In the early 1950s, Professor N. G. W. Macintosh, a University of Sydney researcher, distributed a nation-wide survey asking farmers what they knew about dingoes. The mission was to understand what the dingo was and where it came from, and to provide a management solution to the dingo problem. In 1953, it was the peak of Australia’s ride on the sheep’s back.
The Korean War drove demand for wool, pushing export value to an all-time high. WWII had just ended, and farmers reported difficulty getting access to labourers and materials for ammunition and fencing.
Across parts of Australia, farmers were also seeing the effects of myxomatosis in keeping down rabbits and some hoped to find a tool that would do the same to dingoes. New methods were sought, and this included aerial baiting and 1080 poison which had just arrived on the scene.
More than 140 farmers and doggers across Australia completed the survey, telling stories about their observations and interactions with dingoes, including the management they used.
While most farmers were using methods similar to those used today (laying poison baits, trapping, and shooting) some less conventional examples were used such as running down dingoes on horseback or setting up “trap-guns” – loaded guns triggered by a trip wire that would shoot anything that passed.
The Dingo Fence had not yet finished construction but large-scale fencing projects had begun. Professional doggers and bounties were in demand, and farmers and doggers talked about the skill and persistence needed to track down dingoes and their dens.
After finding dens, their curiosity got the better of them, with almost 40% of farmers at least once taking home dingo pups. But, often, the dingo pups met their end after stealing chickens or otherwise causing mischief at the farm.
Sixty years on, Lily van Eeden, a researcher at the University of Sydney, is recreating this survey to understand what has changed and what we might learn from the past.
Repeating the survey can tell us whether the dingoes’ place in the landscape, and its threat to livestock, has changed and how different management came to be used in different places.
Many of the original farms where the survey was completed still exist today, and Ms van Eeden hopes to share with the current managers the original surveys completed at their properties. These surveys tell unique stories of these stations’ histories from the perspectives of former managers who may be relatives of the current stewards.
Any farmers or wild dog managers interested in contributing to this new survey can complete it here.
Alternatively, you can contact Ms van Eeden to request to be mailed a copy (02 9351 7627, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Anyone who completes the survey can be sent a summary of the results.
Image from Wikipedia Commons (Hoffman, E. A., State Library of Queensland)
Image of Professor NGW Macintosh, 1950 (from the University of Sydney archives)