Blotch on the Rock

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Summary

Rocco is my second best mate. He and his master Billy live next-door. But Isabel my first best mate told me that Billy and Rocco are on holidays. So Rocco’s fleas need somebody to keep them in shape? Ha! I’ll rack my brain about Rocco’s fleas later

Genre:
Other
Author:
Monica Lizama
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Untitled chapter

BLOTCH ON THE ROCK

1. WADI-WADI

I am Blotch, the Jack Russell adventurer and for three days in a row, Isabel, my dear mistress and I haven’t had a run at the beach. Bondi Beach for dog’s sake! We have been there every day for years.

Sprawled under her desk I watch my dear Isabel struggle as she puts on her school shoes of thick black leather smelling of misery. She keeps them behind her off-white joggers smelling of grass and adventure. My favourites!

She skips over me and taps her iPad speaking out loud. ‘Lost in the middle of Australia in Uluru?’ Her big brown eyes roll up and down. ‘U.Lu.Ru is the biggest rock on Earth.’ She wipes the screen with one of her school socks.

Her voice sounds alarmed. Her scent smells alarmed. Who? What? Is U.Lu.Ru? What’s that?

She whips open the dusty pink curtain. A soggy grass scent reaches my nose. Rain. Soft rain is pattering against the window.

I love rainy days. And windy days. And snowy days. And super extra hot days. Whatever day it may be, Isabel rubs my chest, ‘Blotch, you are a good dog.’

I flip over like a pancake in a frying pan and she cries out, ‘Blotch, a little dingo is in danger!’ Her long fingers point at an image in her iPad. ‘That’s Bapp and that’s Wadi-Wadi.’

I see a boy cuddling a puppy. The puppy’s eyes the colour of a well-marinated bone. And before we breathe out, Aunt Barbara screams, ‘Where are my teeth?!’

My fur stands on end.

2. AUNT BARBARA

Oh heavenly doggies! Here we go, another wasted day. You see Aunt Barbara is as big as a space ship, stinks of seagull’s poo and she doesn’t like kids or dogs...

‘Where are my teeth?!’ she screams again.

Her voice pierces the air so loudly that the fleas of the next-door’s dog, Rocco, jump out of his basket and attack me.

Rocco is my second best mate. He and his master Billy live next-door. But Isabel my first best mate told me that Billy and Rocco are on holidays. So Rocco’s fleas need somebody to keep them in shape? Ha! I’ll rack my brain about Rocco’s fleas later.

Isabel and I spent our precious Bondi Beach time searching for Aunt Barbara’s teeth. And believe it or not, after an explosive sneeze, Aunt Barbara herself found her shiny plastic teeth hidden inside her own handbag. ‘Found them!’

Yesterday, Tuesday we woke up to Aunt Barbara’s high pitch roar. ‘Where are my glasses!?’ Her voice bounced against the walls so hard that the pipes of the toilet burst and flooded the whole house.

Isabel and I wasted our precious Bondi Beach time looking for a plumber on the net. When he popped in and inspected the pipes, he said, ‘The rate for my work will be ...’ he showed her the quote.

Aunt Barbara’s face scowled. ‘Astronomical,’ she muttered.

Isabel rolled her eyes at me and we swished water out of the house with our bare limbs. Afterwards her hands and my paws ached for hours on end.

Anyway, on Monday, ‘Fire!’ Aunt Barbara croaked.

Isabel grabbed her iPad and hugged it to her chest. Before she owned a tablet, I was her best beloved one. She cuddled me, and kissed me and told me all her worries.

Now she kisses her iPad.

The iPad knows everything!

How can I compete with an iPad?

Ha! I’ll rack my brain on how to get Isabel’s attention back.

‘Fire!’ screamed Aunt Barbara, ‘Ohoooh.’

Isabel tripped over me, and we rushed to the kitchen. We found Aunt Barbara banging a tea-towel against the stove, so furiously that the rat behind the sink jumped out.

For a millisecond the crazy little rat wiggled her nose as if she were a fire brigade inspector. The fire was well extinguished, but the stench of burnt pots was unbearable.

Before I could fix up my whiskers, the tricky crazy rat jumped across my paws and in one athletic movement leaped away.

Nose on the tiles, through the gap of the kitchen door, I watched the crazy rat climb over the fence of our neighbours’ house. Her long tail waved like a piece of string.

‘A rodent in my house!’ screeched Aunt Barbara. Her chest rose and fell in jerky breaths under her dressing gown. ‘A rodent and a mongrel in my house!’ Her small eyes inspected me. She opened and closed cupboards and windows looking for a culprit. ‘You mongrel!’ she spat.

I bolted outside the house.

Whatever happens Aunt Barbara always blames me. She herself caused the fire. She was the one who left the frying pan on high.

Waving away smoke with her hand, Isabel beckoned me to her side. ‘Aunt Barbara,’ Isabel said. ‘Billy says that Uluru is the most brilliant place on earth. Can we go to Uluru?’ She smiles. Her bright smile. ‘Pleeeease. Oh Aunt Barbara, Billy’s cousin Bapp lost his pet, Wadi-Wadi. A beautiful little dingo, and I want to help find it.’

‘A dingo!?’ Aunt Barbara screamed. ‘Dingoes are wild dogs!’ She squinted over at Isabel’s iPad, and gave me a killer look. ‘Dingoes eat babies!’

Just then there was a knock on the front door. ‘Free-range eggs. Best price,’ a boy called.

Aunt Barbara picked up her purse, rushed out. And furiously, she whisked the free-range eggs.

We ate the free-range eggs in silence. Delicious. Pawrrifically. Yum.

But later on when Isabel was leaving for school, with me by her side, Aunt Barbara closed the door on my nose. I almost lost it. ‘No niece of mine walks in such rainy, cold, miserable weather with a dog,’ she said, and drove my dear mistress to school in her car.

How uncool is that?

Every other day, we manage to run up and down the walkway on the headland of Bondi, till our hearts are about to burst. I am training Isabel for the Olympic Games, you see.

Then she pats me. ‘Bye-bye, Blotch. Be good. Keep safe. Go home.’ And off she rushes into her cheerful, noisy, sweat-smelling school. So, wagging my tail goodbye to Isabel and her school friends, I trot back along the little street to our garden.

Now, trapped inside the house, I watch as the rain dances against the glass. Woof! What beautiful rain. Its rhythmical noise hypnotises me and makes me drowsy, till the woofs of the next-door kelpie drills into my brain.

‘Blotch! Eh Blotch!’

‘Rocco?’ I rush toward the balcony window and rest my paws against the glass, ‘Welcome back Rocco!’ I wag my tail crazily. ‘Where have you been?’

Splashing mud everywhere, Rocco woofs at me. ‘Uluru! My master and I went around the rock in the Red Centre. Uluru is the biggest rock on Earth! The Red Centre! The Red Centre!’ He rubs his bushing tail on the tip of a rock sticking out of the grass. ‘My master Billy and I met with our old friends,’ Rocco says. ‘And I found new friends. One of them is called, Wadi-Wadi.’

I drop flat on Aunt Barbara’s living room floor. Wadi-Wadi?

3. HEAVEN-IN-A-BAG

That afternoon, Mr Chiong, the best butcher in the entire world, who, luckily is also Aunt Barbara’s boyfriend, brings home one of his heaven-in-a bag gifts. Oh yes, a big bundle of meat.

Aunt Barbara puts on her red lipstick and picks up the kitchen phone. ‘It’s just a simple gathering … Yes, a proper barbecue. Yes, please bring your own drinks. Pets? Well, if you have to… ’

Soon, the air smells pawrrific. Chops, T-bone steaks, chicken wings and sausages!

Rocco and his master, Billy, Isabel’s school friend, arrive at the barbecue first. Just behind them Billy’s father and the new family from down the road. And then Paul Smith and his chicken, Amelia.

Amelia is picky, rough and bad tempered. Worst chook I’ve ever sniffed.

Her master, Paul Smith, is an A-plus-student at Bondi Beach primary school. Short, skinny with a creepy voice. ‘Free-range eggs. Best price.’ Worst snob boy I’ve ever sniffed.

Everybody calls Paul Smith, “the free-range egg seller.” Wagging her ponytail, Isabel asks Paul Smith. ‘How often does your hen lay eggs?’

‘And so many eggs!’ Billy urges. ‘How do you do it?’

Paul Smith flips his cap backwards. ‘Good training,’ he says, looking at Amelia proudly.

Isabel and Billy roll their eyes. ‘Good training. Ha!’

Paul Smith pulls out of his jean pocket a shiny mobile phone. ‘Just bought it!’ he pipes. ‘Let’s take a look at the latest news about the disappearance of Wadi-Wadi.’

There’s that name again.

I clean my ears with my shaking paws. Wadi-Wadi lost? Oh heavenly doggies! I sneak a look. That cute little dingo Wadi-Wadi looks far too clever to be lost. Wadi-Wadi has gone walkabout!

Walkabout. Walkabout. Walkabout, Amelia screeches.

Rocco lifts his back leg against the Jacaranda tree. ‘Free-range egg seller’s mother is arriving!’ he announces, and waters the trunk of my tree. I step up on my two back legs, and wee on my beloved Jacaranda tree, properly.

Amelia stares at us suspiciously. As if Rocco and I were terrorists ready to let a bomb off or something.

Rocco farts loudly.

I fart louder. So loudly that the possum, who lives in our roof shouts out, ‘Please leave us in peace!’

The fat, outrageous chicken fixes her harness, and stomps up toward the big table. She picks up a sandwich. A very good-looking sandwich.

‘Salmon,’ she complains. ‘Far too salty.’ She spits it out.

‘Fussy chook!’

In one go, Rocco and I grab and munch the good-looking, salmon-far-too-salty-sandwich.

I lick my whiskers. Nice appetizer. But it is too small for my starving belly.

Rocco and Amelia go on picking up crumbs of bread and potato chips, which are tiny little pieces of food made out of nothing!

Carefully, I check my paws, and notice Isabel, Billy and Paul heads down reading Isabel’s iPad. I trot towards them. In my best style I wag my tail at Billy. Billy always shares a piece of food, or anything else he may have in his pockets. Oh yes, like a magician.

This time, Billy gives Isabel a boomerang and a bundle of photos, from Uluru in the Red Centre, whatever that is. And nothing to me!

‘Wadi-Wadi is lost,’ Billy urges. ‘Bapp, my cousin is devastated. His beloved companion is missing!’

‘We must help Bapp find Wadi-Wadi!’ they hi-five.

Sniff. Sniff.

Today Isabel’s jeans smell of glue.

Yuck!

I don’t waste time sniffing Paul Smith’s jeans – whose pocket always smells of coins. But nothing valuable. Really nothing eatable. I head down the patio towards the aroma of roast meat.

The scent of roast meat mixed with the appealing odour of fried onions, garlic and pepper is now a cloud bouncing on my nose. Tongue out, mouth wide open, I watch Mr Chiong cooking. Tongs in hand he turns the meat over. ‘Medium rare?’

Billy’s father, ‘Yes, please. Medium rare!’

‘Well done!’ The old lady, and the old man call out. Everybody calls them the new family-down the road.

Before I breathe out, Paul Smith’s mother rushes to the barbecue stand. ‘Whatever!’ she smiles. ‘I am not a fussy eater.’ She pulls out a plastic bag. ‘Any leftovers?’

Rocco and I whimper, ‘Leftovers! They should be ours.’ But over our very noses go big chunks of meat half-eaten, T-bones steaks barely chewed and the whole lot fills up Paul Smith’s mother’s bag.

I wipe my nose, and watch Aunt Barbara cutting up sausages.

Aunt Barbara is tall and round. She smells of toothpaste and garlic. And she hates dogs! Especially me. But she is a pretty good cook.

Muttering under my breath, I gape at Aunt Barbara giving Rocco little bits of sausage.

Whoa! Just because Rocco is a kelpie, and me, a jack russell? I pant. Jack Russells are far more supportive, better understanding of human needs than any other dog.

‘Urrgh!’ I growl.

‘Blotch,’ Isabel whispers, and lifts the tablecloth. From under the long table, she gives me a crunchy, juicy piece of steak. My dear mistress doesn’t like the fat around T-bone steaks.

But I do.

And she knows it.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Rocco’s tongue grows longer than a lizard’s as he watches me munch the juicy, crispy pawrrifically tasty fat off the meat. But then, as I lick my whiskers clean, Billy steps by our side. He ruffles my head, and gives Rocco a bone the size of Australia!

‘Happy days, doggies,’ Billy says, and rushes away.

My tongue plops to my paws, as I watch Rocco chewing the humongous bone.

Oh heavenly doggies! This situation needs some pawrrific attention. So, playfully I plop down with my front legs extended, my shoulders and chest low on the ground, and my rear end pushed up in the air. ‘Need any help?’ I offer.

Rocco turns his back to me, and burps ‘What are you talking about?’

My coat stands on end.

‘Happy chewing!’ Amelia croaks. Her high pitch drills the cold air. She stands between Rocco and me. Dominant. Bully. Her round eyes directed towards our masters.

3. – TALES AND TAILS

‘Wadi-Wadi’s on Facebook?’ says Isabel placing a bowl of tomato salad on the big table. ‘From the red Centre?’

Billy places a tray of fruit. ’Yep. Bapp, my cool cousin Bapp is searching for Wadi-Wadi. He is so desperate that he

created a Facebook account for his pretty little dingo.’

Paul Smith pulls his flashy phone out of his jeans pocket. ‘Tales and Tails.’ He picks up a piece of watermelon. ‘Let’s check it out.’

Amelia, the bossy, fat hen croaks. ‘Tails versus Tales.’ She wriggles her feathery bottom, and gives Rocco and me a suspicious look, as if we were going to eat her master or something.

I scratch my rumbling belly, ‘Eh Rocco, you know the story about the egg and the chicken. Who comes first the chicken or the egg?’

Rocco stops chewing his aromatic, pawrrific looking-bone.

I stop breathing. Rocco’s last bit of bone still lies on the tiles. It has some marrow oozing …

Rocco scratches his ears. ‘Mathematics is not my best subject.’ He scratches his front legs. ‘But, Wadi-Wadi knows all about mathematical stuff.’ He scratches his chest. ‘ Wadi-Wadi is the queen of the Red Centre!’

My tongue goes numb. I don’t know anything about the Red Centre of Australia. Or about that Wadi-Wadi dingo. But I know food. Raw. Bones. In particular.

After a long breath, Rocco nudges me. ‘If you ever go to the red Centre, look for Wadi-Wadi. She always has spare bones full of meat. Wadi-Wadi catches wild cats and rats at the blink of a flea.’

What a pawrrific girl dog she must be.

We leap out from under the long table. Rocco catches a fly. I hurl myself toward his forgotten bone and lick the marrow out. ‘Yum.’

‘Wait a minute,’ burps Rocco, grabbing his bone out of my mouth. ‘My master, Billy, has received calls, emails, and an SMS from his cousin Bapp in the Red Centre.’ His right paw drops heavy on my neck. ‘Blotch, little Blotch,’ he wipes his paws. ’Wadi-Wadi is in danger!’

Danger is a big word. Isabel, my dear mistress has told me all about big words and simple words, “if in doubt follow your gut-feeling.” So, I’ll rack my brain about Wadi-Wadi’s disappearance later on.

Now, I concentrate on the barbeque. I salivate …

‘We have family up there,’ Billy says, munching a huge piece of steak. The juice runs down his mouth, and makes my belly rumble louder than a blender at full speed.

Paul Smith fills up his plate with pork chops and a mountain of lettuce salad. ‘So, your mum is an elder.’

Billy smiles. ‘Yep, my mum is a very important Aboriginal elder, and as you see, my dad is a very important white man.’

Billy’s father winks at him. ‘Ex-Bondi Beach lifesaver. ’ He pats his round belly, and grabs a piece of roast beef. ‘Cheers!’

‘Cheers dad!’ Billy smiles, brightly. He grabs a piece of overcooked chicken leg, and places it on top of his overloaded plate. ‘My cousin Bapp is an expert dancer and he always dances in the Corroboree ceremonies.’

‘Corrobo ... What?’ Paul Smith says. He places his knife and fork on his plate, and pulls out his mobile phone. ‘How do you spell it?’

Isabel taps her iPad, which forever sits by her side, clears her throat:

‘C for carrots.’

‘O for oranges.’

‘R for ribs.’

‘R for raw meat.’

‘O for oregano.’

‘B for beef.’

‘O for onions.’

‘R for rice.’

‘E for endive baby lettuce’

‘E for eggs!’

‘Corroboree!’ Isabel cries out.

Everybody stops eating. They all look at her.

She bows. ‘Corroboree is an Aboriginal dance ceremony.’ She nudges Billy. ‘For expert dancers,’ and asks Paul Smith for the potato salad.

Later on while we are doing the dishes, Aunt Barbara looks at Mr Chiong. ‘Let’s go to the Red Centre?’ He ties his apron up and walks towards the barbeque stand. ‘Well, how about in July? We can celebrate your birthday there.’

‘Can I come too?’ Isabel asks, in that sing-song voice that always makes my heart click back and forwards. ‘Next week will be July! School holidays.’

‘If you study hard and be a good girl,’ says Aunt Barbara.’ Perhaps we could take you.’

I jump up. What about me. What about me! ‘Woof, woof!’ But nobody looks at me. Everybody laughs, clinking glasses and plates around and around. What about me?

Carrying a tray of dirty dishes inside the kitchen, Billy’s dad winks at me. ‘Easy. Easy,’ he tells me.

Billy’s dad smells of coffee today. He usually smells of wood shavings.

Aunt Barbara grabs the dirty plates out of his hands.

One piece of pork lands near me. My tongue rolls down. My teeth ache.

Aunt Barbara clicks open the dishwasher door. ‘Oh dear,’ she says, looking at Billy’s dad. ‘You are a good neighbour, a good carpenter as well as a good Lifesaver.’

Billy dad’s laughs and helps her loading the machine.

I grab the forgotten piece of pork with my trembling paws, and gnaw it. Superb taste. One bit of bone gets stuck across my throat.

I try to breath.

I cough.

I burp.

I don’t know how but when I am ready to say bye-bye beautiful world, Mr Chiong jumps in. ‘Oh boy!’ he cries out. His meat-scented fingers pull out the nasty little bit of pork bone out of my throat.

‘Disgusting dog!’ Aunt Barbara clicks the washing machine on. ‘Disgusting dog!’

Billy’s dad clears his throat. ‘Well, as I was telling, Uluru is amazing. The Red Centre!’

I run outside. Where is the Red Centre? I howl.

‘The Red Centre!’ croaks Amelia. The bully hen gives me an insulting look. ‘The red Centre of what!’

Rocco chases his bushy tail and woofs at me. ‘That’s where my master, Billy, and I come from. Where Wadi-Wadi lives. The Red Centre! The Red Centre is right in the middle of Australia!’

Heavenly doggies, I say to myself, remembering Isabel’s words, ‘Uluru is the biggest rock on Earth, located in the heart of our amazing Australia.’

’Woof, woof, woof!

4. PAWSITIVE IMPACT

Early next morning, I jump out of my basket. Wind whistles around our garden like a wild cat. I sniff around. No cat’s scent though. Just the familiar scent of the possum’ s poo in our roof.

Rain. Rain is in the air. I rest my paws against the tall window. Trees in our garden sway nearly flying out of the ground.

Tongue out, I raise my tail and let it down on the bright thick carpet spread under Isabel’s desk. Among two hundred scattered papers, photos of Uluru glow like an inviting piece of steak.

Wow!

Wouldn’t it be pawrrific to run right around that great big rock?

Wow! I close my eyes.

Training Isabel to win a medal for Australia would be easy. A piece of bone! One full week, running round and around that amazing huge red rock?

Pawsitive impact!

I would have to prepare my tongue to lick her first gold medal. Her previous medals didn’t taste right. So far she has one silver and two bronze medals. Isabel doesn’t like coming second or third. My dear mistress and I train hard. We want to win the best of the best gold medals for Australia. What better place for training her than around the biggest rock on Earth?

