Monday, October 28, 2013

THE PILBARA WANDERER. 1971--21/11/1979.

'Love waits for me 'round the bend,
Leads me endlessly on,
Surely sorrows shall find their end
And all of my troubles will be gone
  When this road finally takes me home.'

                    Mary Fahl.
The Pilbara legend.   Red Dog.

The movie may have brought on a flood of tears, but the actual true story is just as emotional and even more inspiring.

Movie Star Koko

This tale has been told many times by many people. Unfortunately one has to search high and low to obtain the facts as their origins are spread all over. 
Much of what is depicted in the movie is closely based on what actually took place, but nevertheless all the characters are purely fictional and there has been more than a fair amount of poetic licence taken, as to where, when and who  certain events occurred with.

I took it upon myself to gather what I could and bring it all together as one complete and true story.

What is true devotion?........Please read what follows. 

Josh Lucas with Koko. This marvellous kelpie played 'Red Dog' in the movie of the same name.  Sadly he passed away during December 2012 aged only 7 from a congestive heart ailment.
Before the rest of the world even knew Australia existed, the English bard William Shakespeare wrote the following......

What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable. In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. 

These words from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, are spoken by the Prince of Denmark,  who simply was saying that man was God's supreme creation.
If written today those very same qualities that Hamlet believed were part of mankind could be attributed to a red kelpie/ blue heeler cross, who literally became a living legend throughout the Pilbara and other regions throughout Western Australia during the 1970's.

Many a time Aussie motorists while driving through the night mostly, have made the unexpected aquaintance of a 6 foot plus boomer after it has bounded out in front of their vehicle.

Throughout various times in the 1970's motorists travelling late at night in the Pilbara region and other parts of Western Australia, were experiencing similar occurrences, but with a difference.
The difference was the obstacle confronting them happened to be a young red kelpie cross, who would suddenly park itself in the middle of the road, both night and day, ensuring the driver would be forced to stop.

Upon stopping the car, this cheeky red devil would dive into the vehicle and keep the driver and/or the car's occupants company until the journey ended. Sometimes that could be Port Hedland or even as far afield as Perth.

Books have been written by various authors about this four legged hitch hiker, some are 100% accurate, while others not so. A fictional story based on the facts was written by the author of  'Corelli's Mandolin', Louis De Bernieres and made into a movie starring American Actor Josh Lucas.
Although in parts an amusing tale, the movie's ending will have everyone sobbing their hearts out, so for once I will stick wholly and solely to the truth for a change.

The Pilbara region is in northwestern WA, between the Kimberley's to the north and the mid west to the south. It is flanked by the great Sandy Desert at the top and the Little Sandy Desert below. Even today it takes an exceptionally brave and strong person to reside in and survive there. It is a large, dry and thinly populated area containing some of the planet Earth's oldest rock formations. It is famous for its coastal plains, mountain ranges, cliffs and gorges, red earth and vast mineral deposits such as Petroleum, Natural Gas and Iron Ore.
Today it has a population of around 45,000 and tourism and fishing are big money spinners for the region as well.

Port Samson.
During those times when the red wanderer was creating a legend, there were only around a few thousand rugged individuals who lived and worked there. The population of Dampier would have been around a few hundred tough souls. Not unlike the Red Dog itself, these people were the kind that refused to change their beliefs and way of life for anyone. A  Pilbara region car sticker testifies to that.
It simply says..........

The Pilbara is renowned for record high temperatures, at times reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Every now and then the odd cyclone arrives and cools things down a bit, as this pic shows..........Whoa!!!
"Brace yourself, Narelle's coming."

One could sum up the tale by simply saying the dog was not homeless, but throughout its 8 full and eventful years of life, it had dozens of owners and was given many names, such as Tally, Bluey etc. 
To everyone who were fortunate and in some cases even honoured to have made his aquaintance, he was simply known as 'Red Dog'.

