Tales from the kiap times - Eclipse
The problem with Sylvia

Me and Bobby McGee – farewell to an old friend


ON THE remote patrol posts where I worked as a kiap before Papua New Guinean independence there was always an established pecking order.

First was the officer in charge, usually an assistant district officer or a patrol officer.

Next – in order - came the station clerk, police corporal, police constables, interpreter, station dog and, last of all, the cadet patrol officer.

Somewhere between the station clerk and the police corporal there might have been an aid post orderly, a teacher or two and occasionally an agricultural officer.

I have fond memories of all the occupants of these various offices from the patrol posts where I served. Except perhaps for a couple of errant cadets who tried everyone’s patience.

But I guess we were all cadets once and it wasn’t really their fault if they occasionally rubbed the boss kiap up the wrong way.

I had two dogs in Papua New Guinea. One met an unfortunate end courtesy of a rampant Land Cruiser but the other one survived and I eventually brought her back to Australia with me.

She had a proper doggy name once but the police on the station where she grew up referred to her as the Buka Meri. She joined a long line of black dogs in Papua New Guinea with the same name.

And there weren’t any racial overtones because the corporal who gave her that name came from Buin. Maybe she reminded him of someone at home. Or maybe he liked dark rum.

It cost me a small fortune to get her to Australia. There was the aircraft freight fee and the cost of her six months stay in quarantine but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Her stay in quarantine was over winter and when she was finally delivered to my door in South Australia she had grown an impenetrable mat of insulating fur.

Buka Meri had come from hot tropical rainforest to the driest state on the driest continent in the world, but it didn’t seem to faze her at all.

We spent several years together beating around the hot deserts of Central Australia with nomadic tribespeople before old age caught up with her.

After she had gone there was a succession of other dogs of all shapes, sizes, temperaments and types.

Without exception they all displayed an unerring loyalty and companionship given unconditionally.

Their passing was always heartbreaking and hard to get over. Dare I say, I felt their inevitable demise harder than I did that of certain of my human relatives and acquaintances.

That’s not so much a reflection on them so much as the quality of the dogs I have known.

The latest in this line of canine friends, an old black and white cocker spaniel called McGee, passed away about 10 days ago. He developed pancreatitis, was sick in the morning and gone by evening leaving a tremendous void in the lives of both me and my wife.

We are now saying we won’t get another dog but it’s still early days and I suspect a pooch will show up sooner or later. Life without a dog is a life missing something I think.

Mankind and dogs have lived together since before Adam was a lad and it seems only natural to have one.

Or as a dog would say, it’s only natural to have a human.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks everyone for your kind words.

And also Michael for the Kipling inspired poem, which is rather a good poem I think.

McGee would be flattered.

Michael Dom

Phil, your loss has reminded me of my own and Chips quote of Kipling has moved me to compose this poem.

Sonnet 22:

Some wise folks may like to imagine gods
By deep or towering philosophy
Whose blind faith remits, though fear has begot
Chasms of well-known wonder and misery.

The earth was subdued by science, our rod,
Old gods we beat and by reason defeat,
Mystic with logic, grand knowledge replete.
Yet our vacuums beg for meaning, poor sods!

But it was my fate to befriend a dog
A dumb beast taught me faith and loyalty
Then at the end, when I buried my friend
I thought about my own mortality.

Though once you have been a friend like a god
That is a kind of immortality.

Chris Overland

Phil, as the former custodian of a Cocker Spaniel called Sukey, I can only offer my heartfelt sympathy.

Sukey came into our lives when the kids were quite small and stayed with us for just short of 14 years.

The amount of joy she brought to our lives, and especially those of our children, was immeasurably greater than the rather formidable vet bills that we incurred keeping her healthy.

Her death was a very painful event for us all, with the kids feeling it most acutely.

Now, we have a grand-dog called Pepper, also a Cocker Spaniel, who appears to be in charge of our daughter's life.

Most dogs seem to be very acute observers of their humans and frequently become extremely adept at manipulating them to achieve a desired outcome, be it is food treat, some play time or just a cuddle.

No doubt McGee had your measure but the payoff in terms of unconditional love and affection is definitely worth it.

Vale McGee, gone over the Rainbow Bridge.

Richard E. Jones

Yairs, it's a sad time when a canine beloved departs. Or in our case, Phil, when we left Moresby in December 1976 we had to leave behind old Theseus.

We'd inherited him from a going pinis accountant and his family so he was eight or nine when we got him.

Was a tick magnet being a cross-border collie/ blue heeler (we think) with a pretty long coat.

We had to leave him with a Moresby-based shyster and old Theseus turned out to be no good with kids.

But he lived to 12 years or so, a good four years less than our Bendigo Jack Russell, Biggles.

Now we didn't name either hound. Theseus we inherited - Biggles was named by the JR breeders. He was great with our kids and their cousins, but a bit of a 'barker' Bendigo neighbours informed us.

He was 16 when we buried him beneath a big orange tree in our (then) backyard, now built on as our 2015 downsizer.

Chips Mackellar

Sorry for your loss, Phil. But Kipling said:

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
For men and women to fill our day:
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why would we always arrange for more?
When the fourteen years which nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour or fits
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair,
But you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

[Rudyard Kipling, "The power of the dog."]

May your dog rest in peace, Phil.

Michael Dom

Phil, I am sorry for your loss.

Daniel Kumbon

I gave the name 'Uncle' to the first dog I ever owned beginning when I started work with the NBC in Mt Hagen. It died of old age in Wabag. I got another and named it 'Uncle' in memory of the first.

But 'Uncle II' died young. I chained it on the open tray of the government car I was driving to Porgera. I left enough lengths of chain so it could easily move around in the back.

I hadn't seen it jump off to maybe relieve itself when I stopped at Kamas village for a few seconds. When I took off, I dragged my dog along the road for a couple of meters and it died later from the injuries sustained.

Uncle II was an alert dog and I missed it very much. Feeling like a murderer, I never owned another dog since.

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