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Australia’s first introduced species

About 5000 years ago: The dingo arrives in Australia

Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5
Earlier 1700
Year level

5

8

Learning area

Geography

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Dingoes are protected in Australia’s national parks. Do you think they should be protected outside these areas as well?

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the arrival of the dingo is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

2. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Two litters of wild dingoes caught by dingo hunters at Gulguba, Queensland</p>
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 73652

In a snapshot

The dingo was the first species to be introduced to Australia, but it has been here for thousands of years and has become a part of the natural ecosystem. The dingo replaced the thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian tiger) as a top-order predator across most of Australia, and it probably contributed to the thylacine’s extinction on Australia’s mainland. Recently, there have been increasing concerns that eventually the dingo itself may become extinct.

Two litters of wild dingoes caught by dingo hunters at Gulguba, Queensland

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. How long have dingoes lived in Australia?

2. What evidence shows that Aboriginal people had (and continue to have) a close relationship with dingoes?

3. What started to happen to dingoes once Europeans colonised Australia?

How did the dingo arrive in Australia?

The dingo is a medium-sized wild dog with an athletic-looking body. Its fur coat is usually either tan (light brown), black and tan or creamy white. As far as we know, the dingo is Australia’s first introduced species.

There are no dingo fossils in Tasmania, which means that dingoes must have arrived after rising sea levels separated Tasmania from mainland Australia about 12,000 years ago. In 1969 dingo bones found in Western Australia proved that dingoes were on the Australian mainland at least 3500 years ago.

In 2011 and 2012 scientific studies of dingo DNA showed that dingoes are closely related to East Asian dogs. Scientists think that dingoes were probably brought to Australia by people from New Guinea between 5000 and 10,000 years ago.

What effect did the dingo have on the Australian environment?

Before the dingo arrived, the thylacine lived all over Australia. The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, was a native carnivorous marsupial that looked and acted a bit like a dog.

After the dingo arrived, the two animals had to compete for food and thylacine numbers began to drop. Scientists believe that the dingo’s arrival contributed to the thylacine’s extinction on mainland Australia, although human activity and a changing climate might also have affected the thylacine.

Dingoes never made it to Tasmania. That’s probably why the thylacine survived there long after all the mainland thylacines had disappeared.

<p><em>Flying Dingoes,&nbsp;</em>1974,&nbsp;Mick Namararri Tjapaltjarri, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 80 x 61 cm</p>

National Museum of Australia

<p><em>Flying Dingoes,&nbsp;</em>1974,&nbsp;Mick Namararri Tjapaltjarri, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 80 x 61 cm</p>
The first published depiction of a dingo. ‘Dog of New South Wales’ by Peter Mazell (artist and engraver), 1789

How did Aboriginal people interact with dingoes?

Aboriginal people have had a close relationship with dingoes over thousands of years. You can see dingoes in Aboriginal rock paintings in different parts of Australia, and they became part of Aboriginal people’s family or kinship system. They sometimes became hunting dogs and pets, keeping guard over campsites at night.

‘Dingoes provided a companionship that had never before existed in Australia. These creatures were the first non-humans who answered back, came when called, helped in the hunt, slept with people and learned to understand some of the vocabulary of human languages. People gave them names, fitted them into the wider kinship structure and took care of dead dingoes in the same way they took care of dead people. Dingoes have been fitted into the sacred geography as extremely powerful Dreamings, and they now figure prominently in ritual, songlines and stories.’

 

Academic and author Deborah Bird Rose

How did Europeans react to the dingo?

The British colonised Australia in 1788, and soon began to think of dingoes as a problem. Dingoes began to attack the sheep that the British people brought with them, so the settlers shot, trapped and later poisoned the dingoes. Because of this hunting, dingoes were forced out of south-east Australia.

Research task

 

Find out when the first recorded European sighting of a dingo was. What happened?

‘It will be a blessing for the squatters when the brutes are extinct.’

 

W. Beilby, The Dog in Australasia, 1897

How are dingoes treated today?

Dingoes are wild animals and natural predators. That means they can be dangerous to humans. Sometimes we hear of dingoes attacking children in popular camping areas. But these attacks are rare, and dingoes usually avoid people if they’re left alone.

Recently, people have begun to worry that the dingo may eventually become extinct. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the dingo as a vulnerable species.

 

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Research task

 

A famous incident took place in central Australia near Uluru in 1980 which became a major story about dingoes. Do some research to find out what it was.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. How long have dingoes lived in Australia?

2. What evidence shows that Aboriginal people had (and continue to have) a close relationship with dingoes?

3. What started to happen to dingoes once Europeans colonised Australia?