Was it worth it?
Coming in from the cold I mean – and throwing in our lot with homo sapiens?
This is a question all dogs ask themselves from time to time as they observe the strange behaviours of the two-legged lot.
And the unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates said. The Boss can quote Socrates when he realizes he hasn’t been fishing for a month, or when Queenie nicks off with one of his work boots, or when he runs out of kindling. Anyway, that’s one of his favourites.
Socrates quaffed his hemlock about 2500 years ago but hounds were well settled in by then. I’m told the Egyptian Pharaohs used to work thousands of slaves to death just to build a tomb for their favourite dogs.
We don’t get treated as well these days, which is a question for later - but it partly explains why we took the risk in the first place.
If you think about it, hunting up your tucker every day is hard work – even harder if you’re feeding a litter as well. Particularly in the middle of winter, when everything is hunkered down, hiding and hibernating.
So, life is easier being fed by a human, even if it’s a measly helping of dry pellets out of a packet. I think that’s why the wolf wandered into the camp and sat down with his tail wagging. It looked easier.
But it’s a heavy price to pay. In exchange for a regular feed, a dog has to put up with a lot.
Think of the indignities, for a start. The collar, the leash, the Woolmix wash, getting your nails clipped, having ribbons and hats stuck on you to amuse the kids – and The Boss isn’t past wrapping me in a Tigers’ scarf when they win.
And you’ve all seen dogs get brushed and clipped and shampooed, put on a show bench and dragged around a ring, made to catch a frisbee while doing a somersault over ten bodies on the ground and dancing on their hind legs to make people laugh.
This is done to us by people who think they are smarter than us because they come from a species which is able to reason. Yet they can be pretty unreasonable.
Consider the feller shouting at his dog. Or worse, giving it a belting. Now, dogs can be naughty, mostly when they’re young and playful. But with an older dog, you can be almost certain that the dog isn’t clear on what he’s supposed to do.
That’s because the unreasonable human hasn’t bothered to train the dog properly - through laziness, incompetence or a lack of common sense, or all three. He thinks the dog should know what he thinks but he doesn’t think much at all.
Otherwise he’d stretch both ways first thing in the morning, like a dog does. He’d go to bed when it’s dark and get up when it’s light – instead of going to bed when he should be getting up.
I get these unthinking types along the river, camping. They settle in, light a fire – and turn on some loud music. Instead of listening to the boobook calling over the hushed murmur of the river, they keep me awake all night.
No wonder their dogs are confused. These are the blokes who let their hounds jump up on them when they have their jeans on. Maybe it feels like the dog likes them, when the dog is just doing what he thinks he’s expected to do.
Then they go crook at the dog when they’ve got their best pants on. How is a dog supposed to know?
Or they'll throw balls for the dog and give it a pat when the dog retrieves it. Except when the dog retrieves a ball he sees in the park, that happens to have been thrown by another dog's owner. Then the unreasonable reasoning human shouts at the dog, which is confused, then whacks it because he looks foolish in front of the other owner. He looks like his dog is out of control, when it is he who is out of control.
That’s why we keep asking ourselves: was it worth it? Woof!
The winter nomads have arrived
It must be getting nippy up there in the hills – the “winter birds” have arrived in the last week or two, while the run-off after the rains has brought plenty of black duck and teal along the river. They are hunkering down in the reedy beds and will start breeding soon.
The Boss always likes to announce the first Flame Robin but, let’s face it, they are pretty hard to miss. All you need is one perching on the fence and it lights everything up around it.
Soon we’ll have a dozen or more hanging around; they seem to like working in family groups or even bigger flocks, like the firetails and finches. They are the only robins that do that.
They are often simply called “the robin red-breast” but that name also goes for its cousins, the Scarlet Robin and the Red-capped Robin, which also have red breasts but in different shades. The Flame Robin is more of a bright orange.
Then, one day last week, the currawongs arrived in a great big mob. These are the Pied Currawongs and they are noisy critters and they aren’t quite as welcome. Well, I don’t mind them myself but The Boss isn’t keen on them.
“Look at the wrens, General,” he says, pointing to the resident Blue Wrens as they scatter.
He doesn’t like the way the currawongs attack the smaller birds and raid their nests. I could point out to him that the Kookaburras do the same thing but he overlooks that because he likes their calls and the way they clean up the baby snakes in summer.
The Boss has a long memory too and he’s never forgotten the time he and the missus took the kids camping at Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland.
It’s a pretty spot by all accounts and when they arrived they set up camp and went off for a splash along the creek that runs through the gorge. But he left the back of the camper open, didn’t he?