I sprawl under her desk, and study the photos of Uluru closely, so closely that I almost lose my tongue. Oh yes, I lick eighty-three photos of Uluru, one by one. Definitely, utterly Uluru looks like a huge, raw piece of steak.

Isabel swivels in the chair, ‘Uluru,’ she sighs. ‘Wadi-Wadi lost in Uluru?’ Her brown eyes are glued to the map of Australia stuck on the wall. ‘I learnt to walk there!’

Without taken any notice of me, Isabel picks up the photo I have licked the most, and waves a kiss at the framed picture of her parents which forever sits on her desk. The shining picture of Isabel and her parents always makes me happy. I feel like licking the ice-cream off their faces. You see Isabel’s parents died three years ago in a car accident. Yep, Isabel is an orphan.

‘Hurry up, Isabel!’ Aunt Barbara screeches. Her voice booms from the front garden louder than the airplanes taking off from Sydney airport.

‘School,’ Isabel sighs. She bends over, and rubs my chest. ‘Be good. Keep safe.’

I wag my tail at Isabel, and lick a tear running down her freckled face.

‘Isabel!’ screeches Aunt Barbara. This time her voice drills louder than a spaceship ready to take off to outer space.

Oh I shiver.

Isabel grabs the photo of her parents, and inserts it into her schoolbag. She winks at me, and bolts towards Aunt Barbara’s car. Yep, Isabel misses her parents.

5. VIGILANT

Tongue out I wait for my dear mistress to come back home from school. Yep, all day long, vigilant.

The sun fights the clouds. Drops of rain here and there make the trees and the flowers and the weeds look like a pawrrific winter postcard.

Vigilant, I wait. No cats. No postmen. No rubbish collectors. No thieves. Yep, today our neighborhood is pretty dull.

Just as I am ready to bury myself in the compost, Isabel pushes the front gate. ‘Home!’ Bouncing like a happy kangaroo, she rubs my chest. ‘Home!’

I wag my tail at her, and we head to the computer room. Under the dim light filtering through the tall window, my dear mistress and I watch “Red Dog!” What a movie! A bit sad though. It is about the adventures of a free-spirited dog around the outback of Australia who never had a home.

While Isabel fixes the Xbox’s cables, I paw on the computer keyboard in my best doggy style.

‘Computer games!’ she says, and keys along with me.

Suddenly, I hear a knock at our front door.

‘Anybody home?’ a voice calls out.

I twitch, and smell the voice and the knocks at the front door.

The scent of Rocco and Billy hits my nose. ‘Go away!’ I woof. ‘My dear mistress and I are busily playing computer games.’

‘Woof?’ Rocco howls.

I trot downstairs and put my nose up against the front door.

‘Eh Blotch,’ woofs Rocco. ‘You know we are here.’ He yawns. ‘Tell your master to hurry up!’ He scratches the door, woofing around. ‘Which computer games are you talking about? Woof, woof!’

‘Quiet, Rocco!’ Billy orders.

Aunt Barbara walks past me, her feet flat and heavy on the wooden floor. ‘Hello Billy,’ she says, opening the door. ‘Isabel is studying now.’ Aunt Barbara wipes flour off her chin.

I crouch on the tiles of the huge hall between the kitchen and the laundry. The washing machine is kicking around and around annoying me as much as mosquitoes do.

‘Hi Billy!’ Isabel says, jumping down the slippery off-white set of stairs. Standing next to me, she takes her earphones off. ‘I was just doing … doing my homework.’

‘Cool!’ Billy says, scratching his head. ‘Homework?’

Aunt Barbara rolls her eyes. ‘Were you really doing your homework?’

Isabel bends down and fiddles with her shoelaces. ‘Uh hum!’

Billy smacks his forehead. ‘But of course. We have to study the history book and …’

‘And work out a plot about holidays,’ says Isabel. ‘The best storyline will be made into a play at our Christmas school celebration.’

Aunt Barbara walks back towards the kitchen. ‘I see. I see,’ she mutters. She comes back with a piece of tart for Billy and piece of chicken for Rocco.

‘Where is my chicken?’ I moan.

She wipes sweat off her forehead. ‘I have plenty of work to do.’ She pokes Isabel and Billy. ‘And both of you have to study.’ In one sharp turn, she bangs the kitchen door closed. It almost takes off my tail.

Rocco twitches his ears and licks his lips. ‘Let’s help our masters with their works.’

‘Homework!’ I correct him.

Rocco gives me a long stare, ‘Home…work?’ He dribbles.

6. MR CHIONG’S MOTORHOME

The following morning, a soggy Saturday, Rocco begins with his odd woofs, ‘Uluru is the best of the best, woof, woof!’

Sniffing the wet morning air, I push my doggy door and trot into the garden.

‘Have you let her know about going to the Red Centre?’ Rocco asks, resting his paws on the wooden fence. ‘I mean Isabel, your master.’

I sit on my haunches. No matter how many times I have corrected him about calling Isabel mistress, not master, Rocco keeps on twisting his tongue the wrong way. ’No,’ I bark. ‘Aunt Barbara hasn’t even let us run outside the house. She would never ever let us go to the Red Centre.’

‘It is not fair.’ Rocco sighs. ‘You should push your master to take you there. Enjoy the view of Uluru at sunrise. At midday. At sunset. No dog should be denied that pleasure.’

I stretch myself tall. ‘I’m working on it.’

I hop around as I notice a ray of sun on the muddy patch of our garden.

‘Woof, woof, woof,’ I run and roll myself all over the aromatic earthy compost, till my coat feels pawrrific. When I look up, Rocco isn’t at the wooden fence.

Shaking my body hard, I howl, ‘Rocco, please tell me how my dear mistress and I can go to Uluru?’

‘With pawrrific charm, of course! Woof, woof, woof!’

‘For dog’s sake, Rocco!’

Through the wooden fence, I sniff Billy. He says ‘Let’s run Rocco!’

Woofing around like a two-month old puppy, Rocco follows his master. ‘With pawrrific charm, woof, woof!’

I lift my leg against the Jacaranda tree, just as a gigantic car drives in. It is white and blue; lots of windows; set of steps and smelling new; new vehicle with a hint of fresh meat.

‘Henry Chiong!’ Aunt Barbara screams, and walks out of the kitchen. ‘Your motorhome looks better than I expected.’

Mr Chiong hops out of his motorhome holding a bag full of meat. Yep, another of his heaven-in-a-bag gifts. He kisses Aunt Barbara’s forehead. ‘This is for our trip.’

‘Yum!’ I woof.

Aunt Barbara gives me a dead serious stare.

Tail down, I retreat to the end of the garden. What can I do to make Aunt Barbara happy? Why doesn’t she like me? How can I convince her to take me with them?

I lie down¾with my paws in the air¾on the aromatic compost, watching the Jacaranda tree dropping blue flowers all over Mr Chiong’s brand new motorhome.

Stomping out of the house, Aunt Barbara, with a large black bag in her hand trips over me. ‘Isabel! Bath your disgusting, stinking dog at once!’

7. AT THE BLINK OF A FLEA

Three days later, my coat still smells of shampoo. I try to camouflage the perfume by rolling in the dirt. But no matter how hard I try I can’t get rid of it.

Now, under a timid sun, Isabel and I are cleaning Mr Chiong’s motorhome. From nowhere, Rocco shows up wagging his bushy tail. ‘So,’ he says, nose to the ground.

Trying to disguise the scent of perfume, I push the soapy sponge with the tip of my nose against the back wheel of the shiny vehicle. ‘Where have you been?’ I growl.

Rocco stretches his legs. ‘C’mon Blotch. You know my master and I are free spirit soul mates. We do and go anywhere we please.’ He scratches his whole body, furiously. Neck, belly, backside, ears, tail. The lot. One dead flea lands on my nose. Black. Long, brown, spindly legs. ‘Uff!’ I shake it off. ‘Is that so?’ I woof.

‘Things happen at the blink of a flea.’

My dear mistress grabs the sponge. Her soft fingers slide around my neck lightly, so pawrrifically lightly that I jump and kiss her chin. She wipes her face, and her brown eyes flash. ‘Hi Rocco,’ she says, and standing on tiptoe, she sponges the rear window of Mr Chiong’s motorhome.

Rocco and I roll on the grass, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ The white and blue stripes of fresh paint on Mr Chiong’s motorhome shine in the sun.

Isabel kneels and pats Rocco, ‘Pew! Rocco … you need a bath.’ She holds her nose. ‘I’ll tell Billy to give you a good wash.’

‘Woof!’ I giggle staring at Rocco. ‘You need a bath more than I did when I rolled in the mud.’

Rocco flattens his belly under Mr Chiong’s motorhome. ‘Oh no!’ he moans. ‘I don’t like to be bathed.’

‘Neither do I!’ I pant back. ‘Actually, I am allergic to soap.’

Right then Aunt Barbara turns on the hose, and splashes water on both of us.

That night I helped Mr Chiong organize tools and maps in his well-washed motorhome.

‘We’ll have a great holiday. Driving along through different towns. The main point is to reach Uluru… of course with Isabel and Blotch.’

‘What!’ Aunt Barbara screams. ‘The dog is coming too?’

Mr Chiong laughs. ‘Barbara my dear, you surely don’t expect to leave Blotch behind. Isabel would be lonely without him.’

I can’t believe my ears!

I chase my tail, madly. ’Woof, woof, woof! ‘At the blink of a flea, adventure!’

From the other side of the fence, ‘At last!’ Rocco. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

8. BYE-BYE SYDNEY

At dawn, on the first Monday of July, I wag bye-bye to Rocco. He is half asleep. ‘Good luck, Blotch,’ he yawns. ’I’ll look after your place. ‘Ah!’ He groans, and stretches his legs out of his plastic bed. ‘Share a bone or two with my dingo mate.’

‘Deal!’

Rocco pulls his blanket over his body. His teeth shine in the dim light. ‘Deal.’

I rub my chest. ‘Deal!’

For a long second the world spins backward.

‘Which one? You have so many girlfriends.’

Rocco steps on top of me. His big paws press my ribs. ‘Blotch stop it!’ he growls.

I moan, ‘Wadi-Wadi.’

Rocco jumps off me. ‘Didn’t I tell you Wadi-Wadi is the most exciting girl dog on earth?’

I rack my brain. Skinny, hot tempered dingo girl with a light brown coat and a white spot on her chest. There are probably hundreds of female dingoes fitting Rocco’s description. But they don’t all have a white spot on their chest.

‘Cross my heart, Rocco, I promise, to find and look after Wadi-Wadi.’

Sniffing the salty scent of Bondi Beach, I lift my leg against my Jacaranda tree. ‘Bye-bye, tree. Keep well. Keep growing.’ And just like that I bolt to Mr Chiong’s motorhome. Yes, just behind Isabel and Aunt Barbara. But …oh oh… I fart. I couldn’t help it. The doggie door was a bit too narrow for me.

‘Henry! Is that you?’ Aunt Barbara fans herself with a kitchen towel.

Mr Chiong shrugs, and opens the fridge which is hidden under the bench, ‘Plenty of food.’ He smiles. ‘We won’t stop until we reach Singleton.’

‘Singleton!’ Isabel echoes and clicks on her tablet. She reads out loud. ’Singleton is a town on the banks of the Hunter River, 197 kilometres north west of Sydney. It has some caravan parks … ’ She taps the computer keyboard furiously and holding me up she whispers, ‘Look at these beautiful pictures, Blotch. There are lots of dog-friendly caravan parks on the way.’

Mr Chiong puts on his sunglasses. ‘Now we are all on board.’ He winks at me. ‘We’ll fix your doggy door later.’

Aunt Barbara turns around and orders Isabel, ‘Strap in the dog!’

Patting the front seats, Mr Chiong smiles. ‘Barbara, dear, please be our navigator.’

I swing in a circle beneath the table, and settle myself at Isabel’s feet. She is wearing her adventure shoes. Thrilled, I nose out the old and the new stains, and clear off the latest: a lump of Vegemite. Yum!

‘Blotch,’ she whispers, her voice smooth as marshmallow. I shake and poke my nose into her belly. She picks me up, folds the table and a little board appears. ‘These are our travelling seats,’ she bows. ‘From now on… ’

No farts, no burps, no catching flies. No barking. No getting excited, I whimper.

She squats next to me and looks me straight in the eye. ‘Yes, Blotch, from now on no farts, no burps, and definitely no barking!’

I squish myself squarely under our travelling seats and gaze at our confined space. Almost everything is the colour of the sea. Soft blue. Dark blue. Azure blue. The bench, the curtains, the floor.

Sniff, sniff!

The pale-blue kitchenette area has an oven, a grill, and a sink that smell of disinfectant. The dark-blue double bed cramped against the wall stinks of deodorant. The azure blue berth at the top of the driver’s seat smells of sand and fresh bread. Between the toilet and the door is a basket. My nose goes crazy. Heavenly doggies, my basket! It has my scent, my dreams, my hope imprinted on it.

‘Here we go!’ Mr Chiong says, and whistling Waltzing Matilda he drives us through the streets of Sydney.

Well strapped in, I watch the sun flame through Isabel’s hair and deep in my heart, I woof bye-bye to Sydney.

I know I have a ton of work to do. For a start I have to keep quiet.

As we are travelling along, I see a little cavalier dog helping his master. The two of them are licking an ice-cream and fighting their way through the crazy traffic to reach the footpath.

Heavenly doggies! Working dogs. Millions of dogs around the world are helping their masters achieve their dreams. Including me. Day in. Day out. 24/7. Vigilant!

I’ve been a vigilant companion for ages. Oh yes, since the day I scented Isabel’s hands patting my neck.

Personally I’ve encountered:

Drug-sniffing dogs.

Companion dogs-for the blind.

Therapy dogs for sick kids in hospitals.

Therapy dogs for old people in nursing homes.

Therapy dogs for prisoners in gaols.

Light duty dogs for active people.

Fluffly-looking dogs for soothing egocentric people on the go. And many other fellow dogs helping their masters to vegetate.

Hard job. Day in. Day out 24/7. Lying down at their feet.

Lucky me. Isabel is energetic. We keep very busy. That’s my job! Companions for life, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Anyhow, now once again we are together for another pawrrific adventure. So I keep my ears and eyes well tuned, as I watch Sydney flash by.

‘Look!’ Isabel says. ‘There’s the Harbour Bridge.’ She pauses. ‘And that’s the Opera House. And the Botanic Gardens are over there.’

I stretch my neck to the max, and together we enjoy the blue and yellow and green and bright pink colours of the most beautiful harbour on earth.

But soon we reach the highway.

9. NOISY WHEELS NOISY WHEELS

Enormous trucks. Small cars. Medium side utility vans flash by. Noisy wheels, noisy wheels. Noisy wheels, noise wheels. Their dreadful, repetitive sound makes me shake all over. I feel like throwing up my latest breakfast, lunch and dinner all together.

I am terrified. And trying not to vomit!

Hard task.

Often those vehicles skid past our motorhome¾buzzing and hitting their horns. Ohhhh. My ears. My tongue. My whole body hurts from the tension as I try not to vomit old food that is bubbling inside my belly.

I want to bark at them: Shut up! Pleeease shut up! Like the way I do at the rubbish collector’s truck and the postman’s bicycle around our home. Woof! Woooooof, woof! But remembering my promise to Isabel, I bite my tongue, and try my best to look cute. Yep, like a cute, good dog I close my eyes tightly, and begin to chew the straps around my chest.

‘Blotch, please,’ Isabel whispers. ‘Don’t be scared of the semi-trailers.’ But I can tell that she is scared of the semi-trailers, as well as the other dreadfully noisy vehicles.

Wagging her ponytail, she shows me pictures of Singleton on her tablet. But I am too nervous to pay attention.

After a while, she cuddles me. ‘We’ll get used to them.’ And true to her words, we do¾snoozing to the rhythmic vibration of our pawrrific motorhome.

‘Singleton!’ Mr Chiong announces, and parks under the shade of eucalyptus trees, near a river. ‘This is the Hunter River.’

Isabel unclips our seatbelts, and we bolt. She somersaults toward a bleached building. ‘Toilet break.’

Earthy scents of mud and fresh cut grass fill my lungs.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Mr Chiong whistles. ‘It is a thirty minute stop.’ He fiddles with his wristwatch. ‘Starting from now!’

Aunt Barbara steps out of the motorhome. ‘Henry Chiong, we are not in the army.’ She waves a red basket smelling of bacon, cheese, celery, carrots, and sausage rolls! ‘A little lunch?’

We munch hard eggs, strips of bacon, and burnt pieces of bread. Fast. Far too fast. So I burp. Isabel rolls her eyes at me. ’We’d better stretch our legs.’

Running at full speed, ‘Blotch, keep an eye open for a sundial,’ she pants. ‘The sundial, I’ve shown you on my tablet!’

‘Woof?’ I whimper, chasing after her. What’s a sundial?

She skips over a little Waratah bush, and pats her backpack¾a gesture she always makes to be sure her table is safe. ‘A sundial is a device that tells the time of the day by the position of the sun.’ She says, looking at me straight in the eye.

Sundial, sundial woof, woof where can I find a sundial? Sniff. Sniff.

Run. Run.

I swallow and before I roll my tongue back, Isabel stops dead in her tracks.

I nose up. The sky is bright pink, but in the far distance turning gray.

‘There it is! ’ She exclaims, and sits on the grass, cross-legged. ’Blotch, this is the famous Singleton sundial.’

I look at the odd metal device. Two galahs are laughing and pooing on top of the famous sundial.

Heavenly doggies!

Woofing my head off, I chase after them.

But, oh, oh, I fly in the air and SPLASH! I end up in the murky water of the Hunter River.

10. KOOKABURRA IN A BOX

Sneezing my head off, I swim back to shore. I shake mud off my coat and my dear mistress runs towards me. ‘Wow!’ she pants, ‘I love you Blotch. I love your dog-paddling swimming style. I’m happy you didn’t drown!’ She pulls her hoodie down. ‘But Blotch, never ever chase birds again, okay?’

Never ever? I sneeze. How could I promise not to chase nasty birds? Back home magpies, crows, seagulls, and kookaburras fly to steal my food. They fart, and off they fly away. Sometimes they peck my head and laugh at me.

Isabel rearranges her tablet inside her jacket, ‘I was sooo scared for you, but not now.’ Her face lights up like the sun above the gum trees.

I roll on my back¾with my legs in the air ‘What about training for the 2020 Olympic Games?’ I yap.

‘C’mon Blotch,’ she giggles. ‘We have fifty seconds to get back.’ She mimics Mr Chiong’s voice, ‘ Counting from NOW!’

Our legs get on fire.

There is something magic about running. The world turns into a whisper of melodic sounds. One paw at a time. One heartbeat. One long stretchy jump. Over and over. Pawfect!

I always let Isabel run faster than me. She has only two legs! She is my trainee. And I am her personal trainer. But now we are running at the same speed.

All of a sudden, a kookaburra falls from a gum tree, and hits me on the head. One of his feathers sticks on my wet nose. ‘Achoo!’

Isabel turns around, and clutches the injured kookaburra to her chest. ‘Blotch. Stop sneezing!’

Running nose. Eyes weeping. Ears tingling. The lot. Poor me. I try my best not to sneeze. But she keeps holding that stinking kookaburra near me. ‘Achoo!’

When we reach our motorhome, my nose feels like a putrid soaking ball. ‘Achoo!’

‘Henry Chiong,’ Aunt Barbara calls, sweeping the floor. She lifts the broom in the air. ‘Henry Chiong, you are so…’

‘Perfect!’ he says, seeing Isabel and me come in.

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘Perfect? You perfect? Ha!’

‘Barbara dear,’ Mr Chiong says, and pats his watch. ‘Perfect timing!’ He winks at Isabel and me.

‘We found this baby kookaburra!’ Isabel cries. ‘I think he lost his mother, then he broke his wing and now he can’t fly!’

