The central character of my last Longform ‘Tim Winton’s An Open Swimmer and the art prize that got away’ (now on ABC Open) was a dog. And my sTory of Sydney and art school would be incomplete without her as my sidekick.
I adopted a dog off the wall ads at the local supermarket. I was single and wanted a companion and from my list – ferret at the top (rejected by flatmates) I settled on dog. Not sure where ‘ soulmate’ was. I was 26 and not ready for a cat (re Kitty FLannigan gag about being past it). THe dog was a runaway that had been rescued but her rescuers couldn’t keep her.
the dog, whom became Sam but NEVER answered to that because it was never her real name, was maybe two years old when I got her. A ridgeback/ red healer/ bull terrier cross. Very pretty, enormous chest and, unknown to me at first- a Fighter. I proceeded to have a very steep learning curve with this marauding runaway of an animal. I honestly did announce to my flatmates one day “I’m taking Sam for a fight…I mean walk”. And if I’m to be totally honest I was also a marauding runaway of a human at the time.
In 1997 I lived on Australia Street in a terrace in Newtown and SAm began to have arch enemies everywhere. Most notably 1 black and White female border collie whom she could sense at 500m on the other side of Camperdown Park. She’d bolt and I’d be bolting after her across the park to then wrestle her off this particular b&w border collie. I got pretty good at stopping dog fights and i mean she REALLY liked to fight.
She terrified one of my flatmates (a cat person) but seeing as he had the only car I always needed his help to get her back when she ran off to King Street in Newtown shifting food scraps.
In 1998 when I started at The National Art School I got her a yard by moving to a house marked for demolition in Leichhardt. SHe ran off there as well but this one time the bouncer for the brothel on Parramatta rd tried to catch her and pulled off her collar. He called me and we chatted leaning on the velvet curtained windows outside the brothel. He said he only grabbed her because she was a girl but where he grew up they bred that kind of dog to fight professionally. Adding that he would never have gone near a male version of her and what a mighty fine looking dog she was. Let’s just say this was a light bulb moment. EVentually she wandered home.
I took to only walking her in enclosed spaces like the local velodrome. But She didn’t like skateboarders either, upending one mid flight by grabbing the skateboard with her teeth as he went past, sending him flying, and me and his mate into hysterics, with me also profusely apologising.
I loved her and her many faults, she really liked people and no ones perfect. WHen she lept off a small cliff in sheer excitement at seeing water for the first time and needed a knee reconstruction I was distraught. The cliff was at the back of the old asylum in Balmain that has since been converted into an art school.
So after not winning the art prize I concocted the idea of getting fellow NAS students to donate stuff that I could sell. I made up a flyer and distributed it. BUt, alas, for my phrasing of the ‘dog and cliff ‘ story and it being art school an all, everyone thought it was a poem and i was being all ‘bohemian arty’. SIGH.
Eventually after correcting everyone and killing off the idea of me as a performance artist i did get some stuff and she was repaired. These Bakewell Brothers cannisters were also damaged and beautiful so I kept them from the garage sale donations.They date from the 1920’s and are called Beulah Ware.
You can take a girl out of a museum but you can’t kill off the eye for good old stuff! My friend said that was okay for me to keep them as they are fragile. This friend was a fair bit older than me, had grown up in inner city Sydney in the 50’s and at one stage been subjected to electroshock therapy in the above mentioned asylum bexcuse she had bipolar. She had been given many interpretations of her brain by the time I met her.
WHen we moved to the open spaces of Perth in 2001/2 and SAM met the beach she rarely fought again. Just the odd b&w border collie. I always put it down to the pressures of inner city life. And those border collies were all brains to her brawn. She passed away in Margaret River. We now have a brown and white female border collie. She soooo wouldn’t be okay with that.
NO ONE OR NO DOG WAS EVER INJURED DUE TO THE FIGHTING IN THIS STORY. ONLY SHOULDER LIGAMENTS WERE DAMAGED, repeatedly.