Drovers and dogs

Posted on Apr 27, 2012 in Animals & Plants & Stuff

Last Run

He’d fallen over a cliff
And he’d broken his leg.
Just a mustering dog.
And he looked at me, there on the hill,
Showing no hurt, as if he’d taken no ill,
And his ears, and his tail,
And his dark eyes too,
Said plainly,
‘Well, Boss, what do we do?
Any more sheep to head?
Give me a run.’
But he’d never head sheep any more.

His day was done.
He thought it was fun
When I lifted the gun.

~ Bruce Stronach, 1938

The Drover’s Dog

The old dog stands there, blinking in the sun,
Shaggy, blear-eyed; but years of work well-done
Have earned him right to bask, and eat, and doze,
In easeful warmth. And it may be he knows
That in this place he may well claim his own,
For this old track his busy feet have known
Since puppyhood. ‘Twas here he learned his work;
To fear the master’s hand that did not shirk
From rendering punishment when it was due;
To prize the words of praise though curt and few;
To heed the whistle–and to use his brains.

So now, in that short span that yet remains
Before Death ends the old chap’s useful life,
He stays at home, here with the drover’s wife,
And sleeps, perhaps dreams that he is working still
Here where the stock-route winds across the hill.

~ Kathleen Hawkins, 1942

From New Zealand Farm & Station Verse (1850-1950), collected by A. E. Woodhouse, Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1950.

Image credit: Unidentified drover resting on a rock with his sheepdogs beside him, location unknown

***

Something I’ve known since the beginning of my research, but have never really figured out what to do with, is the fact that the human/sheep relationship is highly reliant upon, and mediated by, working dogs. In other words, it’s really a human/dog/sheep (and more) relationship I’m talking about–and since dogs were the first domesticated animals and sheep were the second, our shared history has existed for more than 10,000 years and carries a lot of cultural significance. But sheep remain livestock rather than pets or close companions, and they tend not to be described with the strong emotional attachment evidenced in the above poems written by sheep farmers about their working dogs.