Occupational Hazards


There’s a few hazards (quite a few, actually) involved in doing remote fieldwork in Central Australia. Some of these are obvious: driving long distances (800km in one day), breakdowns, vehicle rollovers, flat tyres, getting bogged and occasionally, getting lost. Others are not so obvious: drunk Traditional Owners (Aboriginal people), groups of fighting Traditional Owners, humbugging (that’s when Aboriginal people ask you for things like cash, cigarettes or a lift – no, I don’t smoke, BTW), the challenges of sleeping in noisy Aboriginal communities, other organisations that try to act as gatekeepers to communities, and … dogs.

Not just any dogs. No. Let’s be clear here: cheeky dogs.

The term ‘cheeky’ is Aboriginal English for any living creature that’s harmful, misbehaving or downright dangerous. Thus, some snakes are called cheeky snakes (a Western Brown Snake, for example, whose bite can kill) as opposed to ‘quiet’ snakes (Central Australian Carpet Python, whose bite is just a bite – no venom).  Some dogs are called ‘cheeky’ dogs because they’re snappy, vicious or aggressive.

Thursday, I was out at Hermannsburg (about 120 km west of Alice Springs) visiting people who I know very well. I’ve been to this house dozens of times, and the three dogs are always very quiet. However, after I’d been there for a half hour or so, chatting away, I got up to leave and walked past the place where the dog’s puppies were hiding.

There was no growling, no aggressiveness, no warning whatsoever.


The dog bit me just above the ankle. I had two shallow puncture wounds on one side, and on the medial side a 6 cm gash that was pouing out blood. Needless to say, I jumped straight in the troopy and went to the clinic. I was patched up, finished my consultations, and drove back to town. The next day, I had to see my own doctor for a second opinion (no stitches for dog bites unless they’re really needed, just lots of antibiotics and a tetanus shot).

To summarise, I can’t run, can’t walk, can’t really do much at all for the next couple of weeks. I hate not being able to exercise!!!

Moral of the story:  complacency is not a good thing around any dog!


8 thoughts on “Occupational Hazards

  1. so sorry! take care! no rabies shots for you? in india, if one gets bit by a dog, that means automatic rabies shots.

    and I like snakes, but those australian snakes scare the hell outta me!

  2. Hi Linda,

    Rabies is one disease (of many) that Australia doesn’t have – the benefits of being so isolated from everywhere. The only thing like that we have is Lyssa virus carried by bats.

    I guess our snakes and spiders make up for the rabies, though. However, with all the bush work and bushwalking (hiking) that I do, I rarely see snakes because they’re shy creatures and avoid humans as much as possible. Even my husband, a park ranger, rarely sees snakes (he has been bitten by a Red Backed Spider, though – that’s our version of a Black Widow).

  3. Ah, dog bites… in Thailand, my Guru’s dog (a very VERY large some kinda dog… more like a pony actually) had to be sent back to his breeders, because he seemed to have a fondness for nipping people.

    A local Thai person ended up being mauled. I had a minor encounter (thanks to one of my yogi brothers who physically threw himself on top of the dog) where my inner though and elbow took some nips. And one of my good friends was rather brutally attacked – and we both have scars to this day!

    Luckily I’d already had a tetnus shot, so I was good, but my friend was not so lucky. Dog bites kinda suck.

    Especially ones that stop you moving around freely.

    Rest up, take it easy!

  4. Wow…nasty. Glad to hear you weren’t hurt any worse than you were, and you have my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Not so sure about the “any dog,” though…I generally find that I can be much more complacent around the right kinds of dogs than I can around most people…though clearly we’re talking about very different kinds of dogs.

    Then of course, when we in the Northern Hemisphere think of Australia and dogs in the same sentence, we quite inevitably end up with: “the dingo took my baby!” Svasti tells me that stopped being funny a long time ago, but I just don’t see it….

  5. Believe me Dr Jay, “a dingo took my baby” is so not funny to us, anymore than when Americans name their sons ‘Randy’ and wonder why all the Aussies are killing themselves laughing…

  6. Hey – I should add, those dog attacks all happened within a very short time period. And that this dog, poor thing, had been taunted quite cruelly when he was a puppy. So his reactions to people are confused. Only a year earlier, I’d been playing with the very same dog, with his front paws on my shoulders as we ‘danced’. So its not like he was mean.

    It was a very sad story, where no matter how much love he was given, he couldn’t overcome his own fears and issues (poor doggy) so my Guru couldn’t keep him around people.

    Certainly, there are vicious dogs, but this one was just misguided…

    Get better soon!

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