Comments in italics by Ann Davis
I was the runt of the litter, born on a laundry floor in East Hermannsburg. I was passed over by all the families who came to inspect us. One by one, they chose my sisters and brothers and drove off with them. That was until They came … He, She and Darcy, from Giles Street.
He liked the look of me straight away — my tawny coat and my intelligent eyes. He thought I looked “laid back and well adjusted”. She started to recite the commandments of my care, insisting that the pledge of compliance be magnetically displayed on the front of the fridge so that a recommitment could be made each time the chunkers came out from the bottom shelf. Darcy and I, we loved each other from the start. He was the runt of the family too; the youngest.
It was December 2006 when they chose me, paid for me and then left me there in the laundry with the owner for the next six weeks while they went to the beach. Honestly, I should have known then!
It was Her idea to call me Trevor. I think it must have come to her in a dream. She hadn’t named any of the other family dogs in thirty years — Poochini or Jack, Willy Wally Windy, Lucky or Ivy — so it was probably Her turn. And maybe they thought She might lighten up a bit on the commandments if She felt more involved.
We moved to Alice Springs in 1981, after our first son Rory had just been born. My husband Bill got a job with community artist Eric as a two-man Araluen Bush Arts team. We travelled to Aboriginal communities as far east as Lake Nash and as far west as Docker River; we went south to Finke and north to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and everywhere in between.
We drove a panel van, pulling a trailer full of musical instruments, props, paints and canvases. Aboriginal people would paint and record their stories and then, at their request, we would take them on to family and friends in nearby or distant communities. There our communication would deepen with music and singing, performances and storytelling. Young and old, everyone in the communities would get involved.
We camped on schoolroom floors or behind temporary windbreaks and sometimes stayed in visitors’ quarters. The world of the bush welcomed us in, showing us new ways and challenging our assumptions and comfort zones.
The following year our daughter Nyree was born. I went to a lawn sale at 49 Giles Street to buy a cupboard and decided instead to buy the house. Positioned on the edge of the bush at the base of ‘Snob Hill’, it had been home to a previous mayor and passed between two of the Greatorex brothers.
The eye was naturally drawn past the back boundary to a path that frames Mount Gillen and a valley beside Spencer Hill that eclipses the town. We loved the closeness to the historic Telegraph Station and the big windows that created an openness and sense of space.
From number 49, we could walk to the top of the short-cut hill, singing and waving the children off to school; we could kick a ball at Ross Park oval; we could stroll to the Verdi Club on a Friday night to meet friends and eat schnitzels. Steadily, we stitched the fabric of our lives into the environment and day by day it became increasingly part of us.
I liked the house at 49 Giles Street from the first day. All the family, Him and Her, Darcy and the other grown-up children and their partners, sat around me in a circle in the lounge room and talked and laughed. I was the centre of attention. Peter and Pamela from number 58 came to visit and bring spinach from their garden and said I was lucky because ‘look how I’d become part of the family already’.
When I was a puppy, Darcy took me everywhere. Sometimes, after going out, he would take me back to 49 but other times, I’d stay on the couch where he’d been visiting and he’d come back for me the next day or even in a few days’ time. Because of this, I got to know my way around town pretty well, and He would always say, ‘Gee, that Trev’s a beaut; so intelligent’.
If ever He or She was cranky and the commandments weren’t working out too well, I’d just slip out under the fence and hang out over the road at number 52. They didn’t seem to mind; not even when I sat on their feet. The best feed, though, was at number 58 because they almost always had leftovers. When I was really hang dog, I used to head straight there.
I had an epiphany early in my life. There were chooks at number 49, a few out the front and a few more out the back. I was pretty interested in them early on and one day had a play with an Isa Brown that went all limp and didn’t seem to want to play back. Seriously, He and She weren’t happy. I thought I might be back on the laundry floor at East Hermannsburg. After having the Isa draped around my neck for a couple of days, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to play Happy Hen again. They renamed the front yard chooks Elevenses, Lunch and Dinner but honestly, I never did go past breakfast.
