Wednesday 28 October 2020

The Dingo Lady and the Photographer

Snowy and Sunny. Photo by Fritz Prenzel. (Berenice Walters Collection)

It was January 1979; the last participants of Sydney's Australia Day Procession were returning to the marshalling area. As they passed the tens of thousands of spectators lining the streets, a group of 15 Dingoes had received a rousing welcome with the enthusiastic singing of ‘Come On Aussie, Come On, Come On; Come on Aussie Come On'.

During the march, Berenice was conscious of a bearded photographer popping up at the most unexpected and regular places to record the group’s progress.

As they dispersed, he happily greeted all the Dingoes and their handlers, incredulous that the beautiful, well behaved golden dogs were members of Australia’s 'dreaded’ Dingo breed, wild dog of Australia.

Their exuberant admirer was Fritz Prenzel, wildlife photographer and author.

After Fritz and his family visited Merigal a strong friendship developed between the Prenzels and Berenice.

His enthusiasm and active support grew to such an extent that he and wife, Heidi became regular, and welcome visitors to Merigal where they shared a special relationship with the aristocratic and aloof Napoleon, the exquisitely gentle and shy Snowgoose, and the exuberant and playful Coalby and Cambo.
 Cambo and Coalby. Photo by Fritz Prenzel. (Berenice Walters Collection)

Fritz took many photos of the Merigal dingoes gifting over 100 for Berenice to use wherever she wanted. These photos are now a valuable part of the Berenice Walters Photo Collection. The photo of Sunny and Snowdrift became well known and featured on the cover of Berenice’s third book, The Company of Dingoes: Two decades with our native dog

In 1981 an article about dingoes by Fritz appeared in Tierschutz Magazine, an animal welfare publication. The article, about the plight of the dingo included a short piece on the cruel attempts to exterminate them. Photos accompanying the article featured Merigal dingoes Napoleon, and Cambo and Coalby.

Monday 20 July 2020

Red Tape and Dingo Breeding – Whisty and Snowgoose

Berenice and Snowgoose
It started in 1982.

Snowgoose was a perfect Alpine Dingo, true to type with an excellent temperament. To safeguard against the loss of Snowy's line Berenice sought a mate for her of the same variety. 

Jack Throp, Director of Taronga Park Zoo, suggested Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria had a suitable male.

The first thing she needed was approval from the NSW Minister for Agriculture. This was granted on 8th March 1982.

In 1984 she wrote to Healesville Sanctuary, the Minister of Agriculture, Victoria, and the Minister of Conservation, Forests and Lands, Victoria.

Graeme George of Healesville welcomed the proposal for Snowgoose to travel to Healesville for mating with Alpine dingo Whisty and expressed interested in acquiring one of Snowgoose’s pups.

However, very little runs smoothly when it comes to bureaucracy and Dingoes. The reply from the Victorian Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands of 5th June 1984 stated that the Vermin and Noxious Weeds Destruction Board recommended permission not be given because it was against the philosophy of the Board to encourage proliferation of vermin animals.

Never one to have bureaucrats or politicians hinder her endeavours, on 10th July 1984 Berenice replied politely acknowledging the letter but firmly stating: It would appear from your reply that you are totally unaware of the aims and objectives of this Society which has been actively fighting against the proliferation of the Dingo as a Native animal in the domestic environment, since its inception in 1976.

She went on to explain the aims of the society and its stand against exploitation of the dingo.   She pointed out breeding of dingoes by the society was controlled and pups bred for purposes of education and research only, to maintain purity of the breed and its variations also stressing the request was to mate one of the finest examples of alpine bitches in captivity.

It was two months before she finally received a reply. In this letter Mr Mackenzie said since her original letter, Victoria had developed a set of regulations to control keeping dingoes in domestic situations and recognising the place of legitimate breeding programs.

He had reviewed his original decision and agreed to her proposal.

As Dingoes only breed once a year with mating occurring in autumn it would not be until the following year the proposed mating could take place. By 1985, at 10 years old, the beautiful Snowy may have been past breeding.

