Judith Nangala Crispin – The Dingo Fence

Crispin LE P&W August 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023

The Dingo Fence, poems by Judith Nangala Crispin. 

The Dingo Fence

For Djon Mundine

The motorcycle and its travelling shadow are aliens in this flatness.
The horizon draws back, becomes a wide flat line. Slate-grey ranges breach
like submarines. The sky—eggshell blue.
Monet’s clouds.

And everything is the road.

It bisects the landscape in a straight line, hundreds of kilometres long.
When it curves, it does so in a broad flat arc.

At night, the stars detach and become headlights.
Vulpecula and Lupus, constellations of the dog
are lights of an approaching roadtrain.

By day, there’s powerlines, a wire fence stretching into nothing.
Sometimes tracks of dirt bikes or community cars—
figure eights, partly erased by salt.

But the road is primary. All forces converge there.

Last roadhouse after Elliot—a broken concrete camel lies on its side
near a cactus and a cage of budgerigars.

A tourist approaches in a Pajero with a bullock’s skull strapped to the bonnet.
He slows then speeds away. A sign on the bowsers reads “closed indefinitely,
because of dingoes”.

White people have been afraid of dingoes since Captain Cook.

A dingo can pass for a dog or a wolf but it’s neither.
A dingo is a shapeshifter—sometimes a sparrow hawk,
an old man meandering in the road, a girl in a red dress.

They disguise themselves in mirage, in Fata Morgana—a Southern wind garrulous
with finches or heavy owls. When dingoes howl the whole landscape shakes.

Waterfalls appear in stony mountains.
Rain fills the dormant creeks.

A dingo can pass for a dog or a wolf.
It can enter your home as a pet, a rescue, cattle dog, an abandoned kelpie cross.

A dingo rotates its wrists to open doors, windows or locks.
It can enter your home with its strange golden eyes and watch you sleep.

Dingoes don’t care if you typecast them as cowardly, promiscuous, vicious, or cunning.
They have heard that all before and they’re still here.

Unlike a wolf, a dingo will hold your gaze. Unlike a dog, it holds your gaze
for a maximum of three seconds. Dingoes do not seek a window to your soul.
They see your soul already.

A person is a mutated dingo.
A dingo’s nose is longer than a person’s and its head is rounder.

White people have been afraid of dingoes since Captain Cook.

They built a dingo fence, spanning 5614 kilometers from the Darling Downs
to the cliffs of the Nullarbor. In their cowardice and cunning,
they built the world’s longest fence.

No choice, they said, it’s dingoes or the livestock.

Dingoes know evil has a scent like rotting metal, like meat and rusting tin—
An imperial aroma, blood libel of the sheep eaters.

The dingo fence does not keep dingoes out.
They run along its length hunting for a hole.
When they find one, they pass their babies through.

Eagles are caught in the wire. Kangaroos, misjudging a jump,
hang by their back legs until they die from exposure or shock.

Dingoes are hard to kill because of “hybrid vigour”.

They can swivel their heads 180 degrees to look back along their spines.
When they hunt their ears turn like radar dishes.
One ear points forward and the other back.
A dingo could be tracking you now and you’d never know.

When they sleep, they keep one ear against the ground and the other in the air—
listening to two worlds at the same time.

Dingoes are autonomous. They dig their own homes,
follow their own laws, hunt their own food.

They forge strategic alliances with women and bats, diamond doves,
bowerbirds and wrens.
Dingoes taught women how to hunt.

Given the chance, a dingo will poison your dog with orchid venom and take its place.

When you speak to a dingo about obedience or puppy training,
it hears the word ‘slavery’.
When you offer a dingo toys, dog collars or soft indoor beds,
it hears the word ‘slavery’.

A dingo is teeth, bones and fur. It will not perform tricks.
It does not win ribbons in kennel clubs.
No dingo has appeared in a dog’s family tree for at least 10,000 years.

Dingoes are as old as the last Ice Age.
Unlike pedigree dogs, their lineage did not originate in last century eugenics.

A dingo can fake interest in universities, art galleries, politics and God, if it must,
to survive,
but finds this distasteful.

It is not a full-blood, half-blood, hybrid, real, pure-bred, dingo-dog or authentic.
It is not a footnote to an essay on miscegenation.

Dingoes have wolf and dog ancestry.
If you ask a dingo how it identifies, it will say it’s complicated.
It does not see itself as a living embodiment of extinction.

A dingo is not looking for your validation.
If you suggest a dingo should get a DNA test, it will kill and eat you
in your suburban dogpark.

Dingoes have an unbreakable connection to land.
Their connection is not a lifestyle choice.

The status of dingoes as outcasts is not lost on them.
They choose Country over kin. They sleep with their bellies to Country’s skin.
When they wake, they offer her their crawling dance.

A dingo doesn’t give a shit what you think about that connection.

Sheep eaters have failed to exterminate the dingoes.
Their poison baits lie uneaten in the scrub.
Dingoes understand traps and strychnine in a way that wolves and dogs do not.

They will not be contained by a fence.

Dingoes didn’t kill the thylacines, but they saw who did.
They snarled at the newspaper’s obviously fake photographs
of thylacines holding chickens in their mouths—

the same newspapers that now run pictures of photoshopped dingoes
tearing at murdered lambs. Dingoes are marsupial predators.
They are not interested in your sheep.

In South Australia the Dog Fence Board administers and maintains the fence.
In Queensland the Wild Dog Barrier Fence Panel administers and maintains the fence.
In New South Wales the Wild Dog Destruction Board administers
and maintains the fence.
In Northern Territory Aboriginal Protected Land dingoes roam free.


Alfy carries Snake Jukurrpa from his father’s line, along with stories of the visitors—people, who are also snakes, white-coloured or gray. They came on meteors,
his father said, but they’ve got spaceships now.

And for as long as he remembers, strange lights have crossed in the Gurindji skies—dropping from clouds in flying V formation or hovering above the backyard trampoline
until his father came with a shotgun and frightened them away.

Once, while camping at Chilla Well, he watched a circular object go down among the dunes
—then the bulldust of incoming Army trucks. By dawn, the wreckage was packed on a
flatbed truck and spirited away.

Before she died, Alfy’s mother told him he was chosen. “Got that Jukurrpa,” she said, “those special songs.” And by twenty he could tell when the saucers would land, from the numbers and pictures inside his head.

He remembered one night waking with buzzing in his ears. A blue beam, shooting through the window, lit up the whole house. Electric people were standing around his bed—with huge shiny eyes and skulls as long as taipan’s.

When he sang his special song, they lifted him like a triumphant footy star, and beamed him through the bedroom wall.

The kardiya doctors didn’t believe him. They said it was sleep paralysis, a symptom of intergenerational trauma. But a psychic in Tennant Creek called him ‘starborn’.

So he told her how they made the spaceship walls and floor disappear, how he saw the Earth rolling, like a blue-green ball, under his feet.

And he told her about the incubator tanks, where hybrids float like premature babies,
like stingrays with sharp hanging tails.

The psychic reckons we’re surrounded by hybrids in disguise. “They look like ordinary people,” she said, “but they control your thoughts and actions, like a Jedi mind trick.”

© Judith Nangala Crispin

Judith Nangala Crispin is a poet and visual artist living and working on unceded Yuin Country on the Australian Southern Tablelands. She is the author of two collections of poetry ‘The Myrrh-bearers” and “The Lumen Seed”. Judith has served as poetry editor of the Canberra Times and was the winner of the 2020 Blake Prize for Poetry. She is a proud member of FNAWN and Oculi Collective.

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