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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE SACRIFICE
A DINGO'S STORY

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As published in
The Sydney Mail & New South Wales Advertiser, 8 August 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-02
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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IT was Jim Haskett who trapped me and my brother, Nia-nia. Nia-nia was killed with a stirrup-iron.

A dingo doesn't go into mourning over his dead brother, but long afterwards, when they broke my heart with a stockwhip, I used to dream of the nights spent playing in the kangaroo-grass with my mother. I was too sly and sullen to make a good cattle- dog. Jim would never trust me alone with a mob of ewes. I was always watched, and shepherded by a half-bred collie. If I bit a sheep too hard I was flogged, and If I loafed in the shade when the dust blinded and choked, the whips found me out; and the squatters hated me.

'Shoot him!' said a big Monaro man to Jim one day. 'He'll spoil your good dogs, and make loafers of them. There's only one idea in his wicked head.'

'What's that?' asked Jim quietly.

'Kidney fat,' growled the man of sheep. 'And there's a bullet for him first time he crosses my land.'

'Thank you,' said Jim politely. 'I've promised to give him a chance, and—' Jim grinned at me. 'I want him for a bit of special work.'

'Special work for a dingo!' snapped the Monaro man. 'Ye'd better see a special commissioner for rats!'

There wasn't much loose wool about that Monaro man. He'd have given his boots to have had a shot at me. Jim was a Queensland drover. He would bring score mobs from the Gulf, and deliver them to another drover anywhere between Cloncurry and the Maranoa. Punching big mobs from the north would be easy work if the wild things would let a drover travel in peace.

First, the blacks send up smoke-signals, telling each other of the mighty herd of beef travelling south. And when the warrigals start to spear your flanks, the wounded steers may work up a ten- hour stampede. The wild dogs swarm through the gullies fluting all night, fretting the cattle, and keeping them awake. Sometimes a swamp alligator or a rock python livens up things. A bull leader, nosing for a drink among wet boulders, may find himself looking at the big, flat head of Australia's king snake. The rest is delirium tremens—for the bull.

But nothing that yelps or crawls will turn a drover bald sooner than the beef-killing warrigal. I have heard swagmen's dogs speak of drunken cattle camps. I have run with the best and worst men on the Queensland stock routes, and I never saw a drover drunk at his work. He couldn't do it. The cattle and dogs know a drunken drover, especially the dogs.

I never saw Jim the worse for liquor. He was young, and full of work; he knew that one sober head was worth a paddock full of muddled cattle busters. He taught me not to hustle the dogs at meal times. Although, when it came to a fight, I found my shoulders as stiff and strong as the others. Tiger, a Barwon sheepdog, gave me trouble. There were five of them, and they showed me no quarter even after our work was done. They bided their time, and I knew they would kill me if Jim fell sick.

Crossing a river, one morning, they closed around me savagely. A dingo doesn't like water, but when the long stockwhips are speaking behind, he takes it with his tongue out. Jim's cattle dogs were cunning water fighters. They knew that the river was the best place to handle me. The whole five were heavy, hard- living dogs, capable of pulling down a bullock. They took me by the throat and paw, and rolled me in deep water. They danced on me while the cattle broke for the scrub in all directions. Then, through the booming water that choked and blinded, I heard Jim's voice and the pistolling of his whips.

'Yah, you curs! Hooshta!'

Bang went the whip, splitting the water like a gunshot, and, as it curled, wet and dripping, from the stream, I saw my enemy Tiger swimming away with a blood-gash across his face. No more fight that week.

Tiger waited his chance to end my career. He followed me, one night, into the ranges, his throat-hair bristling with rage, as the terrible loneliness enveloped us. He hung on my flanks, sullenly, like one choosing his time and ground before coming to death grips. Something in the ranges was calling me. It may have been the smoke and scent of a blacks' camp or the fluting of my brothers across the pine-clad spur.

A dingo knows the difference between a black and a white man's camp. The cunning myalls burn everything before leaving, lest an enemy pick up something belonging to them, and work a hoodoo. Their brush gunyahs told me they were not buccaneers or station blacks. Their bodies were daubed with red and white boomerang stripes. They were cattle spearers, untamed warrigals from the Jardine country.

