The Life and Death of K’gari Dingoes
Sydney University Press $35.00
Reviewed by Chris Lee
Dingo Bold is a fascinating new book by Rowena Lennox, about the dingoes that live on K’gari, also known as Fraser Island, which is located off the coast of Queensland. Part investigative journalism, part nature writing, and also part personal memoir, the book develops into a profound meditation on the relationship between humans and dingoes, between tourism and the wild, and between science and culture.
Lennox writes beautifully, in a powerful and evocative prose style, comparable to the work of ‘new’ nature authors such as Helen Macdonald and Robert Macfarlane. The book traces the short life of Dingo Bold, wonderfully creating a sense of the animal’s individuality while at the same time locating him in the tense and complex web of human-dingo interaction on K’gari.
From the relatively straightforward story of one animal however, Lennox then widens the scope to reflect on the history of dingoes in Australia, their association with Aboriginal people, and the still shocking violence of colonial occupation. Dingoes have lived beside people for thousands of years but the almost symbiotic engagement between the animals and Aboriginal people is now compromised by ever expanding settlement and the tourist industry. The dingo is now perceived as potentially threatening; ranging from mere delinquent nuisance to dangerous aggressor. The confusion of the animal’s status in human discourse, sometimes semi-domestic, sometimes wild, has constructed often impossible demands for acceptable dingo behaviour.
Lennox interviews dingo enthusiasts, Butchulla Aboriginal people from K’gari and rangers from the QPWS, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. She elicits their different and often contrasting perspectives on the dingoes of the island, their future and the fate of those animals that ‘misbehave’, which is to be culled by the QPWS.
The book benefits from thorough research. As well as interviews there are the further results of field trips to the island, including photographs of Dingo Bold himself, an examination of the historical record and a review of the scientific literature on dingoes.
Perhaps the work is most affecting when Lennox permits glimpses of her own family history, and the intense emotion of grief and reminiscence in relation to her mother and her brother. Here, a vital dialogue with the past and with the natural world arises, and the book moves on to consider, with impressive philosophical traction, the effects of human arrogance in assuming always the apex position in any ecology. Dingo Bold is also therefore, a plea for a reappraisal of the project of a rapacious Australian economy, situated as it is, in a delicate natural system.
Throughout, the sheer beauty of K’gari is richly suggested: ‘K’gari shimmers and changes colour, obfuscated by stories.’ The right of the dingo to thrive in this habitat is examined and asserted. Dingoes bear witness, Lennox insists, to the human story, and humans in turn must learn to accept the validity of the dingo’s place, ‘their right to territory and agency’. In this way, Australians may be able to recalibrate their encounters with an increasingly fragile environment.
Chris Lee is an Irish playwright, short story writer and social worker living in London.