Christened Malcolm Mayron, I
was born the son of a carpenter in the late 1950s. My family
was poor, so we had to make do with only the barest of the bare
essentials. The only luxury we allowed ourselves was our pets,
mainly dogs. In the first twenty years of my life we owned more
than a dozen dogs, but the one we had the longest was a
wiry-haired Australian terrier named Charley Barley.
Actually his complete name was
Charley Barley O'Henty Mayron MacPhee.
Charley was given to us by the
O'Hentys, when they were unable to pay for some work my father
did for them. Since we were between pooches at that time, dad
accepted the little terrier as payment. The Mayron came from
us, of course, and the MacPhee was a family joke:
In the early 1960s my father
was employed for six months by a family named MacPhee. Dad took
Charley Barley to work with him every day, and all went well for
a few weeks. Until one day dad came home alone.
"Where's Charley Barley?"
demanded my sister Anne.
"Charley...?" said dad, looking
around, realising he had left the little dog tied-up at
A quick telephone call to the
MacPhees assured that the dog was all right, however, it was too
far to drive back that night, so Charley Barley had to stay
overnight with the MacPhees. The next day the terrier was
returned to us safe and sound, however, our father had a dreadful
memory, so over the next five months poor Charley Barley spent
more than a fortnight with the MacPhees.
One day Mr. MacPhee jokingly
said, "The little dog spends so much time over here that perhaps
you'd better add our name to his pedigree."
Our father couldn't see the
funny side of the remark, but Anne and I could, so from then on
he was Charley Barley O'Henty Mayron MacPhee.
Although Anne and I were little
more than toddlers ourselves at that time, Charley Barley was
regarded as the baby of the family. One of his privileges,
which he had usurped from me, was to sit on a small stool in the
bathroom each morning, keeping dad company while our father
That continued for three years,
until my brother David was born. Then little
got the stool and the
Australian terrier had to settle for the cold
Charley Barley put up with that
treatment for all of one week. Then one morning he jumped up
onto the stool and gave Davie a nip on the nose. The little boy was unhurt
(although he howled at the top of his lungs until certain he had
got all the attention he felt he deserved) and the terrier got a
thick clout across the ears for his trouble. But Charley Barley
was satisfied he had made his point. And from then on they took
turns: Davie sitting on the stool one morning and Charley
Barley the next.
Of course food is important to
all living creatures, but none more so than domestic animals,
since they depend on their owners to feed them. With Charley
Barley feeding was a ritual, simply because for most of the
decade we owned the little terrier, we also owned a huge orange
tabby Tomcat named Tiger.
At first mum made the mistake
of placing their food bowls side-by-side in the kitchen. This
caused problems, but not for the reason you might think, since
Tiger was immense in size and could easily take care of himself
in a fight with the Australian terrier. No, the problem was
that both dog and cat were smart enough to notice their food came
from different cans. So naturally they both assumed the other
one was getting something better than they were.
Finally, after much bickering
between them, mum solved the problem by placing Tiger's bowl on
the floor in the kitchen and Charley Barley's bowl at the base of
the three concrete steps outside the back door. Then, after
almost being skittled a few times, she learnt to step aside fast
enough to avoid the mad rush as Charley Barley rocketed up the
steps to race into the kitchen to eat Tiger's cat food, and the
orange tabby almost flew down the steps in his haste to get to
Charley Barley's dog food.
For a decade we were the only
family in the neighbourhood who owned a cat that ate nothing but
dog food and a dog that ate nothing but cat food.
Apart from the stool in the
bathroom, Charley's favourite seat was a cane chair in the lounge
room. What made the chair special was that it was stacked high
with three large cushions, which dad had salvaged from an old
sofa, before throwing it out. The idea was to pad the squat
chair up to a height where our father could sit comfortably at a
large cane table, to eat his dinner while watching the news on
But first he had to shoo away
Charley Barley, who always managed to beat him to the chair.
Usually this presented no problem, except for the hurt feelings
of the little dog which would lay on his belly on the floor,
whimpering, and gazing up at dad with his large, doe-like eyes
all through his dinner, so our father would gulp down his food as
fast as possible so that he could surrender the chair to the
Australian terrier. One day, however, dad shooed the dog away,
then sat down to find before him a plate with carrots, peas,
mashed potatoes, and a large empty spot.
