Fence worker Glen Coddington shows off a dingo pelt from an animal he had shot(ABC News: Tim Lee)
Just after dawn a blood-curdling howl tells Glen Coddington that the dingo is close. Peering from his kitchen window, he spots a large yellow dog gliding in the shadows along the perimeter of the high-wire fence to the north.
Quickly and silently, like a trained assassin, Coddington pokes the barrel of his high-powered rifle through the window and at a range of 150 metres, levelled the crosshairs of his target and fires. The dingo drops, instantly dead. The veteran hunter has claimed another scalp to go with the half a dozen hanging in his shed. When we arrive soon after the dingo’s pelt, scalped from nose to tail, he hangs on a wire hook suspended from a tractor cabin.
“You missed the drama,” chides Coddington gently. “I shot a big dog just before. And what’s worse it was on my side of the fence.”
The Australian Dingo is a free-roaming wild dog unique to the continent of Australia, mainly found in the outback. Its original ancestors are thought to have arrived with one of the waves of human settlement thousands of years ago, when dogs were still relatively undomesticated and closer to their wild Asian grey wolf parent species, Canis lupus.
Dingoes have maintained ancient characteristics that unite them, along with their closest relatives from southeast Asia and the Pacific, into a taxon named after them, Canis lupus dingo, and which separate them from dogs classified as Canis lupus familiaris.
A dingo's natural habitat can range from deserts, to grasslands and on the verge of forests. They cannot live too far away from water and they normally settle their homes in dens, deserted rabbit holes, and hollow logs.
Wild dogs on the southern side of the fence are a rarity but they exist and this one, evidently lovelorn, had been foolishly and fatally attracted by the presence of Coddington’s large pig dog bitch enclosed within the high tin fence surrounding his modest fibro-cement house.
Coddington is a maintenance man for the Great Barrier Fence, usually called the dog fence. Its aim is to exclude Australia’s native dog - the feared and destructive enemy of the sheep farmer – from entering the vast rangelands and pastoral zones of New South Wales.
“If they didn’t have this fence I think there wouldn’t be a sheep in New South Wales, so it’s very important,” says Coddington, one of a dozen workers stationed at outposts along the entire length of the 1.8-metre high fence and responsible for its upkeep.
A gate in a section of the 5.600km dingo fence in Far-western Queensland
At 5,600 kilometres long, the dog fence is the longest barrier in the world. It begins on the Nullabor Plain near the Western Australian border, meanders through South Australia’s arid north, delineates the border between New South Wales and Western Queensland and finishes on the Darling Downs.
Driving alongside Australia's 5,600km dog fence in far-western Queensland. (ABC News: Tim Lee)
Coddington is based at Hamilton Gate, Hungerford, Queensland - look it up on Google Maps - a mere pin prick on the map at the junction of several unsealed roads.
His nearest neighbour is 70 kilometres away and a fortnight might pass without him seeing another human. His wife sometimes finds the isolation imprisoning and heads to a regional town for a break - Bourke in New South Wales is 214km, or, a four hour drive but if she wants to stay in Queensland then its 'up the track to Cunnamulla (200km and three hours drive) but Charleville (388km and five and a half hours drive) is a bit more classier with the home base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service - a 'Bush Lifeline'!
Warrego River at Cunnamulla
Relaxing in Charleville
Coddington has long become accustomed to life in one of the nation’s loneliest and remotest outposts.
“I like being in the bush, that’s mainly why I came out here. Country lifestyle’s really good. I don’t mind being by myself, so it’s quite interesting really being out here.”
Once dried, he’ll take this morning’s fresh scalp and his other grisly trophies to the nearest Department of Primary Industries office to claim his reward - a modest bounty of $10 per scalp.
“Not much. But it adds up,” muses Coddington.
It’s simply part of the price of eternal vigilance along Australia’s famed Dog Fence.