Wild Dog is an immersive installation and exhibition exploring the importance of one of Australia’s most misunderstood but significant cultural symbols – the dingo.

The project, conceived and artistically directed by Kaurna/Narungga artist Jacob Boehme, has been created to preserve and maintain . Often renegaded as a pest, the Dingo has and continues to be a significant living figure in First Nations’ cultures and presence within the Australian ecological system.

This is the first artistic outcome of a multi-year cultural maintenance and revival project that connects the Kadli, Ngarembee and Bilmee (Dingo) story from Kaurna and Narungga country in South Australia to Lardil Country in Mornington Island, including cultural links stretching to the Wild Dog story for the Bunun people from Taiwan.

The project, conceived and artistically directed by Kaurna/Narungga artist Jacob Boehme, connects First Peoples across Australia and Asia to share, preserve and maintain the Wild Dog story.

Extensive research, consultation, community leadership, participation and shared ownership are central and integral to the Wild Dog Project. In 2020 South Australia and Queensland, Jacob worked with Elders, alongside Community Leaders and a creative team which has led to the creative response of Wild Dog as an exhibition/installation outcome.

The project was conceptualised in 2019 and was initially proposed to be a large-scale public dance presentation.  Jacob spent the predominate part of 2020 consulting First Nations communities and identifying who would be involved in the Wild Dog artistic outcome. This included engaging key creatives from across Australia to work on the original Wild Dog public dance presentation.

In the latter half of 2020 due to COVID and further consultation and conversations Wild Dog was reshaped to ensure that communities and artists could continue to develop and contribute to the Wild Dog project and also for audiences to safely engage with the work.

In 2021 an additional extensive consultation with Narungga Elders was undertaken at Stenhouse Bay Hall where 50+ Narungga Elders and community members gathered over 3 days to discuss the Wild Dog and other related stories. From here both men and women representatives were nominated, the creative development and beginnings of the Narungga Wild Dog contemporary dance film had begun.

Through these initial conversations two key Elders were identified and consultation with Kaurna Elders has been ongoing. Senior Kaurna Elders Uncle Lewis O’Brien and Aunty Lynette Crocker have worked with Jacob to gather, collate and record stories about the Kaurna’s relationship with the dingo. They explored themes from the dingo’s role as family to Kaurna people and significance of the Dingo in Kaurna Dreaming stories and as a cultural symbol.

Jacob continued to undertake consultations, this time with Lardil Community in Queensland, with Elders (women and men) who were identified as leaders. A new body of work by Aunty Roxanne Thomas in response to the Ngarmbee (Dingo)  story was created. In addition, works by established  Kaiadilt artist Netta Loogatha Birrmuyingathi Maali had been selected for exhibition, for their important focus on the Bilmee (Dingo).

Early in Jacob’s research he learned that the dingo arrived in Australia between 3,500 – 5,000 years ago, via sea-faring traders along the Austronesian language belt originating in Taiwan, with DNA and ancestral lineage that ties him to the Singing Dogs of New Guinea and the Malaysian Archipelago, the Formosan Mountain Dogs of Taiwan and even the Pariah Dogs of South India. This evidence reaffirming the ancient songs and stories about the Dingo that stretch across two continents and multiple First Nations.

In Taiwan, Jacob has worked closely with Bunun Nation Curator Dr Biung Ismahasan, and together they created a program comprised of workshops for First Nation communities. The workshops ran by a professional artist, would instil knowledges of the wild dog stories and traditional cultural practices.

Parallel to this on Narungga Country in the town of Maitland, Narungga artists and Elders visited the Central Yorke School and delivered a school’s program that responded to intergenerational transfer of cultural knowledge. The workshops were engaging and relevant for young people today.

Workshops included a wide range of art forms including, but not limited to, revival and traditional practice of dance, song, ceremony and artefact making, while simultaneously including contemporary art forms such as puppetry, visual arts and performance (theatre and dance).

A cross-cultural exchange was undertaken between Narungga and Bunun children. As a result of COVID-19, Namasia Junior High students were unable to be physically present at school during March – May. As such, their workshops and artist residency took place at a different time to the Narungga Nation. A private website was created for children to share the outcomes of their work and learn about each other’s Wild Dog story online.

Narungga country hosted an 8-day film shoot, capturing the traditional Narungga stories that feature the Dingo, Emu, Kangaroo amongst other native animals. The film shoot was overseen by Narungga elders and featured dancers and performers from Narungga Nation and other First Nations. The crew consisted of producers, costume designers, make-up artist and a film crew. Filming took place at several locations across Narungga country including Ardrossan, Curramulka and Troubridge. Directed by Jacob Boehme, the film will make up the Narungga component of the Wild Dog Exhibition.

Throughout the process of Wild Dog many times the project has shifted and shaped due to Elders advice and or COVID impacts. The outcome of Wild Dog will be presented in a live setting while also online to ensure the longevity of the Wild Dog project.

The needs of First Nations Elders to continue the sharing of cultural knowledge has driven the Wild Dog project.