Some are quiet and some are cheeky.
Some have mange, some have ticks and sores that provoke a constant ecstasy of scratching. Some are elegant, and some are mongrels.
But whatever else they may be, the camp dogs of Aurukun – an ultra-creative remote indigenous community on the western side of Cape York – are central to their host society: so central that they form the subject of Aurukun’s most spectacular recent art project.
The Aurukun camp dogs sculpture commission, dreamed up earlier this year by the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair’s visionary founding director, Michael Snelling, in concert with local art co-ordinator Guy Allain and the community’s star sculptors, may be the most intense public display to date of Cape York’s dog obsession. All indigenous community dwellers love their dogs, and assemble canine families of astonishing size and diversity, but Aurukun, in this as with so many other of its features, is pre-eminent.
Aurukun is the dance capital of the far north, has served as the home base for most of Australia’s greatest anthropologists, and it has had its days as the champion community of disaster and dysfunction. Today, though, its dogs hold the stage, and fittingly.
For in Aurukun, a dog is not just a dog, but an ancestral force of extraordinary potency. The community lies in dingo country, crisscrossed by variegated dog dreaming tracks and song-lines.
“The dogs fit in with our stories and our culture,” says Craig Koomeeta, the young star sculptor of Aurukun.
“One of the main stories I had from my ancestors was about the creek that runs up from the Knox River, which is the dingo’s tail.”
The story rushes on: how the dingos came towards Aurukun from the landscape of the distant Northern Territory, how the Knox River dingo became the freshwater shark when it reached the sea, and how the dogs gave language to the region.