This story was told to me by my grandfather, one of the great keepers of this land; it is the tale of Wendingo, his mate Starr, and their two cubs Dawn and Sepa. They were the last of their kind, the last of the famed Australian Tasmanian tigers in existence. Their story began years ago when the last known tiger died in captivity and entered “the dreaming”: a place in time where all extinct animals go. However, there was a pair of tigers who were captured and secretly taken to the mainland to be sold. They escaped and fled into the bush where they vanished into folklore. Or did they? Roaming in secret from the Great Divided Range to the mystical Blue Mountains; Wendingo and his family were the current generation.
The last surviving Australian thylacines are very smart creatures; they have to be in order to stay hidden from human eyes. The cunning of a marsupial tiger is that it knows how to keep out of sight, as you travel it is always behind your back. No matter how quickly you may turn, it moves faster. Only on rare occasions do they make a mistake and are glimpsed by a farmer or a wandering bush walker. But in the blink of an eye they are gone like a word on the wind. But it is only a matter of time before they are discovered as humans encroach further and further into their dwindling habitation. Wendingo knew all this and had told Dawn and Sepa to always be careful and remember the way of their ancestors. Although Wendingo loved his family dearly and always put on a happy face, deep down inside he feared that soon they will have to enter “the dreaming”.
One fine sunny day while Wendingo was out hunting, Starr watched Dawn and Sepa playing with old Bob, a hypochondriac feral cat. Bob was constantly complaining about his old bones, bemoaning the easy life he had before he was dumped in the wild by his owners. He reminisces fondly about his lost luxuries, his place in front of the heater, the warm beds, and the lovely canned food. But on this day, old Bob was more interested in his sunbaking than the young Tigers playtime. Starr told her cubs that it was time for their bath, a chore that all children, whether human or animal dislike. Starr hustled her cubs off to the nearby stream.
It was a day like any other when the hunter found them. Jock was his name, and hunting was his game, he had been after the elusive Tasmanian tiger for a long, long time. He had always hunted animals and those he captured he sold to private collectors around the world. And he had a buyer who would pay big money for a live tiger. Starr put up a valiant fight to protect her children, but her skills were no match for a gun. A loud bang brought her to the ground. Miles away, Wendingo sensing Starr's fear and pain, let out a howl of anguish, as he rushed to her aid.
In the meantime Jock had captured the hapless Dawn and Sepa, but his attempts to take the injured Starr were thwarted by the courageous Bob, with old bones and all, he chased the hunter off. But even an old feral cat could not prevent the taking of Wendingo and Starr's cubs. When he arrived, it was to find Bob standing guard over the seriously injured Starr. Wendingo checked the wound and saw that it is was not an injury of the animal world and therefore did not know how to treat it. With Starr near death, and not a moment to spare, he took her to see the Wise One.
The Wise One, like the name suggests was very old and very, very wise. All the local wildlife would seek her advice and administrations when they were sick. She lived in an old giant gum tree, and it was here that Wendingo brought his beloved. The Wise One, a koala, whose true name has never been revealed, used herbal and bush medicine on Starr's wound. The medicine appeared to help, but the Wise One told the concerned Wendingo that it would be many days before it is known whether Starr will live or not. With weakened breath Starr told her loving mate to find her kids and bring them home, he promised her that he would. And so began the extraordinary journey of Wendingo.
Jock, the hunter, had already loaded the captured and frightened Dawn and Sepa on to a train bound for the other side of the country. Wendingo ran like the wind, using all his tracking skills, speed, guile, and calling on the ghosts of his ancestors to give him strength, he reached the moving train at night in the midst of a great storm. As the thunder bellowed and the lightning struck and the rain pounded down upon the land, the train rattled on. Then from out of the darkness by the flash of a lightning bolt, Wendingo leapt on to the moving train and tried to break into the carriage where Dawn and Sepa are being held. The cubs plead to their father to save them. But he is confronted by the hunter. A battle ensues on top of the speeding train, where Wendingo loses his pawing and falls off into the blackness. Battered and bruised, but unhurt, the tiger shakes the dirt from his fur, and continues the pursuit, as the train sped away, vowing not to give up.
