From June 2012 to 2013 I spent a year living, working and travelling in Australia. Once home I had this article published on online lifestyle magazine Life As A Human.
I travelled around Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world – in a convoy with fifteen other backpackers. There are no roads, so cars drive along the beach. We swam in freshwater lakes and bathed in the foaming waters of seashore rock pools.
Our campsite, K’gari, was owned by an Aboriginal family who had lived on Fraser Island for generations. At night the backpackers, enclosed by a Dingo proof fence, revel in the careless joyful freedom that only youth and traveling can bring, and drink, dance, sing and party until sunrise. The aboriginals seemed resigned to the fact that their home was now considered a “must do” for backpackers travelling the East Coast of Australia.
I asked one of the Aboriginals, Al, if the Dingo fence was really necessary, as we had been told that the Dingoes were afraid of humans. Al sighed and leaned back against his chair, light from the fire dancing on his face, throwing his features into sharp relief and making his eyes smoulder. He told me the fence had been installed after a backpacker had wandered into the woods one night with a Pepperoni and been mauled by a pack of hungry Dingoes.
He said, somberly, that a lot of Dingoes had been culled after the attack, one of which had been like a pet to him and used to sleep in his tent. Before tourism had taken off on the island his family and the Dingoes had lived side by side, but now, with temptation of food, the dogs were becoming bolder and more aggressive. It was too dangerous, he said, for Dingoes as much as people, to allow them into the campsite.
As the bass beat began to thump at the communal area, I got up to leave the calm of the campfire and throw myself into the party that would no doubt result in a terrible headache the following day, Al announced that he went outside the fence in the mornings to see some Dingoes who knew him. “I’ll be up by the gate tomorrow morning if you’d like to see them,” he shrugged noncommittally.
I rose early. The campsite was still; strewn debris of drinks cans and plastic cups from the night before littered the ground, sparkling almost beautifully in the morning dew. Empty sacks of wine lay on the sand like deflated party balloons. I trod carefully around a puddle of sick and continued to the wire mesh that surrounded our camp. Al was waiting by the gate.
He motioned for me to stay behind as he left the enclosure. Al called “Brian! Shirley!” and stood patiently as a sandy, lean, wild dog emerged from the bushes. It trotted steadily towards Al, who sat down joyously and held out his hands. The Dingo came to him and nuzzled its face against his knuckles. Apart from a slightly foxish pointed snout and an undeniably more muscular build, the Dingo looked much like a domesticated dog, somewhere between a Labrador and an Alsatian.
“This is Brian,” Al happily informed me, patting his flanks, then to the Dingo, “looks like you’ve been in a fight mate, where’s Shirley? did you lose her?” The Dingo sat on his haunches in the sand, turned its head away and looked defeated; its muzzle was swollen and it jumped away reproachfully when Al tried to touch it. He told me that it was mating season and the dogs sometimes fought over bitches. Evidently Brian had lost his battle.
As I stared through the fence at the fierce, powerful animal plainly enjoying being scratched behind the ears by this old man, I felt like an outsider. This was their land, their territory. As I turned back towards camp to see the first wave of hungover backpackers blearily attempting to tidy up last night’s carnage under the stern eye of the tour guides, I wondered for the first time whether the fence had been put up to keep the Dingoes out, or the backpackers in.