And sitting up on the shelf above the kitchen was his supply of home-made bread, porridge, cereals and biscuits – which the local currawongs hoed right into while they were away.
They came back to find a terrible mess, along with currawong poo all over the chairs, table and kitchen stove and bench. I reckon he’s looked at them with a jaundiced eye ever since.
Speaking of eyes, the Pied and Black Currawongs have these beady, intense, golden-yellow eyes that peer at me like they’d like to peck mine out.
They don’t give much away. Woof!
Not Berry Amusing
The Boss took us for a wander way back along the river last weekend - probably our last journey there for a while with the grass getting longer and the snakes starting to move.
That's always a pity, I reckon: the wattles are still out, lighting up the bush like the Tigers' clash jumper and there's a lot happening - the hares and foxes are breeding and the smells are never better. There's the odd wallaby or kangaroo to put up, the Ibis are roosting in the trees and the Corollas are being their pesky selves, wheeling around the sky like we shouldn't be there and kicking up a fuss.
Suddenly The Boss pulls up with a bit of a scowl and pokes around in a huff. We figure he's on to something and circle back through the tussocks and there he is, staring at three big piles of something-that-shouldn't-be-there.
It turns out to be a few loads of blackberry cuttings that someone has driven deep into the floodplain and dumped there. The sort of thing, The Boss says, that could just as easily have been dropped off at the tip with a little effort.
Wherever they came from, it would have taken a good half-hour to get in there with a trailer, The Boss reckons, along a pretty rough track. So whoever it was went to quite a bit of trouble to mess up the bush.
And mess it up it does. The Boss says once the blackberries take hold they'll soon spread, like they have in the high country - creeping along the creeks and making access difficult. It's a big job to get rid of them and there's no-one much to look after that side of things since they took the river grazing license away from the farmers.
The farmers didn't always look after it either, but most of them were pretty good and didn't abuse the frontage - it was a handy place for the cows to prop in the bitter weather and the grazing kept down the fire risk in summer.
The Department doesn't have enough people to look after it, The Boss says, so the tomato weed and thistles are taking off and covering huge tracts of ground.
It's an all-or-nothing approach that isn't serving the floodplain well. The Boss reckons the restricted grazing licenses that allow grazing in late winter and spring for just a few months are ideal, keeping the fire risk down and giving the farmers an interest in keeping the frontage tidy.
There are some licenses with these conditions but not many. As it is, The Boss will need to keep an eye on these blackberry cuttings and spray any plants popping up, even though he has no rights over the frontage. But he'll do it anyway - and maybe see the offender next time and give him a piece of his ear. Woof!
The mid-Winter whiff of Spring
The Boss loses me, fairly often, when I think about it - this last week he's been rattling on about the first wattles, as if it matters.
Wattles come and wattles go, so far as I can see but he mumbles about them on our morning walk as if it's interesting.
"Look at 'em, General," he says. "Eager to get out, looking for a spot of sunshine."
Well, who isn't? But you can't worry about it. There's more to do - balls to fetch, sticks to retrieve, food to eat, Ibis poo to roll in. And the odd wallaby to chase. Not to mention the hares, although they embarrass me a bit. They're quick alright. And they lie low until the last moment too, you don't even know they're there. Somehow they keep their scent out of nose, so to speak - then, when you get too close, they erupt out of the grass and take off.
Anyway, the Boss had me down on Yarra Bend last weekend for a special event - the young missus was getting crowned or something - and I was minding my own business when he pointed to these wattles. "First ones I've seen," he says. "A smidge earlier than home on the Goulburn. Must be the frost holding us back."
I had to humour him, so there you go. Anyway, we get home and, sure enough, he's on it all again. They're just out. But it's pretty pathetic, in my view. Here's my Mum, Queenie, looking like she's interested in the first wattles:
These are Silver Wattles, so the Boss says. Arcadia Dealbata. A tallish sort of wattle, endemic to the Goulburn floodplain.
It's not just the wattle trees, as it turns out.
What he really hankers for is a high river in August - not one of those half-hearted environmental flows but a proper flood, high enough to drag the wattles off the trees. That's when you get the dinghy out, he says, and head downriver for a look around - maybe a little fire on the bank somewhere and cook up a sausage or two. I don't mind that myself - the Boss always keeps an oily tit-bit at the end for a faithful hound like me. (If he doesn't, I just go lick clean his barbie hot plate when it's cool enough, which drives the missus crazy.)
The Boss doesn't reckon any flood will happen this year. Too dry. Dry up north, dry enough down here. He's not sure how many wattle rivers he has left, he reckons. When the the river is a vast, drifting carpet of wattles washed down by the flood, gleaming in the afternoon light.
