UNE research which will use genetic evidence from millennia-old dingo bones could mean an end to widescale aerial shooting and baiting programs against wild dogs, the lead researcher said.
Archaeologist Dr Melanie Fillios said she hopes the research, which should take three years, will finally prove what is and is not a dingo.
"This is one of the problems that we are trying to address with this research, and one of the issues we tried to address a long time ago which is how do you define a dingo," she said.
"If we call all dingos wild dogs to some extent, then no problem in controlling them. If we instead look at them as a native species and something that's key to Indigenous belief systems that's politically not so good if you want to exterminate them."
Too often the working definition of a 'wild dog' is any animal that threatens livestock production, she said.
And broad-based campaigns to slash dog numbers through aerial shooting or 1080 baiting could be killing dingos as well.
That's a problem because native dingos have enormous Indigenous heritage value and ecological value, which mean the animal should be conserved not exterminated, she said.
"Extermination on an ecological front is probably not the greatest idea,
"And then from a cultural perspective, we've just had the blowing up of the [46,000-year-old] Juukan [Gorce caves in WA]. We've been blowing up Indigenous sites for a long time, but it's in everybody's face right now.
"So you're going to destroy another symbol of Indigenous heritage by eradicating the dingo? They occupy a key place in the Dreaming, in Indigenous cosmology, a lot of the burials we have archaeologically are associated with people."
Ms Fillios said the animal is probably more significant than physical Indigenous heritage sites.
She hopes the Australia-first study will help bust a number of long-standing myths about the Australian native. The study team will investigate whether there really is a difference between animals on either side of the Dingo fence.
If the research proves that dingos are widespread across NSW, that may mean land managers could be forced to conduct trapping programs, identify whether a captured animal is a wild dog or dingo then make a decision to kill it or let it go.
"If you have to determine whether or not that animal that you're looking down the barrel at is a native dog or a dingo on the spot you can't just do aerial killing. It's going to necessitate a different method of control."
Dingo research has long been held up by an obligation to not use bones that are traditional Indigenous artifacts. Because bones of animals killed by white men are genetically contaminated by contact, the best option is to get access to animals that weren't killed by humans at all.
The study will for the first time use the bones of dingos that fell into natural pit traps, which were then preserved in caves.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of NSW and the University of New England will then be able to compare the genetics modern dingos or wild dogs with pre-contact dingos.
Ms Fillios said she's aware of the political significance of the research. She appreciates the irony that she's conducting the research at a rural university that is closely connected to agriculture.
"People at the university I work with are more on the side of controlling dingos through more lethal means
"I think it shouldn't matter; I try to stay out of politics. If it has a political impact then hopefully all that means is it helps us make a more informed decision.
"I try not to say look I'm doing this so nobody kills a dingo ever again. But rather I'm doing this so that when you decide on management techniques, you have more data on which to base that decision."
She said the issue is "at the human-environmental-animal nexus".
"I like to think of it as a circle, and human relationships with animals and our relationships with the environment are all part of that circle. Hopefully our work will help to inform future management and policy regarding dingoes."
Dingos are thought to have come to Australia about 4000 or so years ago - the date is based on the extinction of the mainland iteration of the Tasmanian Tiger, which the introduced dogs wiped out.
But that is at the moment just a best guess.
We also do not know for sure where they came from or why - though recent research has cast doubt on a longstanding belief they were from Indonesia, instead pointing to Papua New Guinea.