An Idyllic Time


By Elizabeth Henzell
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ One of the writers coming to this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in October is New Zealander Lloyd Jones, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize with his novel Mr Pip. This extraordinary account of a young girl’s life during the civil war in Bougainville in the 1990s tells of her journey of literary discovery whilst giving a parallel, harrowing, honest account of life during this war so close to Australia about which most people had little knowledge.

Very early in the book, Matilda tells of the aftermath of the first attach on their village by the redskins – the PNG Army.

“An old dog had its belly ripped open. We stared at that dog and thought about a story Gilbert’s father had brought from further up the coast where most of the fighting was going on. Now we knew what a human being split open would look like. There was no need to wonder anymore. To stare at that black dog was to see your sister or brother or mum and dad in that same state.”

This small paragraph spelled out for me the obvious – the pain I would feel is exactly the pain a dog feels, with one underlying difference: a dog does not have the capacity to elucidate, as a human would, exactly what it is feeling. A friend of mine says dogs and cats and other animals feel the pain of loss just as we do.

My sister and her husband lived in Bougainville prior to the civil war and my sister worked at an animal refuge in Arawa. The major killer of dogs then was due to heartworm caused by mosquitoes. When they returned to Australia, they bought back three dogs and three cats. The costs to bring their pets to Queensland via quarantine in Sydney were enormous but my sister would not have had it any other way.

We have always been a family of dog lovers. Being the fifth of five girls, 14 years younger than the eldest and eight years younger than the fourth, meant there was always going to be someone around to pick me up or cuddle me whenever I so much as whispered. However, the one who was always ready to see that I was never uncomfortable or lonely was our dear old dog Blue. From the day I was born, Blue and I (as pictured) were inseparable. My nursery was on the top floor above the main dining room and Blue would keep constant vigil until I awoke and would then round up the entire family to attend my needs. Oh to have Blue today!

The story also goes that old Blue pulled me out of the Mary River when my sisters were too busy focusing on their game of tennis to be watching an adventurous 2-year-old. Well, that’s my mother’s story and she took it with her to wherever she is now and hopefully it is with old Blue and all the other dogs and cats that have been such an integral part of our lives.

When my father was posted to Port Moresby, PNG, leaving old Blue was the hardest thing for all of us, and we swore we were never going to have another dog again. But as is always the case, never say never, because not long after our arrival we were quick to “be found” by a little dog that needed our love. That little black-and-white puppy was cuddled and nurtured until one horrible day when it was hit by a car and killed. Once again my mother said we would never have another dog – well, certainly not until we returned to Australia or our house was fenced, but who fenced their houses in those days? It was only in 1990 that I first lived in a house that was fenced.

My childhood growing up in Port Moresby was idyllic and for my eighth Christmas I was given the cutest puppy I had ever seen. She had sandy fur and a black-spotted tongue like the Chow Chow that Bali dogs are related to. I know because she wouldn’t stop licking me and had a curly tail like the Kintamani dogs. I named her Kippy, after a cow I had read about in a book. Don’t ask an 8-year-old for the logic in that, but my mother was never to call her anything but Sweetiepie and she became my mother’s dog as I went back and forth to school in Australia.

Sweetiepie would go to the office every day with my mother and would sit quietly under her desk. My mother was the secretary to the Building Board Office and builders would come to her daily with their plans and requirements.

The story goes that the builders would come in and greet my mother with a “Hello, Dottie and Sweetiepie” and nobody thought anything about it – until one day when there was some building maintenance going on in the office across from my mother’s and the workmen were intrigued to find out who this gorgeous “sweetiepie” was.

Finally one of them got up the courage and slipped over on the pretext of needing a pencil. My mother says he returned to his workmates and reported: “It’s a bloody dog!” and one of his mates said, “Yes, but is it good-looking?” Once again this was my mother’s story and you will only be able to confirm its authenticity “later” and only if you too are a dog lover!

And if you are an animal lover, please consider Bali’s own dogs and cats and donate or volunteer at the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA). For any information please phone Christine 0361 981 490 or check their website,

Filed under: Instinct

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