"You can't take it for granted, General," he says. "You might only get a few wattle rivers in your life."
"It's like that big, fat, orange harvest moon," he says. -"You see a couple of them when you're growing up and after that take them for granted, like they'll keep happening forever. But over your life, it's not that often you're in a good place to see them. Most people can probably count the big orange moons they've seen on one hand."
Maybe there's more to wattle rivers and big orange moons than I think. But for the moment, I reckon I'll stick with balls and a chunk of warm sausage. Woof.
Hare of the dog
The Boss, as you know, is a constant disappointment to me - and keeps coming up with new ways of being disappointing.
The latest thing I've noticed is that he enjoys watching hares more than chasing them - which means he leaves the hard work up to me, when he could easily pick off one or two with his rifle.
Or even more. Lately we've been seeing up to six of them tearing around in the paddock, sometimes in file and other times all over the place.
The Boss reckons it's how the dominant male sorts out the other males ahead of breeding but my own view is that they are taunting us. Mocking us. Daring us to do something. Sometimes, he says, the female (called a Jill) will get up and belt the male (called a Jack) when she doesn't want his molesting attentions - a kind-of hare version of #MeToo.
Not that I can catch them anyway, except when they're three days old. The hare lives above ground all the time, unlike a rabbit, and has to live on his wits. The hares we see are descended from the European hares (Lepus Europaeus) bought out by much more loving dog owners in the 1870s so they could go coursing with their dogs.
Like the old poachers in the English countryside, they used these lanky big hounds called Lurchers - usually a sighting dog like a greyhound, crossed with something with a hunting instinct like mine. Well - and it hurts me to say this - they must be faster than me too, if they can catch an adult hare. The Boss says hares can run at more than 55kph.
That's probably why the lurchers couldn't catch all the hares and by 1900 they had spread from Phillip Island up through Victoria, New South Wales and into southern Queensland. They prefer temperate climes to the dry country, where rabbits adapted well - but rabbits can live underground during the heat of the day.
The Boss has pointed out these shallow nests in the grass, beside a log or in a hollow - called a form, where the hares breed. And I can smell them. The baby hares - called leverets - are born with hair on and their eyes open, and generally find their own hiding spot after three days.
They have to worry about foxes and eagles and The Boss says 40-60% of the leverets don't make it. He used to shoot a hare regularly - the back-straps and hind legs could do wonders for a terrine or a burger, he says - but now he worries that the population is struggling.
I think he's become a secret admirer of the hare, which is another disappointment. I can see him watching them and he laughs when I put one up and give half-hearted chase - or don't even try, pretending I'm more interested in my ball. He says they have their own constellation in the sky, called Lepus, and it's naturally right next to Orion, the hunter, and Canis Major, the dog.
In our neck of the woods, you can see Orion high in the summer sky - some people call it "The Saucepan" - and nearby is Sirius, the dog star, the brightest star in Canis Major. Lepus is more or less between the Hunter and the Dog, and out a bit. Here's how the stars in Lepus look like the hare:
I can't see the similarity myself. I'm not sure they deserve their own constellation either, particularly getting between the hunter and the dog. You'd think they're important. And they've got their own collective noun, The Boss says (as if I'm interested.)
"General," he says, "a bunch of dogs like you is just a pack. But a bunch of crows is a murder; a bunch of whales is a pod; a bunch of crocs is a float; and a bunch of hares is a drove. Can't you do better than a pack?"
So he's not satisfied with being disappointing. He has to take the mickey out of me as well. Woof!
Bring back the Lockdown
You give an inch and they take a mile. As soon as Dan the Man leaves the door ajar, they come crashing through with no regard for my health or need for tranquillity.
Let me first say that the Lockdown has been the answer to dogs dreams, everywhere. For once in our short but busy lives we are being given the attention and nurturing that we deserve – long overdue when you consider our undying loyalty to our imperfect, if not sinful, owners.
We’ve had walks every day – sometimes two (any more than that is overdoing it) plus plenty of pats, a little grooming here and there, regular worming and flea treatment - and meals we can count on, at a regular time.
We are, after all, lovers of ritual: we like things to happen in their proper order, as part of a routine. This last couple of months the humans have become unusually predictable, which takes a lot of stress out of a dog’s life.
Well, I can see it is nearly over. First, the fishermen turned up early Wednesday – about six hours after Dan let them out - and they’ve been coming and going along the river ever since. It was peaceful without their pesky outboards; more visually pleasing without their hi-viz vests.
