CORAMBA on the Orara, west of Coffs Harbour, is a narrow corridor of low country that weaves through high timbered mountains east and west.
For wild dogs and resident part-domestic ferals the cover provided by riverbank, state forest and national park affords an ideal escape after an evening on the jaw.
Eliezer Robinson knows all about those forays, those sleepless long nights camped in the cab of his ute, waking every hour to the sound of his mobile phone alarm to spark a spotlight and hunt the bastards killing his cattle.
The scourge has only escalated in recent times. Last decade the valley was full of small farms carrying a few sheep and goats in addition to cattle. In the last three years the vulnerable species have disappeared, including rabbits that used to inhabit the adjacent railway corridor.
“It has been very bad in the last eight months,” he said. “I reckon we lost $120,000 worth of calves and weaners this year alone.”
Last Christmas morning there were half a dozen lying in the paddocks, most of them torn in the groin during a game of chase.
“Professional trappers charge $800 a dog and I just couldn’t afford that,” explained Mr Robinson. “People heard our story and asked ‘can we help?’
Young mechanics from Coffs Harbour came out to Coramba pre-dawn every morning for a month waiting to get a shot. A retired gentleman from Bulahdelah camped for a week hoping to do the same.
There was one night when Mr Robinson flicked on the spottie and saw so many dogs playing sport with his calves that the scene resembled a football game.
“There were players and there were spectators,” he said. “We got six that night and they didn’t come back in those numbers.”
But removing the wild dog problem altogether was impossible. Baits, soft jaw foot traps even shooters, all struggled to make progress.
“These dogs live amongst us,” Mr Robinson said. “They know what we’re doing. They so smart. I think it’s the domestic in them.”
Advice from the Local Land Services suggested it was clear the dogs hassling Mr Robinson’s stock were after sport, rather than food – not that the realisation provided any comfort.
The LLS did deliver bait but with so few landowners nearby willing to do the same the result was ineffective. Soft jaw leg traps were laid on known tracks, but the dogs went another way.
Local landholders with large male dogs, not castrated and allowed to run at night don’t help the situation and Mr Robinson pointed to a strand of thick black hair caught on the third wire of a five-strand boundary fence.
“We’ve got big dogs here,” he said. “This one stands 12 hands high like a pony and has long fur that hangs to the ground. People around here call him “the panther”.
Fed up with the lack of a miracle government cure and losing a significant part of his livelihood, Mr Robinson decided to take greater control over his destiny and is now stringing dog-proof square mesh fence, spreading a tail on the ground, around paddocks unaffected by flood.
To maintain a sense of peace in this lower country he is introducing the donkey.
“We’ve been trialing three Jacks in two paddocks for the past two months and have been impressed by the results,” he said.
“When we first brought donkeys here the slaughter stopped overnight. The dogs crossed the river and they’re gone.”
“When a donkey sees a dog they make this awful noise and they do this funny dance and the dogs are horrified,” explained Mr Robinson. “The donkey can grab a dog. They use their front feet to stomp on them.”
So convinced is Mr Robinson about the efficacy of the braying guard that last week he trucked 120 Jennys from Alice Springs, caught feral in the desert and brought to the coast over the course of a week, allowing them to rest.
Their temperament on arrival was remarkable considering the journey and Mr Robinson now hopes they will acclimatise to the subtropical climate where grass grows green.
At a landing cost of $900 each he plans to offload all but 30 to affected landholders for $1000 as an initial service, keeping the remainder to breed a coastal lineage.
For the first time in many months there are calves on the ground without a care in the world. He is re-introducing cross-bred Merino sheep for meat along with goats.
“Late at night when I hear a donkey go off I lie back in bed and think, some poor bastard dog is getting a hammering. I don’t have a wild dog issue now. They’re somebody else’s problem.”