Mr Chiong inspects the bird, which shakes with fear. ‘Apparently it has a broken heart and a broken wing.’ With his car keys in hand, he says, ‘The sooner we reach Gunnedah the better.’ He punches some numbers on his mobile phone. ‘I should call WIRES.’

Wires? I whimper.

My dear mistress sits on the bench and plugs her tablet into the electric socket underneath. ‘I hope we have coverage.’ Her speedy fingers bash the keyboard. ‘WIRES stands for Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service.’ She blinks at me.

I leap onto her lap, ‘When I grow up, I’d like to work for WIRES,’ she whispers. ‘They look after injured animals.’

I tilt my head, and nose at her tablet.

I see pawrrific images of Australian native creatures. But, oh heavenly doggies! Badly injured, burnt, run over ohh kangaroos, possums, koalas, bandicoots …

Paws crossed WIRES will accept you and me as helpers.

‘Yes!’ Mr Chiong says, on the phone. ‘Yes, we’ve found a young kookaburra badly injured. Yes, we are on the way. Thank you.’ He grabs the box of cereal from the cupboard, and facing us, he says. ‘Safety first.’

Removing the biscuits, he punches holes in the box. Then he scrunches up some old newspaper, ‘I’ll make you comfortable, little mate,’ he mutters, and puts the sickeningly-smelly bird inside the sweet-smelling box.

Soon, we are all strapped in our seats of the motorhome. ‘Here we go!’ says Mr Chiong and drives us away.

The smell of the disgusting kookaburra hovers like a menacing cloud over me.

‘Blotch, don’t vomit!’ Isabel begs.

‘I am allergic to birds’. I complain, sniffing the poo of the bird emanating from the cereal box.

A rainbow of bile flies out of my throat. I can’t help myself.

By the time we reach Gunnedah, my belly feels oddly empty. And I guess, the kookaburra’s tummy does too.

Aunt Barbara’s long thin nose looms above us. ‘Wash the dog!’ She says to Isabel. ‘We are taking the bird to the vet.’

With the box in his hand, Mr Chiong says. ‘We’ll meet back here.’ He winks at Isabel and me. ‘Let’s say in twenty-five minutes.’

My dear mistress grabs the plastic bags we have used during our journey. ‘Pew!’ she groans, and we run to a noisy caravan park.

Lots of kids are playing around. Lots of mothers are shouting orders at them. Lots of bins are overloaded with rubbish.

I take a long breath, and nudge Isabel towards a half-empty bin at the end of the caravan park.

‘Toilet break!’ she smiles, and somersaults away.

I wag my tail at her, and squat among the bushes.

What a relief!

Right then from behind a compost bin, a pirate jumps up and attacks me.

11. THE PIRATE’S PATH

‘Password!’ the pirate orders, pointing a long stick at me.

Heavenly doggies! I shake, and sniff the pirate from foot to head. He smells of popcorn and sour milk and he has a fascinating stick in his hands. Wow! My eyes are glued to the stick.

The pirate kicks my rock solid poo away. ‘You like my new bandana?’ he shifts the black piece of material from his eye over his shiny bald head. Then arms outstretched, he looks at me straight in the eye. ‘Password!’

I scratch my belly and backside. ‘Blotch,’ I yap.

He smiles, ‘I have leukaemia. I’ll be six tomorrow. It’s my birthday. How old are you?’

I roll back on alert mode. ‘Well, if you convert human life into doggy’s years, I am five going on fifty multiplied by fifty,’ I yap.

‘Fetch!’ He raises the stick over his head.

My paws itch, waiting and waiting.

He throws the stick as far as the last gum tree of the caravan park, and my paws are on fire. He hides himself behind the wattle bushes. Stick in my mouth, I whoosh back, crushing the crispy leaves of the trees and the yellow blanket of flowers with my four lucky paws. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

You see, the pirate and I play a mixture of fetch and hide-and-seek. Fetch and run back! Woof! Best game ever, until from the clothesline a lady calls, ‘Oliver!’

‘That’s my mum. Let’s hide.’ Gently Oliver grabs me by the tail and we crouch down behind the half-empty garbage bin.

‘Oliver, come here at once and get your pyjamas on!’

Somehow she has spotted us.

‘Where did you get that filthy dog?’ she asks, flapping Oliver’s pyjamas.

Oliver kneels by my side. ‘You are a good little dog.’ He grins. ‘Tomorrow, I’ll dress myself as a koala.’

I lick snot from Oliver’s runny nose. ‘A pirate dressed as a koala?’ I wag my tail. Pawrrific!

‘Oliver!’ His mother orders. ‘Enough is enough!’

I stop wagging my tail, so I sniff her from toe to head. She smells of washing powder and tomato paste. I stretch myself across the patch of weeds. ‘Woof!’ I yap at her. ‘So you mean it is reading time. I love that!’ I jump. ‘Bedtime is reading time. My dear mistress Isabel always reads wonderful books to me, woof, woof, woof!’

‘Shoo!’ she shouts. ‘Shoo! Dog!’ And she chases me away.

Oliver complains, ‘It’s not fair.’

His mother mumbles, ‘I know it is not fair. But now you must have your medicine and a nap.’

Tail down, I skirt around Oliver’s mother’s washing basket and trot in search of my dear mistress.

12 MEATBALLS

That night we have dinner under two million stars. The air is pretty cold, even the moisture on my nose feels icy. But I don’t mind, for Isabel puts my basket with my teddy bear next to her.

Mr Chiong places a huge tray of food on the table. His big warm hands rub the tip of my head.

The aroma flies to the full moon above and back.

For dog’s sake! While I was playing with the pirate, Mr. Chiong was preparing a banquet!

Isabel grabs some meatballs, and tosses one to me. I somersault, catch it in my mouth and break it with my lucky teeth.

‘Mmm. Oh. Ouch!’ It is too hot but I eat it anyway. The second meatball tastes a bit too spicy. The third one tastes a bit too salty. The fourth meatball tastes perfect! Absolutely pawrrifically perfect balls of meat. What a perfect combination meat and ball!

Tongue out, I sit on my haunches and watch Isabel wiping Mr Chiong’s tray clean with paper towels. She turns around and with her palms up. ‘Botch! No use begging. Nothing. No more food. Nada! Everything’s clean now.’

As you see, I am not offered anything else. But still my belly roars for more food. Paws on alert, I check the kitchen garbage bin. What a delicious curry! The spicy food makes my tongue tingle. But later on oh heavenly doggies my far-end burns.

‘Not happy!’ Isabel says, looking with at the rubbish on the floor.

Wagging my tail, I raise my paw, ‘I was just helping with the cleanup.’

‘Move!’ Isabel picks up the broom hidden behind the door of our motorhome. ‘Move. Don’t fart. Oh Blotch.’

She sweeps.

I squeeze my far end tight.

Holding a fart is a hard task.

Before I’d squeezed my back legs, Aunt Barbara storms into the motorhome. ‘Nice. Hygienically clean.’ Her long thin nose wiggles.

Isabel picks up her tablet, and blinks at me. ‘Let’s study.’

I jump on her lap.

‘Gunnedah is the Koala Capital of the World! Home of one of the largest and healthiest colonies of koalas in Australia! Look at these photos, Blotch!’

Wow! Are they real bears? Just as cute as my teddy bear? I jump out of her arms, and grab him in my teeth.

She bends over, and flicking her ponytail she caresses my head. ‘No, no, no, Blotch,’ she giggles. ‘Koalas are not bears. They are related to kangaroos and wombats.’

Very confusing I sigh, and sprawl on the bench next to her. With my teddy bear in her hands, she continues reading aloud. ‘Koalas drink milk from their mothers. They sleep around 19 hours a day. They eat eucalyptus leaves. They belch!’ She laughs. ‘Koalas are the cutest marsupials on Earth, aren’t’ they?’

Probably. But if they belch, do they fart? My belly rumbles, and a loud noise come out of my backside.

Isabel twists her nose. ‘Ooooh Blotch!’

Embarrassed, I retreat under the bench my tail between my legs. What a relief!

Isabel continues punching her tablet. ‘Miranda Kerr, the supermodel was born here.’ And Dorothea Mackellar, the famous poet wrote “My Country” because she was inspired by the beauty of Gunnedah!’

‘Yes!’ Aunt Barbara says, and stops dusting the window. ‘As far as I remember it goes like this,’

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror –

The wide brown land for me!”

‘I love that poem too!’ says Isabel.

Aunt Barbara kisses Isabel. ‘Time for bed.’

I pick up my teddy bear and head for my basket. Tuning up my ears to crickets and frogs and all sorts of nocturnal creatures, I curl up by my teddy bear.

My dear mistress moves my basket towards the stairs and pats me. Head up, I kiss her chin, ‘night-night.’ And I watch as she climbs up the ladder to the bed above the cabin. ‘Tomorrow, we’ll have a big day,’ she says.

Better than today? Better than the day before yesterday? Better than the day before the day before that?

To the soothing chorus of the crickets, we fall asleep.

13 KOALA’S GRIP

‘The sooner we leave Gunnedah, the faster we’ll reach Moree, Goondiwindi and many other amazing places until we reach Uluru!’ says Mr Chiong .

Aunt Barbara, Isabel and I line up outside the motorhome.

Mr Chiong salutes us, his right hand squared on his forehead. ‘Breakfast is served!’ He bows.

I nose up. Porridge and grapes and yoghurt. What an unpawrrifc menu! Tail down, I stroll over the dry long grass.

Rat’s poo.

My dear mistress senses my distress. Smiling at me, she fills up one of my doggie bowls with water, and the other with crunchy doggy biscuits.

Yum!

I trot down the caravan park. The scent of bush land hits me. Tongue out I reach a pond and share a drink of delicious pond water with a couple of lizards. One has a long green tongue, and the other a reddish one. Both have halitosis. Yuck!

Belly up to the sun I notice four bluish eucalyptus trees huddled together in the morning wind. Between them, a gigantic koala.

‘Hey, little dog! Let’s play!’ the gigantic koala demands. ‘Wait!’

My nose goes crazy, sniffing around. Oliver! ‘Woof, woof!’ He lies next to me. ‘You like my koala costume?’ he asks, scratching his bald head.

We roll and roll down the weeds. ‘I think I like you better as a pirate.’ I pant. ‘You are the coolest six year-old I have ever met. But why don’t you have hair?’

Oliver jumps up, ‘I have a bug growing up inside me, and the medicine made my hair fall out.’ He fixes his koala tail and tells me about his trips to hospital wards. ‘But luckily at last my mum has come to her senses.’ He squats. ‘No more chemotherapy. Just fun travelling around the country.’

I lick his nose. ‘We are heading to Uluru.’

‘So are we!’ Oliver blinks at the sun.

Pawrrific! I sit on my haunches and yap loud and clear. Yep, I tell Oliver all about Wadi-Wadi. ‘She is lost somewhere around Uluru.’ I insist. ‘That beautiful dingo girl needs our help.’

Oliver pats me and promises to help me find Wadi-Wadi. ‘Dressed on my pirate costume or my koala?’

I sprawl flat on the red path and lick Oliver’s forehead. ‘You’ll impress Wadi-Wadi better with a raw bone in your hand. She won’t feel threatened.’

Oliver twitches, ‘Oh!’ He squeezes me to his chest and tells me more about hospital wards. Needles. People poking instruments to his body.

Drops of rain starts falling upon us.

Oliver points at the sky. ‘Rainbow!’

I roll on my back, my four legs up to the clouds. Rainbow. Oh what a pawfect colours!

He pokes his tongue out at me, ‘I forgot to put on my koala gloves!’ He rushes to his caravan.

I wag my tail, and wait for him in the shade. But after a long while I hear his mother singing to him. ‘I love Oliver, Oliver my baby, one day at a time. Now just have a little nap.’

Tail down, I trot back to our pawrrific motorhome.

14. BALLOONS

The dried-out tree rustles its branches against the window of our motorhome. A soothing sound. Great for a good afternoon nap.

‘Knock. Knock!’

‘Woof!?’

I open one eye then the other.

Oliver’s mother pops in. ‘Knock. Knock,’ she says, ‘My name’s Sarah and I would like to invite you to my little boy’s sixth birthday party.’ She clears her throat. ‘We are practically neighbours.’ She smiles, pointing at the pink caravan not far from ours.

Mr Chiong takes his apron off. ‘ Well, thank you. But ...’

‘But we have other plans,’ says Aunt Barbara.

Oliver’s mother scrunches her eyes, and sighs, ‘My little boy is very sick, leukaemia, but he loves dogs, unfortunately.’

Aunt Barbara gasps, and looks seriously sad. ‘Perhaps, my niece and the dog, ’ she murmurs, ‘Isabel! Put the dog on the leash, please.’

Isabel winks at me and we trot behind Oliver’s mother.

The moment we reach Oliver’s caravan. ‘Boom!’ A huge red balloon bursts against my floppy ears.

I run for my life.

Isabel chases after me. ‘Blotch, Blotch come back,’ she begs.

I hide myself behind a bush, ‘Please forgive me, dear mistress Isabel,’ I yap. ‘Go, and have fun with Oliver. I will wait for you right here. I don’t like balloons.’

She steps on my leash. ‘Oliver wants to play with you.’

‘Boom!’ another balloon explodes.

Isabel sweeps me into her arms. Listening to the rhythm of her heart, I relax a bit.

Salami. I smell it before we hit the door.

‘You want some?’ Oliver giggles. He is playing with two little girls, but when he sees me. ‘Blotch!’ he jumps, and shares a piece of salami with me.

‘Pavlova!’ Oliver’s mother announces. She places the fluffy white cloud of deliciousness on the table, kisses him on his forehead, and carefully puts six candles among the fruit: mangoes, bananas, strawberries, peaches and cherries. Not my kind of food.

At the chorus of ‘Happy Birthday Oliver!’ I sit under the table. Smiling wearily Oliver pats me. I jump up and I lick his face. Just to give him a little comfort. Now, I can feel and smell how sick he is.

Clapping their hands the little girls sing and dance, ‘Open your gifts, Oliver. Open your gifts, Oliver!’

‘Now?’ he says, and tears the colourful wrapping on the gifts. ‘Wow! It’s a toy truck!’ Rolling the yellow truck on the table. ‘I am six years old today, but I don’t feel any different than yesterday when I was five.’

His mother flashes her camera. ‘Yes, my dear boy, it is amazing that you’ve reached six!’

Click. Click.

She apologizes for the small space. ‘Caravan life is great, but on occasions like this … restricted,’

‘Oh!’ Oliver shrugs, looking at me. Quickly, he pulls a tennis ball out of his overall pocket. ‘This is my gift for you. It is my lucky-lucky ball.’

As soon as Oliver blows out the candles, his mother thanks us, so I grab Oliver’s gift with my lucky teeth and my dear mistress and I trot away. By the side of the pond, Isabel stops and hugs me. ‘We may never see Oliver again.’ She taps her tablet. ‘Cancer. Leukemia.’

One look at the images of children sick with cancer makes my heart race harder inside my chest. Oh no! Oliver is my friend! Paws crossed, Oliver kicks cancer away. He promised to help me find Wadi-Wadi, and play “catch me if you can” in Uluru!

I drop the tennis ball on the dry grass.

Isabel picks it up. ‘I saw you wagging your tail at Oliver.’ She snuggles me in her arms.

I yap, ‘Yes, Oliver gave me his lucky tennis ball. Will Oliver get rid of that horrible disease?’

Isabel’s tablet clinks inside her bag. But she ignores it! She just hugs me tighter, and together we watch the pink motorhome drive away.

15 KOALA FUR-REAL

Waves of heat hits at all. In a haze, I chew Oliver’s tennis ball. Aunt Barbara calls. ‘Isabel! Go brush your teeth, and bring back my make-up bag.’

Paws in action, I dig Oliver’s ball under the caravan, and trot behind Isabel. Against the haze, the red sun becomes rosy.

After a short run, she pants. ‘Blotch, you are a good dog. Wait for me here!’

Sniffing shrubs and grass I wait. But after a long time, my ears hurt and my belly too!

While she is brushing her teeth and looking for Aunt Barbara’s make-up bag, inside the “Ladies” ¾ I mean the squared little place where female two-leggeds do their business ¾ I empty my bladder on the nearest gum tree.

‘Plop!’ Something lands on my head.

‘What was that?’ I yap.

‘You pee on my tree,’ says a voice. ‘I poo on your head!’

I look up and there I see a REAL koala. A girl koala clutches a branch of the tallest gum tree. ‘Keep away from my tree!’ she orders. ‘I am the boss of this tree, and you are just an ugly, disgusting dog.’

I step back. ‘I am not an ugly dog. I am the most beautiful dog in the whole world.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘My dear mistress Isabel tells me everyday that I am the most beautiful, clever, kind dog in the whole world. And she knows everything! She has a tablet.’ I rub my head on the back of the tree to get rid of the koala’s poo. ‘Anyhow what’s so special about this tree?’ I ask.

The chubby koala inspects her grey fur. Her bright round eyes go up and down. ‘This tree has the most delicious leaves on Earth.’ She grabs a leaf and munches contentedly.

‘Yuk!’ I shake. ‘You eat gum leaves?’

‘Only special ones,’ she retorts. ‘Not like you. Dogs eat anything.’

‘Don’t you like bones, chewing bones?’ I ask.

‘How gross!’ she says. She bends her head and I am surprised to see a tiny koala on her back.

‘Who’s that?’ I yap.

‘It’s my baby joey,’ says the koala. ‘His name is Timmy-Timmy.’ She shifts her baby from her back to her chest. ‘By the way, I’m Misty. What’s your name?’

I stand like a meerkat watching the baby koala watching me. My breath explodes in steam-puffs. ‘Blo… Blo…. Blotch.’ I stammer. ‘My name is Blotch.’

Heavenly doggies! What a cute little creature! I suck in my breath. The little joey has button-shaped fascinating eyes. Black spoon-shaped nose. Tiny fluffy ears, and he smells of warm milk. ‘Misty, please come down so we can all play together.’

Hugging the tree, Misty, with Timmy-Timmy clinging to her back begins to climb down. When she is about to jump next to me, ‘Danger!’ she cries out. ‘Blotch go away. You are a trustful dog, but your human companion is not!’

I twist back and see Isabel approaching us.

‘Blotch!’ she calls. ‘Hurry up, Blotch!’

I want to chat a bit more with the bossy koala and her cute son. I nip Isabel on her leg. She twitches. ‘What’s wrong with you Blotch?’ I run around and around the eucalyptus tree. ‘Isabel, please take a look at Timmy-Timmy.’ I yap, until my dear mistress looks up.

‘A koala! And a baby koala.’ Isabel exclaims. ‘Oh, they are soooo cute.’ She fishes her tablet out of her bag.

Misty rolls her eyes at me, ‘See you later,’ she says. ‘I don’t like two-leggeds. I don’t trust humans that much.’ And she climbs further up the tree till she disappears among the foliage.

Isabel tries to take some photos. Misty gets so upset that finally she belches. ’Leave us alone!’

Isabel doesn’t get messages from other animals. Only me! ‘Woof!’ But how can I train her to understand bush creatures?

16 WOMBAT’S GRADUATION PARTY

One drop of rain is followed by many ...

That night, for the first time ever I sleep inside of our motorhome. Isabel managed Aunt Barbara’s uncool temper! I think Isabel’s bracing teeth play the trick.

to set my basket between Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong’s seats.

bunk. and the driving The rain that started early has developed into a deluge. So lucky me, curled up in my cozy basket, I think about Misty and Timmy-Timmy, her beautiful baby koala.

What happens to creatures in the bush? I mean in heavy rain like this drumming on the roof. I rub my ears against my teddy bear. What about when there is a fire? Where do Misty and her baby go? I remember watching bushfires on TV. Heavenly doggies! What happens to birds and animals when the trees burn down?

I hug my teddy bear against my chest. I’ve a flash of memory – Isabel talking about wires. ’Thank Goodness for WIRES! I whisper to him. ’The animal rescue organization, my dear mistress has told me, stands for Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service. ‘Woof!’