The true story happens to be he was born as a kelpie cross, sometime during 1971 in Paraburdoo. He was one of a litter of three and first appeared in the mining town of Dampier WA with his owner Col Cummings as a juvenile. At this time he was known as Tally Ho, soon to be shortened to just Tally. Kelpies are a cross between a collie and the Australian dingo and it is an inbred instinct that causes them to wander and explore far and wide. Tally was no exception and this natural instinct clicked into place. He made friends with and was befriended by all the locals he met on his rounds.  Even as a young pup he developed a liking for travel and would pop up all around the small township of Dampier, paying visits to one and all. One of his regular haunts was the Dampier Salt Co. where he won the affection of all the workers there. His other favourite port of call was the miners lunch room at Hamersley Iron.

Harvesting the salt.

A bus driver for the Hamersley Iron Co. named John Stazzonelli became his new owner during 1972. His bus travelled from Karratha to Dampier and back again. John drove the miners and other workers to and from work, a distance total of 4o kilometres and for at least two years Red was his constant companion on the bus, until John was killed in a motorbike accident during July 1975.

John Stazzonelli
The Bus with passenger waiting at Bus Stop.
John was born in Geraldton, raised in Northampton and died in Dampier. He was only 27 years old and was buried with his late mother in Northampton cemetery. How do you tell a dog he will never see his master again? 
Red went everywhere with John and it is believed it was during their relationship the kelpie took his love of travelling to greater heights. They were inseparable and travelled by bike, car and bus all around the Pilbara region.  According to John's daughter Kelly, her dad named Red 'Blue'' and never referred to him as Red Dog. The dog's name tag also has the name of 'Blue' engraved on it. 
John was having domestic problems and started dating a few of the local girls. Red, one could be forgiven for thinking that he was jealous, did not approve of a few, so when John would bring a lady home who Red took a set against, he used to drop some of the foulest smelling farts which would never fail to send her and/or them packing. Not many of them were ever seen again.
He had a bad habit of gulping down his food, which brought on a series of dropped bombs that had many crossing to the other side of the road to avoid asphyxiation.
He always sat on the front seat behind the driver when riding on the bus. No one was permitted to sit with him unless they bribed him with something tasty to eat. After being fed he would make room for them and shortly afterwards would commence his farting cycle, which never failed to bring on a mass evacuation of the bus.

A new female employee at Hamersley's, not knowing the dogs history, attempted to shove him sideways so she could sit down next to him. Red would lean and push her towards the edge of the seat leaving her precariously balanced, while he resumed his position in the seats middle. This continued for the next two weeks, when all of a sudden he commenced moving over to make room for her to sit next to him properly. No one knew what had brought on the change of heart, but he always had a satisfied look on his face after dropping one of his methane bombs.
"Stop the bus.....Everybody out, quickly."
Sketches are by artist Lachlan Creagh.

An electrician with the Dampier Salt Co. named Don, took Red under his wing, after the dog fell off the back of a truck, but despite being made a member of the Dampier Salt Co. Sport and Social Club, a member of the Metal Trades Union, having his own bank account opened with the then Bank of NSW and being officially registered with the local county, he was quite often seen sitting on the side of the main road watching the passing traffic, hoping that John would appear. When nothing positive came of this, he set out on his many travels to locate his lost master. Most of the last four and a half years of his life were spent roaming the vast Australian outback, although he seemed to eventually accept he would not be seeing his beloved John again. He was able to wander into parts of the outback where no other dogs were allowed to go as his county registration permitted it. His official title was 'Dog of the Northwest'. Towards the end, his wanderings were restricted to regularly visiting his countless friends and aquaintances in the Dampier/Karratha regions. He spent a considerable amount of time in Roebourne that happened to be around 4o kilometres away.

Below are maps of the Pilbara showing the regions that Red Dog regarded as home. When you consider the distance between Karratha and Port Hedland is around 300 kilometres, he did indeed have a large backyard.

A popular means of transport for the Wanderer.

After checking out the town of Dampier at the start of his search for John, he checked out the mining sites in the Pilbara, before commencing his wanderings. He visited places as far afield as Roebourne, Point Samson, Port Hedland, Tom Price, Broome and as far south as Perth.

