top of page

Wongari of K'Gari

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Into the blue of Hervey Bay
Paddling into the Blue at Hervey Bay, Queensland

With all the talk in the news about dingo attacks on K'Gari (Fraser Island), I thought I'd share a little film that I made on the island in which I am stalked by a dingo or two myself.

My friends and I had hired a catamaran for a week of exploring, paddle boarding and whale watching in Hervey Bay. As novices, we struggled with the anchor and a few other nautical bits and pieces when the wind whipped up and threatened to smash us on the shore but generally it was smooth sailing.

Cruising around on the vast expanse of the Coral Sea was like being in a dream. During the days we watched mother whales bobbing about on the surface, suckling their calves with fat-rich milk in preparation for their first 5,000km migration to Antarctica for the summer. At night we snoozed under the night sky canopy in swags on the catamaran nets slung high above the lapping surface of the water.

A Dingo's Got My Camera!

On the final day I took the dinghy to shore to stretch my sea legs on the beach. K'gari is a World Heritage Area and at 122kms long, the largest sand island in the world. Wanting to take a swim out from land, as opposed to the regular plunges from the catamaran's rear end, I stripped off and hit the ridiculously crystal clear water.

It was a short-lived blissful moment, floating under the setting sun in that becalmed state.

When I looked back, a dingo was ripping at my daypack, on the top of which I'd left my camera. I thought I'd set it up to film myself taking a dip. Had I actually hit the record button, I would have had some truly classic footage.

I frantically splashed out through the sparkling water to rescue my valuable piece of equipment from the jaws of death, and the sand though which it was being dragged. Plucking up considerable courage, I wrestled it from the beast and turned it back on him. As it bared it's gnarly fangs at me and howled, I pathetically told him to 'Shoo!'.

It was a tense moment, especially since I was naked at the time and particularly vulnerable. But the camera is a documentarian's most valuable tool and the thought of damaging it overpowered my fear of the wild beast. I managed to capture that liminal space between primal and digital scream, and won, this time. Some haven't been so lucky. In 2001, a small pack killed a nine-year-old child, and in an ironic turn around, some camping areas on the island are fenced in so humans are now the animals in the zoo.

Butchulla Country

According to Butchulla dreaming, a white spirit named Princess K’gari was turned into the island by the Rainbow Serpent Yindinjie, who created lakes to be K’gari’s eyes, creeks and waters to be her voice, and birds and animals to keep her company.

Just a few months before our trip,in 2022, the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation gained freehold title to more than 22 hectares of land within an area where they already hold native title, adding to another inalienable freehold title on the other side of the K'gari. They have looked after this country for 60,000 years living by three basic laws: what is good for the land must come first; do not touch anything that does not belong to you; and if you have plenty, you must share.

With the proliferation of fearless dingos (Wongari), maybe this sacred place could be managed better by the traditional owners? As they say, K’gari is Wongari Djaa (Country) and these wild dingoes have flourished with food left out by tourists when camping.

Wongari are different to Wat’dha, the camp dingoes who help Butchulla people track and hunt, and guard them from wongari and other bad spirits. Visitors need to keep their distance. They are advised to walk in groups and carry a stick. And when they go for a dip, keep their cameras safely in their bags.

Here's the home movie Seven Sistas Sailing in which the dingo features towards the end.

Subscribe to Nell's newsletter

Learn about upcoming events, interviews and more.

Thanks for subscribing. We'll be in touch soon.

bottom of page