Wendingo followed the train tracks out of the mountains and bush and into the desert, a most inhospitable place for a Tasmanian tiger. With food and water scarce, and the hot sun beating down upon him, he soon became weak in this strange land. It wasn’t long before a pack of wild dingoes came across the path of the weakened tiger. It is not widely known that thousands of years ago when the tiger inhabited the mainland of Australia, its arch enemy was the dingo. It was these animals who decreased the tiger population and forced them from the mainland. On seeing their enemy, old hatreds were rekindled amongst the dingo pack. The leader attacked Wendingo without hesitation. In his damaged condition Wendingo was no match against the pack, it seemed as if he would perish and his cubs would be gone forever. All seemed lost until he was saved by a lone dingo, named Dingbat, an outcast from other dingoes because of his stance against violence; a most unusual trait in a dingo, but an admirable one. Using wit instead of muscle, Dingbat out-thought his fellow kind.
Afterwards Dingbat told Wendingo that he means him no harm and that he can trust him. Old hatreds and distrust were put aside as a dingo actually helped a Tasmanian tiger. He took Wendingo into a maze of tunnels beneath the desert. Many animals lived in these burrows, all of them outcasts. There was the frilly lizard Rufus, who was the wrong colour for his kind. Then there is Sssss, a desert snake who is a vegetarian, and last but not least, Snowball, a white as snow kangaroo with ruby red eyes, considered to be way too different amongst her family. These were just a few of the many outcasts living here, yet each of them unique. Wendingo was made welcome and given food and water, and as he regained his strength, he watched these animals celebrate their good fortune. They ate, drank, sang, dance and made merry all night long.
The next day when Wendingo had recovered, he told Dingbat what has happened and that he must go and save his cubs. Dingbat informed his new friend that he will never catch the two legged creatures’ machine, but that he knows of a kind two legged creature that could help him. The thylacine was not sure, recalling the destruction that man had wrought upon his kind, yet he knew that this might be the only chance to save Dawn and Sepa. And if a dingo and tiger can become friends then perhaps anything is possible.
Dingbat took his friend to see Che, a kindly and wise magic and medicine man, the greatest of all the keepers of the land, who was able to communicate with all living creatures. When Che heard of Wendingo's plight, he tells him that the only way to find his cubs is to call upon allies long gone into “the dreaming”. Che brings together his tribe for a corroboree. That night in front of a roaring fire Che and his people opened a doorway into “the dreaming”. Wendingo, showing no fear, entered “the dreaming” and in this magical and lost realm he meets his ancestors, and calls upon creatures long gone from this world to help him in his quest; Yahoo the Yowie, Daggertooth the long lost Australian lion, Roc the giant kangaroo, and Bunyil the Bunyip. With these ancient and extinct animals of “the dreaming”, and his new comrade, Dingbat, Wendingo set off to find his lost cubs. Using Yahoo's knowledge of secret paths across the land, Daggertooth's speed and strength, Rocs ability to leap huge distances in a single bound and Bunyil's knowledge of the billabongs, this unlikely band made good time. Wendingo prayed to his ancestors that it would not be too late to save his young ones.
But perhaps it was too late, for the train carrying Dawn and Sepa had arrived at its destination. Jock loaded the young tigers on to a truck and drove them to a nearby wharf where a ship and a buyer were waiting. Money exchanged hands between the hunter and the buyer. The scared Dawn and Sepa were loaded into the cargo hold of the ship. But it was then that Wendingo and his band of lost Australians arrived in the nick of time. A great confrontation took place between man and beast. The men lost the battle and fled for their lives. But not before a fire had started upon the ship, threatening the lives of the cubs. However they were rescued from the flames and sinking ship by their father, the mighty and great Wendingo.
With the job done, Yahoo, Daggertooth, Roc and Bunyil, bid a fond farewell, before returning to the world of “the dreaming”. Dingbat and Wendingo also bid a sad goodbye; both tiger and dingo would never forget one another. With Dawn and Sepa by his side, Wendingo then returned to his home to find Starr alive and well and old Bob still complaining about his weary bones. And thus Wendingo and his family were never heard of again. What became of them after this adventure is not known. Perhaps they too finally entered “the dreaming”, or perhaps, just perhaps they are still out there in the wild, just beyond the sight of human eyes.
Copyright (C) Peter Jessop June 2010