I woke as the dawn was breaking across the red dust and sage green grass, casting long shadows from the ‘remote community’ houses.
Yes, it was my last morning at Warralong before returning to the eastern states and the “big smoke”. I’d spent a week or so painting and drawing with the incredible indigenous secondary students. Joy in my heart.
A walk before everyone woke was a great idea, so I crept out of the house so as not to wake anyone before time.
Out the gate past the Landcruiser, out the big gate making sure it was closed after I’d been through, then on past the stirring locals sleeping on beds under their bower sheds (pipe and timber frames with leafy tree branches tied on top).
Beautiful accommodation compared to the enclosed corrugated iron “houses” built by the patronising local council for people (the last to come out of the desert) who live in the hottest part of Australia near Marble Bar in Western Australia.
I turned right, up towards the water tower, and wondered at the clear yellow light and cool breezes which were giving false signals in relation to the searing heat which would of course follow in an hour or two.
A couple of hundred meters and I had company. A group of eight dogs had come from nowhere. Six smallish bitsers and two full, dingo sized, bitsers. As soon as I saw them they started barking and snarling as they followed me. I thought “if I ignore them they’ll probably go away”. But they didn’t.
First, they shredded my shorts. Then the smaller ones came running in and started ‘nipping’ my legs (what the emergency doctor at Port Headland Hospital called ‘puncture wounds’). I still thought that if I kept walking faster they would get sick of it and stop. But they didn’t.
The smaller and larger dogs then took it in turns; the ‘little’ ones ‘puncturing’ and the large ones ripping at my calves with blood pouring. Adrenaline kicked in and I started to feel as if I was in a dream; slow motion, no pain, sound blurring.
But then, what was that? A wiry old aboriginal woman came running out of one of the houses and hoyked a thong (you know; rubber footwear) in our general direction.
The thong flew, and the dogs stopped and followed its descent with their full attention which was just long enough for me to turn and run as fast as I could back towards the school house. Shorts trailing out behind, not looking back, my aboriginal saviour shouting to me that I should let the wounds bleed; didn’t have much choice about that, did I.
Anyway, bandaged up, I was driven, eating Easter eggs for an hour and a half. At the hospital, tetanus shot and thirty stitches later, I fainted, but revived enough to catch the flights back to Melbourne and a long recovery.
The dogs were camp dogs, they had been left behind by a group of people who had moved on and were going to come back for them. They had become wild, but the idea of impounding or putting them down would not be contemplated.
I love the Aboriginal owners of this amazing land, and the weird thing is that I also still love dogs.Read More