Local Animals

There were certainly plenty of local animals that we rubbed shoulders with (so to speak). Nearly every family in Upwey had a cat and a dog. But far outstripping them was the Possums. The Possums seemed to be everywhere and very annoying at times.


On nights when my mom worked and my brothers were at scouts, I was home alone. That is, alone inside the house but every possum in the neighbourhood was playing woopy-doo and fighting on our roof. Noisy and frightening at times for a young feller with an active imagination, the possums loved the electricity poles and regularly electrocuted themselves by holding on to one wire and coiling their tail around another. This innocent little act produced a huge flash and bang which blew out the main fuse and in turn blacked out the whole street. It blacked out the possum a little too.


In those days, we had only one 2000-gallon tank fed by rainwater from the roof. In summer, a lack of rain made water conservation a top priority; we had to watch every drop. Only one bath per week. A delegation of authority here, with mom first Reg second, Tony third and lucky me last (all in the same water).


One long hot summer the water started to smell a bit. We all tried to ignore it but after a week or so, the smell from the tap was very bad. Reg climbed on to the top of the tank and found that a curious possum had pushed the inspection hole cover off, and jumped in for a swim. By the time he was found he had long ago given up paddling around. It was now the maggots turn to practice. It took mom and Reg a long time to remove the putrid carcass (in between deep breaths). We still had to use the water because we had no more. The water was all boiled, particularly our drinking water. It was about two weeks before the smell went away.


The local pets, cats and dogs, were a problem too when they got sick because there was no veterinary help. (I did not know that vets existed until I was in my teens). When dogs got distemper in particular, no one knew what to do with them. Some people would take their very sick pet for a long walk. When the poor thing could not walk no more, it was simply left to die. We boys always kept our eyes open for any distressed animal and if we could not coax it to walk, we would take turns to carry it home.

'This poor dog followed us home, mom.'

The three of us would look pleadingly at mom. Mom would look at our latest acquisition then shake her head.

'Ah, you boys, that dog couldn't walk two feet, much less follow you home from school. Well I suppose you had better put him in the shed, make sure he is warm. We will give him some warm milk and bread. Don't get your hopes up, he will probably be dead by the morning.'

And that was usually the case. By the time we found those animals, they were nearly dead. But we couldn't just leave them, could we?


The best way to get rid of a litter of kittens was to put them in a hessian bag with a large rock, tie the top and throw it into the creek. One bloke that did his best to keep the cat population down was Mr Greg, the school cleaner/handy man. His novel trick with local toms was a crowd puller. If you wanted your toms pockets picked he would be taken to the school in a hessian bag. Mr Greg then transferred the lucky fellow into his special hessian bag that had two strategic holes cut in it. Then with great theatrics (the bigger the audience, the better the show), he would bounce the cat around in the bag until he could get the tail out of one hole and the crown jewels out of the other. By this time tom was screaming with rage. Then with one bite and a little chewing, he would not only pick toms pockets but remove the pockets as well. Tom was turned from being a raging, clawing, spitting king of his neighbourhood, to the court jester in just one operation.


I was coming in the back door one afternoon after school when I heard a scream from the kitchen. Mom was standing on a chair and a little mouse she had disturbed in the wood beside the stove was doing laps of the kitchen, flat out. When mom saw it was only me (maybe she was expecting Superman, or Captain Marvel jnr) she jumped off the chair and donged the poor mouse with a billet of wood and threw him out the back door. So much for the delicate, sensitive, helpless lady image.


Tony, Bill and I were trying to catch a bush rat in our back yard one day. Mainly because Tony reckoned it would make a great pet. He was a speedy little fellow and he eluded us easily until he blotted his copybook and ran into a hole. Tony dived his hand into the hole and came out instantly with the rat. Great work, I thought, until I saw that the rat had Tony by the end of one finger. The rat let go and took off. When we saw the blood pouring from Tonyís finger we gave up on that fellow. Tony had to see Doc Jorgy and had an injection into the bargain. Well no pet rats for the Oliverís.


Mom put down a very sick little dog we had with some chloroform she conned off the local chemist. Reg dug a hole and over the hole was placed a large flat galvanized tub. With the dog, plus a big wad of cotton wool, liberally soaked in chloroform under the tub, it was left over night. The next morning, the dog was dead. Reg being the oldest had the privilege of burying him.


The word got around the neighbourhood and soon mom was disposing of nearly every sick local animal (mostly cats). When these things were going on mom would not let me out of the house. This was because she knew I had a delicate and sensitive disposition and would be upset at such terrible goings on (and she was right). But sitting on the back veranda, with my nose pressed against the fly wire, I had a grandstand view.


One morning Reg was trying to bury a cat that had the over-night treatment. Unfortunately, the hole was too small and puss had stretched his neck a little. Mom and Reg tossed up whether to chop his head off to make him fit in the hole but that would be rather messy, so they decided to dig a bigger hole that would do the trick. Nothing but the best for our four footed friends here). Reg lifted the dearly departed on the shovel but accidentally dropped it from about two feet up. Puss hit the ground and rolled over. Wow, heís as stiff as a board, I thought. Now that gave me a great idea. If I could get some of that plaster Doc Jorgy put on Tonyís broken arm, I could make a cast to put over the cat. Then a couple of bricks on his tail to straighten it. Then put him away for the night, under the tub. I needed to try something out first. Arnold our cat was laying beside me, stretched out on his side asleep after a hard night on the tiles. I put both hands around his tail, then quickly one foot on his neck, and stretched him out a tad more than he already was. Well his tail was a bit thin but the fur helped a lot. Iím sure it would work. I let Arnold go and he took off for the lounge growling and spitting. He is a bad tempered piece of work that cat, I reckon. Well I could picture it now me taking orders at school,

'Yes you want to put in an order for a fur handled cricket bat, they come in four basic colours tabby, black and white, brown and white and the most expensive pure white (Arnold).'


We were standing outside the back door one day. Mom and Reg were trying to count how many animals were buried in our back yard. They got to twenty-two cats alone and could not remember how many dogs.

'You certainly haven't got a green thumb Reg, you have planted so much here but nothing has grown.' says mom, and sauntered off cackling to herself.

She left three open mouthed boys. Mom cracking jokes, now we had heard everything.


Just one more story I have thought of was about Mr Bealís dog. Mr Beal according to my mother was a writer. He lived alone up the end of Thomson Road, in thick bush. Every Saturday morning he would drive his red Chevrolet car to Melbourne. His dog a big Labrador cross would race him from home to the top of Kia Ora Ave and then walk home. The Labrador only had three legs but he moved like a rocket and regularly beat his master. He then took his time going home. He would stop, sniff then sprinkle every post and gate on the way home. A real show off this dog, he could stand on two legs and lift the third when sprinkling (no mean feat). I tried to make friends with him many times but he had a disposition like Arnolds. Whenever I got close, he would bare his teeth (not a pretty sight). I determined to burst his bubble one day by sneaking up behind him when he had his leg cocked and give him a nudge. But he was a step ahead of me and always faced me when he was showing off. They say most writers are smart people. A little bit of smart must have rubbed off on this dog.