Friday 15 June 2012

Two stolen children

So they decided that the dingo did it, after all. Just the 32 years to realise that it's perfectly possible for a hungry wild dog to help itself to an unattended baby. Tch. One of the more extraordinary things about the crazily protracted Azaria Chamberlain case is that until now there's been no official way for a coroner to record a death caused by an animal. In Australia! Where every year people are eaten by sharks and crocodiles, die in agony after being stung by box jellyfish and are bitten by any one of a good handful of highly venomous snake species. And that's not to mention the people who probably succumb to spiders and scorpions. Madness! Also denial, apparently.

I've actually seen only one wild dingo (Diddy Boy, above, was very far from that) - it was lurking at a distance in the middle of the day as we enjoyed a barbecue in the Red Centre. Poor thing, it was very thin and no doubt driven to distraction by the smell of grilled lamb, salmon and kangaroo. We'd just been to see Ellery Creek Big Hole (they're such a poetic people, the Aussies), a waterhole with the usual high red rocks, tumbling waterfall, trees - always so unexpected, in the Outback, and so welcome. It was the first time I'd met Rob Taylor, an Aboriginal chef (one of the Stolen Generation), and I was astonished to be served cauliflower and parmesan soup, a gourmet barbecue, and squidgy chocolate cake, in the middle of nowhere. A couple of years later, he cooked for me again, in the desert near Alice Springs, and the food was even better.

But back to the dingoes: they were once considered such a problem that in the 1880s state governments went to the very great trouble of erecting the Dog Fence, a wire netting barrier that stretches 5,600 kilometres from the Queensland coast almost all the way to the boundary of Western Australia, to keep dingoes in the north-west and away from the sheep to the south-east. How odd, to put so much effort into protecting sheep from a perceived risk and not to recognise, a hundred years later, that the same risk applied to something so much smaller and more vulnerable than a feisty Merino.

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