At Dead Dingo – Intermediate Level

It was boiling hot both outside and inside the run down wood and iron pub at Dead Dingo. From the front veranda outside the scene was a straight “cleared road”, running to the outback on the right and Bourke on the left. It was ankle-deep in red sand dust for perhaps a hundred miles; the rest blue-grey bush, dust, and the summer heat burning down on every object.

There were only four in the pub, though it was New Year’s Day. There weren’t many more in the county. The girl sat behind the bar – the coolest place in the pub — reading. On a worn and torn horse-hair sofa, which had seen cooler places and better days, lay an awful and healthy example of mankind, a bearded swagman. He had his arms over his head and his face to the wall, and was sleeping the deep sleep of the dead drunk. Bill and Jim sat at a table playing cards. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and they had been playing since nine — and the greater part of the night before. They were, probably, in a worse condition morally (and perhaps physically) than the drunk swagman on the sofa.

Close under the bar, in a dangerous place for his legs and tail, lay a sheep-dog with a chain attached to his collar and wrapped around round his neck.

There was a thump on the table and Bill, unlucky gambler, rose with a cry that would have been wild if it hadn’t come out so slowly.

“Can you beat me?” asked Jim.

“Not a chance!” said Bill slowly.

Jim took his hands off the cards, his eyes went slowly and hopelessly round the room and out the door. There was something in the eyes of both, except when on the card-table, of the look of a man waking up in a strange place.

“Got anything?” asked Jim, fingering the cards again.

Bill pulled in his cheeks, collected the little liquid he had in his mouth, and spat it out on to the veranda floor.

“That’s all I got,” he said slowly. “It’s gone now.”

Jim leaned back in his chair, yawned, and caught sight of the dog.

“That there dog yours?” he asked, brightening.

Bill was a shearer and Jim was a general farm hand who sometimes helped the shearers. However it seemed that they had been strangers the day before, or as strange to each other as men from the bush can be.

Bill scratched behind his ear, and looked sleepily at the dog. The dog woke suddenly and also scratched itself.

“Yes,” said Bill, “he’s mine.”

“Well, I’m going outback, and I want a dog,” said Jim, gathering the cards quickly. “Half a quid against the dog?”

“Half a quid!” answered Bill. “Call it a quid?”

“Half a quid!”

“A whole quid!” said Bill desperately, and he bent over as if to pick up his swag.

But Jim’s hands were already moving over the cards.

“All right. Call it a quid.”

The drunk man on the sofa moved, showed signs of waking, but died again. Remember this, it might come in useful.

Bill sat down to the table once more.

Jim rose first, winner of the dog. He stretched, yawned “Ah, well!” and bought drinks. Then he shouldered his swag, woke the dog up with his foot, and unwrapped the chain. “Ah, well, bye!” he said, and walked out and along the road towards the outback with the dog following, its head and tail down.

Bill scored another drink, shouldered his swag, said “bye, Mary!” and walked out and along the road towards Tinned Dog, the next one-pub town on the Bourke side. A long, sleepy half-hour passed. It was the sort of half-hour that is as long as an hour in the places where days are as long as years, and years hold about as much as days do in other places.

The man on the sofa woke suddenly, and looked scared and wild for a moment. Then he brought his dusty broken boots to the floor, rested his elbows on his knees, took his unfortunate head between his hands, and came back to life slowly.

He lifted his head, looked at the girl across the top of the bar, and formed with his lips, rather than spoke, the words: “Put up a drink?”

She shook her head tightly and went on reading.

He walked over with some difficulty, and leaning on the bar, made desperate signs with hand, eyes, and mouth.

“No!” she said angrily. “I mean no when I say no! You’ve had too many last drinks already, and the boss says you aren’t to have another. And if you use bad words again, or bother me, I’ll call him.”

He hung unhappily on the bar for a while and then, looking tired and hopeless, reached for his swag and shouldered it. He looked sleepily round and whistled. Then he waited a moment, went on to the front veranda, looked round through the heat with eyes that were still red from drinking too much and whistled again. He turned and started through to the back door.

“What on earth do you want now?” demanded the girl, after he made her break off her reading for the third time. “Walking noisily all over the house! You can’t go through there! It’s private! I do wish to goodness you’d go!”

“Where on earth has that there dog of mine got to?” he said. “Did you see a dog?”

“No! What do I want with your dog?”

He whistled out in front again, and round each corner. Then he came back with a decided step.

“Look here! That there dog was lying there against the wall when I went to sleep. He wouldn’t go far from me, or my swag, in a year, if he wasn’t taken. He’s been stolen, and I wouldn’t have lost him for five quid. Are you sure you ain’t seen a dog?” Then suddenly, as the thought struck him: “Where’s them two men that was playing cards when I went to sleep?”

“Why!” said the girl, without thinking, “there was a dog, now I come to think of it, but I thought it belonged to one of them. Anyway, they played for it, and the other one won it and took it away.”

He looked at her with an empty expression, but with thunder gathering in the emptiness.

“What sort of a dog was it?”

Dog described; the chain round the neck settled it.

The look turned to anger.

“Now, look here,” he said, “you’ve allowed gambling in this pub — your boss has. You’ve got no right to let people gamble away a man’s dog. Is a customer to lose his dog every time he has a sleep? I’ll go straight across to the police and put you away, and I don’t care if they close you down. I ain’t goin’ to lose my dog. I wouldn’t have taken a ten quid for that dog! I…”

She was filling a glass quickly.

“Here! for the love of God have a drink and stop your noise.”

He drank with satisfaction. Then he hung on the bar with one elbow and looked angrily out the door.

“Which way did them men go?” he asked, sounding very unhappy.

“The one that took the dog went towards Tinned Dog.”

“And I’ll have to go all the way back after him, and most likely lose my next job! Here!” he said, pushing the empty glass across the bar, “Fill that up again. I’m really angry, I am, and I’ll take twenty-four hours to cool down now. I wouldn’t have lost that dog for twenty quid.”

He drank again with deeper satisfaction, then slowly walked outside and took the road to Tinned Dog. At first he talked quietly to himself, but his words got louder and became more angry with every step.

Now the man, girl, or woman, who told me this story has never quite settled it in his or her mind as to who really owned the dog. I leave it to you.