Dec 112023

Charlotte was determined. She wanted to see the dingoes. The queue behind us, into the main gate at Healesville Sanctuary, was swelling, impatient. How could I take my precious grandchild into an enclosure with these predatory animals?

“There will be two rangers,” the ticket seller tried to reassure me.

Entry passes in hand, we sat on a boulder, outside of the dingo enclosure, Charlotte eating her sandwiches, whilst I took a distracted occasional bite. Perhaps I’d confused the time. Not another soul was awaiting the warrigal experience. Last year when Ian, Charlotte and I were near the entry, to the Close-Up Encounter with the koalas, people milled around – family groups, couples, Japanese tourists.

“Hello there, can I see your tickets?” asked a man in khaki shirt and trousers, his hair matted and skin surprisingly weather-roughened for someone so young. It was somewhat reassuring to see the badge, on the flap of his shirt pocket, emblazoned with the word ranger.

Where was the second ranger? A photographer appeared, saying she was trained with these animals she referred to as ‘singing dogs’.

“Come on Nanna!”

We slipped through the narrow opening, the ranger holding the gate apart for the photographer, Charlotte, and me. Click! Our escape route locked behind us. I took my granddaughter’s small hand.

The ranger held a long, leather staff in his right hand, a small, steel lidded bucket in the other.

“You’ll meet Maliki and Jinda today. They’re friendly, but you’ll just need to avoid sudden movements. Keep your hands by your sides, so as not to startle them.”

I tightened my grip on Charlotte’s hand, then consciously relaxed. A gentle wash of calmness flowed from the top of my head, down over, and within, my body.

Standing very still, her top teeth over her bottom lip, Charlotte’s face was expressionless, as the dingo cub Jinda, sniffed her clothes, licked her hand. With short thick hair, like a Pomeranian pup’s, orange-ginger over her forehead, the ears and in patches down her body, a creamy-white elsewhere, she was appealing, I had to admit.

“She likes you, wants to play with you.” The ranger took the lid from the bucket and enticed Jinda away with some offal.

“That was a fantastic shot.” We had been unaware we were being photographed.

A sharp rap of the staff on a boulder, behind where we had been asked to stand, and Maliki leapt effortlessly up, standing still, posing, now turning his head 180 degrees in each direction, then sniffing the top of this girl visitor’s head. I held my grandchild gently, protectively.

Once out of the enclosure Charlotte bubbled with excitement and chatter. Unbeknown to me she had harboured her wish to see these warrigals, up close, for a whole year. Last time Ian and I took her here we had shared a bench seat, eating our lunch, and watching expectantly for the dingoes to occasionally pass. Their greyhound like bodies partly crouched, large ears erect, they warily paced along the fence line. Charlotte had wanted to stay to see more of them. Ian, her grandad, had cajoled her away, saying next time we’ll get a better look.