Written by Kerrie Alexander
Right from the beginning of Jennifer Parkhurst’s life there was an undeniable passion and spiritual connection with animals.
Her parents witnessed her very first steps at a wildlife park while trying to chase an emu, she tells me with a laugh.
Now, 54, the Rainbow Beach resident is known widely as the Dingo Whisperer of K’gari (Fraser Island) and Naibar Wongari Yeeran (Our sister dingo woman) to the Butchulla Woppaburra clan of K’gari.
Jennifer is the Vice President of the Save Dingoes Fraser Island advocacy group and is the president of the National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program.
She is the author of two very successful books including ‘Vanishing Icon: The Fraser Island Dingo’ and ‘The Butchulla First Nations People of Fraser Island (K’Gari) and their dingoes’, with two more works in the pipeline.
The Australian Wildlife Protection Council Conservation Award went to Jennifer in 2012 in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the preservation and protection of Australian native wildlife.
Her journey to this point is incredible!
Jennifer has a long history with fine arts including both painting and photography, starting at the age of 13 by winning her first major portraiture award.
She took her first trip into the outback at 18, and subsequently formed a deep love for dingoes and began a life of traveling Australia.
“Mum and dad used to take me to wildlife parks all the time and see the dingoes in the enclosures and I soon developed a passion for them,” Jennifer said.
“When I got older, I extensively travelled around Australia and went in search of the elusive dingo.
“I was at the Mundi Mundi Plains in South Australia sitting by the fire when this girl (dingo) came up and just sat behind me.
“It’s been a very spiritual journey, right from the start.
“When she came up behind me the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I felt her presence.”
Originally from Melbourne, Jennifer’s adventures led her to working on whale-watching and dolphin watching vessels, photographing marine mammals and the maritime industry in New South Wales.
She made the move to Rainbow Beach in 2001 to fulfill her passion for photographing and studying Australia’s native dog and it was there that she discovered K’gari.
That was the end of that story and the start to her journey as an “accidental activist”.
She spent the better part of eight years, every day, on the beaches and in the bush of K’gari learning everything she could about the most unique strain of dingo on the eastern seaboard.
She took over 600 photos a day. There are thousands of photos in her extensive collection, many of which will be seen for the first time in her upcoming books.
“It was first just about photographing them but once I became part of the pack and realised how important the pack social structure was, I realised we can’t be killing the dingoes just because they have stolen someone’s backpack.
“I couldn’t stand by and watch this happen.
“As time went on, I didn’t mean to, but I became a voice for the dingo.
“The passion just drove me and drove me. I went there in all sorts of conditions cyclones and pouring rain.
“I was just in love with them and still am.”
Jennifer was obsessed with learning about “the secret life of dingoes”, which is well documented in her books.
“It started around 2003 and I spent seven to eight years with the packs every day, learning what did they do, how did they do it, the pack structure, social structure … I wanted to get to know all these dingoes and see if they would let me integrate into their pack and that’s what happened.
“I went to Fraser Island and started searching around, learning territories, and meeting the dingoes.
“They were often surprised when they saw me in their secret places,” she laughed.
“There was never any aggression. I sat there quietly with my camera and the only noise would be the click of the shutter while taking the photos and they became used to me.
“Eventually it did get to the stage where they did integrate me into the pack and gave me a role into the pack social structure, which was just amazing.
“It was almost like I was another dingo.”
Available data estimates that K’gari is home to around 19 stable dingo packs occupying a defined territory, each pack containing approximately three individuals.
Jennifer’s findings surrounding the pack’s social structure was fascinating!
She said the pack would howl together on sunrise then go about their day guarding the boundary and hunting, as well as being cheeky stealing what they could from campers.
They also have a special greeting ceremony.
“It’s the most awesome thing to see,” she said.
“If they’ve been away for five hours or five minutes, when they see each other, they greet each other with muzzle rubbing and face licking.
“If I was to get down on my hands and knees, they would greet me the same way.”
Another admired characteristic, Jennifer said, was their selflessness.
“They adopted other dingo pups if needed and raised them and would self-sacrifice to keep their pack alive … I saw that so often and that’s the most amazing characteristic of the dingo that I know of.”
Jennifer no longer spends time on the island but believes her findings did make a difference in the conservation of the iconic animal.
“The dingo has been persecuted in Australia ever since white man came along and I also saw persecution of the dingo on the island.
“When I was in the bush, I could see the results of some of the interference that was happening to them, like the ear tagging.
“So, I wanted to just spread the word to people about what was going on and work out how we could preserve this unique and wonderful species.
“Some friends and I formed a group called Save Fraser Island Dingoes and through that group we did a heck of a lot of lobbying, got scientists involved and academics.
“Ear tagging is still being done but it’s being done a different way and no longer on three-month old puppies.
“The puppies were being hazed and as far as I know that has now stopped.
“We have funded academics to do research on K’gari including population studies, and genetic diversity.
“We’re still working hard to keep an eye on things and making sure that the dingoes are a healthy and happy population.”
Jennifer said the bond she formed with the dingoes is something she will always treasure.
“Those seven years were just so special.
“I believe the dingoes are the spirit and soul of K’gari.”