The next morning the sun shines and dries up the rain on the wet grass. ‘Best day for travelling,’ says Mr Chiong. He checks his wristwatch. ‘It’s 9 o’clock. We should be arriving at Goondiwindi at 1 pm this afternoon.’

‘Henry Chiong!’ Aunt Barbara says. ‘We are not in the army.’

After lots of mucking around, we leave Gunnedah at the midday gong of its church. Yes, Aunt takes a long time to be ready.

We stop in small towns for the usual: Petrol. Toilet. Photos. Narrabri, Moree and lots of other towns with weird names that I can’t recall.

‘Goondiwindi!’ Mr Chiong announces, and parks at the end of a friendly-looking caravan park. Not far from a big sign. Welcome to Goondiwindi. Population: 5670.

Isabel pats me. ’The word Goondiwindi derives from an Aboriginal word meaning, “the resting place of the birds.” She says, and inserts her tablet into her backpack.

I peer up and down. No birds fly around. They all must be resting. Gaily I check my paws.

Banging on the tartan Esky Aunt Barbara asks Isabel to help with the vegetables, so I decide to have a little stroll all by myself.

Tail up, I trot towards the aromatic bushes in a gully.

As I sniff around, a wombat steps on my tail.

‘Ouch!’

‘I’m sorry, little dog,’ says the dark brown wombat. ‘You see I’m in a hurry. I have to groom myself for a party.’

‘What kind of party?’ I ask.

She studies her thick, curvy claws. ‘My cousin’s graduation,’ she says. ‘He’s graduating for his TD with honours!’

TD with honours? I scratch my ears. ‘What’s that?’

Her small eyes inspect me up and down. ‘Tunnelling Diploma, of course.’ She sighs. ‘You want to come to the party?’

‘Are there balloons? I hope not. I hate balloons.’

She shakes her head. ‘No balloons, thank you! By the way my name is Weena,’ she adds as she disappears down a tunnel.

Intrigued by the idea of a wombat party, my paws go crazy. Digging in my best style, I follow Weena, my new friend, through the inviting tunnel. But soon I lose my bearings.

Heavenly doggies!

The underground world doesn’t smell right. Something in the air emanates danger. I feel it in my nose. And my nose doesn’t lie.

Fighting against roots of trees in the oppressive dark, I hear some music in the distance – a chanting type of song that makes my heart twist backwards.

Darkness is all around me.

‘Woof?’

Adjusting my eyes, I blink. At the end of the tunnel I see rays of moonlight. The party is already in full swing. Wombats of all sizes are dancing under the moonlight, which comes through a hole in the roof of a big underground clearing.

‘Want to dance?’ a large wombat asks me. She smells like chewed-up grass, but the rhythm is contagious.

Howling at the moonlight, I dance with that lady wombat and many others, till my belly hurts. Dizzy, I rest my paws on top of the roots of a gigantic old tree.

‘Want some snow grass?’ a stout wombat with thick grey fur asks me. His blunt head and short strong neck turn toward me. ‘This is one of the best grasses I’ve ever enjoyed.’ He munches. ‘It’s a bit tussocky, though.’

I shudder. ‘Woof? Haven’t you got a biscuit or piece of steak?’

‘What?’ the wombat squeals. His broad teeth shine. ‘I am a vegetarian.’

‘Actually, I love meat. Leftovers are my specialty!’ Tongue out I sit on my haunches, thinking of fat chops, juicy T-bones, the marrow of osso bucco. Wow! I realize how empty my belly is.

The wombat turns around and burrows away. Soon his strong paws and flat claws echo down the warrens. I clean my ears with my lucky left front paw.

‘Hello there!’ a sweet little voice says. I jump up.

From another tunnel, which I haven’t noticed before, a light brown wombat emerges. ‘I need some herbs.’

Herbs? I wriggle. ‘Where are they?’

‘You’re sitting on them!’ she snarls, and bowls me over with her super extra strong backside. ‘As you see, I need to be strong to feed my baby.’

Standing up, I right myself on my four paws. In her pouch I see a tiny baby wombat. ‘Why is your baby facing backwards?’ I ask.

She stares at me. Her little sharp eyes shine. ‘So my baby doesn’t get dirt in her face when I dig.’ She plucks up some herbs with her front paws and stuffs them into her mouth.

Just then from above the ground, I hear a cry. ‘Blotch, Blotch! Where are you?’

Isabel!

My tail goes crazy.

I try to bark to attract her attention, but my throat is dried out. So I tunnel towards my dear mistress’s voice as quickly as I can. I can’t tell where her voice is coming from. Panic attack. Dirt and rocks fall on me. No matter how hard I try I can’t reach her. I am stuck! I can’t move forwards or backwards.

Where am I?

I am lost in a maze of burrows deep down, suffocating underground, trying to find another way out of the dark humid tunnel. But which way? Which burrow? Everything is blocked! Heavenly doggies! I moan for hours and hours on end. The beat of music is in the background. Everything is unreal as if it is happening to someone else.

Where have all the wombats gone?

Terrified, I close my eyes and think about my dear mistress, Isabel. Will I ever see her again? I despair that I might not.

Paws over my head I tell you.

The first time I sniffed Isabel, I knew she was the right owner for me. The two of us were running across the Hampden Bridge, in Kangaroo Valley.

Before I met her, she lived with her parents. Sadly, she lost them in a freak car accident and ended up in the care of her Aunt Barbara. Aunt Barbara doesn’t like dogs. But Isabel says I am the best dog in the world!

I can hardly breathe. Am I lost forever?

Blinded, claustrophobic, thirsty and starving to death, I doze off.

Squeezed between some ancient roots and rocks, I wake up. Isabel Isabel, where are you? I howl, but no sound comes out of my throat. My mouth is full of dirt!

For what seems like years, I dig and dig and keep on digging. Don’t give up, I say to myself over and over.

I rest my paws for a bit, and smell Weena. Yes, my first wombat friend, Weena.

Pushing some rocks, she smiles at me. ‘You left the party far too quickly. I wanted to introduce you to my cousin Roro the fourth.’

I stretch my neck. My legs. My tail. ‘Roro the fourth? The one who likes tussock grass?’

Weena burps. ‘Yes, Roro is our top tunnelling expert.’ She points at a sign that I haven’t noticed: Never ever be lost underground, burp Roro! ‘That means, if you are lost underground, just call Roro.’

‘I wish I’d done that,’ I whimper. ‘Then I wouldn’t have been lost.’

Weena grins, and gives me a mighty push with her back legs. ‘Good luck little dog.’

And suddenly, I find myself facing a sunny sky. The bluest sky I’ve ever seen. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ It’s daytime!

17 DRIPPING NOSE

Strawberry scent fills the air.

A top dog like me will always keep on alert. Where can I find Isabel?

I stand on all fours.

I look at the vast land.

When I was a puppy I used to waste time chewing and sniffing people’s shoes. How needed of care was I?

Now, I am a personal trainer. So whenever my trainee may be, her scent makes my nose drip with joy. Ears up, I listen as the wind dances around the trees.

Sniff, sniff.

My nose quivers. Oh heavenly doggies, it is my trainee’s scent? I rest my paws against a rock. From behind the rockery fence ¾ just over the little hill I see a massive strawberry plant. My nose guides me towards Isabel. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ Running at full speed towards her, my heart racing like a wild wolf inside my chest, I jump and knock her down.

‘Oh, is it you … Blotch? Or, is it another phantom dog?’

I lick her freckled chin.

She straightens up.

My nose is dripping and hers is too.

We roll over together in the dew. ‘Oh Blotch, I thought I’d lost you forever.’ She wipes her nose on the sleeve of her T-shirt. Tears running down her cheeks, she hiccups, ‘Oh… Blotch… I thought … I’d never … see you … again.’

Immersed in Isabel’s scent I moan, ’me too.’

19. KANGAROO KEKEY

Two days later, we arrive in Roma, a colourful town in Queensland. Aunt Barbara is still cross with me. ‘We lost a day, Isabel, looking for that dog of yours!’ She thumps her handbag on the dashboard.

Chewing her ponytail, Isabel tries to explain that I am a good dog, that maybe I had been lost, trapped or something. As you see Isabel understands me.

I whip my crooked tail and anxiously wait for Mr Chiong to park near a huge bottle tree. My tail has never been the same since my awful accident back in Chile. There, Isabel and I suffered an earthquake measuring 8.9. Yes, it was catastrophic.

Anyway, after a little lunch Aunt Barbara says, ‘We are going hunting for souvenirs.’

Hunting? I jump around and around. When we go hunting it would be pawfet.

Mr Chiong complains, ‘We have far too many mementos already.’

I check my fleas, and look at Isabel for guidance. But she is busily tuning her tablet, and dancing tap music.

‘Isabel!’ Aunt Barbara exclaims. ‘Tie up the dog, now!’

In two seconds flat, I find myself tied up to the bottle tree. And they are gone!

The leash around my throat makes me cough, but I fight the awful thing, till it feels soft and nicely loose. Bored to death, I look around.

Our outside motorhome table smells of leftovers. No matter how much Aunt Barbara has urged Mr Chiong and Isabel to clean up, the leftover scent remains.

Nose up I catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Wadi-Wadi? I stretch my neck to the limit. Hiding in the tall grass just behind the fence of the camping site is a kangaroo!

‘Woof!’

A slow grin spreads across the kangaroo’s face as he watches me watching him. After a long sniff, he says, ‘Have you seen my mum?’

At the cry of the joey, my heart thumps, so I lurch forward biting my leash. ‘I think your mum was hopping toward the river.’ My teeth fight the leash. ‘Well, when I was looking for my dingo friend Wadi-Wadi, I saw a mob of kangaroos going by.’

The kangaroo excitingly bleats, ‘My mum has a grey coat, long strong tail and a round cosy pouch.’

Heavenly doggies, I say to myself. I must help this lost joey find his mother. There must be millions of female kangaroos with grey coats, strong tails and round cosy pouches, but this timid joey smells of desperation.

I twist and turn until my head slips free of the leash. ‘Let’s find your mum!’

The joey hops, mumbling, ’I’m Kekey, the hip-hop kangaroo. And I’m almost ten months old. And I was exploring around for the fifth or maybe for the twenty-fifth time in my life. And you are, you are … a dog,’ he says timidly.

‘Yes, I am Blotch the dog,’ I clear my throat, and we hop through the vast red land. But as we are about to reach the river Kekey stops dead on his tracks. ‘You are not a dingo, are you?’ he asks me.

I stand stiffly on my front paws. ‘Of course not! I am searching for a dingo named, Wadi Wadi.’

Kekey sighs, ‘Oh, good. My mum has told me scary situations about dingoes, foxes and eagles attacking kangaroos.’

Predators. I shudder at the thought. Paws crossed, I tell Kekey not to be worried. But deep inside me, what would I do if Wadi-Wadi turns up to be a predator?

Kekey gives me a wide toothy grin, and squats on the grassy edge of the river. Nose to the ground I inspect Kekey’s poo. Black, round flat with fiber sticking out of it. And smelling of fermented pasture.

‘Croak. Croak.’

Oh what a dreadful sound. I blink at the sun and watch as black birds fly around and around the low hills. ‘Croak. Croak.’ Menacingly, the big black birds croak like Aunt Barbara. I cover my ears with my shaking paws. If I don’t get back to my post on time, I’ll be a dead dog.

Gently, Kekey lifts my floppy ears. ‘Blotch, the birds are gone.’

Before long we come to a group of big kangaroos chewing banksia flowers.

‘Mum, mum,’ Kekey bleats, and somersaults into the pouch of a tall kangaroo.

I wag my tail at Kekey and his mother, and bolt back to our motorhome. As I’m squeezing myself through the wire fence, I see Aunt Barbara walking toward our campsite.

Heavenly doggies! I moan, and in a jiffy I’m under the shade of the bottle tree. From there I watch Isabel as she plays with her tablet.

I think when people go hunting for souvenirs and come back home empty handed they get very hungry.

Later at sunset with a full belly, I howl to the sun. Thank you sun for guiding me to Kekey’s mother. Woof, woof, woof!

19. TRUE BLUE

Our amazing trip goes on along the highway. Mr Chiong drives. Aunt Barbara snores. My dear mistress and I watch the strips of asphalt stretching under the sun.

That night we eat pizza in Charleville, a town in South West Queensland. The sky above looks like Christmas. Lit up, adventurous, with pawrrific scents floating in the air.

Isabel shares the last bit of pizza with me, and we contemplate the sparkling sky once more. ‘That’s the Southern Cross. That’s Saturn. That’s …’

‘Let’s visit the Cosmos Observatory!’ Mr Chiong says, throwing the empty pizza box into the garbage bin.

Aunt Barbara puts on lipstick, and checks herself in the rear mirror of the motorhome, ‘Isabel, tie up the dog!’

Isabel jumps up from the ratty plastic chair, ‘Oh no please Aunt Barbara, Blotch, doesn’t like to be tied up.’ Clashing her table to her chest, Isabel gives Aunt Barbara a broad smile. ‘Look at the pictures of Wadi-Wadi and Bapp! Bapp is super excited that we are searching for his cute dingo pet!’

Aunt Barbara coughs. ‘Is that so?’ Splashing saliva all over Isabel’s tablet and me, in a fury Aunt Barbara ties me up to a palm tree. Its trunk is quite spiky like a pineapple but super flexible. It dances in the breeze. The leaves of the palm tree pump out pure oxygen. But I am scared of Aunt Barbara. She is so unpredictable.

My admiration for trees is pawrrifically profound. Without trees, life in our planet Earth is not possible. Isabel has told me all about it. But now she is busily taking photos of them.

I twitch the gross leash around my neck, and Aunt Barbara stands tall by my side. Bubbles of fear rise in my chest, and I wee on the stop. ‘Isabel, get in the motorhome now!’

Watching they leave, I moan. ‘Why am I not allowed to visit the Cosmos Observatory? It is not fair!’

‘What’s fair?’ a croaky voice says. ‘What’s not fair?’

I look up. A dragon! A real dragon the size of Isabel’s ruler!

Am I dreaming?

I rub my eyes with my right front paw. Still, I see a dragon perched on the rock in front of me.

My heart races inside my chest. But nose up I sniff his blue, rough, scaly skin. His long tail. His five toes and strong short legs. He stares at me as I were a vet inspector or something.

I fart.

His eyes roll in big circles. Swiftly he twitches his mobile eyelids and says, ‘so, you are a dog. A city dog. I am a dragon lizard. A true blue bush dragon lizard.’

No fire comes out of his mouth! Just saliva. We high five, and enjoy the nocturnal soothing peace of another dry night in South West Queensland.

20. STICKY TONGUE

The heat starts cooking the leaves of the palm trees, and we haven’t finished our breakfast. I wipe my whiskers, and watch little clouds of evaporation swirl up to the sky.

Car keys in hand, Mr Chiong says. ‘Let’s get going!’

Aunt Barbara, Isabel and I troop into the motorhome and we leave the caravan park. Stretching my neck, I peer at the rock by the side of the trees. My friend the dragon lizard is not there!

Mr Chiong turns on his country music. ‘Lunch in Blackall and a good night’s sleep in Winton,’ He revs the engine and drives us away.

Thirsty, really dried out, we stop for petrol in Blackall. Just above the rusty post the sign says, Welcome to Blackall. Population, 1598.

I am not keen on petrol stations. Luckily, my dear mistress pours some water into my travelling dish, and sets it far from disgusting chemical fumes¾closer to the fragrant bushes.

She skips over the grassy path. ‘It won’t be long, Blotch.’ She pats me. ‘I’ll bring something nice for you.’ And trots towards the noisy restaurant at the front of the petrol station.

Bum up, my tongue shovels cool water. I drink and drink till I feel someone watching me. I turn around. Through the dark deep canopy, I see a spiky, long-nosed creature digging up worms and grubs with his sharp claws. ‘Come and catch me!’ he mocks.

I wipe water off my whiskers. Images on Isabel’s calendar fly past my mind. She adores native animals. ‘Woof! Mr Echidna. I am not in the mood to play right now.’

‘Ah ha! Mr Dog,’ the echidna sighs.

I sit on my haunches. ‘I’ve sniffed lots of Australian native creatures but none of them are as spiky as you.’

’Name some Australian animals you’ve sniffed,’ he says, grabbing ants with his paws and shovelling them into his mouth.

I rub my head. ‘Koalas. Kangaroos. Kookaburras. Wombats. Dragon lizards. Fleas. Ants!’

Mr Echidna rolls his tiny eyes. ‘What about, emus, bilbys, crocodiles, dingoes, goannas, ibises, platypus, quokkas, Tasmanian devils?’ he asks, wriggling his sticky tongue over the mass of ants.

‘Well,’ I sprawl on the grassy path, ‘Do you really like eating ants?’

He claws around the soil. ‘Ants taste better than anything in the world! They have more protein than worms.’ He digs out a long slimy worm. ‘I am a mammal, like you and your human companion. That silly looking girl.’ He flicks his nose.’

I look behind and see Isabel searching for me.

Mr Echidna waggles. ‘I am proud to be exquisitely different.’ His spiky fur spreads up to the sky. ’

I stretch my legs, neck and paws. ‘Everyone is different.’ ‘Ha!’ Mr Echidna mocks. ‘But not at my level or at my mate, the platypus. We are the only mammals whose mothers lay eggs.’

‘That’s truly amazing.’ I shake. ‘When I was a pup, I sniffed a platypus down a river. The Kangaroo Valley River. But before I’d blinked, he bit me. See this mark on my nose?’

Mr Echidna studies my nose. ‘I suggest you, little dog, study survival around the desert.’ He swallows the rest of the worm, ‘I can tell that you are travelling.’

‘Yes, I am on my way to Uluru. And also I’m looking for Wadi-Wadi, she is a cute little dingo. Just in case you meet her….’

‘Shh?’ Mr Echina cuts me off. He nods towards the tall trees. We hear the sound of crunching leaves.

I continue, ‘But my travelling companions stop here and there in different towns. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to that amazing rock.’

‘Blotch!’ Isabel calls.

I spend a few extra seconds with Mr Echidna. Rolling his eyes as Isabel runs toward me, he says, ‘Bye Mr Dog. Happy, safe travelling,’ and rolls into a ball of spines. In one second flat, he burrows down, flicks leaves onto his back and vanishes.

In shock, I sniff his scent. Nothing but ants’ poo.

21. ITCHY PAWS

Travelling through our pawrrific country is surprising. You find new friends all the time! Friendship makes the world turn round and round. No wars. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

I rub my itchy paws against the wheels of our motorhome, and notice dingo footprints on the soil. Wadi-Wadi’s?

I bolt to the far end of the caravan park, and peer at the vast red land. Tongue out I pant. Australia is big. It is a continent! Isabel has told me all about it. ‘Blotch, we would need three lifetimes to discover it all.’

I chase my tail. Wadi-Wadi, where are you? I’ve been looking for you since we left Bondi. I promised Rocco that I would share a couple of bones with you.

Dusty red wind blinds me.

All the way till now, I’ve made new friends. Four-leggeds. Two-leggeds. Six-leggeds. Creatures of all sizes. Some of them showing off their spikes, others showing off their antenneas. The best of all Oliver! Oh heavenly doggies!

Oliver is a legend. Fighting cancer and still laughing about that awful disease?

I chew Oliver’s tennis ball for a while. I’ve sniffed funny, witty, weird native animals. I feel proud of being an Aussie Australian true blue dog.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Right then Mr Chiong whistles, and beeps the horn. ‘Toot. Toot.’

We arrive in Winton at sunset. Red clouds glow in the sky, and there’s a pawrrific scent of chops and sausages in the air. Barbeque time. Best time ever.

I love caravan travellers. They always share some leftovers with me. But now, stretching our legs at the entrance of another pet-friendly caravan park, Isabel pats me ‘ Blotch,’ she says, ‘Winton is the dinosaur country.’

