Skip to content

My Dingo buddy

Published 11 Mar 2022 by Paul Graham (volunteer)

Paul Graham volunteered at Pilungah Reserve, helping with our feral predator control program.

Little did I realize when I began the 16-hour drive to Pilungah Reserve, just how much this harsh yet amazingly picturesque reserve had etched itself into my being from a previous visit. It wasn't until I arrived on reserve and took my first drive back out into the dunes that it hit me. The stunning beauty of spinifex on red sand simply fits, and triggers something in me that I can't explain in words.

To appreciate Pilungah, you have to spend some time there. No photographs, videos or stories can prepare you for its overwhelming sense of ‘place’ when you visit, or for the experiences you'll encounter while you are there. I’d like to share one of those experiences with you. I hope I never forget these moments, nor the humble feelings that it created for me at the time.

My story starts with a bird survey at Coolabah Waterhole with reserve ecologist Anke.

During this survey, we were surprised to see two young dingoes sniffing and exploring the far side of the waterhole. While Anke and I stood relatively still and moved slowly, we were surprised at how relaxed the dingoes were, even after they'd noticed us. One was content to watch us from a comfortable distance of around 50 metres. They appeared to be happy and busy, much like you'd expect to see dogs behave after they had chased the neighbour's cat out of your yard… energetic, active, and pleased with themselves.

We completed the survey and went for a walk onto an adjacent dune to look at some of the native trees and grasses that grow around the waterhole. We noticed a lot of dog prints and some cat prints but didn't think too much of it until we looked up into one of the Whitewood trees and noticed the panicked face of a feral cat staring intently at us. We put two and two together (recall my comment about footprints) and realized the most likely reason the cat was up in the tree, was that the dingoes had bailed it up and lost interest not long before Anke and I had arrived. Yep, that explains the smiles on their faces too.

I immediately felt gratitude toward the young dingoes which also deepened an admiration I've had of dingoes for many years. It felt like a team effort to capture this feral cat, and if I could have high-fived them, I certainly would have.

Later that day, I set some cat cage traps around the waterhole in places that I’d seen cat footprints or would expect to see cat activity. I’d been for a walk to the other side of the waterhole to investigate suitable locations for trapping and when I returned, decided to re-bait one of the closer traps.

When I returned, I saw one of the dingo pups watching me from his safe distance. He was curious but quite relaxed and sat down to watch me. I walked over to my car to get more bait for the trap and just before walking back to the trap, I noticed that my little mate had gone to investigate the trap himself, some 20m from me. I spoke to him quietly and calmly so as not to startle him, and he seemed fine with that.

He sniffed the trap, my water bottle that I’d placed on the ground, and then strolled off to his safe distance to watch once again. I went about my business and rebaited the trap but also set up a trail camera to capture what would happen after I left. I talked a bit more to him and he seemed to entertain my Dr Doo-Little mumblings.

I decided to do a stake-out at the waterhole that evening, in the hope that a feral cat or fox would come to drink. When I arrived in the afternoon, I noticed my little Buddy had already seen me and was watching intently. I set myself up amongst some low branches and began the waiting game.

The light was getting low, so I blew my Silva fox whistle a few times. I expected some reaction from the dingo pup, but he didn’t even flinch. I blew again, but louder. Still no reaction. Eventually both pups made their way around to the opposite side of the waterhole and trotted up and over the nearby dune. Shortly after, I heard howling coming from their direction, so I figured I’d have a little chat with them and since there was nobody else around to embarrass myself with awkward howling/squawking noises, I gave a faint howl of my own.

Much to my surprise, almost immediately one of the pups came running over the dune and pulled up half way down my side. He stopped and sat, then gave another howl and scanned the surroundings. He tried a few more times and seemed to be a bit frustrated so trotted along the side of the dune and behind some low shrubs.

I took the opportunity of this few seconds of cover and gave another howl. He came running out again and stopped about 60m from me, again staring in my direction.

By this time, he’d pegged me and knew where I was, but I’m not convinced that he knew WHAT I was. I gave a little howl again and he replied with a few short, quiet howls.

He sat down, then lay down and gave a couple more short, quiet howls and looked in my direction. By now he’d come to within 30 metres of me and seemed to be quite calm. I managed to snap a few photos while he was having this one-sided conversation with me. It was quite surreal to be in the middle of nowhere, sitting so close to the top order predator of this habitat, and feeling as though we were on equal standing. There was no tension, no anxiety and a definite intrigue shared by us both, I’m sure.

After a while he trotted off to his mate at the top of the dune and they sat for a while before they disappeared down the other side of the dune again. I didn’t bother them again. I was satisfied that we’d acknowledged each other, and neither felt any threat.

I spent a further two weeks with only the occasional visit to the waterhole after pulling out the traps. I didn’t get the chance to farewell by little mate before I left but I did manage to remove another feral cat from his waterhole.

Moments like this only happen when you immerse yourself in the country around you. Get out of your car, turn off electronic devices and just sit! You’ll be amazed at what happens and you’re guaranteed to experience moments that stay with you forever.

Buddy, thanks for sharing a moment with me. I hope I’ve been just as much a positive influence in your world as you have been in mine.

Buddy Buddy
Cat tracks on a dune Cat tracks on a dune
Bustard chicks are highly vulnerable to predation by cats and foxes. Bustard chicks are highly vulnerable to predation by cats and foxes.
Crimson Chat Crimson Chat
Dunes at Dawn Dunes at Dawn
Singing Honeyeater Singing Honeyeater
A dust storm approaches the Pilungah homestead. A dust storm approaches the Pilungah homestead.
Rainbow Bee-eater Rainbow Bee-eater

Stories from Pilungah

Prescribed burn at Pilunga Reserve, Wangkamadla Country. By Bee Stephens

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

Land, bird, smoke and man

Prescribed burns on Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves, Wangkamadla Country, prepare the landscape for bushfire season and enhance biodiversity.

