It looks like a new franchise is on the way – though this is one I might enjoy and follow. It seems that the runaway success of de Bernières’ Red Dog and the movie that followed (one of the biggest ever Australian made sales) inspired its director to seek an answer to the question ‘Where did Red Dog come from?”. A screen script was developed and the movie will hit screens later this year (good luck!). In a reversal of the norm, the script was offered to de Bernières to develop a book. He was far from initially interested until he read the piece, quickly re-ordered his priorities and produced a novella within three months. One further piece of advance gossip, there is a rumoured possibility of a Yellow Dog story to come (this one will be a military dog).
This is a short piece (144 pages though with rather small print) and is ostensibly aimed at a juvenile to young adult market but this old codger enjoyed every page. I confess to a weakness for Kelpies having had one in my youth (chocolate, re or black, they are all the same to me though Cloud Red Kelpie sees to a WA thing) and this story involving the discovery of a young orphaned pup and its growing up with an 11-12 year old on a cattle station in the Pilbara is an emotional winner balanced nicely with the gritty details of daily life in that environment and the nuanced love of his carer/grandfather.
Young Mick is separated from his parental home as a result of dual tragedies and is sent to live with his grandfather on the cattle property at which his father was raised. There he grows and develops surrounded by a series of archetypical bush characters who foster his physical and emotional growth without being directive. There are plenty of adventures and learning experiences of bush, homestead and aboriginal life – even a crush on his governess. There were opportunities for mawkishness is presenting his young life and the actions of the adults surrounding him but this avoided by some wonderfully grounded moments of pithy insight typified by his grandfather’s ‘proverbs’ and learning from an old aboriginal stockman. “Housebound dogs are as unnatural as vegetarian dogs”
There is plenty of action throughout and a reasonable narrative with some powerful description of locations, seasons and weather. Wait for the description of the cyclone passing through, so familiar to anyone who has lived through a few. You will also learn that Red Dog’s powerful farts started very young indeed!
There is no direct connection to the following Red Dog story spelled out but the reader is left to imagine how that just might have come about. This is a jewel-like offering for readers young and old and might a perfect Christmas gift for some (I gave away copies of the original book as presents and later followed with David Field’s wonderful narration of the story).