Then, on the weekend, the visitors: the city cousin comes bouncing into the house without so much as a lovely-to-see-you and heads straight for the kitchen bin. Then she sniffs around the table, licks my bowl (leaving her germs ready to kill me) and flounces around in that saucy swagger of hers as though she owns the place.
That takes her half a minute, then she stands at the back door barking, so she can get and have a look around – scouring my domain for my old bones and anything else of interest that she can steal, eat or roll in.
Talk about an ill-bred lack of manners. She doesn’t want to see me – she just wants to settle into my patch, take what she can and nick off back to Melbourne.
I’ve heard The Boss talk about her type. He’s often remarked on how his city friends and rellies drop broad hints about having “a nice weekend in the country” but they only invite him down to Melbourne for a barbecue lunch or dinner. And expect him to drive back home afterwards – anything other than put him up for the weekend.
He’s learned from that, I’ll give him that. He’s adopted the same technique in recent years.
“Come up for lunch,” he’ll say – and they look astonished, as though a day trip to Shepp for lunch is like going to the moon and back.
“Can we stay?” is usually the question that follows. But he’s managed to be ready to head that off.
“We were thinking just a Saturday lunch,” he says. “We’ve got a few things on the rest of the weekend.”
But he doesn’t head it off completely. The persistent city dwellers can say “Oh, don’t worry about us – we can make ourselves comfortable and rustle up something to eat. We won’t get in your way.”
Now he’s ready for that too – in an increasingly blunt tone, it seems to me.
“That’s not going to happen,” he says with some finality.
He reckons it’s the last he’ll see of them for a year, at least.
Bring back the Lockdown, I say. Woof!
The truth about the humble pasty
The Boss goes wandering off without me, now and then - without even asking.
He did it again last week. Went off to the Yorke Peninsular in South Australia, claiming he was on a "fact-finding mission" - but he was really going fishing.
That's what I suspected anyway but I heard him grumbling to the missus that the fishing had been called off because of windy weather.
So he and his mates had a good look around at the YP agriculture, which is an impressive amount of cropping; he says they get similar rainfall to here but it is pretty reliable and mostly comes at the right time. They once had 17 active trading ports around the peninsular and three of them still have bulk grain-handling facilities.
And they toured around the old mining areas, where the Moonta Mining Company pulled copper out over the 60 years until 1923. Most of this came out of a rich seam of copper called Elder's lode, which was only 2 metres wide but ran north-south for more than a mile, as deep as 750 metres.
It became the richest source of copper in the British Empire and a lot of the Cornish tin and copper miners came out to work on it. Among the buildings that survive in the heritage area at Moonta, there's a Methodist church that seats more than 800 people. The mining Captain, or Superintendent, used to make sure all the miners regularly attended church with their families.
It was a tough life. The area didn't have any piped water until the 1890s and a lot of people died of typhoid. Eventually the mine developed a condensing plant which distilled the brackish water pumped up from the mine shafts and sold it to the miners for sixpence a bucket.
Anyway, the Cornish history still runs deep around Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo, The Boss says, evidenced by the ease with which he could lay his hands on a Cornish Pasty. The Boss has always been partial to a pasty but he learned something at Moonta that he didn't already know.
Its about the crimping on the traditional pasty, which The Boss always thought was for decoration. It turns out that the tin miners back in Cornwall needed it because they would have arsenic on their fingers and the same thing happened in Moonta - arsenic is a naturally-occurring element in metal ores.
So when they sat down for lunch - not having a lot of water to wash their hands with - they would hold the pasty by its crimping and chomp into the soft pastry - then throw the crimping away.
Straight away I figured the local dogs in the mining area wouldn't have survived for very long. If they were anything like me, they would gobble down half a dozen lumps of discarded crimped pastry without taking a breath.
I can see The Boss is working himself up to bake a few Cornish pasties - he brought back a traditional recipe to try out.
He says you have to start with a good elastic pastry with plenty of lard in it so it will wrap and curl, hold its shape without cracking. A lot of pasties are vegetarian these days but the traditional Cornish Pasty has meat in it - they suggest chuck or skirt steak with some fat on it, which produces a little gravy. It should be finely cut but not minced.
Likewise, the vegetables need to be chipped - according to the time they take to soften - rather than being diced, which is too lumpy, or minced, which is too soggy. The bottom layer is the turnip, chips the size of a thumb nail; then three-quarters of the potato, which should be an old one that softens easily, chips the size of a 5c piece. Add the layer of meat, some salt and pepper, the onion in chips the size of currants, then the rest of the potato to stop the meat sticking and drying out.
