From the time I could walk the first thing I did every morning was ask my Mum if I could “go say morning to the dogs”. She would help me out of my high chair and off I would toddle across the farm paddock to the shearing shed where our sheep dogs had their home. We had three Kelpie / Border Collie crosses they were called Brandy, Soda and Whisky. You might gather that my Mum and Dad liked a drink! Sheep dogs are a farmer’s left arm – without them it would be impossible to move the sheep from paddock to paddock; paddock to yards; or yards to shed and our three dogs were champions, that is, until Jane came along!
The dogs did not work for love; they loved to work, but during such times as hay baling they were left tied up and all alone. This was when I could do the most damage and damage I did do! You’re not supposed to pet sheep dogs or give them hugs or extra tucker but I managed to do all three on a very regular basis. It got to the stage that whenever Dad let the dogs off their chains to do some work for him they would run to the house paddock in search of me. Through giving them heaps of love and attention I had taken over Dad’s role as their master. It was pretty hard to send me to bed for this dilemma because it had taken place very gradually over nearly 12 months.
One day Dad and Whisky were herding a mob of sheep down the South Gippsland Highway from one of our farms to another. It had taken him nearly half a day so Mum and I decided to take him lunch in the old Holden. Ahead of us we saw this lovely controlled circle of sheep with Whisky moving from side to side behind them making sure that they were moving forward, not stopping to eat grass and never letting one stray. Dad was off to the left chugging along on the tractor. At the sound of the car, Whisky’s ears pricked. When he saw me hop out the sheep were forgotten and he came pelting back up the road to jump all over me and give me lots of kisses with his wet tongue. Now some people say that sheep are silly and yes I tend to agree but when freedom can be found they know how to escape. We had sheep going in every direction. Mum pushed me back into the car and made me hide from Whisky on the floor. She and Dad and, eventually, Whisky took over an hour to round-up all the sheep again.
That night I thought I was definitely going to be sent to bed without my dinner but instead Mum and Dad carried on like nothing had happened. I don’t know which is worse, waiting for the punishment or the punishment itself! From my room, where I was reading, I could hear them whispering but I could not quite catch what they were saying and Butterball was no help because she could not speak “people talk”.
About a week later Dad went on his own to Melbourne saying he would be home before I went to bed. This was very mysterious to me because Dad never went to Melbourne alone. Mum and I had a great day. It was raining so I stayed indoors beside the kitchen fire and filled a whole colouring book. We also baked a cake and made some scones. These were all very girlie type activities but what else could I do when I didn’t have Dad to pester and Mum wouldn’t let me play outside in the rain.
After tea (my favourite – macaroni on toast) we played “Snakes and Ladders” with Mum, naturally, letting me win and feigning surprise when I did! It got to be past my bedtime and still no sign of Dad. Then we heard the Holden – you could hear it from about 2 kilometres away on a still night. I ran to the door but Mum was too quick for me and grabbed me by the collar of my pyjama top so I had to wait anxiously for Dad on the veranda.
It seemed to take him forever to walk up the pathway and in his arms he was carrying a basket. Don’t tell me how but I knew it was a dog! I wriggled hard and broke free of Mum’s tight grip – she was left with my pyjama top in her hand – and went hurtling down the path screaming, “A doggy, Daddy’s bought me a doggy.” I was jumping up and down in excitement, soaking wet and half-naked, grabbing at Dad’s leg and trying to climb up to see inside the basket.
Eventually sanity was restored. Mum and Dad got me into the house, wrapped me in a towel and let me open the lid of the basket. There in the corner was this tiny little ball of silver, brown and ginger fluff. He was no bigger than a cricket ball but he had a big black wet nose and these gorgeous brown eyes peering through his fringe. I was so scared that I might hurt him that I was too frightened to pick him up but when I saw him stagger to his feet and try to climb out of the basket I had to help and we had our first cuddle. Lochie had arrived and my heart was full. He was an Australian Silky Terrier and I named him Lochiel, Lochie for short, after our farm that was called Lochiel.
When I went to bed that night, Butterball and I were allowed to take Lochie with us but Mum’s words, “He must stay in his basket Jane” fell on deaf ears. Under the blankets, using the torch for illumination, Butterball, Lochie and I became best friends. Butterball, although she was still a kitten, was bigger than Lochie but he defended himself with sharp little teeth whenever her playing got too rough. Next morning Dad came into my room to find me fast asleep on my back and lying with his little head resting on my left shoulder was Lochie and on my right shoulder was Butterball. And that’s the way we slept every night from there on.
Both Lochie and Butterball grew very quickly but she always was a little bigger. Oh the games they would play. They would run from one end of the house to the other slipping and sliding on the polished wood floors. Many a time I would hear a yelp or miaow of pain as one of them ran too fast and couldn’t stop before sliding and crashing into a wall. Butterball would deliberately sit under the bookshelves with just her tail peeking out. Lochie would strut past pretending not to notice this cream snake swishing back and forward. Just when you thought he had ignored it he would pounce, grab the tail in his mouth and drag Butterball out and up the passage. Their friendship and delight in each other’s company was truly beautiful. During the day when they were exhausted from their games they would curl up into one big cream and silver ball. It was hard to figure where the cat finished and the dog began.
Being a terrier, I was warned that I had to be very careful when taking Lochie outside the house paddock as it would be so easy for him to run down a rabbit hole. But outside the farm paddock I had no control over him. He would run ahead (no it was more like a hop because he was so tiny, only 20 centimetres tall, he couldn’t see over the top of the grass) and the number of times Mum and I had to ring the bell to tell Dad to come home to help us dig up a rabbit warren and get Lochie out were innumerable. Dumb dog – he still persisted in trying to catch rabbits. I think he would have died of shock if he had succeeded.
He was my constant companion. If Mum could see Lochie she knew that I would not be too far away. He loved going for rides on Tango and became very adept at sitting on his rump behind the saddle. Tango also loved Lochie. One day I came out of the tackle shed where we kept all the bridles, halters and saddles to find Tango standing waiting for me at the gate and, to my amazement, there was Lochie sitting up on his back. I told Mum and Dad but they thought I was telling “pork pies” until I made them watch how Lochie and Tango accomplished such a feat of cooperation.
It was easy really – Tango would back himself up against the wood pile and Lochie would jump from log to log getting higher and higher until he managed to clamber onto Tango’s back. He would then sit down as Tango took him for a ride.
Lochie also got on well with Brandy, Soda and Whisky – or thought he did. They found him to be a real pest especially when they were in the middle of bringing a flock of sheep up to the shed because Lochie would try to help them. Sheep would scatter for kilometres when they saw this little yapping rabbit like animal coming at them. I can still hear Dad screaming at me, “Jane, control that dog of yours or I will throw him in the dam!”
Both Lochie and Butterball moved to Melbourne with me but you could tell that they too missed the freedom of the farm. We all adapted and the people in the neighbourhood soon accepted seeing me walk down the street followed by this beautiful cream cat and gorgeous shiny silver tiny dog. Soon we became friends with the boys and girls who lived in the streets around us but none of them had ever experienced the close relationship we three shared and they were all so very jealous!