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May 4, 2016

Red Dog


 

Louis de Bernières, probably best known for his book "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (and the movie by the same name), wrote the endearing true story about Red Dog which was later made into an equally charming movie.

As he explains in the inside jacket of the book, "In early 1998 I went to Perth in Western Australia in order to attend the literature festival, and part of the arrangement was that I should go to Karratha to do their first ever literary dinner. Karratha is a mining town a long way further north. The landscape is extraordinary, being composed of vast heaps of dark red earth and rock poking out of the never-ending bush. I imagine that Mars must have a similar feel to it.

I went exploring and discovered the bronze statue to Red Dog outside the town of Dampier. I felt straight away that I had to find out more about this splendid dog.

A few months later I returned to Western Australia and spent two glorious weeks driving around collecting Red Dog stories and visiting the places that he knew, writing up the text as I went along. I hope my cat never finds out that I have written a story to celebrate the life of a dog."

I enjoyed the movie because the people in it reminded me so much of the people I met on Bougainville in the early construction days. Then I picked up the book - a mere hundred half-sized pages - and found some of the passages even more reminiscent of Bougainville. Listen to this:

".. the town was full of lonely men. There had been a few aborigines and even fewer white people there before the iron companies and the salt company had moved in, but just recently a massive and rapid development had begun to take place. New docks were constructed, new roads, new houses for the workers, a new railway and a new airport. In order to build all this, hundreds of men had arrived from all corners of the world, bringing nothing with them but their physical strength, their optimism and their memories of distant homes. Some of them were escaping from bad lives, some had no idea how they wanted their lives to be, and others had grand plans about how they could work their way from rags to riches.

They were either rootless or uprooted. They were from Poland, New Zealand, Italy, Ireland, Greece, England, Yugoslavia, and from other parts of Australia too. Most had brought no wives or family with them, and for the time being they lived in big huts that had been towed on trailers all the way up from Perth. Some of them were rough and some gentle, some were honest and some not. There were those who got rowdy and drunk, and picked fights, there were those who were quiet and sad, and there were those who told jokes and could be happy anywhere at all. With no women to keep an eye on them, they easily turned into eccentrics. A man might shave his head and grow an immense beard. He might go to Perth for a week, go "blotto on Rotto', and come back with a terrible hangover and lots of painful tattoos. He might wear odd socks and have his trousers full of holes. He might not wash for a week, or he might read books all night so that he was red-eyed and weary in the morning when it was time to go to work. They were all pioneers, and had learned to live hard and simple lives ..."

Sounds familiar? In case you've been wondering: I was the one with the odd socks ☺

Anyway, I'm sure Louis de Bernières won't mind me having quoted him; after all, you're all now going to rush out to buy the book, aren't you? ☺