The trick with the crimping is to make sure the ingredients don't fall out, then prick the pasty to let some steam out and glaze with milk before placing in a hot oven - 220C for 10 minutes, The Boss says, then another 20 minutes at 190C. Let the pasty stand for 5 minutes so the steam inside will help soften everything.
The Boss likes the idea of the traditional layers. He says modern pasties tend to have everything mixed together but he wants to see how the traditional model goes. With the relish he made last weekend.
And I hope he remembers to throw away the crimping - in my direction. Woof!
The wrong sort of Tiger...
The Boss reckons I had it coming. Ever since I tore that eastern brown in half last summer and hurled its head high into the air - I mean, who could forget that piece of canine brilliance?
You don't mess with snakes, he kept saying - as if I'm going to be afraid of something wriggling along the ground.
As it happened, I didn't even see this one. It was one of those warm early mornings last month when it hadn't cooled down much overnight and The Boss was edgy as we headed on our morning walk for the river.
He said we'd go straight for the sandbar and take a few long swims and that would be enough.
And that's what I was doing, heading back from across the river - but I naturally took a short cut through a bunch of sedge on the river bank to beat my Mum, Queenie, who can swim as fast as me but she can't run as fast.
And that's where the Tiger Snake was lying, I guess - sort of smacked me on the chops as I was climbing out of the river.
By the time I got to the Boss 30 seconds later I was spitting and coughing and shaking my head, so he twigged straight away and walked me back to the car. I was feeling a bit crook, I can tell you, like the stuffing had been taken out of me. I wasn't even trying to get ahead of him, possibly for the first time in my life.
Now, I can normally leap into the back of the car like the superb athlete I am in a single bound, off one leg and looking the other way - but I collapsed and fell back down on the garage floor, which was embarrassing to say the least.
He had to lift me in and I'm a bit of a lump.
The Boss rang the Vet and headed into town in his grubby farm clothes, which is never a pretty sight.
Now, being the physical specimen I am, I naturally regained my composure on the way in and was strutting about as best I could when we arrived. It took the Boss quite a while - and a blood test - to convince the Vet it was a snake bite, and even then he wasn't convinced.
The Boss was, though and I could see he was getting irritated. He told the Vet I had to have the antivenin right away and a good thing he did, too, because my back end started to slide around and pretty soon I was cactus. I was in there for a couple of days.
The Boss reckons the vets have got a bit gun shy about the antivenin injection because it's expensive and maybe some people won't pay for it if their pet dies - and other people won't pay for it, anyway. But we're half an hour from the vet's and he reckons it was more than an hour before I had the jab.
"You're lucky to be here, General," he said, like it was a near thing. But I think he's pleased I am.
The Boss says he's invested so much in my health and well-being already I've become the most expensive toy he has. I'm not sure I liked being compared to a toy, although he treats me like it sometimes. Like here, for instance:
These are the only Tigers he says I should get close to - and that being a Tigers fan is a lot cheaper than playing with Tiger Snakes. You can see how much fun I think that is. Woof!
Close encounter with the boxing type
The river has come up with a handy flush after the rain.
The Boss reckons it’s the first “natural” environmental flow we’ve had for several years and it livens everything up in a different way.
The water is dirtier, for one thing: that’s all the run-off, he says, from the smaller rivers and creeks higher up – the Acheron, the Rubicon and Yea Rivers, a bunch of creeks like the King Parrot, the Sunday, the Pranjip and the Castle.
That brings in a lot of tucker for the fish, shrimp and other critters – the black duck have arrived in numbers, the mountain duck are back and the azure kingfishers are hunting low along the river.
So The Boss was in for a longer walk the other day and that’s always pretty exciting; there’s new stuff to smell in the bush we’ve avoided all summer and you can check out all the tree-falls and traces of camps and campfires, not to mention the odd hare bones a fox has left behind.
What got us really going though was a biggish mob of kangaroos – I must have been distracted by a fascinating scent myself but Queenie followed this big buck who split off from the mob and headed back the way we’d come.
She tore off after it, never expecting anything other than a scent trail, when it pulled up, turned around and stood up on his hind legs. I must have heard The Boss yelling at her to stay back because he was raising his voice – the big ‘roo was facing off in boxing style and having a jab at her.
I figure she must have backed off because The Boss went on walking so I picked up the scent myself and went after this bloke. I mean, what’s a buck kangaroo against The General?
Well, it’s a surprise, first of all. He didn’t run away as I approached, as he is supposed to do, so that was disconcerting but I barked my deepest bark and sounded fearsome… and he didn’t budge.
In fact, he was bouncing around a bit like he wanted a fight.
Well, I was into it, as you would expect of me, and took a lunge or two to scare him, when all of a sudden he lashed out with a back leg and tore a lump of fur out of my neck.