Red Dog himself. Wearing his collar and name tag.

God only knows how many miles he clocked up walking, but as mentioned earlier he was also prone to hitch hiking, riding in cars and on trains, trucks and buses and was sighted by many making full use of whatever form of transport he found necessary to use at the time.

A bus driver once threw Red off the bus and all of the passengers disembarked  as well, refusing to continue their journey unless the dog was allowed back on to continue his.
The wanderer's collar and name tags. 

Despite of all the vast distances travelled and despite all of the time spent away during those many travels, his instinct saw to it that, at some time or the other, he would always find his way home to either Dampier or Karratha.

On one occasion he was riding up front with a truckie on his way to Perth over 1500 kilometres away and towards the end of the journey the driver was horrified when he misplaced his companion. The truckie reached Perth, then headed for home up north. Arriving back at Dampier, he almost fell out of his truck when he noticed Red Dog was home ahead of him. This was one cluey mutt.

He made it a habit to honour everyone with his presence at many a barbecue or at a party on the beach and took great delight in devouring anything edible that came his way. Providing his tendency to flatulate was kept to a minimum, he was always welcome at any function.

He was fortunate that a local Vet in Karratha became involved with him and ended up becoming Red Dog's personal physician. It has been reported that nearly every time Red was taken to the vet, it was with a different owner. The Vet's name was Dr. Rick Fenny and his interest in and love of Red endeared him to the kelpie and quite often when Dr Fenny would be attending a stage play, or at a barbecue and even at the grade cricket grand final, who would suddenly appear by his side.....None other than Red. 
Dr. Fenny lived in a house that was also a surgery in the town of Roebourne and he would regularly drive a caravan, that doubled as a surgery, to Karratha where he treated the local pets and others, which included everyones best friend.
It was quite common for Red to pop in for a visit at Dr Fenny's home and surgery at Roebourne and would bludge a lift in the Doc's car. According to the vet there were many others who were used in this way. He more than likely botted a lift to Roebourne, with some one and conned the vet into driving him back to Dampier or Karratha, if the truth's known. He quite often would sleep on the vet's front porch. Every now and then if he was feeling off colour or even unwell, Red Dog had the intelligence to turn up at the surgery of his own free will, to be treated by Dr. Fenny whom he trusted completely.
Red was determined to instigate a love affair with some of Dr. Fenny's bitches and at times he would be sent away, but never took offence and would return ASAP. He adored all human beings, but had a bad habit of biting the dogs of prospective customers at the surgery, causing some owners not to return for vaccinations and the like.

Staying at the caravan park in Karratha, were several pregnant women who were almost at their time and on their many night time trips to the toilets, Red would always be there to escort them. He would patiently wait for the ladies outside the toilet block and would then walk with them back to their caravans.
This service was gratefully appreciated by one and all.

One of these grateful women happened to be one Nancy Gillespie, who shortly after Red went to that great kennel in the sky, wrote a series of short tales about his wanderings and how he became a local legend throughout the Pilbara. Along with the later stories by Beverly Duckett, Louis De Bernieres based his partly true novel on the recollections of these two ladies.

Nancy Gillespie.
When author Nancy Gillespie's young son fell ill, he received a visit from Red who stayed with him and never left his side for three days and three nights, until the boy recovered.

One local lady saw him sleeping in the carpark of the Walkabout hotel at Karratha and offered him a lift in her car, which he sleepily accepted. When she arrived at the industrial site, he refused to leave the vehicle, so she attempted to offload him elsewhere by driving him 20 kilometres to Dampier. He still refused to budge, so out of sheer frustration she drove him to the miners lunch room, where he left the car and joined the miners for supper. This was where he expected to be dropped off in the first place. Talk about being spoilt.

On another occasion he had just missed the bus when he was offered a lift by Nancy, which he gratefully accepted. Arriving in town he refused to leave the car until the bus which Nancy had overtaken, finally arrived. "He won't leave and I'm in a big hurry to get home," Nancy told the bus driver. The bus driver simply gave Red a whistle and the four legged hitch hiker left the car and boarded the bus to continue his journey to wherever.

