Lynn Takayama

Future working dog or chook killer?

I remember the days when retired life seemed like a good way to slow down, read books and contemplate the universe… and Professor Brian Cox. What’s happened to those dreams?

Our local group managed to get interviews with the Planning and Energy ministers at the NSW Government Cabinet country roadshow, which it seems was organised by the newly elected MP — who looks about 13. So, on Monday morning at 7am — a 5.30am get-up! — my two fellow agitators and I trundle down the highway to the place, three hours away, where the gala performance is playing. We line up for our meetings, smile the smile and nod the nod, and trundle back up the highway again.

There is no tarrying on the way back. I have to be in time for the local Progress Association meeting to which, because I can’t help myself, I’ve been elected Secretary. Before that, I’ve got an hour or so of animal husbandry, which is required every day to make sure our animals are safe, loved and looked after. Fortunately, I had spent a couple of hours of my precious Sunday — wasn’t every retirement day meant to be a Sunday? — preparing the agenda and a minutes pro forma for the meeting, so everything is ready to go.

I grab a quick sandwich and fly out the door. There’s no time for a shower or any sort of a spruce-up. I take my torch with me — the nights here are so dark that, although the sky is awash with stars, the Milky Way and other extra terrestrial mysteries, I can’t see my hand in front of my face without a torch to light the way.

As an aside, I was urged to get a dog when I first retired. However, having spent 30 years looking after children and men, I thought that this last third of my life was me time, with no dog required. So much for that resolution: we now have five dogs, as well as 67 cows, heaps of calves, seven horses, and an assortment of chooks.

I do all my jobs before hurrying off to the meeting and get back at 9pm — way past my usual bedtime — just in time for a glass of wine while getting my things ready for a day’s casual work at the local high school the following day. What slow, quiet life?

All of these things had been organised during a month of another landline disruption, with the line dropping out during phone conversations, going dead for minutes or hours at a time, or having so much distortion and background noise that it’s impossible to understand what’s being said. These have become normal frustrations here. In fact, they are so normal that I don’t get frustrated anymore, although I do sometimes feel vulnerable. Alone at night, what if I fall over and break a bone? How can I contact someone for help? You’ll remember that we don’t have mobile service in the house.

I was interrupted in the writing of this story by a canine/fowl drama. Our free range chooks — the three bantam pit hens and their Old English Game bantam roosters — were attacked by our two working dogs, Sally and Missy. No matter what I did or how loud I screamed, the dogs wouldn’t come off. At one stage they had the older rooster on the ground and were beginning to eat him. That provided me with the opportunity to get the boot into the younger dog, which enabled me to divert the dogs for a few seconds from their murderous mission.

The dogs did finally relent and take notice of me, whereupon I quickly took them to their tying up place and fed them. I did that with some consternation and no generosity of spirit towards them. I was traumatised by the experience and felt I had been given an insight into the ever present primordial, natural world, which we humans too often anthropomorphise.

I write this now as I watch the birds come to the birdbath for a drink and a splash. There’s the Shrike-thrush, and the Scarlet Robin, followed by the Eastern Rosella, which is pushed aside by the Willie Wagtails. Here comes a bird I can’t name. Quick, get the bird book! Oh, it’s a Blue-faced Honeyeater. I record that in my bird notebook. This activity calms my spirit and brings me back from the brutal, primitive natural world.