The myalls were sprawling in the grass watching the mob of cattle on the flat. A smell of fish bones hung around; scraps of half-cooked barramundi were thrown here and there. I was homesick, not hungry, and after all a blackfellow was nearer to me than a white. The smell of fish was more than Tiger could stand. He sneaked in closer and—

A pack of half-tamed dingoes had watched our coming. They are always with the blacks when cattle-killing is on hand. Tiger swung round like a wolf in a trap. A dozen hulking, big- shouldered dogs were upon him in a flash, filling the night air with horrible snarling yelps. The blacks were up, too, and I heard the dull thump, thump, of waddies as they drove the dingoes from Tiger's body.

These half-tamed dingoes are bolder than the wild packs. Their hatred of the white men's dogs is like a madness in them; they fought and hurled themselves at the blacks, striving to get near the stiff-haired Tiger, until a gigantic young warrior seized the cattle dog by the tail and throat, and bore him to the camp. The blacks love a good dog, and when the shadows of the gunyahs closed on Tiger I knew they would keep him for ever. The cattle camp never saw him again.

Years later, an old dingo told me that he saw him in the Gulf, running with the warrigals, showing them the cattle routes where travelling stock could be easily speared.

Well, after Jim had landed the last big mob near the New South Wales border, he found, after his receipts were fixed up, that he had earned and saved over 300. I remember how he whistled that morning as he flung me a bit of clean beef on the grass.

'Time I thought about getting married, eh?' he said pleasantly. 'Too much dog and cattle and tobacco isn't good for a man.'

Then he took out a bundle of letters and sat down to read them again and again, until the sun lay deep in the west. He held up the photograph of a young girl and kissed it twice. Then he looked hard at me.

'All this comes of being too much alone,' he said loudly. 'I can't ask her to be a drover's wife. She knows the business too well. A man's life runs out on the plains between mobs without end. And.... because I love her better than anything, better than my work, the stars, mountains, and tablelands, river and sea, I'll be something better. But—' he looked around eagerly, 'I'll have to play possum to get her from the old man. Of all the men I know, he's the hardest and worst to manage.'

That's how the drover talks when no one but the dogs are around. I didn't want Jim to get married. Once he settled down to farming he would hand me over to big Sandy McIver, the rager of the Queensland cattle tracks. I didn't want to work for a rager. I was not anxious either to settle down with Jim. I would have to make friends with his cat, and sit like a white man's dog in the front garden.

Jim started East suddenly. There was a peculiar light in his eyes. His head went up, and he began to sing. We left the cattle routes far behind, and struck into farming country, where the wheat grew high as the fence, and the milk cows wandered around the settlers' homesteads. He paused suddenly one afternoon, at the end of a small sheep farm, and whistled to me.

I approached sullenly, watching him hand and foot, knowing that something peculiar was going to happen. He looked me between the eyes steadily, and I flinched and whimpered as though he were flogging me.

'Come here, you little savage,' he whispered. 'Did I ever hit you for nothing?'

I licked his hand wildly.

'That's all right,' he said hoarsely. 'Now,' he pinched my ear and held up a finger, 'I want you to run inside this fence and find the prize Shropshire ewes in the home-paddock over there! See!'

He pinched my ear again. I waited, stiff-eared, for the final word to go. I wanted to howl, but his strong hand was near my throat.

'Inside the homestead paddock,' he repeated sharply. 'Kill a couple and come back.'

I sprang out. He held up his fingers. 'A couple; no more,' he said. 'I'm watching you, you—devil. No more than two. You'll find the break in the wire.'

Killing sheep wasn't new to me, but I was puzzled to know why Jim should set me to work. In training me, his voice and whips were always against sheep-killing. And now he was undoing his work. What did it mean? I was certain that it was his sweetheart's father who owned the sheep.

It was quite dark now. Inside the fence the grass swished against my shoulders. In the distance was the homestead, flanked by a row of young silky oaks. Across a cultivated hillside, nestling in a well-grassed hollow, was the paddock where the prize Shropshire ewes were kept. I had often heard Jim speak of old Bob Clinton's prize sheep.