Dogs don't have any religious affiliations, but Red Dog would quite often attend Sunday Mass and much to the delight of the congregation, he would always mark the house of God with his version of holy water. He would stroll down the centre aisle and have a little tinkle on the side of every pew. The priest would become annoyed and frustrated, but everyone else would be wetting themselves also, whilst laughing their heads off. After a while even the priest became more than amused. Thank God nobody fed him, as the service would have ended early with a mass exodus of the asphyxiated congregation, priest and altar boys.

One grey area for me was what actually happened between Nancy Gillespie and the two caravan park managers. I am led to believe there was an argument between Nancy and the manager's wife over Red. When Nancy was evicted, other residents parked their caravans in front of hers so it could not be moved. When the manager threatened to shoot Red, the township's miners gave him and his wife some advice which was responsible for them fleeing the area. The rules and regulations relating to dogs in the park were relaxed somewhat after their sudden departure. I cannot find any reference to the notorious 'Red Cat' depicted in the movie however.

Red was once captured by the dog catcher and locked up in the pound at Roebourne. In this instance he was fortunate as he was infected with heartworm and thankfully was successfully treated. He seemed to have aged prematurely and developed a nasty cough. When Dr. Fenny examined him he realised it was heartworm. As the treatment would have to last at least several weeks, the problem was how to prevent him from wandering away. This is where the dog pound came to the rescue. While confined he was given the treatment required by the dog catcher himself and was recovering beautifully.
One can only assume the word had spread that Red Dog was in the pound, because one evening some person or persons unknown opened the gates and freed Red and all the other dogs as well. God only knows how many of the dogs were recaptured, but Red Dog turned himself in to the catcher of his own free will so he could continue his treatment at the pound. He knew that the treatment was making him feel better. Smart dog. He also accompanied the catcher on his daily rounds in the paddy wagon, until his treatment was completed.

Throughout his many journeys, there were several times when he found himself sick from being poisoned and was even shot and wounded more than once. God only knows how many fights he was involved in with other animals.
Two concerned workers from the Salt Works drove 350 kilometres to Port Hedland with Red who had two bullets in his leg. 

After successful surgery they celebrated in town and most likely ended up in the lockup. With their fines, travelling expenses and Vet bills etc. it cost them a small fortune. They claimed it would have been cheaper to have flown out a brain surgeon to operate on the dog. When Dr Fenny arrived at Karratha he started treating Red free of charge and a warm and loving relationship followed.
Dr. Rick Fenney.
On one of his visits to Nancy Gillespie's place, Red appeared at her back door and she let him inside. She noticed he was covered in ticks and proceeded to remove them. She then noticed he had two bullet holes in his ear, so off to Dr. Fenny's once again. 
Nancy chccking for ticks etc.

Red Dog had an effect on all those blessed to have known him and even though it could be said he did in fact have dozens of people who he regarded as close mates, he never lost his instinct for wandering. Nearly all of these many friends were aware that he would most likely be gone the next morning, then again it could be in a week's time. They knew he may or may not return a month, or even a year later, then be gone again. Many insist he was still pining for and searching for his deceased former owner and probably the only true master he ever had namely John Stazzonelli.
I truly believe this to be the case.

On the many stinking hot days that are a feature of the Pilbara region, he would be seen sleeping in the doorways outside many of the local shops to take advantage of the air conditioning causing cool draughts to pass over him in those doorways. Shopkeepers were honoured to have his presence, yet any other mutt was hustled away quick smart.
One of the local lasses working in the bottle shop of the Mermaid Hotel/Motel in Dampier, recalled that on exceptionally hot days Red Dog would enter and flop down outside the freezer door. Knowing exactly what he wanted, she would always leave the door slightly ajar to allow the cool air to pass over him. After he had cooled down, he would up and leave and continue on his rounds.
He would go and stay wherever he liked, whenever he wanted to.

