Saturday, March 29, 2008

D - I - N - G - O (and dingo was his name-o)

To be sung to the tune of Bingo:

A wolf from Asia came to Oz, and dingo was its name-o.
D - I - N - G - O, D - I - N - G - O, D - I - N - G - O
And dingo was its name-o.

It came 5 thousand years ago, and traders were to blame-o,
D - I - N - G - O, D - I - N - G - O, D - I - N - G - O
And traders were to blame-o.

On Fraser Island we saw none, but did see a few cane-toads,
C - A - N - E (croak), C - A - N - E (croak), C - A - N - E (croak)
We did see a few cane-toads.

I could go on (believe me) but frankly, I'm boring myself here (as opposed to just boring you, which I can live with).

What I am getting at here is that after Australia Zoo, we continued North to Hervey Bay and stayed overnight, ready to catch a ferry the next morning to Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island. Fraser Island is known for many things, and one of them is the dingo - a wild dog, more like a wolf really. Anyone who knows Letizia and me will understand that we divide work between us based on interest and competence. Hence I am generally in charge of navigation, budget and boring the children with historical information, while Letizia is in charge of, well, everything else. And when it comes to being worried about Australian bities and beasties, Letizia takes the job very seriously indeed. Having recently survived a trip to the Great Barrier Reef without anyone succumbing to sharks, rays, stingers or marooning, and having passed through Australia Zoo without passing through Murray the Saltwater Crocodile's digestive tract, Letizia had plenty of time and energy to devote to anxiety over the Fraser Island dingos. I fulfilled my role of being insensitive and feckless (we really make a fine team).

On arrival to the resort, we made straight for the briefing room. We were given a talk on the island and some of its features, including the dingos. There we learned that dingos are a relatively recently introduced species. They came to the Australian continent in traders boats about 5000 years ago, and are more closely related to Asian wolves than to dogs. We were given advice on how to behave on seeing a dingo: stand your ground, stare it down, NEVER run. I knew straight away that Sara was not getting off the island alive. Three days previously I had watched her scream in hysterical circles on the black strand of Sandgate, an over-excited lapdog yelping along behind her.

Afterwards, we made our way to reception to check in. When all the usual business was out of the way, the young woman behind the desk made the mistake of asking "Anything else I can help you with?". Letizia grabbed the poor woman by the label, dragged her over the reception desk to within whispering distance and growled "What's the story with the dogs?" I thought I heard the poor woman squeak back something about them being wolves not dogs (they really are professional!) but she quickly moved on to tell us about the dingo-proof fence that surrounded the resort. This seemed to placate Letizia and we made our way to our accommodation.

We saw and learned so much over the two days of our stay (which included an 8 hour tour to some of the scenic spots) that I can't begin to do it justice. But let me point out some main points.

  • The island is listed as a World Heritage Site under 2 categories, one of which is geomorphology: the place contains a huge variety of different landscapes and is constantly changing in a number of interesting ways, due to the fact that it's entirely composed of sand (the largest such island in the world.)
  • There is an aquifer under the island that produces freshwater lakes and streams. It holds 30 times more water than Sydney Harbour, and can be safely consumed straight from the streams. The water you drink has been slowly filtered through the islands sand from rain that fell over a hundred years ago.
  • The streams run over sand (of course) which means that although they run quickly, they also run completely silently. You can walk from rainforest to new growth forest, alongside a creek, and not even know it's there.
  • We went to swim in Lake Mckenzie, a perfect, clear freshwater paradise. You might be asking yourself, how do you get a lake on a sandy island, sand being not much good for holding water. There are differently kinds of lakes on Fraser and McKenzie is called a perched lake. It sits on top of a layer of coffee rock, which isn't rock at all, but compressed organic material that becomes impervious to water. You can see this all over the beaches as well, and it really does look like rock. Till you pick it up and grind it with your hands. You end up with powder and coffee-coloured stains on your hands.
  • The dingos on the island are almost 100% genetically pure. Most dingos on mainland Australia are less than 50% pure having mixed with domestic dogs brought by Europeans. It's interesting to note that if the dingo had been introduced by the white man 200 years ago, ecologists would probably be trying to destroy it (as we saw them do to the Cane Toad) rather than protect it.
  • The sunsets from the pier at the resort were breathtaking, and Letizia has done a great job of capturing them on her Fraser Island blog post - with lots of other photos from different parts of the island.
  • The East (Pacific) Coast of the island is mostly taken up with one big beach called the Seventy Five Mile Beach. It's Sixty Five Miles (100km) long. Go figure. It's also the main highway of the island, where most rules of the road apply, though you can drive on either side of it as long as you indicate to oncoming traffic which side you intend to pass them on. Oh - and you have to yield to planes that take off and land.
  • The rest of the island road system consists of trails that are passed only with difficulty using 4wd vehicles.
  • The island was heavily logged for more than 100 years. Of particular interest were the Satinay trees that became highly valued when it was discovered that they were immune to the rot caused by salt water bugs. Fraser Island Satinay was used to rebuild London docks after WWII and to line the sides of the Suez. The reason logging was eventually stopped was that the Queensland government were persuaded that the island was worth more as an eco-tourism destination than as a source of timber. This is an interesting, though probably rare, example of how the tourism industry can actually work to increase conservationism rather than to reduce it. No tourists = loggers.
As well as learning all this (from our excellent guide Chris) we still had time during our stay to just splash about in the resort pool, or chill out with a glass of wine in front of the sunset over the mainland. For me, the sunsets have the effect of detaching me completely from my thoughts and circumstances. When I watch them, I don't care where I've come from, where I'm going, or what happens next. I stop trying to plan. I just know it'll all work out one way or the other. I've just reached the grand old age of 39 (spent on the road back to Brizzy), and I'm feeling good about Life, Part II as much as I'm feeling good about the second half of of the trip.

We stayed almost exactly 48 hours on the island without a single (independently substantiated) dingo sighting. And guess what - Letizia was disappointed!! :-)

We absolutely loved this place, and I could just as easily (for YOU, at least) have replaced the entire spiel above with one small word: Go!!!

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