Day 2 was when I saw my first dingo. Every silver lining has its cloud and every politician his perversion, and it seems that every Queensland island has its problem child: on Hinchinbrook it's the rat, and on Fraser it's the dingo. Dingoes are wild dogs, and the ones on Fraser Island are thought to be the purest breed left, due to isolation from interbreeding with other dogs.
Your average dingo is sleek, naturally thin, and has all the usual mannerisms of canine kind, including the sad, sideways tilt of the head that makes hearts melt and grown adults speak in goo-goo language. Yes, the dingo has a genetic ability to charm the food out of a tourist's hands, and this has caused huge problems on Fraser Island, because the dingoes have cottoned on. Whenever humans feed wild animals the whole eco-structure gets upset; more food breeds more dingoes, and when the number of humans on the island drops in the off-season, there are too many dingoes for natural food sources, so dingoes die off and, worse, they start to get aggressive if humans don't hand over the food when they sit up and beg. Fraser Island is now home to over 200 dingo delinquents, whose daily routine involves ripping into tents if they can smell food, and terrorising little children who don't know how to react to wildlife (in fact, a dingo had been shot the week before I arrived for biting a child, a child who had apparently been baiting the poor thing for three hours).
The guidelines, then, are strict but sensible. Don't feed or interact with the dingoes. Don't leave any food or rubbish inside your tent; lock it in your car. Leave your tent flaps open, so the dingo can enter your tent, sniff around and leave when it finds no food (as the ranger told me, the worst it can do then is leave a deposit on your sleeping bag, a prospect that, to me, sounded just as bad as having all your food stolen). So, every time I camped, I hoisted my backpack up a tree, well out of the range of the dingoes.
And was I glad I took the precaution. On my second day on the island, I was about to set off from Central Station when I saw a dingo trotting off into the forest, a plastic bag of goodies in its mouth. Following the culprit's tracks backwards, I saw a large tent, its flaps pinned open as suggested. The only problem was that the owners hadn't read the small print, and they'd left everything inside the tent, to which the dingo was slowly helping itself. As I watched, it came back, trotted straight into the tent, and after a bit of investigation, obviously decided that a litre carton of milk constituted food, so, jaws clamped round the prize, it started walking off to the forest, leaving a trail of milk behind it. I fully assumed that by the time the owners got back from their day's walk, all they would find would be an empty tent with a puddle of milk in one corner. It served them right, unfortunately.
Into the Bush
I decided to take the walking as it came, and headed south from Central Station and through the centre of the island to the first of the many freshwater lakes that dominate the geography of Fraser Island. The walk took me through more gum forest, with patches of rainforest, and I discovered a tree that was new to me, the scribbly gum. Like most gum trees the trunk is pure white, but the scribbly gum gets its names from the zigzag shapes all over its trunk, which are formed by burrowing insects. On first inspection it looks like some artistic vandal has come along with a sharp knife and scribbled on the trunks, in much the same pattern as you make when trying to get a stubborn biro to work, but after a while you notice the variety in the work, and it's quite hypnotic. Combined with the hiker's high – a condition that combines the exhaustion of hiking with the meditative hypnotic effect of regular plod-plod-plod, and which sends you off into a whole new plane of thought as you trudge through the bush – it proved quite a pleasant experience.
I arrived at Lake Benaroon after a fairly quick and stress-free 7km walk, passing pretty Lake Birrabeen on the way, and decided to stay the night in the hiker's campsite next to the lake. I collected a sizable pile of wood for a fire, relaxed on the beach – by definition, every shoreline in Fraser is a beach, with beautiful white sandy foreshores and dune systems to die for – and lit the fire at about 4pm, ready to reduce the flames to glowing coals in time to cook my tea. It was lining up to be the perfect night.
My companions in the campsite, a Swiss couple, turned up just before dark, and we nattered away as darkness fell and I munched my way through my billy of rice. And that's when the rain started. I'd spent so much time collecting wood and creating the perfect campfire that there was no way I was going to retreat to my tent – which wasn't any drier than standing in the rain anyway, as I'd found out in Hinchinbrook – so I fished out my umbrella and sat by the fire, staying perfectly dry and quite warm, thank you very much.
It was at that time, in the perfect darkness, that another couple stumbled into the campsite. They couldn't quite believe it; after a long struggle through the rainforest they had arrived at the southern end of the lake, only to find it was chucking it down (you tend not to notice things like that when the forest canopy is protecting you) and that they still had to find the campsite. But lo and behold, that glow over there was someone sitting and tending a good-looking fire and sheltering under an umbrella, so they found the campsite and a welcoming fire to boot. In all their days of tramping, Jenni and George from Melbourne had never seen anything quite like it, and we got on like a house on fire, as they thought I was a real bush character with my billy, fire and unconventional means of staying dry.
The umbrella didn't just prove useful round the fire. By the time I got into my tent, the rain had just settled in for a long stay, and before long it was the same old story of sleeping in a puddle and getting dripped on all night. On Hinchinbrook I had simply ducked into my sleeping bag and put up with it, but I now had umbrella on the brain, and I realised there was a solution to my problem: put the umbrella up inside the tent. It worked a treat, with the umbrella protecting my head, and my waterproof jacket draped over my legs. It was almost comfortable. Almost.