Red Dog sleeping peacefully in the Air Conditioned comfort of the Karratha Library


Red Dog's watering hole.

The vet, Dr Fenny says that there were quite a few people who from time to time brought Red in for either a check up or to cure some ailment. They must have been living reasonably close to the Veterinary practice, indicating Red regarded the Dampier/Karratha region as his home base, or maybe he was restricting his wanderings to the local area. He was known by a series of names given to him by these caring people, whom he must have been visiting and staying with on a regular basis. His collar and name tags that he always wore have the name given to him by his beloved John on them as well as Red Dog. As mentioned previously, one tag was engraved 'Red Dog' and 'Blue', and the other, 'I've been everywhere man!'

I can personally relate to Red's story as many many years ago, the smartest dog I have ever known, namely my border collie kelpie bitza Tojo also was infected with the urge to wander, but he always returned home, except on the last occasion when he didn't. 
One thing is certain, Red Dog the kelpie was his own person and behaved in a manner that endeared him to so many and he returned that affection as only he could, yet still remained the master of his own destiny.
Along with his Sports club and Metal Trades Union membership and bank account, he was also a fully paid up member of the Transport Workers Union. 

In the movie, Red Dog falls ill and is taken to the local pub where the locals cannot bring themselves to put him down. While they are celebrating the possibility of a monument to the dog being erected, the dog leaves the pub and disappears. The next day they discover his dead body curled up alongside the grave of his deceased former master, John Grant. John's former fiance Nancy Grey kneels next to the body, looks in sorrow at John's grave and places her hands on Red and tells the departed legend, "You stay boy, you stay here.......You're home now."   There was not a dry eye in the theatre.

In reality, it seems Red Dog, although still missing John, grew to accept his master had gone for good and appeared content to stay with many of his vast number of fans and friends, who saw to his every needs. Like John's relatives, workmates and friends, he never saw John again.

Whether it was done on purpose, as believed, or merely an accident, he fell ill brought on by the effects of what was believed to be strychnine poisoning. It could be he ate a dingo or fox bait, as they contained the deadly poison. He was taken to the Roebourne surgery late one night, by two concerned locals who found him in a distressed condition.

Red Dog was only 8 years old when he died in the arms of one of his most beloved and trusted friends, Dr, Rick Fenny, who had no choice but to euthanise him on  November 21st. 1979. He was recovering from the poisoning, but had suffered brain damage and would not have been able to live the life he had grown used to and loved. He travelled with Dr. Fenny on his last car ride to a secluded spot outside of Roebourne, where the vet, whom he adored, said his final goodbyes and the wonder dog was painlessly put to sleep and at long last became one with his long lost master. Red's collar and tags were kept in the care of the vet, but for some unknown reason went missing, or were believed stolen and presumed lost for good. Much to Dr. Fenny's relief, these items resurfaced at the veterinary practice in Karratha and are now on public display. 
Even Koko got to try them on thirty two years later.

Never has an animal caught the imagination of the Australian public as much as Koko the canine actor. The movie was responsible for a massive surge in kelpie pup sales and many became aware of the true history of Red Dog himself. In some ways this was not a good thing as many of these pups were handed in to the RSPCA after they became dogs. Kelpies are a working dog by nature and require much more than the average sized backyard to feel at home and it is almost a full time job to keep them fit, healthy and amused. Many folk simply could not cope, or had the time to give their pet the attention he or she required to be a happy dog. 

Aussie artist Adam Cullen received a commendation for his entry in the 2012 Archibald Prize of movie director Nelson Woss with Koko.

The Karratha Veterinary Clinic sponsors the Annual Dog Show that is part of the Red Dog Festival.

A four wheel drive club was formed and was named after Pilbara's favourite dog.