"But I cooked a steak for you,"
insisted mum, looking around in case it had fallen onto the
All eyes soon turned to Charley
Barley, who was trying to look innocent despite the thick ring of
meat fat that coated the fur around his mouth.
"But it wasn't Charley's
fault," protested Anne, as the little dog was punished. "How
was he to know it wasn't his, when you put the plate on the table
in front of him? Besides he wasn't greedy, he only ate the
meat. He left the vegetables for dad."
Being a poor family we had to
economise as much as possible, so a lot of our food, such as
bread and biscuits, was baked by our mum. Usually mum was a
good cook and we especially loved her meat pies. But one day
she forgot a batch and they were cooked rock solid. We couldn't
possibly eat them, but rather than throw the pies out, we decided
to try Charley Barley with one.
To our delight the Australian
terrier seemed pleased to receive the treat and hurried outside
with his treasure.
A few moments later we heard a
scrape scrape scrape outside and went to investigate. To
our surprise we found Charley Barley, who had never buried a bone
in his life, busily digging a hole in the back lawn to bury mum's
rock solid pie.
Even mum had to laugh,
admitting, "Well it certainly was hard enough to be mistaken for
After eating, of course, a
dog's favourite pastime is recreation. One of our favourite
summertime pastimes, and one of Charley Barley's, was to pile
into dad's work van and drive down to Werribee, to enjoy a picnic
lunch in the park, then a cooling swim in the pool.
Charley Barley loved swimming
as much as we did, but he wasn't as fussy as us. While we paid
to go into the pool, Charley was content to dog paddle in
the WerribeeRiver, not far from the pool. His favourite place
was where the river almost met up with the concrete ruins of the
Charley got the best of it
during the ninety minute drive to Werribee. While
Anne, Davie, and I had to swelter in the back of dad's
van, the Australian terrier sat up front on mum's lap. If it
got too hot, he would stand up and lean his head out through the
passenger window, enjoying the breeze which would whip about his
face, blowing up his wiry hair until if fluffed up around his
neck like a lion's mane.
On one particularly hot day,
however, even that was not enough for Charley. Obviously
deciding he'd had enough of the sweltering van, the little dog
stood up and leapt out through the window of the moving
Fortunately we never took
Charley Barley anywhere without putting him on a leash. Since
mum had one end of the leash in her hands, as Charley leapt out
of the van, she merely gave the leash a sharp yank and pulled the
startled little dog back in through the window before he could
hit the ground. Which was just as well since the van had been
moving at over eighty kilometres an hour at the time.
In those days our district was
only just starting to be developed. So if Anne,
Davie, or I had any money for lollies, we had a
kilometre walk up to the nearest milkbar, then a kilometre walk
We would take Charley Barley
along on the leash with us, and since we were only little then,
the Australian terrier was strong enough to almost drag us along
the footpath as he went for his run.
and Charley Barley went up to
the milkbar, but to our surprise Davie came home alone.
"Where's Charley Barley?"
demanded Anne as Davie came into the house.
Looking around himself Davie
realised he had been so absorbed in his small bag of lollies when
leaving the shop, that he had walked straight past Charley,
leaving him tied up to a metal railing outside the
Since Dave was exhausted after
his two kilometre walk to the shop and back, it was Anne and I
who set off to collect the little dog. However, when we arrived
at the milkbar, there was no sign of Charley.
We looked all around the shop,
then went inside to ask the shopkeeper. He was able to tell us
he had seen a teenage boy leading a little dog about fifteen
minutes earlier, however, he didn't know who the boy
So, still hot and tired from
the walk up to the shop, we set out for home, wondering how we
would tell Davie and our parents that someone had stolen
To our surprise, however, when
we got home we were greeted by a tail-wagging Charley. It
turned out the teenage boy was a boy scout who had seen the
little dog tied up ownerless outside the milkbar and had been
doing his good deed for the day by taking the dog to ask around
to try to find its owner.
Instead of leading the terrier
from house to house as he had planned to do, however the boy
scout had simply followed along behind as Charley led the way.
The Australian terrier had travelled the round trip between
milkbar and home so many times that he knew the way by heart.
So the only problem for the
poor scout had been to stay on
his feet, as he was almost dragged along the footpath by the
little dog in its eagerness to get back home.
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