Mainland Forgotten Fauna: Part 2 – Where have the dingoes gone?

Mainland Forgotten Fauna: Part 2 – Where have the dingoes gone?

In Part 1 of this series, we got a sense of what the wildlife was like in the region in the 1890s, just a short time before the arrival of foxes.

But where was the Dingo? – Since its recent arrival in Australia (only about 4000 – 5000 years ago), the species had gradually displaced the Thylacine and Devil – probably through competition – and become the apex mammal predator on the mainland by the time Europeans arrived. This extinction process is thought to have been aided by Aboriginal hunters also exerting significant pressure on the ecosystem through hunting, as evidenced by the discovery of this necklace in 1970:

Necklace from the Lake Nitchie burial, New south Wales. The Lake Nitchie man wore a necklace of 178 pierced Tasmanian devil teeth, taken from at least forty-seven different animals - dated 6000-7000 years old.

Necklace from the Lake Nitchie Aboriginal burial site, New South Wales. The Lake Nitchie man wore a necklace of 178 pierced Tasmanian devil teeth, taken from at least forty-seven different animals – dated at 6000-7000 years old.

The articles shared in Part 1 were written only 50 years after Europeans settlers began to arrive in the region from the mid-late 1840s, but the destruction of dingoes – viewed as a significant threat to the large sheep grazing pastoral runs – in the flat and open countryside around Mt Gambier was swift and comprehensive.

A Dingo stands on a rocky surface, appearing alert and concerned as it looks into the distance. Its ears are pricked upwards and its brow furrowed. It’s fur is a reddish-brown, with white fur on the undersides and facial area. *** Local Caption *** Order: Carnivora Family: Canidae Genus: Canis Species: lupus Common name: Dingo

The Dingo: exterminated by European settlers to protect sheep

We know that dingoes occurred throughout the region from early accounts recorded by people like George French Angus, who travelled through the region in 1844, and encountered “wild-dogs” on numerous times throughout his journey. One of the more interesting accounts, from their crossing of the Murray on the way to the South East, also includes a reference to a couple of threatened birds now rarely seen in this part of the mainland: the Bush Stone-curlew and Australasian Bittern.

Angus - 18th May 1844

Angus – 18th May 1844: One of many encounters with dingoes on his trip to Mount Gambier before the South East region was settled by Europeans.

By only two decades later however, in the 1860s, references to dingoes around Mt Gambier are all in the past tense, recalled as distant memories:

Border Watch - 11th March 1865

Border Watch – 11th March 1865: A submission to the Border Watch, recalling Mount Gambier before the primeval forest was tamed by the settlers.

Border Watch - 23rd Oct 1869

Border Watch – 23rd Oct 1869 – A submission on other matters, but with a side reference noting how dingoes have been long subdued by 1869.

However, the ecological impacts of this concerted effort to suppress dingoes, along with the rapid demise of local Aboriginal people to frontier violence and disease, were already being felt by as early as 1862:

Border Watch - 15th August 1862

Border Watch – 15th August 1862 – Ecological impacts already being felt by 1862.

They may have been long suppressed near the border district around Mt Gambier, but in the forest at Hotspur 70 km to the east, dingoes were still a common sight at least until 1880:

Border Watch - 14th April 1880: The Dingo at Hotspur in SW Victoria.

Border Watch – 14th April 1880: Report of dingoes at Hotspur in SW Victoria.

While sporadic encounters with dingoes continued over subsequent decades, particularly in these more remote locations, the dingo had become increasingly uncommon in the Lower South East of SA and far South West of Victoria by the 1890s.

In Part 3 we’ll find out exactly what happened next, after the fox arrived in the district in around 1894.

Mark Bachmann
Mark Bachmann
mark.bachmann@natureglenelg.org.au