Snowy needed to spend some weeks at Healesville for the mating. Berenice, her husband Bern, and another society member undertook the then 20 hour return trip to inspect the conditions where she would be kept.

She was thrilled to discover Snowy and Whisty were to be kennelled in the spacious Quarantine Section.  After a tour and meeting with representatives of the sanctuary she had no qualms in agreeing to Snowy's proposed stay.

Local bushfires caused even more delays. Finally, in March 1985, accompanied by a society member, Berenice again made the long trip to personally deliver Snowy and help her to settle in.

They arrived later than expected and Berenice was concerned they may have to wait until morning. She need not have worried. The devoted staff of Healesville, who would be handling and caring for Snowy, had stayed back to meet her, assist with her settling in and introduce her to Whisty. Berenice was very thankful and most impressed.

Snowy and Whisty were immediately attracted to each other.

Berenice kept in contact with Healesville on a weekly basis, but it was not until 8th April that the news Whisty and Snowgoose had mated came through.

All being well, Snowy was due to whelp between 10th and 17th August.

On Tuesday 13th August society vet, Jim Della-Vedova, examined Snowy and noted what could have been one pup, still carried very high.

Saturday morning came and still no sign of a birth until about 12.30 pm when she finally went into labour. It was a difficult birth, but Berenice helped, and Snowgoose finally gave birth to one female pup.

In just nine days ‘puppy’ and her Mum were doing very well and had taken over the kitchen.

"Snobird" returned to Healesville Sanctuary, on loan, with the aim of forming the basis of a project to conserve this magnificent and fast diminishing variety of Dingo in captivity before it became extinct.

It took over three years for Berenice’s suggested mating for Snowgoose and both Merigal and Healesville used this line from Snobird with their own existing bloodlines so both institutions would benefit.

The Australian Native Dog Conservation Society went on to be highly respected as a source of Dingo pups for zoos and sanctuaries and developed several breeding partnerships.

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Tuesday 14 July 2020

Livestock Guardian Dogs at Work

From left: Prof Ray Coppinger, Berenice, Christine, Prof Erich Klinghammer and Prof Gerry Fowler
During her Wolfathon in 1987, with her daughter Christine, Berenice met and travelled with Ray Coppinger. Ray and his wife, Lorna, had become well-known in the USA for introducing livestock guardian dogs.

During their four days stay they were excited to be invited to accompany Ray to farms when collecting pups or advising on problems arising with the dogs. One deer farm where a puppy was delivered had stock killed regularly for months, and despite calling in all the experts in predator control, the killing went on.

When the owner explained his problem to Ray, he said 'no problem', and loaned the farmer one of his females. The killing immediately stopped. It was Ray's opinion the killing was being done by a Coyote female with pups.

At first, they had heard a lot of barking at night, but there were no losses. So impressed were the owners they invested in a pup reared under the watchful eye of Ray and continued to keep the deer herd free from attacks by predators. Just another satisfied customer in the ever growing tide of supporters of the belief stock losses can be cut by methods of protecting stock through exclusion of predators as opposed to extermination of predators whose rights to survival had been totally ignored.

Tuesday 30 June 2020

Merigal Dingoes and Taronga Zoo

Merigal Dingo Sanctuary established an early relationship with many zoos and wildlife sanctuaries including Western Plains Zoo, Perth Zoo, Healesville, Featherdale and Taronga Zoo providing dingoes for their facilities.

In January 1994 six pups (three mountain and three tropical) were donated to Taronga Zoo. In turn, Taronga offered their three elderly dingoes to Merigal aged 6 months.

The pups’ enclosure at Taronga had been designed by Trevor Charles, Manager of Taronga’s Australian Mammal Section and long time member of Merigal. It proved to be an attractive and informative display.

There were some problems with settling the dingoes in. The tropical dingoes, with who had wild born parents dominated the domestic bred mountain dingoes.* One fight ended when all three dingoes involved rolled down an embankment and into the moat!