Heavenly doggies, I’d love to sniff a dinosaur. I jump peering at the soil just in case I can see dinosaur prints.

Isabel giggles, ‘Blotch, dinosaurs lived in this land millions of years ago.’ She wipes sand off the bench, and sets the camera on her tablet. ‘A selfie.’ She winks at me. ‘With you!’

After dinner, we all relax to the murmur of the Western River.

Aunt Barbara fixes her scarf around her wrinkly neck. ‘This is one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.’ She sits on the steps of our motorhome fanning herself with her travelling map. ‘What’s the next town?’ she asks.

‘Cloncurry I believe,’ replies Mr Chiong. ’By the way dear, do you know that Waltzing Matilda was written at a cattle station here in Winton?’

Aunt Barbara starts singing, Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda. You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me …’

Frogs, cicadas, water rats, crickets and all sorts of jumping creatures echo, Waltzing Matilda¾sounding like a percussion band in the background. ‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’

We all follow Aunt Barbara’s falsetto voice. But after a while a long while, Isabel winks at me, and humming Waltzing Matilda, she opens up her brand new dinosaur photo album.

22.DOGASAURUS REX

There is something about boom-boom and humming sounds that makes me sleepy. No matter how much I try to keep my eyes open, my eyelids twitch down. I have no other choice but to grab my teddy bear and sprawl myself inside my basket.

So, cosily settled now, I hug my teddy bear tighter and tighter… and begin to dream.

‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’

‘What are you doing with my teddy bear?’ a voice cried over and over. ‘I want my teddy bear! Oh poor me.’

I wagged my tail. I shook my head, and there in front of me, watched a spotty dinosaur crying and hooting and honking and crying, ‘I want my teddy bear.’

I jumped out. ‘No, no, no, Mr Dinosaur, this is my teddy bear. You want me to help you find yours?’

‘What!’ he cried out. ‘I am a Dogasaurus Rex! Not just an ordinary Mr Dinosaur. ’ He wiped tears running from his spectacular, gigantic green eyes. ‘Are you blind or something?’ Shaking his long neck he reached the high treetop and munched on the green juicy leaves. ‘I’m starving for real food.’ He said. ‘Meat!’

‘Mmm,’ I said. ‘I think we are related. My great grandfather told me pawrrific stories about our ancestors. And I love meat too.’

‘Wow!’ Dogasaurus Rex exclaimed, whipping his powerful long tail over me. ‘So we are cousins! We both love our teddy bears and meat!’ He bent over, grabbed me and lifted me into the air with his extraordinary humongous teeth. I shook with fear, but he gently placed me on his long horned neck. I breathed a sigh of relief as he stomped through the jungle in search of his teddy bear.

Soon we reached a hill covered with flowers. Pink. Violet. Yellow. Red. A red field of poppies, with lots of butterflies and bees buzzing and flapping around.

From my high position on the Dogasaurus’ neck, I delighted in their intense colours, and surveyed the vastness of our red land. At the core of it, Uluru!

I held on tighter. He bounced higher and higher.

As I adjusted my bearings, I saw a tiny, shiny thing wedged in a crevice of the most magnificent rock on Earth. ‘Does your teddy-bear have a shiny striped belly?’ I asked.

‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Dogasaurus Rex said, and stomps toward the majestic rock. ‘That’s my precious teddy bear.’

When we reached the most pawrrific rock on Earth, he sprawled on the powdery red soil. ‘Thank you little cousin.’

I slid off his neck.

He grabbed his teddy bear, and whispered, ‘the secret of our sacred land is pawrrific.’ He hunched close to me, ‘Secrets are to be kept to the end of time.’

‘Dreamtime!’ I jumped, ‘is this the Dreamtime stories Isabel told me about? What is the secret?’

‘The secret is…’ Dogasaurous Rex said, hugging his dusty teddy bear.’ And with that he launched into the sky.

Snout wide open, I watched him as he disappeared among the fluffy clouds¾holding his beloved teddy bear. ‘What’s his name?’ I asked over and over and ….

‘Blotch!’ Isabel cries. ‘Stop biting my dinosaur album!’

I jump with a start.

Munching an apple, Isabel pulls her dinosaur album out of my mouth. ‘Let’s go swimming.’

‘Yes!’ Mr Chiong echoes. ‘To the Cloncurry River.’

23. PLATYPUS

We arrive at the Cloncurry River just as a swarm of locusts are clouding away. Mr Chiong parks at the end of a banana plantation. ‘Locusts are pests. They destroy …’

‘Everything!’ Aunt Barbara cries out, and in one awkward but super fast movement, she gets out of her seat, clicks shut the windows and stands against the door like a soldier.

So no-one can get out.

Juggling his car keys, Mr Chiong grins. ‘Okay Barbara dear, we better wait.’ He puts on his Akubra hat, and checks his mobile phone.

Oh heavenly doggies! Why do we have to wait to get out of our motorhome? I skid over Isabel’s tablet, and place my paws on the windowsill. I gasp for air. Claustrophobic, and super anxious to run out and go swimming in the inviting- looking river, I notice the noisy cloud of locusts. My nose goes crazy at their stench. I bark at the stinky insects. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Aunt Barbara picks up a wooden spoon, and waves it at me. ‘I don’t like dogs barking. I don’t like their smell. I don’t like their pleading eyes. I don’t understand how my dear niece copes with you. Lousy mongrel!’

My tail goes under my shaking body.

Mr Chiong grabs his sports bag. ‘I think now it is safe to go for a swim.’

‘Swimming!’ Aunt Barbara grumbles. ‘In that creepy water?’ She fixes up her stiff hair-do, and opens the door of the motorhome.

We all rush out.

Mr Chiong lifts the bonnet and inspects the motor. ‘I’d better check the radiator then I’ll go for a swim.’ He winks at Isabel. She winks at me, and we dash toward the inviting green water.

One paw at a time…

Swimming faster than sharks, my dear mistress and I reach an island in the bend of the river.

I sniff for pirates. I sniff for ghosts. I sniff for leftovers.

Nothing. Except for some scent of musty wet fur. As I wipe mud off my whiskers, on the mossy side of the riverbank, I spot a weird looking creature scooping a shellfish in her bill.

Her bill and webbed feet look like a duck’s. Her tail looks as flat as a boat paddle.

’Wow! Isabel exclaims. ‘That’s a platypus.’ She shakes water off her swimming costume¾the blue one-piece that she always wears for her school swimming competitions. ‘What a pity I don’t have my camera.’

Good. I say to myself. Humans like taking photos. We just enjoy life as it comes. I shake water off my coat, thinking of my encounter with Mr Echidna, when he told me all about his friend, the platypus. ‘If you ever meet a lady platypus nursing her young, swim away! She’ll attack you!’

Isabel fixes her goggles. ‘We better go before mother platypus gets upset.’ And off we swim back to our motorhome.

Glancing sideways, I look for Wadi-Wadi’s tracks in the dirt, but there’s none. Only marks of tires, and people’s shoes.

That evening Aunt Barbara takes her turn cooking. She bakes a damper the size of Uluru! It tastes a little odd though. I think she put garlic in it. But we eat it anyway.

Looking happy and relaxed, she throws a tea towel to Mr Chiong. ‘Would it be alright to spend the night in Cloncurry?’

Mr Chiong catches the pawrrifically-scented tea towel. ‘No, let’s move on to Mount Isa, okay?’

I chase my tail, woofing Uluru. Uluru. Uluru! Why don’t we just rush to the Big Rock?

Aunt Barbara clears her throat, and gives me one of those dirty looks that make me go flat on the ground.

24. THE SMELL OF SILENCE

Among millions of smells, the smell of fear zigzags through me that sunny morning. Yep, from the tip of my nose to the core of my guts.

My nose is super extra powerful. It perceives all kinds of smells. From earthy scents to outer space stinky junk.

Well, like any other dog, I am also able to predict disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hailstorm, cyclones. Or any other unpawrrific situation. And today, I smell fear. Cold blooded fear. Oh heavenly doggies!

We drive to Mount Isa. The locals call it Isa.

We wake up to a pawfect fine hot day. From the caravan park I see what could be the tallest chimney in the entire world.

‘Smokestack!’ Isabel pipes, pointing at the chimney. She grabs her tablet, and tells me all about Mount Isa. ‘Blotch, this is a mining town. Silver. Lead. Zinc. Copper. Great minerals.’

‘That’s right,’ says Aunt Barbara. ’Welcome to Isa. Now, you’re a real Aussie!’ She turns on the radio and sits on the bench under the shade of the gum trees. Tapping her foot along to the rhythm of the music, she hums, ‘I come from a land down under … Lah, lah, lah, lah, lah.’

Mr Chiong picks up his toolbox, ‘Great old Aussie song.’

I stretch on the grassy path – bum up, face down, tail wagging in the breeze.

But fear is still in the air!

Where?

My nose wriggles round and down. I can feel anxiety, fear, panic but I can’t pinpoint the source.

I look at my dear mistress. She is downloading photos on her tablet. Just behind her, Mr Chiong is putting away his toolbox.

The smell of fear overpowers me once again.

Where is it coming from?

My ears twitch. No music now. No tapping. The only thing I hear is silence.

The smell of silence …

My nose tingles. It’s Aunt Barbara! Her wrinkly face is white. She is trembling. Her eyes are wide, staring ahead as if hypnotized.

I have never seen Aunt Barbara like that. I let my eyes travel all around. A snake! A brown snake – the same colour as the soil is coiled upright ready to attack Aunt Barbara’s leg.

My coat stands on end. Isabel has told me all about snakes. They are deaf but very sensitive to vibration. And Aunt Barbara has been tapping her foot. The snake feels threatened … so … its fangs drip venom.

I spring faster than a bolt of lightening, and my teeth grab the snake by the neck. I shake the cold-blooded creature and bang him onto the ground over and over.

‘Oh, dear, God,’ mumbles Aunt Barbara and sweeps me into her arms. ‘Blotch, you have saved my life!’

And for the first time ever, Aunt Barbara hugs me.

25 DEEMO AND DROMO

There is something amazing about hugs. And being hugged and patted by someone who has always hated you? Oh heavenly doggies!

Aunt Barbara’s little eyes glint, ‘Oh Blotch, you are so brave, and so–’

‘-Good!’ exclaims Mr Chiong, and grabs the snake and throws it into a bag. ‘Little Blotch is a hero. Saving you from that snake.’ He wipes his hands on his pants and in one go he scoops Aunt Barbara, Isabel and me to his chest. His long arms stink of car oil. I shiver. Normally, his arms smell of beef and sausages.

But anyhow, after the longest bear-hug ever, he spreads out his travelling map. ‘Australia is such a big country. Our next stop will be Avon Downs. Then Barkly Homestead and the third night Tennant Creek. That will take us three days and onto The Alice!’

He folds the map, walks around the motorhome, and kicks the wheels one by one with shiny boots ‘All good.’

That afternoon Isabel decides to brush my teeth. Reeling in shock from the whole situation with the snake as well as Aunt Barbara hugging me, I wee myself. I couldn’t help it.

But then we jump into the motorhome.

All the way to Alice Springs Aunt Barbara sings, ’How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggley tail, ’ and feeds me treats. Gourmet doggie food! I think she bought the pawrrifically-tasting bags full of treats in one of the petrol station shops.

This amuses Isabel because Aunt Barbara was always complaining about Isabel giving me too much food. By the time Mr Chiong parks in the first caravan park available, my belly hurts and my back end too.

Isabel unclips my seatbelt, ‘Toilet!’

I bolt out of the motorhome, and poo in the shade of a she-oak tree.

‘What a relief!’

That evening we all go for a walk in the dry Todd River. In the distance I see a pack of dingoes. Wadi-Wadi?

My dear mistress wags her ponytail. ‘A river without water!’ She clicks some photos of the chocolate-looking dry riverbed.

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘There is a regatta race held here every year. The competitors get inside a bottomless boat and run. Literally on foot!’

‘And talking about racing,’ says Mr Chiong. ‘Tomorrow the Camel Cup will be held at Blatherskite Park.’ He points at a huge poster glued to a tree.

Paws up against the tree, I stare at the picture of camels. Heavenly doggies! I have never even sniffed a camel!

Early next morning, before anyone else is up I step out of my basket and trot toward Todd River – the river without water. I lift my leg against a pole – a warm pole with a foul smell? I look up. Oh heavenly doggies! It is the leg of a camel!

‘Are you a working dog?’ the camel asks. He sways his long neck down, opens his gigantic eyes and rolls them from side to side¾under his thick, bushy eyelashes. ‘Are you really a working dog?’ He yawns.

I step back. ‘Yes, I am a personal trainer.’

‘Aha! What kind of experience do you have?’ he asks, splashing saliva all over me.

‘Well, I’m training my dear mistress, Isabel. So one day she will win a gold medal for Australia.’

The camel gulps lungful of dusty air. ‘My name is Dreemo, and I’ve been trying to win the Alice Spring Camel Cup for years.’ He stands up in full view. His head almost touches the clouds in the sky. ‘Last night, I dreamed I was slobbering the golden camel cup.’

My heart thumps backward inside my chest.

‘Can you train me to win the Camel Cup today?’ Dreemo’s long rough tongue sways above me.

I scratch my belly, and sprawl on the brownish powdery riverbed, ‘Okay, today is Camel Cup, so when is the Dingo Cup?’

Dreemo stretches his legs. His tail. His neck. His whole body. ‘Dingo cup?’ He twitches. ‘Never heard about dingoes running a race or licking a golden cup.’

‘Well, I am looking for Wadi-Wadi. She is a little dingo. And as you are so tall …’

‘I’ll keep on eye out for that little dingo,’ says Dreemo. His big padded feet flash above. ‘ Now, I am ready for training.’ He twitches. ‘So trainer, what’s next?’

I stand up squarely on all fours. ‘Focus!’ I order him. ‘Lesson number one: Take a deep breath through your nose. Out through your mouth.’

‘Like this?’ says Dreemo shaking and puffing like a derailed train.

‘Relax.’ I shake. ‘Lesson, number two: Relax.’

‘What about lesson number one?’ Dreemo complains. ‘Did I do it right?’

Nose up I take a long, deep, frustrated breath. ‘Now, lesson number three: Shake your legs.’

Dreemo leans back. ‘How can I shake all my legs at once?’

‘Not all at once. One at a time!’

Dreemo blinks at me. ‘Aha!’ He sways like a ship, both feet on one side of his body, then both feet on the other. ‘Like this?’

I step on his padded front paws, ‘Come on Dreemo, let’s practice.’ And we bolt away.

As I am training him another camel stomps across. I stand in front of them. Both camels smell and look exactly alike!

Which is which? Who is who?

Shaking and puffing like derailed train¾just the way Dreemo did¾the stomping camel says, ‘Are you Blotch?’

I nod.

He sways, ’I’m Dromo.

‘Twin brother of me,’ bellows Dreemo.

And just like that Dreemo and Dromo follow me. Alice Spring Camel Cup. Alice Springs Camel Cup.

we run and run and run until our hearts click backwards.

‘Ah!’ pants Dromo. ’I almost forgot to tell you that a bunch of crazy people down the caravan park were calling, ‘Blotch, Blotch, Blotch!’

Tongue out, for a second I see Dreemo and Dromo roll on the red earth, giggling like gigantic toys. A wave of jealousy invades me. I used to bite my siblings.

Dromo farts. ‘Oops. Enjoy Alice Springs, little dog.’

26 THE CAMEL CUP DAY

Alice Springs is a pawrrific town. It is located just in the middle of Australia. Halfway between Darwin and Adelaide. Isabel has told me all about it. But the beauty of trotting up close and personal makes my paws itch to explore more and more.

When I reach our motorhome my tongue feels like camel’s poo.

‘Now, to the races!’ says Aunt Barbara, and we head across the river with no water. Todd River, of course.

Skipping over empty beer tins, torn newspapers, squashed cigarette boxes and lots of forgotten things that humans have left behind, I sniff wild flowers.

What a pawfect scent!

Finally we encounter a noisy crowd queuing up to get into the camel’s sweaty-smelling compound.

From the speakers a raspy voice croaks: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the battle of the ships is underway!’

I rub my ears. Ships? How do ships battle on a dry land like this? I peer up and around. Where are the camels? Where is Dromo? Where is Dreemo? I yap.

Isabel puts on her just-bought Alice Springs hat. ‘Blotch, enjoy the show, quietly!’

Blinking at the blazing sun, I bite my tongue and together we watch the greatest battleship war ever!

One car shows up decorated as a pirate ship. ‘Arr!’ the captain bellows, and waves his right hand up to the crowd. ‘Arr!’ The crew behind him cheers, fixing their eye patches and scarves and waving their swords.

From across the dusty field comes another car dressed up as a warship. The captain salutes the crowd his gloved hand squared to the tip of his hat.

My heart skips out of tune. Cannons full of water shoot from one ship to the other. The whole place is pure excitement. I think the water war makes everybody feel refreshed and happy.

I lift my leg against the wooden fence. Just as I am ready to wee, the creaky voice speaker says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Now, get ready for the famous Alice Springs Camel Cup!’

My back leg wiggles.

Mr Chiong applauds, ‘I’m betting on camel number 5!’ Aunt Barbara takes off her sunglasses. ‘Me too. He looks frisky.’

Mouth wide opened Isabel swats flies away.

I rest my front paws on the wooden fence and watch the camels as they line up in the mounting yard. They all have painted numbers on their necks. Among eight energetic camels, I sniff the twins.

Dreemo is number 5, and Dromo is number 6.

I chase my tail, woofing round and around. Camel number 5 is frisky. But camel number 6 is super extra charming. The best trainer in the entire world has trained both. Me. Woof, woof, woof!

Isabel coughs, and under the scorching sun, she tells me all about camels. A one-hump camel. A two-hump camel. And how camels arrived to enjoy our Australian outback deserts. ’They were imported to Australia in the 19th century from Arabia, India and Afghanistan for transport and heavy work in our sunny land.’

Oh heavenly doggies! Work?

Isabel flashes the camera of her tablet. ‘Blotch, look.’

I sprawl on the red land, and notice as Dreemo’s jockey adjusts his massive bum on top of him.

‘Great!’ Isabel exclaims taking pictures.

Great? I think that’s gross.

Dreemo and Dromo sway their tails at me, ‘I will be the winner of the Alice Springs Camel Cup today.’ They bellow at unison. ‘Thank you trainer.’

‘Shoo!’ A cauliflower scented man orders. He waves a flag. My heart twists inside my chest. Number 5. Number 6. Dreemo. Dromo. The cauliflower scented man blows his whistle. ‘Off you go!’

I rub dust out of my eyes with the back of my paws. Camel number 8 stops and lies down cross the track.

Playing dead in a very important race?

I blink and the crackly speaker says, ‘Camel number 2 is leading. Camel Number 7 is half a neck behind. Camel Number 1 is on the pace and moving forward. But number 5 is picking up.’

Isabel jumps, ‘Blotch, this is sooooo exciting. Camel number 1 is about to win.’

Red dust flies and blinds me.

‘Camel number 3 is ahead. Followed by 6.’ The speaker’s creaks out.

Stretching my neck through a gap on the fence I watch as the camels run. Camel number 2 twirls and bolts toward the stands. He almost sends his jockey flying away.

Spectators shout.

I cover my ears at the noise, for camel number two collides with the wooden fence not far from me.

Oh heavenly doggies!

Sliding on camel’s wee Dreemo approaches the final corner.

I walk on my hind legs, Dreemo woof, woof, woof!

Far behind camel number 6, camel number 1 approaches faster. His long skinny legs–stretching longer and longer as he rushes pass by the big stand.

People scream number 1! Camel number 1!’

Everything blurs into one.

Waving a flag, the tall man screams, ‘Are we going to have a heat? Camel number 5 and Camel number 6 are head to head.’

From the speakers the creaky voice. ‘Ladies and gentleman we have the pleasure to announce the winner of the Alice Springs Cup of this year. Camel number 5.’

