In the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, dogs Aren’t just pets
Lately, I was planning to interview a woman about her pet a remote Aboriginal community about 300 northeast northwest of Alice Springs.
The woman was about to present me to “Magpie” when her great-grandmother yelled at us, putting a stop to the interview.
“You should not speak to her! She does not know that dog’s Jukurrpa!”
Loosely translated into English, Jukurrpa means “Dreaming” in Warlpiri.
A deep and ongoing relationship
Warlpiri radio host and translator Vaughn Jampijinpa Hargraves clarified to me why the great-grandmother stopped the interview.
“I believe one of the significant messages,” he stated, “would be to remind people that dogs aren’t just dogs.”
Warlpiri people’s relationship with canines goes much deeper into history and spirituality than initially meets the eye.
Some dogs are provided skin names.
Warlpiri and Dingoes people have lived for thousands of years.
Sebastian Watson, a local footballer and dad, told me tales of his people using dingoes for searching from the “ancient days”.
“The dingoes would return with blood in their head, and the master could see them in the morning and think, ‘Ah, there’s a new kangaroo.’
“And they would go and see the kangaroo lying on the ground, freshly murdered from this particular morning.
“Early days people had tunes to go searching, folks would sing the territory — it is like casting a net into the sea … if the planet was young.”
Different words for puppy
There are just two words for puppy: jarntu and maliki. A difference is, Watson states.
“Jarntu is sort of similar to an offended word. We phone them maliki in a way that is polite and nice.
“Just like, I could go in and eat a person’s meal and they’d say ‘you jarntu’.”
Much like how an English speaker might call somebody a puppy?
“Jarntu is a insult term, yes.”
Watson believes that there must be an equivalent term in English to get maliki, a polite way of stating dog.
“Can there be another name to call dog a puppy?” He inquired.
“Not really,” he told him.
“You gotta find a way to call them,” he stated, “’cause they’re man’s companion.
“They’re part of household, how I feel connected towards my puppy. ‘Cause I have about 18 dogs.”
Yuendumu’s overpopulation issue
Since species of dogs’ advent and the colonisation of the Desert, Warlpiri people have been confronted with the issue of dog overpopulation.
Introduced dogs are more fertile than dingoes, giving pups birthoften and at younger ages.
Twenty years before, vet Graham Brown watched the issue of overpopulation in its peak and seen with Yuendumu.
He discovered approximately 400 “free-roaming puppies” — a biological term used to refer to dogs which are “possessed, but not confined whatsoever”.
Dr Brown became fascinated with all the dogs. He started seeing with Yuendumu every 3 months to perform a population study.
“The puppies were scavengers, and they just ate the leftovers, and a little bit of damper and so on,” he remembers.
“They have been undernourished.”
Some dogs were hungry they would feed on each other.
“A few of those very bad dogs that I euthanased, and once I euthanased them, the other puppies could pounce on them.”
A vet based in Darwin, Nowadays Stephen Cutter, travels to Yuendumu each four months to desex with consent from their owners, because many pets as you can.
The trips are funded by the Central Desert Council and the Warlukurlangu Artists’ Art Centre. Over two weeks in April this year, Dr Cutter desexed 50 puppies.
“If the puppies are entirely overpopulated, they starve, since there’s always got to be something restricting,” he said.
“If it is not the reproductive rate, it’ll be starvation, it’ll be accidents, it’ll be disease. In a spot without dog programs, it’ll be survival of the fittest.”
The ‘dog lady’ of Yuendumu
When Dr Cutter is not in town, folks come to visit Gloria Morales, a royal expatriate known as the “dog lady” — a name she proudly displays on her number plate.
Runs the wholesome Dog Program in Yuendumu. This involves caring for sick and abandoned puppies, feeding dogs, and giving advice and support.
“I grew up in Chile, in a really tiny community… I did not know that you could desex a puppy, I did not know that you can give them drugs,” she said.
“I did not know all of this stuff. Therefore, if you don’t educate the people, how are they likely to know?”
Her home has become the Yuendumu clinic and refuge, using over 60 individuals and long term inhabitants residing indoors.
Occasionally of the puppies get worked up, and an eruption of 60 barks amplifies throughout the of Yuendumu. Most nights, in the middle of the night, local dingo, Ben, will howl instigating a lovely and chilling chorus in a minor key.
A number of Ms Morales’s puppies can’t return to their packs. According to her, short term residents of Yuendumu contribute to this issue.
“There are a lot of white people who arrive, then they take on a puppy, and then they just leave it behind, but then the issue with this is that the puppy has lost all connection with their pack. I have a few of these.”
A record of interventions
The nutritious Dog Program has been devised by non-Warlpiri folks, and after that instrumented on Warlpiri country. This isn’t unusual in Yuendumu.
Yuendumu stays a community under the Stronger Futures conditions of this Northern Territory Emergency Response, 10 years after it was released by the Commonwealth.
The Intervention deconstructed people in Canberra, Darwin and Alice Springs, and community councils, to funding in Yuendumu.
But a key difference between the Dog Program and others is that Gloria has lived locally for 15 years.
Warlpiri people I spoke to were happy with the attempts of Gloria, and a few told me rescuing and reviving their pets.
But the program, using its desexing initiative, has its critics.
Sherilyn Granites was nursing her baby daughter as she informed me about her puppy, Japangardi, who was provided a skin name in the Warlpiri kinship system — similar to your brother.
It turns out that Japangardi, one of the dogs locally, was desexed with no consent while she was off.
“I really don’t know where they did that thing to Japangardi … I just got home and watched that this scar… We wanted him to have infants, to have his family.”
An alternate way of caring
The relationship between Warlpiri people and their own dogs has changed through the years.
“Nowadays we make to have a rifle, and we leave our puppies behind,” Sebastian Watson stated.
“We go searching, and then we feed our puppies with our meal.”
While things have changed, in Melbourne, Sydney as well as Alice Springs there a different type of puppy ownership than in Yuendumu.
“They’re treated much more like buddies,” Dr Cutter states.
“We have a tendency to treat our dogs such as possessions whereas [the Warlpiri] treat them more like an adult.
“When the dog chooses to change houses, if he decides that he really likes your neighbour’s home, you may be slightly unhappy, but it is ultimately their choice.”
Maisie Napurrula resides on the north side of town close to the football oval. When she sleeps outside, her puppies chase off the stray horses, camels and cows who wander into Yuendumu late at night searching for water.
“We feel safe with all the puppies, they’re good for nighttime, they keep people safe,” she said.
“We maintain our dogs as companion like our people from the olden days. That is why they are looked after by us. We’re connected.”
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