Monday, 28 May 2018


by Dave Wheeler 
    I worked for the ACT RSPCA as Canberra’s only Inspector for 3 years, from early 1984 to early 1987 from memory. I've already written about one of my experiences during that time on this blog under the heading “The Flower Man,” which is on the following link.
   Not only was I the Inspector who had the job of policing the “ACT Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance,” which was almost useless legislation; even though with great effort I was able to get a few successful prosecutions, I was also the animal ambulance man who was required to rescue injured animals. Sometimes the latter task was satisfying, but when I had to deal with seriously injured animals and at times perform euthanasia on them it was not at all pleasant. 
   At other times I visited schools and other organisations to spread the word. I often had contact with the media and was interviewed several times by "Constable Kenny Koala.”      
    Thankfully the legislation we have today in the ACT for the prevention of cruelty to animals is far better than what I had to work with, although it is still inadequate. I would like to see it become draconian and the inspectors granted the same powers as their counterparts in NSW.
   I was also to a small degree a social worker, to the extent that although the RSPCA was all about animal welfare, quite often those who kept animals had great difficulty looking after themselves let alone their animals. And in order to look after the welfare of their animals we at times assisted the people who were supposed to be their keepers, usually by getting our full time vet to treat their animals free of charge, or by giving them practical assistance.
    Some of the latter had mental health problems and had acquired pets in an effort to gain the sort of companionship they needed. Some who did not necessarily have mental health problems had hit hard times and just needed a helping hand. 
   Others, the type I refer to as human garbage, treated animals as commodities to be used, abused and neglected. I was to find, sometime after I left the RSPCA and began work in an Admin position within the child protection section of the ACT Government, that many of the people I had come across while working for the RSPCA who had neglected and/or abused their animals were the same people my department dealt with, as they were also neglecting and/or abusing their kids.
    I have many stories revolving around the time I worked for the RSPCA, some of them not very pleasant. This is just one of the events that occurred while there which I remember vividly, as it tugged on my heartstrings. 
     We also had humorous events occur while I worked for the RSPCA. I can recall one particular incident which amused my workmate, John Carlton, although I didn’t laugh at the time as I was given a very good reason not to laugh. The event occurred when I went into a large cage we had which contained parrots that were too badly injured to be returned to the wild. I had gone in to change their water, thinking they may appreciate my efforts, but they did not. Within the cage was a galah and a cockatoo who worked as a team. The galah would go for your heels like a blue heeler and in doing so divert your attention, while the cockatoo would attempt to bite a part of your upper body while your head was turned.
    On the occasion of which I write the galah had my undivided attention as I looked down and tried to keep him from biting my Achilles' heel, which gave his cobber, the large white cockatoo, a chance to take a really hard bite into the end of my thumb. The cockys jaws, which are strong enough to crack open nuts, are enormously powerful. Natural selection has given them big curved beaks like the birds of prey, which enables their beaks to take that sort of muscular force without breaking.
    The pain I felt was instant and intense. As the blood flowed I thought he’d actually bitten off the end of my thumb, but fortunately he did not take off any bone. Im sure he would have done so had he bitten the thumb of a small kid. I of course lost my thumbnail as it had been instantly shattered.
    But, at a later stage I was able to have a laugh at John’s expense, although at the time there was a definite absence of laughter coming from John.  
     We had a resident sheep. I think we called him Ernie. I cant recall if he was a wether or a ram, but he was a big solid bloke. It had been decided that he had to be wormed, so John and I set about getting hold of him. We could not catch him in the open, so we herded him to behind a shed we had in our grounds. Directly behind the shed was a fence, which meant that Ernie was caught between the fence and the back of the shed. He was therefore enclosed in a passage about one metre in width going the length of the shed, with John and I standing at opposite ends of the passage, thereby trapping him and leaving him with nowhere to go. Or so we thought!
    John was aged about 43 at the time. He was a very fit and wiry sort of bloke and one of the best marathon runners for his age group in the Berra, but he was a smaller bloke than me. As a result when Ernie had to choose between trying to run over me to escape or run over John he chose John, and I'm very glad he did.
    Ernie charged at John and did not hold back. Im not sure of the technique he used, but whatever it was it worked. He was able to escape from us by upending John and running through him as if he was not there. I can remember seeing John in a horizontal position, although he was horizontal and in the air, at about waist height.