The house has evolved over the years to fit the size and desires of the family. In 1983, two months after we moved in, floods caused the storm drain at the back of the property to break its banks and wash through the house, leaving a high water mark at the entrance to Nyree’s bedroom. The Todd River continued to rage for days, as we mopped and scrubbed, pulled up carpet and knocked out cupboards. It was the opportunity to replace the shag pile, the Elvis Presley bathroom fittings and the pseudo chandeliers all at one go. The H-shape was filled in after Darcy was born in 1990 and became a rectangle of extra bedroom, living room and laundry. The small, back-shed music studio gave way to the large, rammed-earth structure that is Red House Recording, built between 1998 and 2003.
In the back yard is a huge music studio that He built, of rammed earth. It took him six years to finish but now it fills up with all sorts of sounds and people, who I can get to pat me a lot. Darcy’s friends come all the time to visit and once a year other friends come in planes and vans for a music festival. He calls them The Wide Open Space Invaders because they seem to forget where they came from and forget to go back there. They lie around with wide-open space looks, just like me, and they act like they own the joint. I love it. They don’t mind when I sit on their feet and they give me cold meat pies and pats late at night, when we’re all starving.
Mostly He’s in the back yard studio, recording bands, relaxation music, play readings or children’s talking books in local languages. One time, some women from the east coast came to the ‘Energy Centre’ and played crystal bowls, some small ones and some as big as my kennel (the bowls, I mean). They recorded 70 minutes of resonant crystal and vowed to return to capture the deep, universal vibration of humanity. They really patted me a lot, those women, and flicked out bad spirits from me in long, deep, ‘push-down’ strokes. They said I’d had bad early experiences that needed to be exorcised, which I could only think must have been from Them all going off to the beach that time and leaving me in the laundry!
Like the house, we’ve all been shaped and reshaped in different ways over the years. Working in Aboriginal education, I’ve had new bits added, been helped to demolish the lean-to where some of the stereotypes were stored and managed to add character and variety to the living room. I’m still swinging the sledgehammer, renovating, trying to de-clutter and contain the junk; looking for the personal aspects that most let in the light.
Alice has drawn our adult children and their families, dogs and fish back here to live. They left for a number of years to study and travel but they know that this town is hard to beat for good people, beautiful scenery, clean air and a creative, supportive environment to raise children. And of course, as they say here, ‘for having everything you need without the burden of choice’.
From time to time, we talk about other possible places to live but where, if not Alice, would you find such a confluence of swirling currents and undercurrents, with central points of connection so colourful and dynamic?
In any other town, would the local gallery owner phone to say that Trevor was resting under a gentle stream of coolish air by the counter and there was no big rush to pick him up? Or the vet drop him off home with cut paws after he’d walked to the top of the range with a couple of Swedish backpackers?
Three years ago, Noah and his dog Maddie moved in next door as tenants at number 51. He was doing a PhD about people’s relationships to their pets, particularly their dogs, and had observed Trevor’s relationship to the town. He asked whether he could attach a GPS to his collar and map his movements.
Day One: 49 Giles Street to the Telegraph Station car park, Eastside fish and chip shop, 37, 52 and 58 Giles, Nat’s place on Spearwood Road, Undoolya feeder road to the dirt and back to 49. No two days ever looked the same…
I’m in love with Bluey, who lives near here. Each afternoon her owners walk her past the back gate by the recording studio and she barks and waits for me until they agree to invite me too. On other days, Nettie or James from number 53 come for me, or Denise from number 54 or Vanessa from New Eastside. She is the one who takes me on the lead on the Saturday morning ‘Mayor’s walk’, up the front.
Usually though, we walk to the Telegraph Station and I’m perfect except when I growl at the old dogs next door at number 47 to let them know I’m walking and they’re still lying around in their back yard, just hoping.
Sometimes, often actually, I walk myself. Everyone knows me when I’m out walking. They chat to me and refer to me respectfully as Trevor. It’s not like that when I’m with Him and Her and frankly I think they could make more effort to get out and about; be more sociable, better known. Anyway, it’s a great neighbourhood around here for a ‘staffy’ and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. He and She say that too.
Trevor was killed by wild dogs at the Telegraph Station in March 2013, just after he and I wrote this story. Letters came, along with phone calls and flowers. He was mourned as ‘Red House dog’ and PM (Perpetual Motion) by more people in the town than we could have imagined.