there were no foxes in the area. The property owners explained to Johnson how they didn’t bait dingoes because they understood the importance of apex predators in an environmental system and how vital they are to sustaining and maintaining the ecological balance.
Johnson’s new perspective (from his disposition change on the dingoes) directed him to change his study on the cattle farm. His new study was to look at fox and cat population and how many threatened native animals were on the cattle stations. After weeks of meticulous research, he did not discover any foxes or cats in the area. Positively he also found that the area was a haven for rat kangaroos, bettongs and threatened marsupials.
Johnson further explained another eye opening situation that happened only a few weeks after he finished his study. A colleague of his was doing a study on the endangered rufous hare-wallaby in the Tanami Desert. While his colleague was studying the wallaby he observed that the dingo was occasionally eating them. He notified the local parks and wildlife services and it resulted in the poisoning of all the dingoes in the area. After the dingoes were poisoned from the site Johnson’s colleague stated,
“Within two weeks, there were foxes on the site, and they killed off all the hare-wallabies. That species is now extinct on the mainland”. – Johnson’s Colleague (Levy, S. 2009)
Key Observation of Mesopredator Release
The upsetting outcome of the rufous hare-wallaby is a strong example of mesopredator release. Mesopredator release is when an apex predator (dingo) is removed from a system and the lesser predator(s) (cats/foxes) become unchecked and unchallenged. This is the syndrome of a worsened ecological balance due to the elimination of the top order predator that is replaced by the lesser predator. There have been several studies in North America with the same situation. All of the studies clearly show a negative impact on ecological balance.