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 work.
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 shaved.
That continued for three years, until my brother David was born.Then little Davie got the stool and the Australian terrier had to
settle for the cold linoleum.
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 television.
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 floor.
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 a bone.”
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 original
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 vehicle.
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 home again.
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
One day Davie and Charley Barley went up to the milkbar, but to our surprise Davie came home
“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 milkbar.
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 was.
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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© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.