That was another surprise. I mean, he was quick. And those claws are sharp. Take a look:
But I had my pride, of course, and I could hear The Boss yelling at me to get away but I couldn’t really do that and hold my head high, could I?
Then again, it was occurring to me that there wasn’t much I could do with this feller if he wasn’t going to run away from my fearsome growl and menacing countenance. He was three times my height, after all.
I was barking for reinforcements by this time, while trying to maintain some dignity.
Fortunately Queenie, who is a troublesome mother most of the time, feels the need to keep protecting me so she bounded back in my direction, accompanied by the Golden Leave-it-There, who wafts through the bush, tail floating in the breeze like he’s modelling for Yves Saint Laurent.
Like, he doesn’t know what’s going on but he bounces along behind Queenie like a fluffy apparition and it scares the living daylights out of the big buck. It’s like he’s seen a ghost and he turns tail and heads down the bank towards the river.
I’m straight after him – albeit at a respectful distance – and we all end up in the river, which is moving at quite a clip after the rain. It gives us the chance to bade farewell to the ‘roo without losing too much face.
The Boss said we were lucky there was such a strong flow – or the ‘roo might have stood in the river and drowned one or two of us.
I don’t believe he would have done that for a second.
Maybe half a second. Woof!
Of course, if The Boss was doing his job properly he would have dispatched the big buck like this bloke did:
Chessie favoured over Golden leave-it-there
For those of you new to my dog’s blog, I should introduce myself.
I’m a Chessie, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever - and I’m The Boss’s dog.
I live on the Goulburn River with The Boss, the Missus, my mum Queenie and the Missus’s Golden Leave-it-there.
The Boss has had quite a few dogs over the years but I am his favourite. At least, I think I am.
I have figured this out because he feeds me more than he feeds Queenie. I am a fair bit bigger than her - but she’s on my case all the time.
Like, I can knock her over anytime I like, outrun her and hoover up her tucker in the twinkle of an eye….but I don’t.
To tell the truth, I’m scared of her. She plays hard, harder than she needs to. She has taken a piece out of my ear a couple of times. Just tries to keep me under her paw, if you know what I mean. Ever had a mother like that? I’ve never been quite good enough for Queenie, I reckon.
She likes climbing trees, too, Queenie does. She’ll take a stick or a ball and cart it up a stump or a tree root over the river and drop it, watch it for a while then take a flying leap after it. It’s her little game and I don’t get in the middle of it. I’ve learned not to.
Mind you, she’s not past interfering in whatever I’m trying to do with a stick or a ball and nicking it.
The Boss says she’s possessive, which is a Chessie trait, apparently; he took a while to work that out. By the time I came along, he made sure I knew - from the get-go - that everything belongs to him first, not me: particularly any duck he shoots.
I get to retrieve a lot more ducks than Queenie does. As soon as she retrieves a bird she can’t help messing around, trying to tease the Boss when all he wants to do is bag the duck and line up another. She gets tied to a sapling for the rest of the day – which I don’t mind at all.
The Boss says we Chessies come from Newfoundland Retrievers, which don’t look like me at all. Apparently some Pommy breeder wanted a pair of Newfoundlanders in the 1840s and they were headed from eastern Canada across to England when the ship ran aground off Maryland in a big storm.
The Captain got everyone off, including the pups, and gave each of them to fishermen on Chesapeake Bay, who used the dogs to help pull in their fishing nets. Being cold-water dogs, that’s what they did.
But the fishermen on Chesapeake Bay did fishing for work – but hunted ducks for love. And they wanted the perfect dog for both. They crossed the Newfoundlanders with Curly Retrievers and Irish Water Spaniels (which have webbed feet) and, by 1880, the Chessies were a recognised breed of their own.
We have an oily coat so we don’t notice cold water too much and we have slightly webbed feet so we can swim all day. The Boss reckons the first time Queenie jumped out of the boat to fetch a duck at 11 months old she swam around this patch of cumbungi where the duck disappeared and came paddling back to the boat more than an hour later. He was hooked.
So swimming is as easy for me as walking and I like to follow The Boss down the river when he’s fishing – but I’ve learned not to swim directly behind the boat when he’s trolling a flopy!
Anyway, that’s all you need to know about the world’s finest hunting hound, bar none, if I say so myself.
When the Boss was thinking about buying Queenie ten years ago, Drewie told him a Chessie nearly ripped his arm off once. After the Boss mentioned this to Queenie’s breeder she laughed and said Chessies don’t do well if we’re locked up all day, only let out to work. That’s for farm dogs like Kelpies. So don’t get a dog like me unless we’re in this together.