From the corner of my eye I watch the twins rub their noses in glorious joy.

’Woof, woof, woof!

27. SHAGGY BIG BIRD

All excited, we leave the camel compound, and head back to our motorhome.

Aunt Barbara pats her handbag. ‘From the winnings, we should buy a new pair of joggers each, and a collar for Blotch. His old one is falling apart.’ She kneels next to me. ‘I’ve seen doggy collars with diamonds.’ She waves one bright leash.

It almost blinds me.

Heavenly doggies! A girlie collar with diamonds around my neck? I don’t need a new collar. I shoot off.

Heart pounding, tongue out, I reach a billabong the size of Isabel’s school playground.

I look for Wadi-Wadi.

I sniff the muddy smelling air. As I nose up, a large shaggy bird pops out of the water.

He looks at me.

I look at him.

‘Are you afraid of water?’ he asks.

I dive in–just to prove I am not.

At close range the muddy water smells of rotten mushrooms from outer space. But swimming in my best doggie style, I skirt around weeds and wild flowers and forgotten shoes and all sorts of plastic things, and stop in front of the big shaggy bird.

‘I know you,’ I pant. ’You are an emu! ‘Isabel, my dear mistress has told me all about emus. And your image is on the Coat of Arms!’

‘As well as on coins!’ the emu says, proudly. ‘Are you a native?’

‘Actually, no. But I am as Australian as you are!’

He flaps his short little wings, ‘Good on you’. And he wades out of the water.

‘Heavenly doggies! You are almost as tall as a tree!’ I pant, trotting behind his tremendous powerful skinny legs. ‘Two metres tall and about 6o kilograms?’ I gasp and push on. ‘So you don’t fly, do you? So, as a male you incubate the female eggs for two months and then you look after the babies for over a month?’

He stretches his long slender neck down, and pokes my tag up with his beak. ‘You are a nosey dog. Do you have something to eat?’

I twitch.

‘For a moment, I thought you were Blotch the dog.’ He stares at me truly disappointed. ‘I’ve heard wonderful stories about him. Ha!’ He croaks. ‘A famous dog like Blotch would have some food to share under his tag,’ he mumbles under his breath.

With all my strength, I fight and fight till I manage to pull the tag out off the collar around my neck. ‘Why do I have to have a collar around my neck?’

The emu turns around and says, ‘Just because you are a pet dog.’ He picks up my faded tag, and strides away. In a flash his long legs are out of sight.

As I watch the emu leave, I hear, from the other side of the billabong, ‘Blotch! Come on!’ Heavenly doggies! Isabel is calling me! Jumping over fallen mangrove trees and rubbish bins on the way, I trot to her side,

‘Here you are!’ she says, and hugs me for a long pawrrific time.

Next morning we wake up to a nice, hot day. The sun hangs low in the pink and blue sky.

I lift my leg against the tree by the side of our motorhome. The vast red land looks inviting, so truly inviting that I feel my paws itch for adventure.

Aunt Barbara smiles at me. ‘You won’t get lost anymore.’ Her fingers work around my neck. She takes off my beloved pawrrific old collar and puts a stiff, leather-smelling new collar on. ‘Now, little Blotch, you look sparkling!’

Sparkling? I moan, shaking my whole body. I almost choke trying to get rid of the thing on my neck.

Mr Chiong claps, and says, ‘Well, the quicker we clean up, the faster we’ll hit the road.’ He checks his map. ‘We’ll have lunch at Erldunda Roadhouse and then to Uluru!’

Uluru, Uluru, woof, woof, woof! I jump around and around.

‘No, no, not just yet Blotch’, says Isabel and picks me up. ‘Let’s start cleaning first, okay?’

28. TONGUE IN ACTION

There is something about cleaning that makes me nervy. Tongue out I look at our camping site, oh heavenly doggies! It is a big exercise to set it up, and very hard to leave the place looking sparkling.

Nervy as I am, I join my team leader, Isabel.

Sweep. Dust. Fold tables and chairs and umbrellas, and newspapers, and hundreds of other things … including my bowls.

Tongue in action, I help by cleaning up crumbs and leftovers of any kind.

As I am getting ready to lick our last night’s bit of pizza crust, a soft scratch-scratch-scratch noise hits my ears. Heavenly doggies! The noise is coming from under the bushes by the side of the motorhome.

Tail up, in my best detective doggie style, I skirt around Isabel’s broom and head towards the underground scratch-scratch –scratch noise.

‘Mum, are you there?!’

I step back.

Could it be Wadi-Wadi?

Out of the red soil pops up a small creature with large ears, grey fur, pink pointy nose. ‘You are not a predator, are you?’ His strong thick claws flash high. ‘I’m looking for my mother,’ he says, shaking dust off his fur.

I sit on my haunches and study the shaking creature.

The size of a kitten.

Big ears like a rabbit.

Long black tail with a white tip … like a rat.

‘Who are you?’ I ask.

He looks at me. ‘I am a bilby.’

Heavenly doggies! How can I help a baby bilby? ‘Cool!’ I say, sniffing him all over. ‘My name is Blotch and you are…?’

‘Neenu.’

In my best doggie style, I help him search for his mother up and around the shrubs.

Where could she be?

Hopping like a kangaroo, Neenu tells me that his mother has promised to find some food. ‘My favourites are witchetty grubs and termites and spiders and insects and spinifex grass.’

He goes on and on.

‘Plus seeds and fruit.’ He sighs, licking his lips with his long tongue. ’But my mum says that drought season is ¾ ’

‘Quiet!’ I order him.

In total silence, we keep looking for his mother. As we reach the main entrance of the caravan park, I notice some drops of blood on the pathway. I stare up and across the road.

Trucks and cars boom, rushing by on the asphalt strip nonstop. Heavenly doggies! I remember when I was almost squashed by a stinky van.

Neenu sits next to me. In his eyes I see terror. Trembling, we both stare at the other side of the road.

Just as we are about to run up towards the horrible scary highway, Isabel’s scent flashes above me.

‘Oh Blotch,’ she says. ‘I was looking for you!’ She pauses, clutching a furry creature¾the size of a cat to her chest.

Is it a cat?

It can’t be.

Isabel understands that I don’t get along with ferocious, atrocious feline creatures.

Before I pass out, my dear mistress says. ‘I found this bilby by the side of the road. She is badly injured.’

‘Mum, Mum, ’ cries Neenu. ‘That’s my mum!’ He hops over the shiny clean concrete steps¾leading to the caravan park office, and lands on his back. ‘Muuuuum!’

Rushing from the caravan office, Aunt Barbara calls. ‘Hurry up Isabel, the vet in Alice Springs Desert Park is waiting for us.’

Car keys in hand, Mr Chiong winks at me. ‘ Hope your little friend doesn’t poo on Barbara’s new blanket.’

And off we go to the magnificent animal sanctuary. My dear mistress tells me to wait by the gate. ‘ Sorry Blotch, pet dogs are not allowed to get inside this wildlife park, okay?’

It is not fair! I moan.

From the rear side of the sunny-zoo-type place, I wag bye-bye to Neenu. ‘ I hope your mum recovers soon. And as my dear mistress has told me, both of you will live here, well protected forever after.’

29. SNIFFING AROUND THE HEART OF OUR COUNTRY

As soon as we leave the animal shelter, ‘On the road again!’ Mr Chiong sings.

Isabel, Aunt Barbara and I troop inside our squeaky clean motorhome.

Radio at full blast. Air-con whooshing.

‘Off we go!’

Suddenly, BOOM!

The motorhome swerves.

Mr Chiong bangs his fists against the steering wheel and switches off the engine.

We all rush out.

‘A flat tyre!’ Mr Chiong cries out.

My dear mistress and Aunt Barbara echo, ‘A flat tyre!’

I sit on my haunches. The Stuart Highway looks like stretching to the end of the world.

An hour later, Isabel and I are still stretching our muscles by the side of the road. ‘We must keep active,’ she advises me, and starts skipping with my leash.

Sniffing the incredible hot air, I mark my scent on the tree above us. It’s an ancient Casuarina tree whose leaves are ready to fall over the dry red soil.

I chew my paws, one by one, wondering how trees survive without water in this heat. Powdery red soil keeps getting stuck between the pads of my paws. Furiously, I wipe the powdery red soil off. As I am about to chew my tail off, I sense serious action. This means we are leaving soon. In my best watchdog style, I prick my ears and look around.

Mr Chiong is wiping his bald head. ’I hope the new spare tyre gets us to the homestead place,’ he mumbles under his breath.

Aunt Barbara spreads open our travelling map. ‘We are in the heart of Australia, aren’t we?’ She smiles, putting on her new sunglasses.

Up the hilly road, a yellow truck blows its horn loudly at the slow pink motorhome in front of it.

I cover my ears with shaking paws.

The driver of the pink motorhome, trying to avoid a collision, stops by the side of the road. Red dust rises up in clouds to the sky.

All shaking, a lady gets out. With her is a little boy holding a toy koala.

Heavenly doggies! It’s my friend Oliver!

‘Mum!’ little Oliver exclaims. ‘Look, Blotch and his family!’

I bolt to his arms and Oliver hugs me, and gives me a huge Anzac biscuit.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Oliver’s mother smiles, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we meet in Uluru!’ And off they drive away.

30. FOR DOG’S SAKE

The short and sweet encounter with Oliver fills my dreams. His banana milk’s scent on my nose, ‘We’ll meet soon.’

Now, with my eyes glued to the window of our dusty motorhome, I gape at the beauty of the arid red land. Every now and then I see flashes of colourful wildflowers. Rugged terrain.

Driving slower than Oliver’s mother, Mr Chiong manages to avoid cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles.

‘Backpackers riding bikes!’ Isabel exclaims, and starts clicking her tablet. She turns to me. ‘We see lots of backpackers in Bondi, don’t we Blotch?’

I like backpackers very much. They always share food with me. Food? My belly groans. Empty. When are we going to have dinner? I moan.

Right then our motorhome groans louder than my belly, and with a cloud of red dust up rising to the azure sky, stops dead in the middle of the road.

‘What’s wrong now?’ says Aunt Barbara.

We all climb out and try to push it to the side of the road.

The backpackers get off their bikes and rush to help us. The tallest backpacker says to Mr Chiong, ‘You steer, and we’ll push, all right?’

Mr Chiong gets behind the wheel of the motorhome.

I get behind the backpacker.

‘One, two, three … PUSH!’

He pushes hard. His belly rumbles … whoa! … He lets off right in front of my nose.

The motorhome purrs and rumbles to life.

‘Oops little mate,’ says the backpacker fixing his jeans up. ‘The only food I have with me is an apple.’

I wipe my nose with my paw. Rotten apple makes you pass wind? I crawl inside our motorhome.

Aunt Barbara and Isabel wave their hands out of the dusty window. ‘Enjoy Australia!’

Backfiring and puffing smoke our motorhome struggles until we reach the Erldunda campsite. Finally, Mr Chiong decides to find a mechanic. ‘I think we have a problem with the fuel injector. We need a high tech mechanic. , so I’m afraid we’ll have to spend a night in this camping ground.’

While they organize our stay, I trot towards the clump of shrubs. From twigs and dry leaves, I hear little moans.

Oh no! Some creature cries for help now? Just as I’m ready to do my business, for dog’s sake!

‘Are you a backpacker’s pet dog?’ a howling voice screeches from a hollow log.

I sniff around and find a girl dingo feeding her pups. She has made her den in the hollow log. Three males. One female. All black, except for the smallest pup. He has a caramel coat with a white spot on his chest. Exactly like his mother. He is crying. He cannot reach his mother’s belly. I give him a nudge with my strong nose.

‘I’m not a backpacker’s dog. I live in Bondi.’ I say.

‘Bondi?’ howls the mother dingo. ‘That’s where my friend Rocco lives.’

‘Heavenly doggies! Rocco is my best mate. He lives next door. We play together almost everyday.’

The beautiful dingo mother sighs, ‘Rocco!’ She pulls her pups closer to her chest. ‘My name is Wadi-Wadi and Rocco is the father of my children. See the black marks on their backs?’

‘Wow!’ I jump up.

The sun above hits hard. But I manage to keep my four legs steady on the muddy spot. My best mate’s a father?

I sprawl in front of her log. ‘Wadi-Wadi, I’m Blotch!’ I lick the tip of her black pup’s nose. ‘Uncle Blotch.’

Wadi-Wadi bites my tail. ‘Uncle Blotch? Ha! ’ She mocks spiting pieces of my fur. She stares at me, as I was a putrid pumpkin.

‘Your master is a boy named Bapp.’ I say. ‘Rocco told me all about you. Two months ago Rocco and his master, Billy, came for a visit here in the Red Centre…’

Wadi-Wadi cocks her head, ’Yes, almost two months ago. Rocco is very charming, but¾’

‘Unpredictable,’ I finish for her. ‘Rocco says he is a free spirit kelpie.’ I sit on my haunches, but captivated at sight of the milky-scented pups, I jump up. ‘Wadi-Wadi, I’ve been searching for you since my human family and I left Bondi.’ I pause. ’I promised Rocco to share a bone or two with you … ‘What’s your favourite?’

Licking her lips Wadi-Wadi says, ‘a lizard, or a grasshopper, or a goanna, or a rat … and lots and lots of water.’

‘Deal!’ Right paw squared against my chest. ‘First, go and have a drink of water.’ I nudge her. ‘Uncle Blotch is here. I’ll look after your pups. ’ I wag my tail at her.

‘Promise?’

‘A promise is a promise,’ I remind her.

Reluctantly, she trots towards the puddle. ‘I think Bapp will like to play with the five of us.’ She wipes water off her whiskers.

‘Pawfect!’ I say, and rush off toward the camping site.

How can I find a lizard? Or a grasshopper? Or a goanna? Or a rat? In this place?

What a quest!

31. SECRET CAMADERIE

That night before dinner, Isabel whispers to me. ’I need to send some photos to Billy and my other school friends. But¾’

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘I hear that, Isabel. Off you go to the office and ask for access to the Wi-Fi.’ She stirs pots and saucepans with her pawrrifically-scented wooden spoon. ‘Chicken tonight. And raw chicken wings for Blotch, okay?’

‘My favourite!’ I woof.

‘Yum!’ says Isabel and we trot towards the front of the caravan park. ‘I’ll be back in five.’ She pats me, and rushes into the office.

I wriggle over the “welcome mat”, and oh oh a cat stench hits my nose. I bolt towards the horrible odour. Holding my breath, I squeeze myself under the biggest motorhome I’ve ever seen.

I adjust my bearings, and watch a kitten as he tries to catch a mouse from under the axle of the motorhome.

‘Need a hand?’ I offer.

He sniffs me, and meows, ‘ Okay dog! My parents won’t be pleased to see you, though.’ He cocks his head. ‘The mouse is trapped in those wires, see?’

‘Pawrrific! I need a rat!’ I guess a mouse will do, I say to myself thinking about Wadi-Wadi’s wish. Putting aside my odd situation of being involved with a cat, I step closer to inspect the mouse.

‘But dogs don’t eat rats.’ The kitten complains.

‘No, but my dingo friend, Wadi-Wadi does. She has just given birth to four pups. She is a single mother. She is starving. She needs to produce milk for her pups.’

‘Shhh, ’ the kitten hisses, jumping across me. ‘A lizard!’ With a nervous glint in his eyes he springs back. ‘I’d rather play with a lizard than a mouse or a dog.’

From under the weeds a grasshopper grab a mosquito and leaps away. I take a deep lungful. The mouse has disappeared and the lizard and the cat too!

Heavenly doggies, I have nothing to offer Wadi-Wadi. What can I do?

As I am biting my nails, Isabel calls me.

‘Blotch!’.

Squeezing myself out, I bolt to her side.

‘Billy has built a new kennel for Rocco!’

I nose her bag up. A pencil. A pear. Her iPhone.

Biting the pear, Isabel shows some pictures of Rocco’s and Billy on her iPad.

Tail down, I follow Isabel thinking Rocco and how lucky he is.

‘Perfect timing,’ Mr Chiong says, watching Isabel and me stepping into our motorhome. He kisses Aunt Barbara on her chin. ’Mmmm, He sniffs over the pots. ‘Chicken casserole cooked to perfection.’

Aunt Barbara smiles, and asks Isabel to set the table. ‘Blotch’s dinner is by the sink.’

Isabel pours water into my bowl. Wagging my tail, I drink it in two seconds flat. Not one drop wasted.

‘Dinner’s served!’ She places one chicken wing into the other the other bowl.

My belly rumbles … Oh, what a I must keep my promise. I pick up the chicken wing.

Ignoring the rumbles inside my belly, I run toward the clump of shrubs at the far end of the campsite, with the chicken wing between my teeth.

When I reach the hollow log, I find Wadi-Wadi fast asleep. Mouth wide-open, tongue hanging out. Her rhythmic snores grow in crescendo like a soothing lullaby.

The smallest pup rolls out from under his mother’s belly.

I let the chicken wing drop. ‘A promise is a promise’ I whisper to Wadi-Wadi’s pup. And before I breathe out.

‘Don’t you dare touch my baby!’ Wadi-Wadi howls, and in one almighty jump, her teeth flash around my neck.

The world stops.

From the tree above us someone says ‘Meow! Leave my dog friend alone, now, now, now!’

In shock Wadi-Wadi lets me free.

After a long minute, she says, ‘Sorry Blotch. It happens that I feel so tired. I didn’t mean to hurt you.’ She pauses. ‘Silly cat, eh?’

‘Silly cat but one of my best mates.’

Suddenly, noticing the chicken wing lying in front of her, Wadi-Wadi says. ‘Thank you, Blotch, you are a good mate. Actually, the second best friend I’ve ever met in my life.’

32. DINGO’S SALUTE

Early next morning, a lady smelling of petrol steps over my basket. ‘Hope your owners are up.’ She pats me and knocks on the fly-screen.

Mr Chiong pops his head out the window. ‘How can I help you?’

The lady steps back. ‘I’ve just received the spare part for your engine.’ She waves a small box.

Mr Chiong’s eyes shine with excitement. ‘The fuel injector!’ he says, and rushes out.

Shaking hands with Mr Chiong the petrol-smelling lady explains that she is the chief mechanic of the whole region. She has managed to get the fuel injector from Sydney. Not from Alice Springs as expected.

Aunt Barbara steps out, carrying a tray of food, bacon and eggs, toast and … sausages! I almost lose my nose.

‘So today we’ll be able to drive to Uluru!’ says Aunt Barbara.

The mechanic smiles, ‘It won’t take long at all.’

After breakfast as usual we all start cleaning. As I’m licking crumbs of bread, I notice a sausage ¾a forgotten sausage–in the saucepan. Mmmm, what a beauty! What a scented juicy beauty! Hold on a minute. My belly is full. I burp. But the sausage looks so pawrrifcally tempting ...

I don’t know why but just then Wadi-Wadi flashes on my mind. I pick up the sausage and sprint towards the bushes. I’ll share the sausage with Wadi-Wadi. I’ll say goodbye to her and the pups. I’ll tell them about Rocco.

But when I reach their den, it is empty. A gum tree is lying over their log. The roots of the fallen tree are all over it.

Oh heavenly doggies!

I sniff around.

My nose tells me that Wadi-Wadi has hidden her pups somewhere. For sure she has organized a new home. Soon my nose directs me to their scent. They are under the bank of the waterhole.

But where is Wadi-Wadi?

From the distance the sound of a horn pierces the hot air. For a millisecond, I wait to hear Mr Chiong’s whistle and Isabel’s call. I drop the sausage at the entrance of Wadi-Wadi’s new den.

One of the pups rolls out. He blinks, and rolls back. ‘Milk. Mum, mum. Milk. ’ The tiny black dingo mumbles, sniffing me, truly disappointed.

The blaring hoot sound of our family motorhome hits my ears. I jump over the old fallen tree. And right then Wadi-Wadi hurtles out of the shrubs.

Shaking water off her snout, she nudges me down playfully. I struggle up. Out of breath the two of us stop to sniff the pawrrifically-scented sausage lying on the ground.

