Tuesday 28 August 2018

Dingoes Win Best in Show at Sydney Royal

From the 1970s Berenice persisted in requesting permission from the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) to have dingo photographs displayed in the Dog Pavilion at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. The request in 1979 received the usual indignant and curt response refusing permission on the basis the dingo was vermin!

That same year, same show, Berenice’s young son, Ken entered two photos in the (RAS) Youth Photography Competition. 

His subject was a young Aboriginal woman with Merigal Dingo, Snowgoose; one titled Dingo, Dog of Our People, the other Dreaming. Both were accepted and displayed. Dingo, Dog of Our People happened to be the same photo they refused Berenice permission to display. Out of over 400 entries only 120 were selected to be displayed. The RAS had inadvertently displayed a dingo photo.

Berenice was delighted that in an unexpected and roundabout way two dingo photos graced the hallowed grounds of the RAS showground.

Berenice continued to pester the RAS with no success until 1994 when society member, Christine (Johnson) Anderson, finally cajoled enough RAS members to permit real live dingoes to be on display.

This provided the society an opportunity for the first time to show dingoes in their true light to both rural and city communities.

Christine took her two dingoes, Mingga and Cooma and set up a display drawing plenty of attention with Mingga and Cooma winning everyone hearts.

The presentation was on the final day of dog judging, when Breed Clubs were invited to attend with information and promotional stalls.

It was a major break-through for the society and the RAS were assured only Dingoes with permits would be on display.

The display attracted considerable interest from the public and dingo literature ran out by mid-afternoon.

At the stand members were inundated with general questions about dingoes, Cooma and Mingga in particular, and where more Dingoes could be seen. Many visitors were surprised to learn dingoes were living at Bargo, even a former Bargo resident. Some of the questions asked were 'How can I own a Dingo'? 'Can we breed Dingoes'? 'Why are Dingoes not allowed at more shows'? Most people were glad to see our Dingoes and a lot of genuine sympathy was generated for them.

We were invited back the following year, this time with AussieHost and three other dingoes taking turns to meet the public.

As usual Hostie, along with her fellow PR dingoes, was her calm friendly self and greeted children enthusiastically.

Again, our dingoes and display attracted considerable attention. The highlight was the announcement the society had won best display! Another first for the Merigal Dingoes – a win at an agricultural show and the Sydney Royal no less.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

The Return of Li’l Jo

Li’l Jo was one the most agile and cat-like Dingoes. She was highly intelligent yet readily trainable. She was one of Merigal’s most highly regarded females but very shy with strangers, possibly due to a shy mother, and insufficient socialising as a pup.

Society secretary, Malcolm Tellesson, offered to take her into his home at Five Dock, following the death of his pup in a car accident, and she seemed to settle in quite well. 

However, she was just waiting for an opportunity to escape, and when a second gate was accidentally left unlatched she did just that. She was seen dashing across a busy Lyons Road, Five Dock struggling over two fences in absolute panic, then she disappeared.

They knew she couldn’t be too far away, but there were a multitude of places where she could have hidden in the densely populated area. She could have hidden under a house, in the maze of storm water pipes, in the bushes of a nearby park or golf course - virtually anywhere. Berenice sensed Li’l Jo would survive; her fear of people forcing her to constantly hide. She must have been terrified. Torrential rain fell for three days after her escape, and during this time there was only one possible 3am sighting by a neighbour. Berenice and other members desperately searched the area for days. Leaflets were handed out to neighbours, every house-yard was examined, and radio stations who normally refused to advertise lost dogs, carried an appeal to thousands of listeners. For weeks regular advertisements appeared in newspapers, Councils were notified, and pounds searched. The response was tremendous but there was no sign of Li’l Jo. Although food was left out at various points near where she disappeared, none was ever touched. The only clue found was a long scratch mark on the roof of a shed where she had walked along a fence and tried to jump onto the roof but slithered to the ground. It had to be accepted she could have drowned had she hidden in the storm water pipes, but somehow, Berenice still believed she would eventually be found.

Malcolm dragged a leg of lamb around the district in the hope she would follow the trail back to his house.

Then Berenice had a brainwave. There was a park with thick bushes of lantana on the shores of the bay in the direction she had run. She wondered if they played tapes of the Dingoes howling in the dead of night, it may trigger a response from their lost friend. Firstly, they explained the proposal to the local police who patiently, and avidly, listened - but passed no comment. They must have thought it was a hoax, and in some way,  they could end up the "bunnies".

