By Elizabeth Farrelly
Is the dingo, that lovely loping thing, a totem or a pest? National icon or murderous carnivore? We remain divided. For many, a good dingo is still a dead dingo.
Not here in the hood, where half my neighbours have dingoes as pets. (The other half, it seems, have pigs.)
But in the country, where it matters, dingo-emotions run so high my rural friends warned me off writing this story. ''Anything else,'' they advised. ''Slow water. Good weeds. Moon planting. Water divining. Even feral cats. But not dingoes. The war on the dingo is a holy war.''
Well, show me a red rag. But provocation is not my purpose here. More interesting is the dingo's part in the astonishing and intricate minuet we humans conduct, enlisting nature's help in surviving nature.
This is my riposte to those who think an urbanist should abjure les affaires agricoles. To me, cities or sheep-farming, it's the same dance; the same piquant paradox where nature is both our staunchest friend and our fiercest foe. And yes, we have survival largely sorted - except that tiny detail of ensuring nature also comes out OK. It's complicated, this us-and-nature thing. And the dingo is snared in the mess. After any fatal shark attack, calls for killing and culling follow like tailor after whiting. However progressive our thinking, however aware of the need for large predators, however conscious of our own hubris in floating out past the breakers and making like baitfish, instincts are still instincts. Tribes are tribes. They get one of ours, we reflexively want to take out two - or 2000 - of theirs.
As for sharks, so for dingoes. Although dingoes threaten livelihoods, not lives, the culling impulse - part-safety, part-vengeance - persists. Yet, in our own best interests, and those of our lamb-chop dinners, it must be curbed.
Even defining ''dingo'' is an emotive miasma. Purists, including most conservation groups, would protect only the broad-faced, yellow-coated central desert animals and shoot the rest - the black, the brindled - citing genetic ''purity''. Dingo scientist Brad Purcell argues, however, that the ''pure'' dingo is a human construct. It's a single species (Canus lupus, just like the wolf and your teacup poodle) with a natural genetic spread. This spread, as in any species, is a good thing.
I recently spent a couple of days with Purcell, tracking the Wolf Lady from Wyoming. She's not called the Wolf Lady. She's called Suzanne Stone, and for 25 years she has worked to reintroduce the endangered grey wolf into the Northern Rockies, across national parks (including Yellowstone) and ranch country through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana.
There are now about 2000 wolves in those states. There are also 4000 mountain lions, 20,000 black bears and 50,000 coyotes, but wolves take the blame for predation. So now, although legally protected since 1974, they are threatened with delisting. More....