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Man’s best friend becomes worst nightmare in Australian outback

Updated on April 7, 2016

Australia's wild dogs are vicious killers that aren't shy about attacking humans.

Wild dog in the Mallee region of New South Wales.
Wild dog in the Mallee region of New South Wales.

Roaming large tracts of the Australian outback are packs of wild dogs. These are not the kind of canines that jump up on the couch and lick your face. In fact, they’re more likely to tear your face off.

In 2014, a man on Fraser Island, off the South Australian coast, was attacked by a pack of four dingos as he took an evening stroll on a beach. He only survived the mauling by curling up into an armadillo-like ball on the sand, this posture protecting his stomach, genitals, face and throat, while his hands covered the sides of his neck and ears.

The dogs ripped off his tank top and savaged his back, buttocks and the back of his head. Luckily for him, some nearby fisherman heard his cries and the snarling of the dogs, which they drove away before they inflicted mortal injuries. The attack took place just two years after another at the same island location, when a female German tourist was seriously mauled and was lucky not to lose her life.

Two month old Azaria Chamberlain wasn’t so fortunate. In 1980, a dingo prowling around the tourist campsite at Uluru in central Australia darted into a tent and grabbed two month old Azaria. All that searchers ever found of the baby was a jumpsuit, booties and a nappy at the edge of the Rock, with a dirt-stained jacket later to surface at another location near a well-known dingo lair.

Dingoes are descendants of the dogs that crossed the land bridge into Gondwanaland from the Andaman Islands with their human masters 50,000 years ago or more. As evidenced by the attacks we’ve outlined, dingoes are not averse to having human on the menu.

But many of the dogs that roam the outback are not the sharp-faced, yellow-furred dingo. There are countless packs descended from a hotch-potch of other breeds introduced into Australia over the past two centuries. Many have interbred with dingoes. You might see a wild dog with the sharp face of a dingo atop the leggy, lean body of a greyhound.

The dog breeds that make up the DNA of the snarling animal that you see in the picture on this page are unknown. The pic shows a dog wild dog coming in for the attack. The photo was taken in the Mallee area of far western New South Wales, where wild dogs are the bane of sheep farmers’ lives, sometimes killing lambs just for sport.

Some of the dogs running wild in the outback are very large – when you’re a predator, size does matter. In 2014, sheep farmer Andrew Costello shot an enormous, black-furred bitch that had been killing his Merinos. She stood 80 centimetres at the shoulder and weighed 41kg – double the weight of the average dingo. ‘That’s just a scary size,’ said the farmer, who’d been shooting wild dogs all his life.

While farmers loathe both the dingo and the assorted breeds of feral dog that inhabit the outback, conservationists are more divided on the issue, giving the tick of approval to the dingo because it is ‘native’ while regarding feral dogs as unholy slayers of bilbies, wallabies and other native wildlife.

To prevent wild dogs wreaking havoc in the prime sheep grazing land of Australia’s southern and eastern states, the world’s longest fence has been constructed. Called the Wild Dog Fence, it runs for 5600 kilometres, from the middle of the Great Australian Bight, up through the central desert all the way to the rural hinterland of Brisbane in the north east. Most of the dog fence is 180 centimetre tall wire mesh. In South Australia, parts of it are made of multi-strand electrified wire.

But to the north of the fence, it’s Dog Central. In this part of Australia, the farms are so vast they don’t have fences. The nomadic dogs roam over huge tracks of territory.

In my novel Sorry Time, there’s a scene set in central Australia where four people – three adults and a child – encounter a pack of twelve wild dogs while walking down an outback track at night. And the pack is hungry. More than hungry. Starving. The yellow-eyed pack leader advances, growling from deep within his throat, Mohawk-like hackles standing up along his spine GRRRRRRRRRRR ….

To find out what happens, look out for Sorry Time at your book store or online from about early 2017! Meanwhile, you can check out this Youtube clip showing a research trip I took to central Australia for Sorry Time. It doesn’t show any wild dogs, but you’ll see:

  • the amazing underground houses of Cooper Pede

  • an opal miner’s graveyard where the tombstones are decorated with picks, shovels and steel helmets

  • and you’ll descend into the cavernous depths of an opal mine


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