I slouched over the ploughed land, keeping well in a deep furrow that led like a track to the Shropshires. Then a taste of sheep came like a scalding breath into my throat. I crawled under a patch of torn netting into the paddock with a blood-storm swirling before my eyes.

'Two!' I choked. 'Only two!'

There were twenty big Shropshires inside the fence. One of them looked at me with his silly grey face and baa'ed. The bleating voice filled me with rage.

'One!' I snapped. 'Two!'

How easy it was flinging down those foolish woolly monsters, and worrying them to death. Geese would have fought harder for their lives, even the hard-pressed kangaroos will make a last stand.

'Only two,' I repeated as the sheep-blood spurted into my eyes, and the grey fleeces turned scarlet. Everything was scarlet to me, the trees and grass and the half-risen moon seemed to peep like a frightened face through the scurrying clouds.

A sharp whistle caught my ears, followed by the barking of a farm dog. I thought of Jim's whip as I went under the wire. He was waiting for me with a white, savage face, and flashing eyes.

'Two I said, not seven!' he cried. His stockwhip cut me like a knife; it thundered and cracked about my ribs until I rolled sick and faint in the dust. I did not hide myself as cattle dogs do. I looked at him with ears flattened, and my teeth points showing.

'You devil,' he whispered. 'Why didn't you stop at two?'

I followed him sulkily to his camp in the bush.

In the early morning be dressed carefully and rode towards Bob Clinton's farm. I followed stealthily, hiding in the scrub whenever he looked back. I did not like the look of things. Why had he asked me to kill Bob Clinton's ewes? I was almost beside him in the long grass as he pulled up at the homestead gate. Then I saw a wild-eyed man coming towards him from the sheep paddock. His face was livid with anger, his eyes wandered over the hill; he shook his fist at the sky.

'Good morning!' shouted Jim amiably. 'Lovely weather, Mr. Clinton.'

Bob Clinton looked as though he had swallowed a thunderbolt. 'Lovely ruination!' he snarled. 'Have ye seen a dingo this morning?' he demanded. 'I'd give my right hand to be even with the skulking hell-brute that came here last night.' Jim looked sympathetic while the old man stormed about the Shropshires I had killed the night before.

'I've just come in from the Gulf,' said Jim apologetically. 'I hope Bessie is well.'

The old man was silent; his angry eyes wandered over Jim and across the paddock almost to where I was crouching. The house curtains moved stealthily. I say a woman's face peeping between them. Her eyes grew white as she saw Jim standing near the old man. Then Jim looked up and the young blood leaped like a flag to his cheeks. The curtains fell back gently.

'Eh?' rasped the old man. 'What did ye say, lad?'

'Nothing,' answered Jim placidly. 'I've had my share of trouble with dingoes. They shepherded me day and night from the Roper to the Towers. Good bye,' he said springing into the saddle. 'I'll put in the day looking for your dingo—they're not so hard to find at times.'

'Ye'll find the dingo more than your match, my lad,' snapped the old man. 'The country is full of young men who swear to bring home a dingo.'

Jim cantered through the gate and again I saw the woman's face at the window. He turned in the saddle and they looked at each other as though endless dry tracks of country had separated them for years. Love sat like a great drought in their eyes. I thought of the lonely cattle drives and the bundle of letters he used to hide in his tent.

I sneaked ahead of Jim and when he arrived at the camp I was stretched in the sun about twenty yards from the tent with my nose to the ranges. He did not boil the billy that night, but paced feverishly up and down, up and down.

'It's mean to turn dog on the cattle pup,' I heard him say. 'But the old man won't let me see Bessie unless there's a sacrifice. If I could show him a pup's scalp he'd light his pipe and talk things over. And what's a dingo pup, anyway?'

Next morning he suddenly called me. His revolver was hanging inside the tent. I had seen him shoot wild dogs before, and my hair bristled with suspicion and fear.

'Come here,' he said gently, 'you poor little fool.' I had always answered his call, but now I ran to the edge of the scrub whining uneasily. Then I saw him fling the bridle over the camp- horse and as I turned he stooped for his old rifle and cartridges. I started for the ranges at a swinging gallop.