‘Wow!’ She picks it up. ‘Thank you a million times.’ She swallows, ‘ Tell Rocco that the Red Centre’s sun wakes everybody up with doggies lullaby.’

‘Blotch, Blotch!’ I hear Isabel’s call. ‘Time to go!’

Wadi-Wadi and I high-paw. ‘Best of luck.’

33. STICKY GIFTS IN ULURU

Sweat brims on Isabel’s face as she straps me into the seatbelt. ‘I hope Aunt Barbara likes my gift.’

What is it? I moan, thrusting my nose against the square red box in her hands. Mmmm it is something … yummy!

Tight-lipped she whispers to me. ‘Blotch, quiet! It is a secret.’ She hides the packet of biscuit under her seat with a bunch of wild flowers.

‘This is our last stretch to Uluru!’ says Mr Chiong driving along. ‘We’re nearly there.’

I quiver with excitement. My dream is coming true. I’ll run around the big rock with Isabel and she will win a gold medal.

‘U.LU.RU!’ exclaims Isabel pointing at the majestic rock. ‘Look, there it is!’

I stretch my neck to have my first glimpse of the rock. In the flat immense land, the most famous rock on Earth is just a blur. Poking my nose out of the dusty window, I smell rain in the hot air. Heart pumping against my ribs, I watch the rock appear and disappear as we drive along.

Drumming her fingers on her iPad Isabel tells me all about Uluru and Kata Tjuta. ‘Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith. It’s sacred. It’s about 700 million years old!’ She wags her ponytail and continues reading. ‘Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has plenty of native animals, plants and bush tucker.’

Tucker! My belly rumbles. Tucker means food. I lick my lips. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

‘Shhh,’ Isabel pats me.

The rain starts bombarding the roof of our motorhome with such force that I almost lose my balance. After a while the rain settles into a soothing bass drum in my ears. To the rhythm of the rain we reach Yulara campground.

Isabel closes her tablet. ‘Never thought we’d see rain here.’ By now the sun has dried up the red soil.

‘Nice allocation,’ says Mr Chiong plugging the power cord of our motorhome into the socket of our allocated site.

Isabel blinks at me. ‘Off you go.’

Tail up, I trot towards the bushes. I lift my back leg against the tallest tree. As I am ready to wee on its spiky trunk a creature lifts his tail above the colourful wild flowers.

As soon as my bladder feels right, I jump across the shrubs and go to check on the odd, scary-looking reptile.

‘I’m starving. Oh poor me,’ he says, lying flat on the red soil, with his head up like a unicorn. He whines, ‘Oh poor me, I’m a starving thorny devil.’

‘You are what?’ I say. ‘You are what?’

‘Do you have some spare ants?’

‘Ants?’ I stand back. ’Look Mr Thorny Devil, I’m pretty busy¾I have to attend to my family. We’ve just arrived at Uluru.’

‘Okay, Mr Busy Dog, off you go then.’ He puffs himself up and gets fatter and changes colours – from orange to bright yellow to white. He sways his tail from one side to the other, ‘Outback Australia is beautiful and peaceful. Please don’t bring your busy ways up here.’ And slowly he moves away.

Oh heavenly doggies! I rush back home.

As I pop my head through my doggy door, I find my family busy getting dressed.

‘Kangaroo steak tonight,’ says Aunt Barbara.

Isabel covers her mouth. ‘I won’t eat kangaroo!’

‘Yes, you will,’ says Aunt Barbara putting her earrings on.

Mr Chiong buttons up his shirt. ‘What about emu stew? Or camel burger? Or a crocodile dish cooked to perfection?’ He puts on his hat, grabs a tie and checking himself in the mirror behind the door, he arranges it around his neck.

I scratch my head. I’ve never seen him wearing a tie.

‘Eh! Little Blotch,’ he says, ‘you will guard our motorhome tonight, alright?’

But I always do, I complain, sniffing the excitement in the air. I want to go with you. I mean with all of you. So where are we going? ‘Woof!’

Isabel rests her shoe on my tail, ‘Sorry Blotch.’ She bends down, ‘Tonight we’re celebrating Aunt Barbara’s birthday.’ Isabel swallows, and stares at me right in the eye. ‘I think it is in a very exclusive restaurant. Under the stars in total silence or something like that.’

But Aunt Barbara’s birthday is tomorrow, I moan.

‘Blotch please shhh!’ Isabel inserts a small plastic bag into the back pocket of her new jeans. ‘Doggy-bag,’ she whispers.

I lick my lips. Whenever Isabel goes to a fancy restaurant, she always brings back some leftovers for me.

‘At dawn, we’ll go to watch Uluru at sunrise.’

Watch Uluru? I wonder.

‘A promise is a promise,’ says Mr Chiong and hugs Aunt Barbara.

And just like that, all dressed up, Isabel, Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong head off to celebrate Aunt Barbara’s birthday.Without me.

34 REDHEADS

Curled up in my basket, I watch the full moon sliding among dark clouds. Bathed in the moonlight, the most famous rock on earth, Uluru, is a dark, gigantic silhouette.

All of a sudden, I hear footsteps on the gravel by the side of our motorhome. Against the silhouette of Uluru, I watch a boy with red curly hair and green eyes throwing a boomerang.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ I bark running towards him. He smells of yoghurt and something else that makes my nose itch.

I sneeze.

He throws the boomerang to the sky. ’Whoosh! It falls near me. I pick it up with my strong teeth, and take it to him.

‘Isn’t it supposed to come to me?’ He says, tripping over. He fell flat on the red powdery soil. ‘Hi, little doggy,’ he pants, ‘you look almost as cute as Bailey.’ He smiles. ‘Bailey is my dog, and I’m Sean, I come from Ireland to see Uluru, here in the Red Centre of Australia.’ He stands up. ‘I lost my key.’ He sits on the steps of the large motorhome next to ours. ‘My family went shopping in the resort. I don’t like shopping.’

I sit on my haunches, and Sean tells me all about Ireland. Oh what a pawfect country! I hope one day I step on the green-green grass of Ireland.

At five in the morning, Isabel’s iPad wakes us up with “Still call Australia home.” I nudge the doggie-door and jump on my seat, paws up, panting I’m ready. I’m ready!

Isabel rushes to strap me in.

Mr Chiong clears his throat, and pats Isabel and me. ’Blotch is not a problem at the camp ¾ here in Yulara¾but he’s not allowed in the lookout of the National Park. Dogs are not allowed.’

Isabel cries out, ‘It’s not fair!’ She throws the leash away. Defeated.

Aunt Barbara hugs Isabel. ‘Blotch will guard our home. That boy, Sean, told us that Blotch did such a nice job last night.’

I sit tall and hold my ears straight up.

Mr Chiong checks his wristwatch. ‘It’s time to go. The shuttle bus is due in three minutes.’ He steps out of the motorhome like a dog-on-a leash and calls me, ‘Stay!’

Isabel cuddles me, ‘I’ll be back as fast as I can. Aunt Barbara has promised to let us go for a run around the rock later on.’ And just like that, Isabel, Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong head off to watch Uluru at sunrise.

Without me.

I snooze the sunrise away till footsteps wake me.

I jump up. Yoghurt scent in the air, mmm it should be my new friend, the redhead Irish boy.

‘Hi Bailey, I mean Blotch,’ says Sean squatting by my side. We play rough – rolling and turning on the red soil. I show Sean all my tricks.

I walk on my two back legs. I shake hands. I chase my tail. He laughs and in his funny voice he tells me he misses his dog. I feel sorry for him so I show him a bit of pawrrific affection. In return he lifts up on his shoulder, climbs on top of his gigantic motorhome and together we watch Uluru. ‘Bailey, I mean Blotch, you are grand.’

Right then the shuttle bus pulls over. Among the noisy tourists, I hear Isabel’s voice. Jumping out of the bus, she hugs me. ‘It’s true! Uluru changes colours.’

I lick sweat off her cheeks. ‘At sunrise Uluru is the colour of burnt toast. At midday Uluru is blue-green like Bondi’s waves. At sunset Uluru glows red.’ I lick my lips. ‘Uluru at night is a pawrrific gigantic red roast beef shining in the grand land.’

Isabel caresses my floppy ears. ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ She fixes her backpack. ‘Let’s run to the base of the famous rock!’

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ I wag my tail. ‘We’ll run around the base and then up to the top of Uluru!’
Isabel puts on her Uluru hat, and kneeling in front of me, she tells me that Uluru is sacred. Best protected sacred rock on the Earth. Walking over Uluru is forbidden. ‘But never mind Blotch, we’ll run to its base.’

Sean springs around us, ‘Can I come with you?’

Isabel stares at Sean’s legs. ‘The Uluru base is 10.6 km, a three and a half hour walk. So…’

‘So?’ says Sean. ‘One mile!’

‘Blotch and I will run it in less than two hours.’

And just like that Isabel and I set off at full speed.

35. ULURU HERE WE GO

The wildlife aroma of Uluru approaches me like a tsunami of wonder. Its red soil feels too soft beneath my paws. Oh what a pawfect sensation.

We run till we reach a snake-like groove at the base of the rock. At close encounter the most photographed rock on Planet Earth smells of herbs.

‘Beep!’

A car screeches near us.

Sean hops out, and introduces us to his family. ‘This is my mother, Joy, and my father, John, and my big sisters, Mary, Alanna and Jessica.’

‘Nice dog,’ Sean’s sisters say flashing their camera to Uluru. ‘What’s his name?’

Sean steps across, ‘Blotch!’ His voice echoes like my old chewed doggie toy.

Isabel pulls her water bottle out of her backpack. She sips and fills her hands with water for me to drink. ‘Blotch and I’ve run so far 7.7 km.’ She shows Sean her iPad.

Sean nods, ‘4.8 miles!’ He pulls his backpack upfront. ‘That’s grand.’

I roll on the sandy patch. How can I adjust my ears to different accents? I’m used to Australian people’s orders. As I stretch my paws, Sean’s parents wave, ‘Have fun, kids! We’ll pick you up by the gorge.’ They point at the far distance. The only thing I see is an eagle hovering in the blue-blue sky.

In a cloud of red dust their car drives off.

‘Look!’ Isabel points at the sky. ‘An eagle!’

The huge majestic bird sweeps around the rock in a graceful aerial dance up and down. And then from the bushes we hear the melodic sound of a didgeridoo. Stepping out of the mulga, an aboriginal boy smiles, ‘Want to play didgeridoo?’

Sean steps up. ‘Could you teach me to throw a boomerang first?’ He pulls out his boomerang from his backpack. ‘Please?’

‘My name is Bapp, which means blue gum tree,’ the boy says. ‘I am a tourist guide!’ He wipes sweat off his armpits. ‘You hold it like this.’ He twists his fingers around the boomerang and throws it in the air. It makes a full circle, and returns to his bare feet.

‘Oh boy,’ Sean applauds. ‘Oh boy. I mean, Bapp, blue gum tree boy, you are grand.’ They hi-five, and I almost pass out. Both stink of yoghourt.

I love food. My teeth enjoy chewing leftovers of any kind. But fermented milk?

Anyway after trillions attempts Sean learns the secret of throwing a boomerang. Smiling from ear to ear he lets his sisters and Isabel try too. I chase and chase my tail but I never catch it. I enjoy the pawrrific game, woof, woof!

‘Good dog,’ says Bapp staring at me. ‘I have a good dog too. A beautiful dingo. But she is gone. ’ He scratches a scab on his knee. ‘I miss her so much.’

Isabel jumps in, ‘Wadi-Wadi?’

Bapp nods.

‘Your cousin Billy and I are best friends. We go to the same school in Bondi.’

‘Bondi Beach?’ Bapp’s eyes brighten up. ‘Billy tells me that he surfs with his dog, Rocco over there.’

She opens her iPad and shows Bapp photos of our life back in Sydney.

‘Me and Wadi-Wadi,’ says Bapp, ‘enjoy helping tourists here, around Uluru.’ He scratches his knee, till a piece of crust of skin fells off. ‘Without Wadi-Wadi I feel lost. Wadi-Wadi is my radar.’

Isabel and the Irish kids tie up the joggers. They check their iPhones. ‘Where is Waddi-Wadi?’

In my best pawrrific style I jump across Bapp, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ Wadi-Wadi is in the cave where you hurt your knee. Your scent was printed all over the branches.’ I rub my nose against his jeans. ‘Wadi-Wadi is a mother now! She is nursing her pups and needs water!’ I wag my tail at him till it almost drops off my bum. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

But everybody now is engaged with Bapp’s knowledge that I just roll on the red soil and enjoy the sun.

Suddenly, a drop of poo lands straight on my forehead. It slides towards my nose as a snowball. In a fury I bark at a flock of red-tailed, black cockatoos and budgerigars. Pooing their heads off they fly above the rock. One drop of poo after another …

I roll on the spinifex grass and spy small animals. Lizards, mice, insects oh what pawrrific wildlife! Under my bare paws I sniff beetle tracks. Ants, rabbits, feral cats, snakes. Oh heavenly doggies!

As we trot, Bapp tells us all about the rock, its sacred sites, its waterholes, its rock art.

‘Uluru is cool,’ Isabel says.

I chase my tail. Uluru is the coolest looking-rock on Earth! Woof, woof, woof!

Abruptly Bapp stops. ‘Hey, I’ll show you some good bush tucker.’ He grabs a stick and begins to dig under a little bush.

Heads down we all pant, and watch as Bapp digs into the red soil. ‘See, I found a witchetty grub.’ He waves something around that looks like a fat white caterpillar.

‘Good tucker,’ he says. ‘Want some?’

Isabel covers her mouth. Sean and his sisters shake their heads, ‘No, no, thank you!’

‘Good tucker,’ Bapp insists.

I scrawl on the soft red sand. ‘Woof, woof!’ What about me? What about me?

Bapp throws it and I catch it mid-air. ‘Delicious. Easy to swallow pawrrifically tasty! Any more?’

Bapp turns his palms up. ‘No more.’

Isabel and I run so fast we lose Sean and his sisters. By the time we reach home, Sean is sitting on the steps, eating yoghurt. ‘We beat you!’ He laughs. ‘Our parents drove us home.’ Slowly he walks away, ‘Our holidays are over. Bye-bye Uluru. We fly back to Ireland tomorrow.’

36. CLAWS AND PAWS

I wake up to the ringing of a bell. Where is the sound coming from?

I spring out.

Perched on my water bowl, a bird is wagging his tail and singing a ding-dong song that sounds like Isabel’s school bell.

He has black feathers above a white belly. I sit very still and watch him as he drinks and sings and dances and preens his shiny feathers.

I’m not very keen on birds. But I like this little bird’s ding-dong song.

Suddenly, from nowhere, a gigantic cat leaps, twisting his body as he falls four-footed on the red soil. In one go, he grabs the wagging-tail bird by the neck.

Heavenly doggies!

His giant claws threaten at the little body.

‘Woof!’ I bark and jump across the enormous feral cat. ‘Leave the little bird alone! Woof, woof, woof!’

He drops the bird off, and attacks me.

Rolling down the path in a tangle of fur the cat and I trade paws and claws. Out of breath we stalk each other.

Sniff. Sniff.

Claws wickedly at me, the feral cat swings a right cross blow to my nose. I fight him off but his sharp teeth sink into my front leg.

My heart pumps, this is the end of me …

In a swirl of dust, a pink motorhome parks across the road, and, a Tasmanian devil pops out of it. ‘Blotch!’ he calls.

At once, the feral cat’s teeth release me, and in total silence with elegant movements he slinks into the bush.

Flat on my belly, I sniff Oliver and relaxed. My little friend, as usual is wearing a costume. Today Oliver is a dressed as a Tasmanian devil. ‘I saw the cat attacking … you,’ he pulls his Tasmanian devil gloves off and holds me up. ‘Friends. Fur. Ever’, he hiccups.

Unaware of the situation, Isabel calls, ‘Blotch! Breakfast!’ She pours doggy biscuits and fresh water into my bowls. Then as she stands up, Oliver’s mother hugs Isabel. ‘It was a feral cat.’

Tears run down Isabel’s face as she carries me inside our motorhome. ‘Aunt Barbara, Blotch has been attacked!’

‘Attacked?’ Aunt Barbara shakes her head in disbelief, ‘Oh poor little Blotch.’

Mr Chiong grabs the first aid kit from the pantry. ‘Wash your hands and keep calm.’

Isabel follows Mr Chiong’s instructions. ‘This will hurt,’ she warns me, and rubs the blood off my paws. And my belly. And my nose.

‘Ouch!’ I whine.

Carefully she bandages my tail. ‘Feral cats are very dangerous. They have exterminated lots of beautiful native animals!’

Cuddling me to her chest, ‘Now, we are ready to go to the Olgas, I mean Kata Tjuta!’

‘Change of plans,’ Mr Chiong says, ‘First, we’ll look for a vet here in Yulara. Blotch needs a needle to fight any infections that the horrible cat may have given him.’

A vet? Oh no! Straighten my bandaged tail I follow Isabel. ‘Look I’m fine. Don’t take me to the vet.’

Oliver pats me. ‘I am fighting cancer and you will fight cat’s infection.’ He stands up and rushes to his mother’s arms. As he steps into their pink motorhome, I notice pencil- drawings on the front of his shoes. Dogs’ paws!

37. SHOES

There is something intriguing about peoples’ shoes.

When I was a pup my mum used to say, “One glance at people’s shoes and you’ll know all about them.” I think she meant: once you chew a human’s shoe you’d know all about them. And Oliver has let me chewed his best joggers. And also his new colouring pencils. Woof, woof, woof!

I wag my tail sideways–cheekily and faster than our little friend, the Willy Wagtail. Without Oliver’s help the nasty wild cat would have destroyed that beautiful singing bird.

‘Calm down, Blotch,’ says Isabel, as she puts on her medal-winning shoes. She wears them only when she runs for a gold medal.

She clicks her iPad on and wagging her ponytail she tells me about vaccinations. Distemper. Hepatitis. Parvovirus. Para influenza. Rabies … ‘You must have the injection!’ She adjusts her bag over her shoulder. ‘Now, let’s go to the Uluru Rangers Centre. I hope we find a vet there.’

Vaccinations? Oh heavenly doggies! And vets? Ohhhh I whine.

Aunt Barbara rubs sun cream on Isabel’s face. ‘Henry and I will meet you as fast as we can manage. Just go on ahead!’

Isabel clutches me tightly and off we go to the vet. When reach the crowded Uluru Resort Town, I stick my head out of her denim jacket, and I see Bapp among the tourists. In his sweet voice he is saying to them, ‘Welcome! Do you want to play the didgeridoo?’

Isabel pushes to the front of the tourists. ‘Bapp, a wild cat attacked Blotch!’ she yells. Ignoring his audience, he takes me in his arms. ‘What happened to you Blotch?’

Isabel tells Bapp about my dreadful encounter with the feral cat. ‘Now, we are looking for a vet.’

‘My dad will fix Blotch,’ says Bapp and points at a green building. ‘That’s the Ranger’s.’ And my dad ‘He’s the local medicine man.’

When we get to the Rangers’ we find a tall man with twinkling eyes and shiny shoes smelling of bush tucker.

‘I hope you’re not too busy, dad,’ says Bapp.

‘Never too busy to hug my cheeky boy,’ he jokes.

Bapp hides under the metal table but his dad catches him and squeezes him to his chest. ‘I’ve just finished fixing up a kangaroo and an echidna.’ He grins and moves a scary looking instrument away.

I shudder.

‘Nice dog,’ he says, as Isabel puts me on the table. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Blotch,’ she says. ‘Actually, Blotch needs to be checked. A feral cat attacked him. See?’

Bapp’s father grabs a pair of plastic gloves, and I feel a prick on the back of my neck. Oh! That was quick. I’ve had the needle already. But his fingers keep prodding my shaking body. He bandages my front leg, and declares I am fit. ‘One of the fittest three-legged dogs I have ever seen,’ he winks at me, and ties a bucket without bottom around my neck.