Read More
A flooded claypan at Pilungah Reserve. By Ingo Schomacker

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

A dry flood

In summer vast tracts of Central West Queensland’s channel country were covered in water. Our Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves are now preparing for the other side of the ‘boom-bust’ cycle.

Read More

BLOG 11/03/2022

My Dingo buddy

While volunteering at Pilungah Reserve, north of the Simpson Desert in far western Queensland, Paul Graham had a profound experience connecting with a young dingo.

Read More

BLOG 21/02/2022

What has all this rain meant for our fire team?

The 2021/22 La Nina has brought significant rainfall to the eastern seaboard of Australia, while the west has seen below average conditions. Here are some weather highlights from the first few months.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 14/01/2022

Corinna Clark's happy place

When the sun sets down beyond the sand dunes at Pilungah Reserve in far western Queensland, we like to go and sit on a sand dune near the homestead dubbed Little Red.

Read More

BLOG 14/10/2021

Introducing Pilungah Reserve

Our decision to rename Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland acknowledges the enduring connection of Wangkamadla people to their country. We spoke to Wangkamadla woman Avelina Tarrago about what the change means to her.

Read More
Gidgee on Ethabuka Reserve.

BUSHTRACKS 07/10/2021

Our disappearing desert havens

When bushfires burn through the spinifex plains on Ethabuka and Pilungah reserves, arid species find refuge in Gidgee woodlands that are as vital to their survival as they are threatened.

Read More

BLOG 26/03/2021

A healthy desert is crucial for my culture’s survival

A new report published last week highlights 19 ecosystems on land and sea country that are unravelling due to pressures from climate change and human impacts. The Georgina Gidgee woodlands of central Australia is one of them.

Read More

BLOG 26/03/2020

Frog highways on Cravens

With 81mm in the first half of March, the ephemeral swamps and claypans in the sandhill country of Cravens Peak have filled. Halfway Swamp, 5km west of the Homestead, is bursting with life.

Read More

BLOG 10/02/2020

Examining owl vomit

While the idea of trawling through owl vomit might be nausea-inducing for some (picture skeletal remains, fur and feathers), for our senior ecologist Dr Alex Kutt it’s a clever way to find out more about the secrets of the land.

Read More

BLOG 15/05/2019

A boom year at Cravens Peak

Cravens Peak Reserve has received 225 mm of rain this year in two extraordinary rain events, and the desert's plants and animals are loving it.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

My Happy Place (Jane Blackwood)

I have lots of favourite spots on Cravens Peak and they’re all places that make me feel strong and happy, and connected to the country that I live on. One of those places is S-Bend Gorge; I never fail to feel completely embraced when I’m at S-Bend.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 11/12/2018

Outback extremes

A more sophisticated understanding of how climate change will impact Cravens Peak and Ethabuka reserves is focusing our conservation efforts when and where they will do the greatest good.

Read More

BLOG 18/09/2018

Behind the scenes at Cravens Peak

An inside look into what it takes to capture a feature story about a Bush Heritage reserve. Mount Isa's low peaks are still visible behind us as we turn our 4WD south and head down the single lane highway towards Boulia. We're on our way to Cravens Peak Reserve in far western Queensland for a feature story on reserve manager Jane Blackwood to be published in the Courier Mail's Saturday magazine Qweekend.

Read More

BLOG 27/08/2018

No 3 – is 5 star now

With many hours of planning and hard work, Number 3 Ringers' Hut on Cravens Peak Reserve has been restored to its former glory.

Read More

BLOG 07/08/2018

Revisiting Cravens Peak after 33 years

Recently Dr John Winter and his wife, Helen Myles, who are long-term donors to Bush Heritage Australia, visited Cravens Peak as volunteers. John, Helen and their wider family make an annual Christmas donation to Ethabuka Reserve, which John first visited in August 1985 - 33 years ago! He was a member of a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services Diamantina Fauna Survey team.

Read More

BLOG 20/07/2018

Holy owl vomit. To the Bat Cave!

With Bush Heritage ecologist Pippa Kern I travelled to a cave known as Bat Hole in the far west of Cravens Peak Reserve to collect owl pellets.

Read More

BLOG 11/12/2017

An unforgettable volunteer experience

Back in September, Victorian-based volunteer Nathan Manders answered the call for reserve support to one of our most remote properties - Cravens Peak on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Here Nathan shares his reflections and some of his stunning images from that trip - one that he'll never forget.

Read More

BLOG 27/11/2017

Desert butterflies

Deb Bisa, currently volunteering at Cravens Peak, has noted a few butterfly sightings during her stay since early November. One of these was a male Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida cressida) that was 'netted' after a long period of windy days. This species has predominantly a coastal distribution where its food plants occur, and occasional vagrants reach inlands areas.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 11/04/2016

Happy 10th birthday Cravens Peak

In 2006, Bush Heritage purchased 233,000 hectares of remarkable desert country. In 2016, Cravens Peak celebrates its tenth birthday, and the remarkable people that have brought it this far.

Read More

BLOG 30/11/2015

Happy birthday Cravens Peak

Ecologist Murray Haseler looks back at 10 years of conservation management on Cravens Peak and the gradual improvements in condition that have been hard fought and won.

Read More
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}