The Boss was also worried about Chessies in warm weather but he learned most of the Aussie breeders are in Queensland, for some reason. So long as there is plenty of water about, we’re good – and The Boss does love his rice shooting.
Not that there has been much about that lately – but we’ll talk about why I’m particularly good at that, next week. Woof!
Never let a chance go by....
As you can see, I had to forage around in the mud the other day.
It was a bit embarrassing, the whole thing.
We were down on the river in the morning and The Boss likes to toss my ball right across to the other side - several times, mind you - so I have to swim there and back. He reckons I need the exercise or I'll get fat, because I eat everything.
Now, there's an island in the middle of the river and I like to alight retreat there when The Boss gets tiresome. Usually that happens after the second swim, when I'm pretty bored with the idea. Once I'm there he can't get near me; he calls out to me to come back but I just wag my tail a lot, looking like I'm pleased to see him and everything - but that I'm not quite sure what he wants me to do.
So I made my landing and found an open patch where I could flick my ball around and catch it. Trouble is, it was a bit soft after being under water since late January and pretty soon my patch turned into a mud hole - quite a big one, since I had dug it all up myself while dropping the ball in it and watching it fly out with mud all over it.
The mud hole got bigger and bigger and the next time I dropped the ball in it, I couldn't find it. Or feel it. I dug a lot more mud out right around it but...no ball.
There was nothing left to do but to try and sniff it out. I've had a go at doing that under water before and it usually doesn't work very well but I had no choice - The Boss was standing on the sandbar laughing at me. Sure enough, every time I sniffed the mud sucked up my nose and I had to sneeze. He thought this was very funny.
After a few frustrating minutes I was relieved to see The Boss was wandering off home for breakfast, chortling away and telling me to forget it. But my pride was at stake.
So I stuck at it - a dog has to, really - and I was closing my eyes and nosing around the mud hole until I finally felt the ball. I grabbed it like a flash - along with a mouthful of mud. It was somewhat undignified but I came back with my ball: swam back to the sandbar, took a short cut up the river bank and swiped The Boss's trousers for good measure, as I ran past him on the track at high speed.
It's not every day you can get some small revenge on The Boss but you can never let a chance go by. This time he deserved it. Woof!
Grumpy old bugger
Being an old bugger, The Boss heartily approves of all this social distancing. He reckons he’s been pretty keen on social distancing all his life – although he doesn’t include me in that.
But he’s definitely grumpy about this Stage Three business.
Like, he’s generally the law-abiding sort but he doesn’t like rules that make no sense.
And it makes no sense at all to him that he can’t go and drop a line in the river or head out for a hunt, on his own.
His long-time Easter camping spot up past Whitfield has a few dams on the property where we’ll always walk up some Woodies – or even nail a pair of Blackies if we’re in luck.
And it’s the time he unpacks the 30.06 so I can take him for his first walk up a gully for the year.
The place has a quiet little creek running through it too, with a few deeper holes harbouring the some fair-sized trout. So he assembles his two-weight fly rod and we’ll sit by the creek until a suitable cruiser heads up the other way and he might drop a ‘hopper pattern down to tempt it on the way back.
I missed out on all of it this year so we’re both a bit chewy.
And with no duck opening around the usual time, no footy and no sessions with his mates he’s looking for someone to blame – he hears that the Portsea and Point Lonsdale set can go walking along the back beach while he can’t dangle a yabbie in his own river.
“It reminds me of that Little Johnnie Howard, General,” he said the other day. “We all understood why he needed to get rid of the military-style weapons but he went one step too far with the auto shotgun.”
“All that crimping business was nonsense. Every duck hunter in the country and every farmer with a Browning auto behind the laundry door knew what useful tools they were – but they were never going to figure in a massacre.”
I could see he was getting stirred up. I’ve heard him on it before – he’s never quite forgiven Howard for over-stepping the mark. Being a hero by penalising the people who didn’t do it.
He didn’t care much about the BARs and other high-powered autos. The Boss reckons any deer hunter worth his salt needs one shot and maybe a finisher – a five-shot magazine is heaps.
“Wing shooting is different, particularly if you’ve gone to some trouble to put up a mob. By the time you reload a double-barrel, they’ve gone.
I wandered over and gave him a lick to calm him down. He grinned.
“Maybe they’ll ease up when this emergency thing is over by the middle of May,” he said hopefully.
“If they stick with a duck opening on May 2 without hunters, it won’t have any protesters either,” he added. “Then we can wander out mid-month and get us a feed!”
He suddenly looks a little cheerier at that prospect – and I do too. Woof!