The three retirees settled in well especially Luke who was visited local journalist, Michelle Burrell who quickly discovered Lukey was not the bloodthirsty beast of legend but just want to be friends.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

The Walters Move to Bargo. An extract from the forthcoming biography of Berenice Walters, The Dingo Lady

Berenice and Bern had a longing to live in the country. Instead of the university education Berenice had steadfastly refused, her father bought them a 24 hectare property in beautiful Bargo, 100 kilometres south-west of Sydney.

When they arrived, farming was the main activity in the district with large poultry farms and cropping of peas, beans and other pastures.

Bargo is well known as the place the first Koala was sighted by a white man in 1798 when one of an expedition group described it as a quadruped larger than a dog. The group were also the first white men to see a Lyrebird but thought it was a pheasant. Its ornate tail was recorded, and the nearby district became known as Pheasants Nest. The bird was shot and sent to England by Governor Hunter. 

There was also the first recording of a Wombat when expedition leader, John Wilson, pointed out dung to one of his travel companions. They slept overnight in the district then known as Bargo Brush.

Today, a plaque in the town commemorates the historic first recorded sightings. It is mounted on one of three roughhewn boulders. The flanking boulders carry plaques depicting a Lyrebird and Koala.

By the 1880s Bargo Brush became infamous as favourite haunt of bushrangers and a popular stopover for Cobb and Co coaches on their way south.

Life on the farm for the Walters was hard work but they revelled in it.

It was a life many city folks would not warm to. The mail man only came two or three times a week and parcels to and from Bargo were sent by train and collected from railway stations. Fresh fruit and vegetables, unless home grown, were bought from a travelling greengrocer fortnightly.

Their house, wired for electricity, provided electric lighting and power for a refrigerator but drinking water was rainwater collected from the roof and stored in tanks at back. Water for animals and the garden came from a dam.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Book Review: Dawn of a Dingo Day by Yosef Lasarow

I believe the Dingo’s vital role as apex predator in Australia is the most important message we, as dingo advocates, need to spread. It is the argument that would generate support from people both here and overseas that care about wildlife. Understanding how the Dingo manages the environment and protects endangered species is vital in gaining support for the Dingo’s survival.

Dawn of a Dingo Day focusses on explaining how the Dingo controls the environment, supresses predators lower down the food chain (foxes and feral cats) prevents over grazing by herbivores and protects small, endangered marsupials.

It is a complex topic to grapple with, but Dawn of a Dingo Day gives us the information we need in clear, easy to understand details to help spread the word.

A bonus in the book are the remarkably beautiful dingo photos by renowned photographers.

My rating 5*. It’s a must have.

Available from the Australian Dingo Foundation Store at just $10, all proceeds from purchasing Dawn of a Dingo Day support the organisation in their goals to protect and conserve Australia’s only native Canid species.


About the Author

Yosef Lasarow was born in South Africa in 1962 and has dedicated his life to a passionate search for truth and the underlying purpose of life. After moving to Australia Yosef has dedicated the last ten years developing his eco-wildlife park, the Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park, in Victoria. It was there that he discovered the masterful and essential ecomanagement skills of the dingo and the vital ecological role they play and have played for thousands of years on Australian soil.
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Tuesday 9 June 2020

Dora the Mimic – an extract from For the Love of a Dingo as recorded by Berenice Walters

Dora was always very observant of everything that went on around her, quickly noting any change. She watched and worked out everything that I did. It did not take her long to realise that of an evening I went into the bedroom, and shortly after, the bed became warm. I had turned on the electric bed. Quietly, a short time later, we would chuckle to ourselves as she quietly slipped from the lounge room to curl up in the middle of the bed in a ball, or lay back, head on pillows, eyes large and dreamy till they slowly closed, only the oriental shaped slits visible.

I frequently took a hot bath rather than showering. Dora would usually come and peer in to see what I was doing, but this did not in any way prepare me for what I was to witness one day. 

On hearing strange rubbing and gentle scratching sounds coming from the bathroom, I crept to the door and peered through a crack. There was Dora on her back in the bathtub, no water of course, wriggling around as I had done so often. Then she got up and tinkered with the taps, took hold of the face washer and rubbed her cheeks on it. Then onto her back again ‘splashing’ around in utter enjoyment. She was doing exactly what ‘the Boss’ did.

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