Dr Fenny is writing four books on Veterinary medicine etc. and in each book there happens to be a red dog. Book No. 4 features the most famous of these canines the Red Dog himself. The books are to be called 'Red Dog Vet'. Dr. Fenny has asked anyone who was associated with Red to get in touch with him, as he is convinced there must be many untold stories about him out there. He wants to hear from those folk who brought the dog to his surgery for examinations and checkups etc. and particularly the two men who brought him in late at night with the suspected poisoning. Who knows how many more were paid visits that may have only lasted a few days, or simply a one night stand, so to speak. Were any Aboriginal campsites honoured with his presence during his many walkabouts? Only God Himself would know. 
Dr. Louisa Fenny BSc BVMS

Dr. Fenny now works part time in a small practice at Shark Bay. He has been responsible for establishing many veterinary practices in WA and SA. His daughter Louisa has moved to the northwest to manage a Veterinary practice at Exmouth.

If ever you are visiting the town of Dampier, just before you enter along the Dampier Highway, you will notice off to the left, a monument honouring William Dampier who the town is named after.
Dampier circumnavigated the world three times and was the first English speaking person to explore many parts of Australia. Cannot find a photo on the web for poor old Bill's monument at Dampier however........Guess what though?

How appropriate, when you notice the second monument has been erected in honour of another unique and great explorer, who covered more ground than Dampier throughout the Australian bush and desert........The Pilbara Wanderer, Red Dog. The kelpie's travels literally covered thousands of kilometres, mostly walked, but as mentioned earlier, he was smart enough to take advantage of many motorists and truckies who were willing to take the weight off his feet and his bus and train trips became quite frequent as well.
It was his ability to be a succesful hitch hiker that earned him honorary membership of the Transport Workers Union. 
The Pilbara community set up a memorial fund and it didn't take long to raise the funds required to build and erect a suitable monument in honour of their most famous personality. The Transport Workers Union chipped in $500 towards the cost.
Perth sculptress Meri Forrest was guest of honour at the unveiling as she ended up creating the bronze statue free of charge, after learning of Red Dog's adventures, his personality and his effect on the community.

Sculptress Meri Forrest.

Red Dog was buried at a secret location in the bush that he loved to roam, somewhere between Roebourne and Cossack WA.
Dr. Fenny believed because he spent so much time wandering alone in the bush, that it was appropriate for him to rest for all eternity there as well. Jim Mcvey, one of Red Dog's many fans stated that as a wanderer, his life was never in one place, so his death should be entirely the same. He was responsible for bringing together as one, a community of  hard bitten misfits from all around the globe who grew and learnt to love him the way he loved them and his passing brought about the shedding of many a tear down the cheeks of quite a few hardened, no nonsense individuals.
The general consensus of opinion was, it was not what he did that made him special, it was who he was.
All traces of Red Dog himself are gone, but he will never be forgotten.
It is widely believed that many wild dogs and some domestic pets are his descendants, as he was known to have hit the jackpot with some of the local four legged females every now and then.
He and his best mate John have been reunited at long last, this time forever. John would be so proud of him.
I can only hope that the two of them have made the aquaintance of the wonderful and talented Koko as well.

Local people today have no objection to visitors searching for his burial site, in fact they welcome and encourage it, because during their search they will get to see the rugged natural beauty of the Red Dog's Pilbara. The chances of his final resting place ever being discovered are astronomical, as it is indeed a big country and the grave is unmarked.

Sleep well, rest easy and may God truly bless you Red Dog, your journey is over at last.

R.I.P. 'Blue.' The legend.

R.I.P. Koko.

Many thanks to Nancy Gillespie, Beverly Duckett, Kelly Turpin nee Stazzonelli, Kim Douglas and many others.
Their stories became my inspiration to retell this sad, but uplifting tale.


Lyn Birrell said...

I really enjoyed this post on "Red Dog". My dearest friend in Australia recently met Rick Fenny at a dancing class and told me about him. So I looked up about Red Dog and came upon this blog. I loved the film and even more so now. I believe the dog was there to heal and help the community. The universe does provide wonderful things to those with like minds. Thanks for sharing.

Dianna Cuevas said...

Nicely written. I have had many dogs throughout my life but red 🐕 blue was the smartest. It so sad to see how people treat pets. Thank you all for making this dogs life enjoyable. Best regards.

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