Wandi: the very true story of the baby dingo who fell from the sky by Favel Parrett
“Most Humans do not understand us. It seems like Humans often kill things they don’t understand – things they are frightened of.” (Wandi)
Favel Parrett is well known for her beautifully crafted novels for adults, Past the Shallows, When the Night Comes and There Was Still Love (which I’ve reviewed at PaperbarksWords).
Wandi is Favel’s first book for children and is published by Lothian Children’s Books. It is both an eye-opener about the unique character of the dingo and its importance to Australia as well as being a fascinating story that engages the mind and heart.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Favel.
You are acclaimed for your literary fiction for adults. Why have you now written a children’s book?
I believe our younger generation truly understand that we need to protect our environment and maintain healthy ecosystems in Australia and the world. It is their future that is on the line because of all the damage we have done to this county in the last 200 years. I want the young readers of Australia to fall in love with dingoes, as I have, and be proud of our amazing apex predator.
As well as being a gripping tale, in Wandi you retain the beautiful writing style that is a feature of your books for adults. How have you adapted or changed this for children?
I wrote the book the way I always write – with lots of drafting and making sure that the rhythm is right. I kept the language simple, but I always do that. It is kind of the way I write. I used repetition as well, but then I do that in my adult books also!
What do you love about dingoes?
Everything. The way they are incredibly smart, almost all knowing. The way they do what they want when they want, and are not here to please humans like dogs are. The way they are so sensitive and gentle.
Could you share one of your experiences with them?
Sometimes, when you least expect it, a very shy and sensitive dingo will literally jump into your arms and give you a cuddle. It is the best thing in the world.
What is so special about Wandi himself?
Wandi’s story needs to be told because he proves that there are pure Alpine dingoes in Victoria and they desperately need our protection. His arrival at Dingo Discovery gave us all the greatest hope for the future, and his media stardom has really helped get the message out there. I am hoping that this book reaches a whole new audience, that will fall in love with our Australian dingo, and will want to protect and save this incredible animal.
To which of Wandi’s experiences could children particularly relate?
Change. Trying to fit in and make friends. Feeling lonely, sad, frightened. Making new friends. Overcoming trauma and change and making the best of the now.
You refer numerous times to heartbeats. Why are these so important?
The first time I met an adult dingo at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary, I was told that he could hear my heartbeat clearly from 25 metres away. This fact absolutely blew me away. I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
Dingoes’ senses are incredibly sharp and make humans look like the dumbest animal on the planet. I want readers to feel how special dingo’s senses are.
Why do you think people are so polarised in their views about dingoes?
Basically – there has been 200 years of misinformation about dingoes being dangerous and killing livestock. Neither of these things are true or based on scientific research, but the misinformation remains.
Before Tasmanian Tigers were hunted to extinction, it was thought they were dangerous and killed sheep. Now we know that neither of those things are true – but it is too late. They are gone forever. The Alpine dingo is right on the verge of extinction in the wild. We need to re-write the dingo handbook and use science and research, not dumb hatred and myth.
There are 16 million odd sheep in Victoria and only about 3000 are taken each year by predation (and there are no studies done on what predators are killing sheep – foxes, feral cats, eagles or dingoes). However, between 20 and 44% of lambs die from exposure in the elements.
Dingoes are blamed for so much, and yet all they do is control foxes, feral cats, rabbits and keep the roo population at a sustainable level. We need them now more than ever before.
How have you shown respect to Aboriginal people and beliefs in this book?
The story of Bunjil is absolutely vital to this book, but I knew it was not my story to tell. I am not a First Australian and I did not want to appropriate a story that is not mine.
I spoke to Bruce Pascoe before I began writing, and he gave me the confidence to at least write the story. I then asked a wonderful Victorian Elder, Dr Lois Peeler, if she would read my manuscript and give cultural advice.
And so, the important story of Bunjil is in the book, and now a whole new generation can learn about Bunjil and about dingoes.
Zoe Ingram has illustrated the book. Which of her illustrations best captures the ‘spirit’ of your story, and why?
I love all of the illustrations and they add so much to the text. But I think the cover is my favourite. I nearly killed Zoe with all the changes I kept asking for as it was SO important to get Wandi’s face right. He had to look like a dingo and not a dog.
Apart from reading Wandi, how could people increase their understanding and knowledge about dingoes?
Please follow our Instagram accounts @wandi_dingo @dingodiscovery
And our Facebook account Australian Dingo Foundation
We post everyday with dingo facts and photos.
Also – please come and visit us at the sanctuary by booking a tour. The education talk and interaction will change you forever!
Thanks very much for your challenging and inspiring responses, Favel, and all the very best with Wandi. It is an important book.