One of the enduring memories of life on the land, especially when there is a lack of human companionship, is a deep interest in the animals.
It was not a good idea to become attached to the geese ducks or chickens, as their life expectancy could come to an abrupt end. I found it distressing to see the execution and almost as disturbing to have to pluck the feathers prior to cooking.
The other regular execution was of a sheep, usually a two tooth or older. I only saw Dad butcher a sheep once. It was an image that I will not forget. I was not fond of eating meat, but obliged so that the starving children in China did not have to put up with it!
I usually volunteered to bottle feed any orphaned lambs, and my favourite was Poddy. He was unfortunate to be born a male, as on a sheep property, it meant his potential was limited.
Poddy was unusually intelligent for a sheep. He was quite chubby and had a ferocious appetite. It was essential to always secure the storeroom door, as he would find a way in to get in to open the lid of the sugar bin. On one attempt to satisfy his sweet tooth, he managed to tip over the bin and was found lying in a carpet of sugar with the evidence all over his face.
Eventually, one Sunday lunch, when we had a roast, I commented on the meat, being more tender than usual. “It should be,” said Dad. “It’s Poddy”.
I was in my 30s before I was able to eat lamb again.
Second only to Poddy in intelligence was Nigger, our small Shetland pony. He was not deterred by any gate closure or screen door. He could open the garden gate, eat anything that looked interesting .on his list of challenges was the kitchen door. The clip clop of his hooves on the verandah were a giveaway. When Mum or Annie (our cook for some years). heard him coming, there would be a race to slam the door shut, as Nigger had no shame, and would force his way in if he got the chance to sample any food he could reach. He came to a sad end, however, as one day he ate something he should not have, and we found him dead in his yard. Bloat was a painful end for a greedy but endearing character.
Bonny Bess was a part Arab pony with a mind of her own. It was necessary to be strong willed when mounting her. She had a tactic of shifting at a crucial moment and I swear she would turn her head and laugh. Bonny arrived after my brother and I were at boarding school. I was about 12, and from form 2 onwards, I did not always come home for holidays, so Gordon had a better relationship with her.
Two other pets we shared were two greyhounds that we named Bruce and Basil. They
were not the usual gift for preschool age kids. I think they were dumped on us after their retirement from racing. Dad confined them to the garage after they were caught dining out on new born baby lambs. I knew they had no appeal as pets. They disappeared shortly afterwards.
Dad had a horse called Red and a loyal Border Collie called Shepp. Both would wait faithfully by the garden gate until he came out. I can still picture Shepp when he was too old and unwell to help Dad round up sheep. He sat patiently on the drive while Dad lined up his rifle to put Shepp out of his misery. Amazingly, the shot rang out and in a split second, Shepp remembered he had reflexes. He ducked in time, and lived a few more years in retirement, until a snake ended his life.
We had numerous dogs and a stray cat called Whiskey, who was employed on a mice catching contract. He was motivated to keep up his score as apart from mice, he would sometimes present us with a dead bird. This was not appreciated, however.
There were several milking cows, but one of the best was Bella, who was particular about who milked her. This was the job of the gardener, Mr. Tulen, a Dutch migrant who was with us for many years. It took him many attempts at first to come to a truce with Bella. Having a bucket kicked over and milk wasted on the cowshed floor was too much for Mr. Tulen, who had such a repertoire of foreign swear words we suspect Bella got the idea that it might be safer to behave!!
All the animals had a function. Dad kept all the people on “Marong” supplied with meat, milk and Mr.Tulen was proud of his vegetable garden and orchard. We had enough for everyone, but they were not allowed to keep their own animals. I suspect the mysterious appearance of the occasional stray cat came from the Tulens’ or Mathews’ cottages.