You’ve probably heard of me. I’m the guy they found in a
dingo pen at Featherdale Wildlife Park.
It was all over the news. If I’d been found in a playground,
or on a beach, or by the side of the road, I wouldn’t have scored
much coverage. Maybe I’d have ended up on page five of some
local rag. But the whole dingo angle meant that I got national
exposure. Hell, I got international exposure. People read about
me in all kinds of places, like England and Canada and the
United States. I know, because I checked. All I had to do was
google “dingo pen” and— Pow! There I was.
Not that anyone mentioned my name, of course. Journalists
aren’t supposed to identify teenagers. In the Sydney Morning
Herald, this is all they said:
A 13- year- old boy is in a stable condition at Mount Druitt Hospital
after being found unconscious in a dingo pen at Featherdale
Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, early this morning. A park
spokesperson says that a dingo in the same pen sustained minor
injuries, which were probably inflicted by another dingo. Police
are urging anyone with information about the incident to contact
As you can see, it wasn’t exactly a double- page spread. And
just as well, too, because when I was found, I was in the buff.
Naked. Yes, that’s right: I’d lost my gear. Don’t ask me how.
All I know is that I’m the luckiest guy alive. Being Dingo Boy
was bad enough, but being naked Dingo Boy would have been
much, much worse. I wouldn’t have survived the jokes. Can
you imagine the kind of abuse I’d have copped on my first day
back at school? It would have been a massacre. That’s why I’m
so relieved that nobody printed a word about the missing
clothes. Or the damaged fence. Or the cuts and bruises. Either
the newspapers weren’t interested or the police weren’t talking.
(Both, probably.) And I never told anyone that I was naked.
Not even my best friends. Especially not my best friends.
I mean, I’m not a complete idiot.
So there I was, in the dingo pen at Featherdale Wildlife
Park, and I don’t remember a thing about it. Not one thing. I
remember lying in my own bed at around 10:00 p.m., fiddling
with a flashlight, and then I remember waking up in hospital.
That’s all. I swear to God, I wasn’t fiddling with a tube of glue
or a bottle of scotch; it was an ordinary flashlight. Next thing
I knew, I was having a CT scan. I was stretched out on a gurney
with my head in a machine.
No wonder I panicked.
“It’s all right. You’re all right,” people were saying. “Can
you hear me? Toby? Your mum’s on her way.”
I think I might have mumbled something about breakfast as
I tried to pull offmy pulse oximeter. I was a bit confused. I was,
in fact, semiconscious. That’s what Mum told me afterward—
and when you’re semiconscious, it’s usually because you’ve
damaged your head or your spine. In the ambulance on your
way to hospital, you have to wear an oxygen mask and a neck
collar. And once you reach the Emergency Department, they
start checking you for things like leaking cerebral fluid. (Ugh.)
I wasn’t semiconscious for very long, though. At first I didn’t
quite know where I was. I couldn’t understand why I was lying
down or what all the beeping monitors were for. But the fog in
my head soon cleared, and I realized that I was in trouble. Big
Just six months before, I’d been in the same Emergency Department
with two broken fingers, after my friend Fergus and
I had taped roller skates to a surfboard. (I don’t recommend
grass- surfing, just in case you’re interested. It’s impossible to
stand up.) So I recognized the swinging doors, and the funny
smell, and the bed- curtains. Even a couple of the faces around
me were vaguely familiar.
“What happened?” I asked as I was being wheeled around
like a shopping trolley full of beer cans. “Did I get hurt?”
There was a doctor looming over me. I could see straight up
her nose. “Don’t you remember?” she said.
“What’s the last thing you can remember?”
“Umm . . .” I tried to think, but it wasn’t easy. Not while I
was being poked and prodded by about a dozen different
“Do you have a headache?” someone inquired.
“Do you feel sick in the stomach?”
“Can you look over here, please, Toby? It is Toby, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Course.” At the time, I thought that they knew me
from my previous visit. I was wrong, though. They were only
calling me Toby because Mum had panicked. She’d walked into
my bedroom at 6:00 a.m., seen my empty bed, searched the
house, realized that I didn’t have my phone, and notified the
police. I don’t suppose they were very concerned at that point.
(It wasn’t as if I was five years old.) All the same, they’d asked
for a name and description.
So when I showed up at Featherdale, without any ID, it
didn’t really matter. The police were already on the lookout
for a very tall, very skinny thirteen- year- old with brown hair,
brown eyes, and big feet.
One of the nurses told me later that she hadn’t recognized
me when I first came in because there was so much blood and
dirt all over my face.
“Can you tell us your full name, Toby?” was the next question
pitched at me, from somewhere offto my right.
“Uh— Tobias Richard Vandevelde.”
“And your address?”
I told them that, too. Then I spotted the big jagged cut on
“What happened?” I said with mounting alarm. “Is Mum
“Your mum’s fine. She’s on her way here now. The police
“The police?” This was bad news. This was terrible news.
“Why? What have I done?”
“Nothing. As far as we know.”
“You’re breathing a bit fast, Toby, so what I’m going to do
now is run a blood gas test . . .”
I couldn’t get a straight answer from any of them, but I
didn’t want to make a fuss. Not while they were trying to figure
out what was wrong with me. They kept asking if I was in pain,
and if I could see properly, and if I knew what year it was, and
then at last the crowd around my bed began to disperse. It
didn’t take me long to realize that people were drifting away
because I wasn’t going to die. I mean, I’d obviously been downgraded
from someone who might spring a leak or pitch a fit at
any moment to someone who could be safely left in a holding
bay with a couple of machines and a really young doctor.
“Not all of these cuts are going to heal by themselves,” the
really young doctor said cheerfully as he pulled out his box of
catgut (or whatever it was). “We might give you a local before
we stitch you up. Do you know when you had your last tetanus
Dumb question. Of course I didn’t. You’d be better offasking