At around 1am, Malcolm and Berenice, armed with a tape recorder, drove to the park. It was very quiet and isolated, but a couple were enjoying the silence. As they intended to break the peace with an ear shattering burst of dingo howling, they prudently explained their intentions. Malcolm approached the pair, who no doubt must have felt a little dubious about being approached by a stranger in this lonely place. As they came together, they appeared to fall into earnest conversation for a few moments, then Malcolm returned. The couple left in a hurry, no doubt relieved they had escaped without more than a fright. Malcolm looked puzzled. He said he did not think they believed him when he said he was looking for a lost dingo and was going to play a tape of Dingoes howling.

The thunderous sounds of the Merigal Mob howling seemed to burst upon the silence of the bush. The reaction was immediate and incredulous. Dogs all around started to bark furiously. The whole area was immediately lit up as hundreds of lights flashed on and startled householders emerged from their homes. Some peered over fences trying to see what was going on in the park, yelling for silence. Stunned at the instant activity Berenice and Malcolm collapsed in a heap laughing while the shrill howling went on and on. If Li’l Jo was in the area, she most certainly would have bolted for cover. Sadly, there was still no sight or sound of Li’l Jo.

Four months later, Malcolm received a telephone call from the Council advising him that a "cross-shepherd" bitch wearing a collar with his Council tag had been picked up in Auburn, an adjoining suburb, and she was being held at the RSPCA Shelter at Yagoona. She also had five young pups. Could this be the long lost Dingo? With her deep chestnut colouring and black muzzle, she could easily be mistaken for a shepherd cross. Certainly, no one would expect it to be a Dingo.

A frenzied phone call to the RSPCA next morning requesting her left ear be examined for an ear tattoo 039 resulted in confirmation this was Li’l Jo. Within two hours Berenice and Malcolm were with her. She was unrecognisable. Her eyes and black face were distorted with mange; through stress she lay in a trance-like state. Berenice quietly stroked her and talked to her and eventually a glimmer of recognition showed in her eyes, then she tried to lift her head. The vet advised she had blood dysentery, was very weak, and only gave her a 40-60 chance of survival. However, by the time they were ready to leave with their very sick Dingo, she had brightened up considerably and the vet thought they would have a 50-50 chance of saving her.

On the way back to Bargo they stopped off at Camden for society vet Jim Della-Vedova to examine her. He considered the dysentery to be caused through stress and once she got home she would improve.

Turning into Merigal’s gateway, her ears pricked as she heard the welcome howls from the Dingoes, but she showed the first real sign of emotion when Berenice gently lifted her from the car and she saw Flowers, one of her dingo mates, coming towards her. Standing in submission, tail slowly wagging, she sank to the ground in utter exhaustion like an old, old dog. She was only two years old.

Li’l Jo recovered from the virus causing the dysentery, the rash slowly healed, but she and was scarred for life through the horrors endured while lost. By her general condition she had not starved, and she soon demonstrated just how skilled she had become in acquiring food. One of the most astonishing skills acquired while lost was the speed she could up-end a garbage bin and dive to the bottom of it. Every night she enacted the way she had survived. In the early hours, despite regularly feeding, she would do the rounds, rattling buckets and fossicking about, a way of life that had allowed her to survive.

She was forgiven for stealing food from the kitchen. Berenice understood why she would not sleep in the laundry until everyone had gone to bed and was always out in the yard when they got up. They wondered whose verandahs or laundries she slept in during her enforced stay in Sydney.

Li’l Jo was a powerful runner. She and Julie romped together in a frenzy of excitement providing there were no strangers about. She would race through the long grass by a series of energetic bounds like a kangaroo.

They believed Li’l Jo went to heaven when she died, because she had already been through hell.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Dingo Society Formed

Berenice felt Dingoes had many of the merits we attribute to our domestic dog companions and from the mid-1970s began an intensive campaign to debunk accepted dogma that Dingoes were savage, untrainable, contemptible and worthless.  

In this period, she trained several Dingoes in obedience (including off-lead work), eliciting from them more reliability than most get from domestic dog breeds. Two Dingoes topped their obedience classes.

It became obvious the efforts of one person alone would always be limited but at this stage, the authorities were poised to prosecute Berenice and forcibly remove her Dingoes. 

In July 1976 Premier Neville Wran stated he was horrified at the indiscriminate use of 1080 poison and contamination of wilderness areas saying, "this is a horrible way to die". He immediately, called for a Dingo Seminar to be held with the purpose of questioning its use and the practice of aerial baiting for predator control.

