Working with the dexterity of a surgeon, the heart of a gambler and the patience of a saint, Don Sallway tracks and traps wild dogs across the Queensland outback.
Story By Annabelle Brayley
Don Sallway sits motionless in the late afternoon light that envelops him and the waterhole. It’s quiet, apart from the occasional twitter of a pair of small honeyeaters and the rustle of the leaves around his head. He’s watching for the first flicker of movement that will betray the arrival of the dog. Perched downwind, in the fork of an old box tree, the barrel of his rifle rests on one knee. He has tracked the dog for several days and counted the carcasses of its mauling rampage through a mob of sheep.
He knows the dog and he knows it’s too smart to step easily into a trap. But Don also knows there’s not a dog he won’t get eventually. He tracked this dog to water the day before and he knows it’ll come in, before dark, to drink. And so he waits.
At 48, Don’s been dogging for 12 years. He grew up in the Mitchell district and spent several years in the Northern Territory before returning to work for a mate in the Bollon district. He was looking for a change when he inadvertently fell into the role of dogger. He learned from other people’s mistakes, as well as his own, and by studying the dogs, trapping around the district and then further afield as his ability and reputation grew.
“I know from the way a dog approaches one of my traps the first time just how well-educated it is,” Don says. “If it avoids two traps, I’ll pull ’em up and rethink the settings. You’ve got to be able to predict the dog’s next move. They’re a creature of habit and if you study ’em long enough you can work ’em out. I learn where they put their feet, how they react, what path they’ll take and,” he says, pointing to his head, “it all goes up here in my little computer. I get to know which day they’ll come through again and, once I know a dog’s habits, I’ll get him.”
Allocating up to three months for big jobs, Don spends about three days setting traps. After that he can run the line every two days. He tends to work about 200,000 hectares at a time, clocking up to 220 kilometres a day. Working from a base camp, he will set up a couple of different circuits and run them alternately. He gets paid a flat rate per dog, so he’s learned to work efficiently and is pedantic about avoiding contamination. Don knows the dogs will sniff out the tiniest trace of human scent.
Following a routine when he’s running a line, he likes to have his traps checked or reset by 2pm. Any later and he risks the dogs catching a lingering whiff of him. He rides a motorbike and never puts his feet directly on the ground in the trap area. He pulls up, flicks the stand down and the bike out of gear in one smooth action, keeping his feet on the foot rests until he lays a piece of a wool pack on the ground to stand on. Carrying everything he needs in a bucket, he scoops the soil out into the bucket, then hammers anchor pegs into the ground and sets the trap carefully, covering it with Glad Wrap to stop sand building up underneath the plate. He gently sprinkles the soil he saved back over the top, disguising the site, then carefully packs everything back into the bucket and puts it back onto the bike. He starts the bike, scoops up the mat and, as he changes gear, flips up the stand and rides off.
This story excerpt is from Issue #67
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009