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DINGO MAKES US HUMAN

Deborah Rose Bird, author of 'Dingo Makes Us Human' [1992], wrote the following section especially for the ADCA website.

What would it have been like, 5000 years ago, when Aboriginal people and dingoes first encountered each other? The dogs had already learned to live with people, but here were people who had not yet learned to live with dogs. Did these people recognise the common human-dog language? Did the dingoes teach them?

Aboriginal people for millennia had understood themselves to be in close kinship relationships with other animals and with plants and some of the elements such as rain. And then suddenly there were dingoes - animals that answered back, came when called, helped in the hunt, slept with people, and learned to understand some of the vocabulary of the human languages.

Tree Burial Dog

Tree 'burial' of a dog c. 1920 near Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory (Printed Adelaide Observer)


People brought individual dingoes into their camps and families. They gave them names, fitted them into the wider kinship structure and took care of dead dingoes in the same way as they took care of dead people. They learned the life cycle and knew when the dingoes would be whelping and when the pups would open their eyes. People would go out and raid a few dens, bringing some of the pups home as pets, and eating others.

Aboriginal people today tell of the great creative beings known as Dreamings who walked in human form and were the ancestors of living things today. Aboriginal people and their non-human kin all trace their ancestry to a Dreaming creator. People have songs and ceremonies for their Dreaming kin, and there are many practical actions that ensure the well-being of the non-human members of the group. Dingoes were fitted into the Dreaming landscape. There are Dingo Dreaming tracks and sites, and related stories and ceremonies. There are people whose primary responsibilities are for Dingo sites, tracks and ceremonies, and such people also assume a special responsibility for the living dingoes and dogs.


Old Tim Yilngayarri

I was lucky enough to be taught by one of the dingo lawmen in the Victoria River district of the Northern Territory, Old Tim Yilngayarri. He was a 'clever man', and he always defended a dingo/dog point of view. He argued against dingo baiting, for example, and argued against violence toward dogs more generally. In his words, the dogs said: "We don't come and bash up people, why do people come and bash us up?" The question is meant as a rebuke. It refers to the greatest mystery of the human-canine relationship - that so much of the violence originates with humans.


Even as we recognise the possibility that dingoes could become extinct, Aboriginal dingo people urge us to continue to learn to live with dingoes, to respect the integrity of their lives and to understand how they fit in the unique Australian ecosystems that are their homes.