   John then crashed to the ground and hit his head in the process, which caused him to lose consciousness. He had to take the rest of the day off and we did not bother trying to worm Ernie on that day. 
      To begin to describe how I assisted the human and dog subjects of this anecdote, the year was 1985 or thereabouts. I would have been aged 32 or 33 if it was 1985. 
    I was in the ACT RSPCA Inspector’s van, not far from the RSPCA shelter at Weston, when I received a call on my wireless from Barbara, one of my workmates. She told me she had received a call from a bloke somewhere near Weston, not far from the shelter, and he was very upset. 
    Barbara, who was older than me and who had worked for the RSPCA for quite a few years, once told me that an RSPCA inspector they employed in the 60’s or early 70’s had a German girlfriend who he had met in Germany. Apparently she left Germany to be with him but once she got over here the inspector decided he did not want a serious relationship with her. The German girl became so upset she topped herself in the pine forest which was over the road from the RSPCAs Weston shelter. She supposedly used the inspector’s supply of Lethabarb, the drug that is used to euthanise animals. I've been told it is difficult to self-administer because it often produces unconsciousness before a person can get a lethal dose. Having not tried it on myself I can’t say.
    To paraphrase what Barbara told me on the wireless, the caller was an old age pensioner who was upset because his 17 year old kelpie was on the way out. He had not eaten or shat for 3 days and had just had a small anal prolapse. (Im referring to the kelpie not eating or shitting and prolapsing; not the old age pensioner). I was told the caller had no money for a vet and was in need of our assistance. 
    At that stage we had our own full time vet, and as such I knew I could take care of the kelpie by bringing him back to our shelter if it was appropriate to do so.
    I drove to the caller's address after Barbara had given it to me and I was met by a bloke aged about 70. He introduced himself as Bill. 
   Before he opened his mouth I could tell he was the archetypal Australian bushman of his era, and a very tough bloke who had lived a very hard life. He was the sort of Australian that no longer exists, which is a shame. I was to find he was a natural gentleman and a very nice bloke.
   He took me into his house and introduced me to his 17 year old male kelpie, named Andy, who was laying still on a blanket, as he was incapable of moving. Andy did not seem to be distressed or in pain and his prolapse did not seem severe, so I engaged Bill in conversation about other matters to ensure he had my trust and that he knew I would be able to do the right thing by Andy in the best possible way.
    I always made a habit of asking older people questions, as they are usually great sources of knowledge and more than willing to hand it over, and knowledge is a precious thing when it comes to surviving and ensuring one has a good quality of life in this sewer. I also usually find what old people have to say very interesting.
   Bill told me he’d been a shearer and had also worked outside the sheds on sheep stations with the assistance of Andy and many other working dogs before him. He told me that Andy had been an excellent working dog when he was younger. 
    He also told me he knew that dogs are not meant to live to the age of 17 and that he should be grateful for having had him that long, although his voice started to break as he was telling me, so I changed the subject.
    As he told me he had shorn all over NSW, QLD and Victoria I asked him what he knew about ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai,”the bloke in the famous song.
    He seemed to brighten up a bit and he told me that “Flash Jack" was way before his time, but he’d met some old blokes when he was young who claimed they knew him. He said that “Flash Jack” had worked mainly in the sheds beyond Hay.
Flash Jack from Gundagai is being sung and played by the Bushwhackers.
      I also asked him if he knew, when he was younger, any old blokes who knew Jackie Howe, the famous champion shearer of the 1890’s who made famous the blue Jackie Howe singlet which so many Australian workers used right up until the high-vis gear was made compulsory. He again said that when he started shearing he knew several old blokes who had shorn with Jackie Howe, and they spoke very highly of him. He was their hero.
   Pictured above is the famous Jackie Howe, 1861-1920. To paraphrase “The Australian Dictionary of Biography,” he was an extraordinary physical specimen weighing 114 kgs with an enormous chest, biceps, thighs and hands. He could run 100 yards in 11 seconds. He was also a staunch unionist, and one of many unionists of previous generations who were partly responsible for the pay and conditions of todays workers.
    I mentioned the 1891 shearers strike to Bill, knowing from other old shearers I’d spoken to that it is firmly embedded in their folklore, or at least the folklore of shearers Bill’s age and older. Bill, who was of course a union man, again said that when he was young, before the war, he had shorn with old blokes who were participants in that strike and they were held in high esteem for having done so.
