The following story is an extract from the book, “Old Melbourne Memories” by Rolf Boldrewood. Rolf Boldrewood was the author’s pseudonym, his real name was Thomas Alexander Browne. In his book, Browne refers to his stockman as Joe Burge, however his real name was Thomas Pye, my great, great grandfather. I have changed the references of ‘Joe’ to ‘Tom’. The following tells the story of the death of one of Browne’s dogs, ‘Violet’. I relate this story as a precursor to a couple of stories regarding some young dogs owned by my late father and a neighbour’s dog. The year this incident occurred was 1844.
“Nero and Violet were brother and sister. They were smooth-haired greyhounds – the ordinary kangaroo dog of the colonist – very fast; and from a cross of ‘bull’ had inherited an utter fearlessness of disposition, which was rather against them, as the sequel will show.
Violet was so fast that she could catch the brush kangaroo (the wallaby) within sight. We rarely had occasion to search if they started close to our feet, and the largest and fiercest ‘old man’ forester did not seem to be too heavy weight for her. When he stood at bay she would fly in at the throat, instead of looking out for a side chance. In consequence she was awfully cut up many times when a more cunning dog would have escaped scatheless.
One afternoon Tom and I had taken a longer round than usual on foot, and were returning by the beach, when we heard Violet’s bark a long way in front. We knew she had ‘stuck up’ or brought to bay a large forester. If middle-sized she would have killed him; in that case running mute. So it was an ‘old man’ large enough to stand and fight.
“We’d better get on, sir,” said Tom; “the poor slut’ll be cut to ribbons. She’s a plucky little fool, and don’t know how to save herself.” (Now the use of the term ‘slut’ for a dog was less derogatory than the term ‘bitch’ in the nineteenth century and Tom was not swearing).
On we went, both running our best. We were in decent wind, but it was a couple of miles before we reached ‘hound and quarry.’ Some time had elapsed, and the fight had been many times renewed. When we got up the grassy spot was trampled all around, and in more than one place were deep red stains. Both animals were dreadfully exhausted. The great marsupial – the height of a tall man when he raised himself on his haunches – was covered with blood from the throat and breast, his haunches were deeply pierced by the dog’s sharp fangs, but his terrible claws had inflicted some frightful gashes down Violet’s chest and flanks. As she feebly circled round him, barking hoarsely, she staggered with weakness; but her eye was bright and keen – there was not a shade of surrender about her.
Tom rushed in at once and struck the old man full between the eyes with a heavy stick. He fell prone, and lay like a log. Violet staggered to his throat, which she seized, but, having not another grain of strength, fell alongside of him, panting and sobbing until her whole frame shook convulsed. I never saw a dog suffer so much from over-exertion. There was water near, and we carried her to it and bathed her head and neck. She had three terrible gashes, the blood from which we could not manage to staunch. Tom was genuinely affected. The tears came into his eyes as he looked on the suffering creature. “Poor little slut!” he said; “I’m doubtful it’s her last hunt. Pity we hadn’t took the horses, we should ha’ bin up sooner, and saved that old savage from ‘mercy-creeing’ of her. Anyhow, I’ll carry her home and see what the missis can do for her.”
He did so. I walking sadly behind, the dumb brute looking up at him with grateful eyes, and from time to time licking his hand. She was nursed by Mrs. Pye like a child. We tried all our simple remedies, sewed up the gaping wounds, and even went to the length of a tonic, suited to her condition. But it was no use. The loss of blood and consequent exhaustion had been too great. Violet died that night, and for the next few days a gloom fell over our little household as at the death of a friend.”
(I recall the efforts of my own parents trying to save abandoned lambs on cold, wet winter nights, by pouring a little brandy into the mouths of the newly born lambs. I wonder if the brandy was a similar tonic to the one used by my great, great grandparents).
The story of Violet highlights a brave and fearless dog. The same cannot be said of Rusty. The farm dogs of my early childhood had all passed on and my father obtained three young dogs at a similar time. One was Rusty, a tan and white sheepdog. Another was a blue heeler named Toby and the other was named Trooper, a dog that even to this day I have no idea as to the breeds that made up his ancestry, but by the shape of him he may have had some greyhound and kelpie in him. My father did not have the patience or knowledge to train the young dogs properly and as a consequence they run a little undisciplined.
Rusty, probably a little scatter-brained, had his own ideas on how to fill in his days. To be fair to the little fellow, a dog bred to round up sheep was bored after the dairy cows had been brought to the dairy and milked. So most days saw Rusty racing about the paddocks chasing birds – he would be streaking across the grass, barking into the air at the birds with Trooper and Toby initially following behind. Well, the other two dogs thought that Rusty was off on some important farm assignment but they would soon realise that it was a false alarm and return home.
Eventually, Rusty’s boredom saw him begin to round-up the cows with new calves in the home paddock and his constant harassment led to my father making the decision that Rusty had to go and there his life ended. We were to loose Toby shortly afterwards when Toby charged at a passing car on the main road and he was killed instantly. Trooper remained my father’s faithful companion until my father passed away.
A neighbourhood farmer told this funny story to my brother and I about one of his dogs. He was out on the farm when his dog startled a fox. The fox sped off across the paddocks with the dog streaking behind it. The fox was fast but the dog was gaining with every stride and soon drew level with the fox, and he overtook the fox, continuing on ahead. For a short distance the fox continued running, then, it dawning on the fox he was no longer the prey, he slowed, stopped and watched the dog disappear out of sight. The droll farmer was shaking his head in dismay as he related the tale as we laughed heartily at the story.