Day was breaking, the bush was brindling with the strange fires of the sun. He rode straight in my tracks and I knew there was small hope of outstripping his camp horse in open country. It occurred to me that Jim was playing a deep game, and that I was to be the scape-goat. My scalp was to be the price of Bob Clinton's good will. I wanted to see Jim happy. I would have killed a hundred sheep to see Bessie in her new wedding dress standing beside Jim. Still, if my scalp was to be the price of it all, I thought I'd give him a run for his money, just to steady him a bit.

He gained on me as we scampered towards the hills. I wondered why he didn't shoot instead of trying to get close to me. A sudden lift in the wind turned my thoughts in another direction. As we drew nearer the clump of brigalow, on our left, I picked up the scent of a fresh dingo-pad running dead across the range.

Jim must have heard my voice; he must have understood that something strange was in the wind. He turned in the saddle, shading his eyes; then I heard him slow down and creep after me, rifle in hand. He was too keen a dog-trapper to make mistakes. He followed me cleverly without throwing himself in the way of the wind.

A line of sand-hills appeared in the north. The fresh dingo- pad was in a straight line with them; Jim nodded and looked at me. I made a flank movement across the sand hills. Jim nursed his rifle., and waited behind some boulders. Running slowly along the ridge, I halted suddenly, my heart thumping, my ears stiff as shear-blades.

A couple of dingo-pups peeped at me over the sand hummock—it takes a lot of sand to hide a dingo's ears at times. Then I saw a head and a pair of flaming eyes watching me. It was old Ma Dingo. I shall never forget her face and her crafty movements, as she half-crouched from the burrow. She made a little mumbling noise, and the pups ran to her, and sat on their haunches watching me.

'Good-day,' I said, brightly, 'I'm looking for water. Two nice pups, ma'am,' I ventured, admiringly.

She snarled and lifted her forepaw like an old wolf. I saw she didn't believe me.

'Liar,' she whined. 'You have been running with men and horses lately. I can see where the station-dogs have mauled your right shoulder. Who killed the sheep the other night?'

There was no guess work about Mrs. Dingo. She crept nearer and nearer, and, with a yell, she sprang at my throat. Fighting cattle-dogs had made me skilful in the matter of dodging an angry mother. I gave her my big right shoulder, and she rolled back biting the air. Then I ran and she followed snarling at my heels. The pups floundered after her. I felt her teeth on my flanks as we raced down hill. She was a vixen. Down we ran, biting an snapping at each other. I saw a jet of fire leap from a boulder suddenly, then came the heart-shaking clap of Jim's rifle. Mrs. Dingo go pitched over me and lay still, a bullet I through her chest. The pups swerved uncertainly for a moment, and galloped back. A couple of shots dropped them on the crest of the hill.

'Ah,' said Jim, looking at me. 'You brought the old lady up to the music in good style.'

I felt safe when I saw the three scalps hanging from his saddle, and I followed leisurely as he rode towards Bessie's homestead. I don't know what happened when he showed the scalps to old Clinton. Peeping through the high grass an hour later, I saw Jim smoking beside the old man on the homestead verandah. Then, towards evening, the voices of Bessie and Jim came from the garden.

'How did you manage dad?' she asked softly.

Jim laughed. 'I played my pet dingo against a few sheep, and he killed four too many.'

'Jim, you are mean,' she whispered.

'Something had to be sacrificed, dear,' he said. 'And my little dingo played the game, and brought three yellow ruffians to my gun that might have slaughtered dozens of your Shropshires later on. The end has justified the means, hasn't it, dear?'

I couldn't hear Bessie's answer, but I know that the loneliness of their lives had departed when he kissed her in the shadows.

I passed a very bad night. Towards dawn a great loneliness came upon me. Glancing towards the hills, I caught a breath from the inland lagoons. I saw the tiny swamp quail, the white shiel drakes, and the pigmy geese rising from the wet, blue grass. I heard the cry of the warrigals, and it was more than I could stand. When Jim whistled for me next morning, I was running towards the inside tracks where my people were calling.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.