    I wonder what Bill would think of the scabby Labor party of today which has kept in its policies a desire to retain the nastiest parts of Howard’s anti-worker IR legislation, such as needing permission to strike and prohibiting secondary boycotts.  
    We kept talking and he told me he’d never married or had kids, he’d fought in New Guinea on the Kokoda Track and that all he’d done after the war, right up until he’d got the old age pension, was shear and do farm work with his dogs. I could have talked to Bill all day. 
    Eventually the time came and I said to him, “Well Bill, what do you reckon? Andy’s had a good life, I think the time’s come.”
“You’re right,” he said, with a breaking voice.
    I then took out a form I carried which I had to get people to sign under such circumstances, which allowed me to take possession of their animal. As Bill signed the document, knowing he was saying goodbye forever to his closest mate, a mate who had given him unconditional love for 17 years, I could see his hand start to tremble. The tears flowed and he said to me, “Im sorry son, he's my best mate.” 
   Showing emotion in that way is not the done thing in the bush, as bushmen are meant to be too hard to be sentimental, but the depth of his feelings ensured his emotions could not be contained. 
   Although Bill was not dying himself, a part of him was, and I thought of the old Australian song, “ The dying stockman.”

The Dying Stockman, sung by Lionel Long
    What could I do for Bill except give him my sympathies as I gently took possession of his old mate? As I began carrying Andy out Bill did another thing Aussie bushmen are not supposed to do. He lent over and kissed Andy on his rugged old head. His breaking voice then said to me, “Thanks mate,” as he slowly closed his front door.
   I drove off and took poor old Andy back to the our shelter where he received from our vet, Steve, a gentle exit by way of a needle. He did not struggle. It was as if he knew his time had come.
   Pictured above is Bess, a working kelpie from Noonbarra Kelpies. They are a beautiful and tough breed but not suited for suburbia unless their owner is particularly active, as they have been selectively bred to have a biological need to work. The name kelpie came from Scotland and refers to a water spirit. It has been debated for years whether or not the dingo is a part of the kelpie makeup, but recently geneticists have determined that they do have a small amount of dingo ancestry. They were however, unable to say whether it was part of the breeds foundation or introduced in relatively recent times.

  Pictured above is Faye, one of my workmates at the RSPCA, and me. The photo was taken at the RSPCA refuge about the same time I took possession of Andy, Bill’s old kelpie, which was probably in 1985 or 1986.
    During the next week I thought about Bill and the fact that compared to his generation most of my generation of Australians have had relatively soft lives. And I became more conscious of how grateful Australians should be for him and others of his generation who put their lives on the line to save us from a Jap invasion in WW2. Had they not stopped the Jap’s in New Guinea I would hate to think of the sort of existence I would be living today, although it's unlikely I would have been born under such circumstances. 
   I say that because although my dad never saw action during WW2 he was in the army for part of it and stationed in Australia in anticipation of a Jap invasion. And had the Jap’s achieved a successful invasion theres a good chance he would have been killed, and as his death would have been prior to him meeting my mum obviously I would never have seen the light of day on that monumental occasion in 1952.
    WW2 was the only war Australia has been involved in which was morally and practically justifiable. Had the Jap’s taken over the most we could have hoped for would have been integration into their society and culture and as such to be living in massively overcrowded, noisy, polluted cities, continually bowing and singing the company song every morning. It would have been death without death’s quiet.
     I doubt however, the Jap’s would have accepted us as equals post invasion, and given their behaviour in China in the 30’s and during WW2, and given the way they treated our prisoners of war I believe it highly probable Australians would have been subjected to mass slaughter, and in the case of young Australian girls, mass rape. 
   I recently heard a so-called historian, Dr Mark Dapin, on a Radio National program, tell us that the belief that the Jap’s planned to invade Australia during the war is a myth. Absolute bullshit! Other than them printing Australian money for an intended eventual invasion the very fact that they invaded New Guinea and other islands north of us shows their intent. Why would they not invade us if possible given our mineral wealth and land area, particularly since they were in desperate need of energy sources? Obviously they did not have any detailed plans regarding how and when the invasion was going to occur, as they would have been biting off more than they could chew given that they had not conquered New Guinea or the islands, but their ultimate intention, if victorious, was obvious. Maybe Mark is married to a Jap and wants to make excuses for their behaviour. I don’t know.
