Maadhaay ngay nhalay. Gayrr nhama Jambo. That’s Yuwaalaraay for ‘This is my dog. He’s called Jambo.’
Maadhaay nhalay Roxy. Yilaadhu yanaawaanha nhama pound-gu. ‘This dog is Roxy. Today she’s going to the pound.’
Roxy had been on holidays in the Ridge, staying with J. But today it was time for Roxy to go back the big house.
J’s car was having its own holiday, at the fixers in Dubbo, and so I’d volunteered to do the drive. It was partly favour and partly vested interest; I needed a day out of town. We set off down the Castlereagh mid morning, turned off towards Colly and before long we were crossing the rich volcanic soil of the Moree plains.
Last year’s rain resulted in good subsoil moisture and optimistic crop sowing, but it’s dry out there at the moment. We came across mobs of cattle grazing on the slim pickings at the side of the road. The graziers’ kids pootled around on quad bikes and we wondered about their lives. What dreams do they dream? What will they become?
About ten kays out of Moree we turned off the highway and followed a bitumen track, the pale blue peak of Mount Kaputar rising up from the plains to the south of us. What I’ve been calling “the pound” is really the cunningly named Rovertel, a boarding kennel and dog rescue place.
A fat red heeler waddled up to greet us. From inside of the kennel came the mournful whine of dogs waiting for runaround time. Roxy’s ears went down but, when the gate was opened up, she padded in contentedly. She seemed to know where home was.
So that was that.
Or was it? This would be a very short and dull blog post if that were the case. Instead, we headed into town for lunch and waited for the real story to begin.
Moree’s a moderately prosperous town, but like any town that depends on agriculture it’s had more than its fair share of lean years. Sure, there were bumper crops last year, but before that there were several tough ones. We took a stroll up and down and around the main street looking for somewhere to have lunch; both the Indian restaurants were shut so our choice came down to Omega and 2400. 2400 won out. Vegetarian nachos for me. Not bad.
I think of Moree as a checked shirt and RM Williams kind of town but the mid-afternoon population was almost entirely made up of middle-aged men and women in leather jackets. It turns out this weekend was an annual Harley-Davidson festival. Harley D made its reputation on outlaw riders, Marlon Brando rebels without a cause. “Whadda ya rebellin’ against, Johnny?” “Whadda ya got?” These days, in Australia at least, the Harley’s a status symbol. You’ve got to have a significant wedge to throw at a bike like that, the kind of money that Gen Y would need as a deposit on a shoebox in Sydney’s farthest west.
I have a strange fascination for Harley riders: not the wild guys who deal meth and corrupt the daughters of good citizens, but the accountants and retired teachers who drive out to Moree for hog fest. I wanted to take a picture of them at the cafe but I knew that it’d be rude. I could have just asked, I suppose, and I bet they’d have agreed.. But I didn’t. Then, as we were getting in the car, a whole pack of them appeared like slow-moving bison grazing their way across the vast plains of Dakota. Without missing a beat, J gamely posed by the car so that I could take a gammon holiday snap with a backdrop of hog-riding risk analysts. But really I don’t know why I did that. Like, am I ten years old? Jesus.
It was an uneventful trip to Collarenebri. We refuelled and pulled out of the servo and found ourselves next to the Ridge back road. We’d had enough of the bitumen by this time so off we set along the reddish brown dirt.
The last time I came down the back road I saw this intriguing sign. Who would not want to see an offal pit? The clock was against me on that occasion but I promised myself that, should I ever be down the back road again, I would not let the opportunity pass. Today was that day.
I tried to imagine what the offal pit might look like. A vision came to me of a deep, round pool filled with livers and kidneys and brains and kidneys and intestines and kidneys. Kidneys featured very heavily. My vision pit was rather Game of Thrones; it was lined with granite and the pool of offal was frothing and bubbling and the deep maroon colour of a Queensland rugby jersey. In the middle of the pool was a bearded man in leather armour, screaming and pawing uselessly at the rippling kidneys as he sank beneath them; I think there might have been a king standing at the edge of the pit supping from a jewel-encrusted goblet and throwing back his head as he laughed cruelly.
The first thing to pop my vision was the chain-link fence. This was one big, big fence, shiny and new. It must have cost a bucketload of money. It was the kind of fence that people build to protect something very valuable. Were there offal rustlers prowling the outskirts of country towns, scooping bucketfuls of kidneys and selling them on the black market in Big Town? Or was there something more sinister at work? J and I drove onwards, a sense of unease growing inside of us.
An open gate beckoned and we drove into the tip, past piles of tyres and abandoned white goods. A man dragged branches from a trailer but otherwise the place was deserted. The silence was thick and heavy. In the far distance a huge, dead old gum tree, denuded of foliage, loomed against the skyline. As we approached, the branches appeared to come to life as a vast flock of kites and falcons rose and flapped lazily into the thermals. We had found the offal pit.
Disappointingly it was not granite-lined. There was no sinking man or sadistic king. And it was almost totally devoid of kidneys, brains, livers, tripe and intestines.
There were lots of empty beer bottles and cans of Bundy and Coke. It looked like there’d been massive party, like some Neanderthal feasting site. Maybe that’s what you do in Colly, go out to the offal pit and get shit-faced on Bundy and kidneys. As if to confirm our thoughts, J pointed out this elegant composition: a goat’s foreleg and a pair of discarded knickers. I was immediately reminded of this story from The Onion from a while back.
As our eyes became adjusted to the tumble of colours and textures, shapes began to make themselves apparent. A sheep lay face down in the dirt, its mummified tongue lolling at a grotesque angle.
A goat’s head, barely connected to its torso.
The flattened skeleton of some creature. It was all very Gothic, or like the darker still lives of the Dutch masters.
Next to a tree lay a pair of dogs. They still had their collars on; the collars were connecting them by a short length of chain to the tree. Had they been just tied up and left there?
No. Each animal bore a huge hole in the forehead. Far too big for a bullet; you’d need Clint Eastwood’s Magnum to make a hole that size. Did someone come out with the dogs and one of those “humane” killers they use in abattoirs to take out pigs and cattle?
It was all deeply surreal. I half expected to turn around and be confronted by a line of toothless, pitchfork-toting yokels. We mooched around in silence. I prodded the toe of my boot at a desiccated lump of animal hide the colour of Donald Trump’s hair. There was a pile of jaw bones. Just jaw bones. Above us the kites wheeled patiently. It was quite easily one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been.
On the back road on the way home we veered left and right to avoid the countless dead kangaroo and emu bodies.
J saw a kitten sitting demurely on the verge. Not a cat: a kitten. We saw a dog, a wild dog, huge and panting beneath its matted coat. It was hard not to be reminded of Roxy and the dogs in the pound, and the dogs chained to the tree in the offal pit.
Yaluu, Roxy. Maayu yanaaya.