Good news on the virus and me!
The Boss is worried about this coronavirus and he shouldn’t be - I’ve been trying to re-assure him.
The fact is, I’m not going to get it.
This COVID-19 goes from animals to humans, rather than the other way round, so dogs everywhere are enjoying the spectacle as humans descend into a state of wild panic.
Like they did in Hong Kong the other day when they found an old Pomeranian, supposedly carrying it after his master was infected.
The poor little mutt was carted off to a quarantine station and globally vilified when they found traces of the virus on him and in his throat – but it turned out to be what my hero, The Donald, would call “a HOAX.”
The tests pulled up negative and they concluded that dogs weren’t a useful host for the virus – but they could carry it on their fur quite easily.
The lesson here is that you humans need to cough into your elbow – and not onto your dog!
So dogs can continue to relax, eat and doze away in a state of spiritual calm.
Except maybe elsewhere in China, where the people welded into their houses for several weeks are highly likely to be ravenous and start feasting their eyes on the family hound.
You might remember me writing about those Chinese Year-of-the-Dog celebrations when they bundle up their pooches for the annual dogfest – or dog feast. Uncalled for, in my view:
Looking on the bright side, the Chinese dogs might get a bit of their own back with an excess of dead humans lying in the streets.
As for the Italian and Iranian dogs, the outlook is altogether less gruesome - although they will end up a tad skinny if they have to survive on parsley and spaghetti, or Persian walnut and pomegranate stew.
Mind you, I did sniff around the shed to make sure The Boss has plenty of dry dog food for me – so long as he doesn’t start tucking into it himself.
Right now, things out here on the river are honky-dory – we don’t yet see an influx of people wanting to live wild, with tents popping up everywhere.
The Boss reckons the canny punters could set up their Easter camps early – and stay for three months! What could be safer than living out in the bush, feeding on cod, yellers and shrimp?
And every cloud has a silver lining, as you know. The shortage of loo paper means that I won’t be finding reams of it strewn behind trees and wafting through the wattles after a camping weekend.
The lazy devils who leave their detritus for me and The Boss to clean up – well, The Boss mainly while I watch and wag my tail a lot – are the same ones buying trolley-loads to horde it at home. That’s The Boss’s theory anyway and who am I to say he’s wrong?
COVID-19: A Meeting of the Minds
I had a rare moment of clarity the other day - an epiphany of sorts - while performing the downward dog yoga pose as part of my morning exercise routine, and it was this: humans are becoming more like us.
Who can you trust these days?
What's this Labrador up to?
Pretending to be a Eurasion Coot, he is, so he's up to no good.
Probably paddling along in the raft of Coots to sneak up on a Blackie, or a Teal, I'll bet.
Now I've never seen a dog indulging in the art of deception quite so blatantly. Some masters dress their dogs up in Camo vests and things but The Boss thinks a dog needs to look like a dog and I agree with him.
An honest dog should look like a dog and act like a dog - in my case that means being the loyal, reliable and affectionate hound that I am. And let's face it, you can't rely on humans to set the example these days.
I mean, take the banking Royal Commission. The Boss is still angry that no big wigs have gone to gaol for their despicable behaviour. He was particularly incensed by the evidence given by Commonwealth Bank chief Matt Comyn, when he related how he had urged his former boss, Ian Narev, to stop selling junk credit card insurance.
"Temper your sense of justice!" Narev told him, according to notes Comyn took at the time.
How is it that a bloke in charge of the biggest bank in the country thinks it's okay to rip people off?
The Boss says there was a time when bank managers were pillars of the community and you could trust them to "do the right thing."
Nowadays they seem to look mainly at what they can get away with without being caught and without obviously breaking the law.
The Boss says this will all lead to more regulations because that's what politicians do when this sort of thing happens but he thinks that is a tragedy: somehow people have lost their sense of morals. They do what is expedient, rather than what is the right thing to do.
So the annual Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that just 52% of the Australian population have trust in the business community. And its even worse for politicians: just 42% of Australians trust them - and only 40% of people trust the media.
The Boss reckons the test of whether someone is decent and trustworthy is to watch what they do when nobody is looking. And that includes a dog, he says, looking at me sternly.
It's not easy to hold his gaze at this point because he knows that I know that I am capable of eating some really ugly stuff when he's not in the vicinity.
And I will hop into the garbage bin if someone leaves it open with a chicken carcass inviting me to partake.
But I always look suitably guilty afterwards and accept my punishment - if wagging my tail a lot and whimpering won't get me out of it.
Then again, I draw the line at wearing a shuttlecock on my nose. Woof!