      Back to the subject. After a week I called in at Bill's house as I wanted to see if he was okay. A bloke who was about the same age as I was at the time answered the door. He told me he was Bill’s nephew and that Bill had been housesitting for him and his family while they were on holidays. He also told me that Bill had moved off after they had returned and that he had intended going back to the bush. 
   His nephew was not concerned about Bill’s welfare. He said  to me something like,“He’s a tough old bastard who’s experienced death all his life and he knows how to handle it.” 
   He also said that Bill had plenty of mates in the bush as well as plenty of relo’s who he saw regularly. He went on to say that Bill also had a circuit of mates who he had served with during the war and that he often stayed with them.
   That gladdened my heart, and I immediately thought of some of the words in Banjo Patterson’s “Clancy of the Overflow” after imagining Bill returning to the bush and being greeted by his mates.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
   I then imagined Bill sitting on the bend of a river with a fire going, living like a pig in clover, as did the shearer described in the following old Australian folk song, “Four Little Johnny Cakes,” sung by Raymond Crooke. I like the song for the image it creates in my mind of a shearer sitting by the bank of a river with freshly cooked Johnny cakes, although I don’t like the parts of the song which describes how the shearer intended to procure his protein. 
 Four Little Johnny Cakes sung by Raymond Crooke.

By the banks of the Berembed Weir
   After publishing the latter post I was reminded of the time while working for the ACT RSPCA I was asked by a caller to meet him in a large field in the middle of Mckellar, a field which is now covered with houses. The caller told me that in that field there was a dingo living on a rabbit burrow with her litter of pups within it, and that he was concerned she would not be left in peace, and that even if she was she would have problems surviving.
  When I arrived at McKellar I saw the said dingo covering with her curled body the rabbit burrow where her pups lived. I could see feathers strewn around her, presumably from birds she had stalked and killed for tucker.
   Her coat seemed longer than that of a pure dingo, so I doubt she was pure, although she was not far off it. I could see someone had tried to keep her in suburbia, as she was wearing a collar, although it was a collar devoid of any identification.
   It would seem that whoever owned her was to find that dingoes are very difficult to keep in suburbia, and they had either dumped her or had not bothered looking for her after she took off, although I suspect she had probably been dumped because had she had a home to go to she would have returned to raise her pups rather than attempt to survive in a field surrounded by suburbs. We also did a thorough search for an owner and came up with nobody reporting a missing dingo.
    I could see the caller was right about her situation being precarious, so I set about getting her and her pups back to our shelter in Weston.
    As she was curled over the entrance of the burrow protecting her progeny she showed some defensive aggression towards me as I approached her, so I took from my van my catching pole, a pole with a retractable loop I used to control aggressive dogs when they needed my assistance and were reluctant to let me take them in, or when I just wanted to remove them from their predicament should they have been trapped. Using the pole was not a pleasant job as the dogs hated the process, but sometimes you have to be a bit cruel to be kind.
    I was able to put the loop over the dingo’s head, and she very reluctantly came back to the van with me. After she was secured inside the van I returned to her burrow with my spade and collected her pups. I was able to pick up a couple of them from the entrance and dig out the rest without causing any fatalities or injuries. I collected, from memory, something like 7 pups.
   Once the dingo had her pups returned to her I could see she felt great relief as they snuggled up to her, even though she possessed the poker face of a dingo. Their faces are relatively expressionless compared to domestic canines.
    I then took her to the shelter and handed her over to our staff, who immediately took care of her, giving her and her pups a large cage and kennel immediately behind where our vet practised.
     It did not take long for her to get used to her new environment and I bonded with her very quickly. She had a beautiful nature and seemed to be very happy in her new environment, where her pups were looked after and where she had ready access to water and tucker.
    After a while she was allowed to roam around the grounds of our shelter, as we had high fences and we knew she would not be motivated to wander because she would not want to abandon her pups.
    Being a twisted wretch I of course gave her the name “Azaria,” as it had not been that long since the Azaria Chamberlain incident at Uluru had occurred.
     Although she did have a beautiful nature, it should be remembered that although dingoes look like domestic dogs they are not domestic dogs, and they should not be expected to behave like domestic dogs at all times, and Azaria was no exception.