The announcement of the 'Dingo Seminar', was the impetus she needed to fulfil her dream.

Her goal was to form a group to continue and expand the work she had already started. As much as she and her family had struggled over the years, her commitment was such she mortgaged her property to finance the venture.

At 9 am the morning after the announcement she was on her solicitor’s door-step with news of her decision to form a Society.

No war was better organised, or more carefully planned, than her fight to improve the status of the Dingo. As in every war there are enemies, but there are usually supporters, too. Theirs was a totally hostile environment. Every person they came in contact with had to be won over, or at least put on neutral ground. One false move and the authorities had the power to enter her property, her very home, and destroy any animal they considered noxious. The local Moss Vale Pastures Board, in not prosecuting them, were put in an unenviable position. They knew they were under scrutiny always and the pressures at times were overwhelming.

It had to be a quiet revolution.

The same day, 15 July, she wrote inviting her supporters to become inaugural directors of the Foundation. Her invitees came from a cross section of the community.

Her letter outlined her vision and stressed the importance of the Board of Trustees be comprised of sincere and open-minded people with the aim of a better understanding of a much-maligned breed.

Her focus was based on her belief the Dingo would prove trainable and its unique talents could be developed for the betterment of society. The accent was very much on conditioning and training but an improved image for the Dingo was paramount.

The aim of the Foundation was if dingoes proved trainable they would graduate to tracking, bomb detection, drug detection and security work and, in Australia, could prove more suitable than European breeds.

The Foundation's headquarters would be at the Walters Kennels, “Wooleston” in Bargo.

The name she proposed for the Foundation was the Australian Native Dog Training Foundation of NSW.

Her recommended aims for the society were:

  • To promote the conservation of the Australian Native Dog in the wild.
  • To seek the granting of special licence to the Foundation for the training of the Australian Native Dog by selected individuals, the dogs to remain the property of the Foundation.

Their policies included protection of the Australian Native Dog throughout Australia; its removal from the list of vermin; to have all aerial baiting and indiscriminate trapping, shooting and baiting stopped; and to promote the tightening of laws governing the keeping of ANY dog with far heavier penalties for persons allowing their dogs to be uncontrolled at any time.

The word ‘training’ indicated their belief the dingo is not a true wild dog but the earliest feral dog. This was belief was based on Berenice’s theory the dingo was a domesticated dog of the aboriginal people, only becoming ‘wild’ due to white man’s ongoing campaigns against them. The original Constitution was drawn up by Berenice and Mr Caldwell.

On 13th November 1976 the inaugural meeting of the Australian Native Dog Training Society of NSW was held at “Wooleston Kennels” and chaired by the first Society President Mr R Fahy.

Sweltering heat and a swarm of flies did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of the 21 dingo supporters who gathered at the historic meeting in Berenice’s home. Nor did the possibility of Dingo Destruction Board officers entering the property to seize and destroy the 40 dingoes present who had been boarded out to “foster owners”.

In her address Berenice expressed her hope she had invited a thinking group of people who would question and keep questioning any relevant data and no wild claims, based on past theories, would be made.

The Australian Native Dog Training Society of NSW Limited (ANDTS) (later renamed Australian Native Dog Conservation Society Limited), was born.

In December both Mr Wran and Senator Tony Mulvihill agreed to be the Society’s co-patrons. These gentlemen had accepted the positions at a time when “Dingo” was most decidedly ‘a dirty word’.

Berenice’s property became the home of the “Merigal Dingo Education centre” later renamed Dingo Sanctuary.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

The Way of the Dingo

“If the dingo could speak it might with much more justification brand man a coward and a thief, for man took the land from the dingo and offered battle only when the odds were insurmountable in his favour.

The dingo once roamed free in regal supremacy among the animals of this vast land. The native people loved and worshipped it, and their nomadic life interfered little with its movements. ……. In fairness to this wild magnificent creature we should strive to preserve it in a suitable environment in our national parks and sanctuaries.”

These words come from the book The Way of the Dingo by Sid Wright first published in 1968. 


As a dingo lover, it is a tough book to read. But I must confess it is beautifully written.

Sid Wright was a dingo hunter and the fictional story is based on his experiences.

The reason I did read it was because Sid Wright also understood and respected the dingo.

I came across several letters and poems in tribute to the dingo written by him in Berenice’s papers and often included in the society’s journal. There is also a lengthy document he wrote titled “Kind Control” which outlines alternatives to protecting flocks and herds without involving the destruction of the dingo.