    One day while doing something near our chook shed I heard my workmate, Ema, yell out  with great volume and emotion,“AZARIA!” When I turned around I could see that Azaria, while she thought nobody was looking, had placed in her mouth our resident duck, which she would have liked to have shared with her pups. She dropped the duck immediately after she realised she had been sprung, and fortunately the duck was unharmed.
    I had been sceptical of Lindy Chamberlain’s story of a dingo at Uluru taking her baby until the duck incident, but after that I was able to see it from a different perspective. I was able to imagine our Azaria performing a similar act on an unguarded baby while nobody was watching. Meat is meat in the wild, and to a non-human animal in the wild humans are just another form of protein. 
    Actually, the history of our own species tells us that our ancestors would make a practice of using neighbouring tribes as a direct source of food. The convict, Alexander Pearce, felt that way when he took a break from his life at Macquarie Harbour and decided to go bushwalking with his mates, taking advantage of the fact that they were made of meat, and as such good tucker.
    As most Australians know, there are doubts to this day by some over what happened at Uluru regarding Azaria Chamberlain, even though Lindy Chamberlain has by way of a court of law been shown to have been not guilty of killing her child.
    Several years after the that event I did a JP course with a forensic scientist who worked for the AFP. I yarned to him during our lunch break, and asked him about the Chamberlain incident after he had told me he had been working in the NT during the time of the disappearance of baby Azaria.
     Even though he was not working on the Chamberlain case himself, some of his mates he worked alongside were, and he was able to discuss with them the intricacies of the case and examine whatever physical evidence they were able to acquire.
    I said to him, “What do you think? Did the dingo take the baby or was the baby murdered by Lindy Chamberlain?”
    His answer was something like, “The police stuffed it up from the start by not roping the place off immediately. And when they did send people down to forensically examine what was left of the evidence they were under-resourced and couldnt do a thorough job. So the answer to your question is I simply don’t know.”
   Getting back to the subject, time marched on and Azaria’s pups grew rapidly. Unfortunately a couple died, and after unsuccessful attempts were made to find a home for Azaria (I could not take her as I already had two dogs who would not have accepted her) she also died from unknown causes. But, her 5 or so remaining pups lived on, and they all found homes.
   One female pup went to my mates Jan and Julie Aamodt. And as Jan had not met Azaria before her death and did not know her name, and as he, like me, has a twisted sense of humour, he also named the pup they chose Azaria. 
    “Azaria the younger” went on to live a charmed life, mainly on acreage at Murrumbateman. She lived to the ripe old age of 17, the same age as Bill’s kelpie.
    Another pup, a male, went to the daughter of our president at the time, Anne Yonge. I can’t recall Anne’s daughter’s first name but I do recall her calling her pup Bunyip. And because Bunyip was sired by a non-dingo he apparently did not have a dingo nature and was trainable and adapted readily to a domestic life.
   The same could not be said of “Azaria the younger,” because although she had a charmed life she had many dingo traits and was a handful at times for Jan and Julie. I would not recommend anyone try and keep any dog with substantial dingo genetics in suburbia.
   ANOTHER EVENT that occurred while I was at the RSPCA began as I had just walked out the door and was about to get into my van to go to a job. I was confronted by a pompous bloke in his sixties who had a large cardboard box which he told me contained 6 pigeons. He said he liked to feed native birds and did not want any pigeons getting in on the act so he trapped them and brought them to us, hoping we would euthanise them for him. As I am not a fan of speciesism I intended to politely give him a spray, telling him we were not in the pest extermination business. But, before I could open my mouth an older lady who had worked at the shelter for many years, who had heard what he said, burst through the door and took over. 
   I knew exactly how her mind worked and I knew exactly what was going to happen, which made me begin chuckling to myself. She grabbed the box of pigeons from the bloke, saying, “It’s okay, we’ll take care of the pigeons,” then disappeared into a backroom with them.
    I decided to delay my trip for a few minutes and went back inside to get more of a laugh. Sure enough my older workmate poked her head out from a rear door and said to me,“Is he gone yet?” I told her he was gone then followed her into our grounds to watch her open the cardboard box and liberate the pigeons. That made my day, as I knew that being pigeons they would probably beat the pompous native bird feeder back to his house and would be waiting there for more tucker.    
      There was more fun. The idiot came back another four times over the next fortnight with what were probably the same pigeons. And on each occasion we took them from him and gave them their freedom as soon as he drove off.

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