Oh heavenly doggies!

‘This device is called dog cone,’ he says, smiling from ear to ear.

Isabel lifts me off the cold steel table.

I waddle like a drunken duck.

From the air-conditioned room, to hot, steamy scented Uluru air! ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

The Uluru Resort Town Square shines in the blazing sun. I limp along its colourful path, a bus pulls over, load of people get out. The place was already crowded!

Bapp steps up on a bench. ‘People from all over the world come to learn about the magic of our land,’ he nudges Isabel. She pulls out her iPad. Click. Click. Click.

I thrust my nose against my bandaged leg. Oh heavenly doggies! How can I get rid of this plastic bucket?

‘Need a hand?’ a sweet voice says.

I turn around, and see Wadi-Wadi and her pups.

My heart swirls inside my chest. I want to say I am happy to see you. But my tongue goes numb.

She wags at me. ‘Blotch, I want to surprise my master Bapp. Now he is working. See, he is teaching the tourists to play the Didgeridoo.’

I turn awkwardly to look at Bapp.

Wadi-Wadi says, ‘Come on kids, let’s help uncle Blotch.’ And before I breathe out Wadi-Wadi’s pups jump on top of me, and pull the stinky dressing off my leg. Then they tug and tug at the bucket. Their sharp tiny teeth tickle me crazy.

Wadi-Wadi pounces on me. ‘Thank you Blotch, you were right. A family together conquers the world.’ Leaning stiffly forward she calls her pups. ‘My kids are ready to go home. To Bapp and his father, of course.’

And just like that Wadi-Wadi and her pups leap over the colourful path and trot to the back of the Ranger’s site.

Stunned, I watch them for a long moment and then my hurting nose throbs as I sniff people’s shoes. Some smell of garlic. Others smell of spaghetti, soy sauce, chips, sushi, poo and … every shoe is different. I can tell by their smell that they are tourists.

When I was a pup I chewed shoes day in and day out, till I met Isabel. I felt that her love was so pawrrifically great that I did not bite any of her shoes. At the blink of a flea, I became her personal trainer. From a bored loveless life, to an exciting adventurous one together, we will conquer the world. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Just then Isabel calls me. ‘Let’s go to Kata Tjuta!’

38. THE OWNER OF KATA TJUTA

Accompanied by the buzzing sound of a mosquito, Mr Chiong drives us to Kata Tjuta. Luckily Isabel has invited Bapp to come along. He has adjusted the plastic cone onto my neck. ‘Ouch!’

He cheers us up telling wonderful stories of his family and friends. Suddenly in an acrobatic way, he reaches up his hands and claps with a bang and catches the annoying mosquito. ‘Wadi-Wadi used to catch all sorts of things,’ he says, looking very sad.

By then whistling the song, “I Still Call Australia Home,” Mr Chiong parks near some gigantic boulders. They look taller than a cathedral. Wider than Isabel’s school gymnasium!

‘Amazing!’ Aunt Barbara exclaims. She points at into the distance. ‘Henry and I will meet you at the Valley of the Wind.’

Bapp smiles at Isabel. ‘Easy, eight thousands paces ahead.’

Isabel says, ‘You mean eight kilometres?’

We run the eight kilometres till Bapp stops. ‘The Valley of the Winds!’ he announces with a bow.

‘Wow!’ Isabel clicks photos.

They laugh and clap and talk. ‘Mulga is the most common shrub in the Red Centre.’

‘Really?’ Isabel clicks her iPad furiously.

Oh no. Please don’t take any photos of me. I am sick of posing. Tail down, I trot towards the shrub and sniff around spiny tussock grass and kangaroo poo. The sun warms up my paws so I keep going.

I peer down nests of mulga ants. I catch a bug mid-air and roll myself in the red soil.

Heaven!

All of a sudden a strange whiff is in the air. Keeping very still I hear a rustling noise close by.

What can it be?

I spot a strange animal with big feet and a long tail peering at me from behind a bush. He has a speckled brown coat and a long pointed snout.

For a long second we stare at each other.

‘What are you doing?’ he grunts. ‘You are a funny looking creature. You don’t belong here!’

‘I am a dog.’

‘I am a bandicoot,’ he says proudly. ‘Roger the Eighth!’ He licks his whiskers, ‘And this bush belongs to me. You are in my territory!’

‘Don’t worry. I am not staying. We are on a holiday.’

‘Chiff chuff,’ Roger says, and makes a whistling shriek that deafens me.

‘Don’t come any closer or I will bite you.’

I back off.

Roger laughs. ‘Don’t be scared. I won’t attack you. Unless I have to!’ He rolls his eyes. ‘As long as you go away and don’t come back.’ He rubs his paw. ‘I own this land, you know. My family has been here for centuries. Bandicoots are the best and the bravest animals in the world.’

I sit on my haunches. Crazy. Crazy bandicoot. Lots of creatures have been here before you. Dinosaurs. Cockroaches. Bees. And trillions of bugs!

Of all the animals I’ve met on our journey this bandicoot is the craziest. He really believes he owns Uluru-Kata Tjuta.

Ha!

I skid around Roger the Eighth, and sniffing rain in the air I bolt to my dear mistress.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

39. FRIENDS-FUR-EVER

That afternoon, Isabel, Bapp, and I chase a rainbow. It is arched from the Valley of the Winds to the entrance of the Uluru car park.

As we run my eyes water at the sight of the colours filtering through the light rain. But at the end of the rainbow I glance at a pink motorhome.

Oliver! Oliver my paws are on fire.

Out of breath, Bapp pats me, and tells us all about rain in the Red Centre. ‘The rain brings luck to everyone. Flowers and plants and trees flourish. It’s easy then to find good tucker. Bush tucker.’

Isabel winks at me. ‘Kata Tjuta is sooooo beautiful. We are lucky, aren’t we Blotch? We made it!’

Wagging my tail, I sniff the grand aromas of the Red Centre. Oh this is pure bliss.

Isabel says, ‘Hope you visit us sometime in Bondi.’

‘I’ll try my best,’ says Bapp. ‘It would be so cool to meet Billy and his dog. What’s his dog’s name?’

‘Rocco,’ Isabel replies.

They talk until the rainbow vanishes from the sky.

Isabel fixes her ponytail and we rush back to our motorhome. Mr Chiong in his butcher’s apron has cooked kangaroo tail stew.

‘Yum!’

After dinner, I roll myself cozily in my basket, and hug my teddy bear. From a hot-hot rainy day, to this freezing cold windy night? How strange is this Uluru weather. I fall sleep and dream …

Wadi-Wadi is herding her pups toward a cliff. And my teddy bear is pushing her … Oh heavenly doggies!

I woke up. Laughing and clapping.

‘I’m going to renovate my butcher shop,’ says Mr Chiong.

‘I’ll foster streets kids,’ says Aunt Barbara.

‘I’ll help Billy build a shelter for stray dogs,’ says Isabel. She looks at Aunt Barbara, ‘And I will study harder than ever.’

I sit on my haunches. I love butcher’s shops. I love street kids. I like Billy. I sniff the hot scent of fresh manure in the air. ‘Mmm’ Rocco always smells of sweet manure. I used to be jealous of Rocco but now Aunt Barbara is my friend too, since I saved her life.

The wind outside our motorme Wadi-Wadi also smells of sweet manure!

I scretch AmI hear Stretching my neck outwndow

‘Blotch!’ Isabel calls.

I jump into her arms, and together we enjoy the sunset of the most magnificent rock on earth.

Bapp is so happy that Wadi-Wadi

She clicks her iPad. ’Billy and Rocco will be amazed with our photos. She crouches and orders me to sit still by the side of our motorhome. Click. Click. Click.

‘Perfect picture!’ Isabel says. ‘Blotch, we are going home.’

Click. Click. Click!

Home! I wag my tail crazily.

Back to Bondi!

Back to the white sand!

Back to the blue water!

Back to my friends!

Back to my neighbours!

Back to Mr Chiong’s butcher shop.

Back to Bondi!

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Maybe we’ll have another pawrrific adventure, somewhere else. As I chew my paws I sniff the pawrrific scent of Oliver in the air.

‘Friends.Fur.Ever,’ Oliver says and he hugs me.

otch, the Jack Russell adventurer and for three days in a row, Isabel, my dear mistress and I haven’t had a run at the beach. Bondi Beach for dog’s sake! We have been there every day for years.

Sprawled under her desk I watch my dear Isabel struggle as she puts on her school shoes of thick black leather smelling of misery. She keeps them behind her off-white joggers smelling of grass and adventure. My favourites!

She skips over me and taps her iPad speaking out loud. ‘Lost in the middle of Australia in Uluru?’ Her big brown eyes roll up and down. ‘U.Lu.Ru is the biggest rock on Earth.’ She wipes the screen with one of her school socks.

Her voice sounds alarmed. Her scent smells alarmed. Who? What? Is U.Lu.Ru? What’s that?

She whips open the dusty pink curtain. A soggy grass scent reaches my nose. Rain. Soft rain is pattering against the window.

I love rainy days. And windy days. And snowy days. And super extra hot days. Whatever day it may be, Isabel rubs my chest, ‘Blotch, you are a good dog.’

I flip over like a pancake in a frying pan and she cries out, ‘Blotch, a little dingo is in danger!’ Her long fingers point at an image in her iPad. ‘That’s Bapp and that’s Wadi-Wadi.’

I see a boy cuddling a puppy. The puppy’s eyes the colour of a well-marinated bone. And before we breathe out, Aunt Barbara screams, ‘Where are my teeth?!’

My fur stands on end.

2. AUNT BARBARA

Oh heavenly doggies! Here we go, another wasted day. You see Aunt Barbara is as big as a space ship, stinks of seagull’s poo and she doesn’t like kids or dogs...

‘Where are my teeth?!’ she screams again.

Her voice pierces the air so loudly that the fleas of the next-door’s dog, Rocco, jump out of his basket and attack me.

Rocco is my second best mate. He and his master Billy live next-door. But Isabel my first best mate told me that Billy and Rocco are on holidays. So Rocco’s fleas need somebody to keep them in shape? Ha! I’ll rack my brain about Rocco’s fleas later.

Isabel and I spent our precious Bondi Beach time searching for Aunt Barbara’s teeth. And believe it or not, after an explosive sneeze, Aunt Barbara herself found her shiny plastic teeth hidden inside her own handbag. ‘Found them!’

Yesterday, Tuesday we woke up to Aunt Barbara’s high pitch roar. ‘Where are my glasses!?’ Her voice bounced against the walls so hard that the pipes of the toilet burst and flooded the whole house.

Isabel and I wasted our precious Bondi Beach time looking for a plumber on the net. When he popped in and inspected the pipes, he said, ‘The rate for my work will be ...’ he showed her the quote.

Aunt Barbara’s face scowled. ‘Astronomical,’ she muttered.

Isabel rolled her eyes at me and we swished water out of the house with our bare limbs. Afterwards her hands and my paws ached for hours on end.

Anyway, on Monday, ‘Fire!’ Aunt Barbara croaked.

Isabel grabbed her iPad and hugged it to her chest. Before she owned a tablet, I was her best beloved one. She cuddled me, and kissed me and told me all her worries.

Now she kisses her iPad.

The iPad knows everything!

How can I compete with an iPad?

Ha! I’ll rack my brain on how to get Isabel’s attention back.

‘Fire!’ screamed Aunt Barbara, ‘Ohoooh.’

Isabel tripped over me, and we rushed to the kitchen. We found Aunt Barbara banging a tea-towel against the stove, so furiously that the rat behind the sink jumped out.

For a millisecond the crazy little rat wiggled her nose as if she were a fire brigade inspector. The fire was well extinguished, but the stench of burnt pots was unbearable.

Before I could fix up my whiskers, the tricky crazy rat jumped across my paws and in one athletic movement leaped away.

Nose on the tiles, through the gap of the kitchen door, I watched the crazy rat climb over the fence of our neighbours’ house. Her long tail waved like a piece of string.

‘A rodent in my house!’ screeched Aunt Barbara. Her chest rose and fell in jerky breaths under her dressing gown. ‘A rodent and a mongrel in my house!’ Her small eyes inspected me. She opened and closed cupboards and windows looking for a culprit. ‘You mongrel!’ she spat.

I bolted outside the house.

Whatever happens Aunt Barbara always blames me. She herself caused the fire. She was the one who left the frying pan on high.

Waving away smoke with her hand, Isabel beckoned me to her side. ‘Aunt Barbara,’ Isabel said. ‘Billy says that Uluru is the most brilliant place on earth. Can we go to Uluru?’ She smiles. Her bright smile. ‘Pleeeease. Oh Aunt Barbara, Billy’s cousin Bapp lost his pet, Wadi-Wadi. A beautiful little dingo, and I want to help find it.’

‘A dingo!?’ Aunt Barbara screamed. ‘Dingoes are wild dogs!’ She squinted over at Isabel’s iPad, and gave me a killer look. ‘Dingoes eat babies!’

Just then there was a knock on the front door. ‘Free-range eggs. Best price,’ a boy called.

Aunt Barbara picked up her purse, rushed out. And furiously, she whisked the free-range eggs.

We ate the free-range eggs in silence. Delicious. Pawrrifically. Yum.

But later on when Isabel was leaving for school, with me by her side, Aunt Barbara closed the door on my nose. I almost lost it. ‘No niece of mine walks in such rainy, cold, miserable weather with a dog,’ she said, and drove my dear mistress to school in her car.

How uncool is that?

Every other day, we manage to run up and down the walkway on the headland of Bondi, till our hearts are about to burst. I am training Isabel for the Olympic Games, you see.

Then she pats me. ‘Bye-bye, Blotch. Be good. Keep safe. Go home.’ And off she rushes into her cheerful, noisy, sweat-smelling school. So, wagging my tail goodbye to Isabel and her school friends, I trot back along the little street to our garden.

Now, trapped inside the house, I watch as the rain dances against the glass. Woof! What beautiful rain. Its rhythmical noise hypnotises me and makes me drowsy, till the woofs of the next-door kelpie drills into my brain.

‘Blotch! Eh Blotch!’

‘Rocco?’ I rush toward the balcony window and rest my paws against the glass, ‘Welcome back Rocco!’ I wag my tail crazily. ‘Where have you been?’

Splashing mud everywhere, Rocco woofs at me. ‘Uluru! My master and I went around the rock in the Red Centre. Uluru is the biggest rock on Earth! The Red Centre! The Red Centre!’ He rubs his bushing tail on the tip of a rock sticking out of the grass. ‘My master Billy and I met with our old friends,’ Rocco says. ‘And I found new friends. One of them is called, Wadi-Wadi.’

I drop flat on Aunt Barbara’s living room floor. Wadi-Wadi?

3. HEAVEN-IN-A-BAG

That afternoon, Mr Chiong, the best butcher in the entire world, who, luckily is also Aunt Barbara’s boyfriend, brings home one of his heaven-in-a bag gifts. Oh yes, a big bundle of meat.

Aunt Barbara puts on her red lipstick and picks up the kitchen phone. ‘It’s just a simple gathering … Yes, a proper barbecue. Yes, please bring your own drinks. Pets? Well, if you have to… ’

Soon, the air smells pawrrific. Chops, T-bone steaks, chicken wings and sausages!

Rocco and his master, Billy, Isabel’s school friend, arrive at the barbecue first. Just behind them Billy’s father and the new family from down the road. And then Paul Smith and his chicken, Amelia.

Amelia is picky, rough and bad tempered. Worst chook I’ve ever sniffed.

Her master, Paul Smith, is an A-plus-student at Bondi Beach primary school. Short, skinny with a creepy voice. ‘Free-range eggs. Best price.’ Worst snob boy I’ve ever sniffed.

Everybody calls Paul Smith, “the free-range egg seller.” Wagging her ponytail, Isabel asks Paul Smith. ‘How often does your hen lay eggs?’

‘And so many eggs!’ Billy urges. ‘How do you do it?’

Paul Smith flips his cap backwards. ‘Good training,’ he says, looking at Amelia proudly.

Isabel and Billy roll their eyes. ‘Good training. Ha!’

Paul Smith pulls out of his jean pocket a shiny mobile phone. ‘Just bought it!’ he pipes. ‘Let’s take a look at the latest news about the disappearance of Wadi-Wadi.’

There’s that name again.

I clean my ears with my shaking paws. Wadi-Wadi lost? Oh heavenly doggies! I sneak a look. That cute little dingo Wadi-Wadi looks far too clever to be lost. Wadi-Wadi has gone walkabout!

Walkabout. Walkabout. Walkabout, Amelia screeches.

Rocco lifts his back leg against the Jacaranda tree. ‘Free-range egg seller’s mother is arriving!’ he announces, and waters the trunk of my tree. I step up on my two back legs, and wee on my beloved Jacaranda tree, properly.

Amelia stares at us suspiciously. As if Rocco and I were terrorists ready to let a bomb off or something.

Rocco farts loudly.

I fart louder. So loudly that the possum, who lives in our roof shouts out, ‘Please leave us in peace!’

The fat, outrageous chicken fixes her harness, and stomps up toward the big table. She picks up a sandwich. A very good-looking sandwich.

‘Salmon,’ she complains. ‘Far too salty.’ She spits it out.

‘Fussy chook!’

In one go, Rocco and I grab and munch the good-looking, salmon-far-too-salty-sandwich.

I lick my whiskers. Nice appetizer. But it is too small for my starving belly.

Rocco and Amelia go on picking up crumbs of bread and potato chips, which are tiny little pieces of food made out of nothing!

Carefully, I check my paws, and notice Isabel, Billy and Paul heads down reading Isabel’s iPad. I trot towards them. In my best style I wag my tail at Billy. Billy always shares a piece of food, or anything else he may have in his pockets. Oh yes, like a magician.

This time, Billy gives Isabel a boomerang and a bundle of photos, from Uluru in the Red Centre, whatever that is. And nothing to me!

‘Wadi-Wadi is lost,’ Billy urges. ‘Bapp, my cousin is devastated. His beloved companion is missing!’

‘We must help Bapp find Wadi-Wadi!’ they hi-five.

Sniff. Sniff.

Today Isabel’s jeans smell of glue.

Yuck!

I don’t waste time sniffing Paul Smith’s jeans – whose pocket always smells of coins. But nothing valuable. Really nothing eatable. I head down the patio towards the aroma of roast meat.

The scent of roast meat mixed with the appealing odour of fried onions, garlic and pepper is now a cloud bouncing on my nose. Tongue out, mouth wide open, I watch Mr Chiong cooking. Tongs in hand he turns the meat over. ‘Medium rare?’

Billy’s father, ‘Yes, please. Medium rare!’

‘Well done!’ The old lady, and the old man call out. Everybody calls them the new family-down the road.

Before I breathe out, Paul Smith’s mother rushes to the barbecue stand. ‘Whatever!’ she smiles. ‘I am not a fussy eater.’ She pulls out a plastic bag. ‘Any leftovers?’

Rocco and I whimper, ‘Leftovers! They should be ours.’ But over our very noses go big chunks of meat half-eaten, T-bones steaks barely chewed and the whole lot fills up Paul Smith’s mother’s bag.

I wipe my nose, and watch Aunt Barbara cutting up sausages.

Aunt Barbara is tall and round. She smells of toothpaste and garlic. And she hates dogs! Especially me. But she is a pretty good cook.

Muttering under my breath, I gape at Aunt Barbara giving Rocco little bits of sausage.

Whoa! Just because Rocco is a kelpie, and me, a jack russell? I pant. Jack Russells are far more supportive, better understanding of human needs than any other dog.

‘Urrgh!’ I growl.

‘Blotch,’ Isabel whispers, and lifts the tablecloth. From under the long table, she gives me a crunchy, juicy piece of steak. My dear mistress doesn’t like the fat around T-bone steaks.

But I do.

And she knows it.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Rocco’s tongue grows longer than a lizard’s as he watches me munch the juicy, crispy pawrrifically tasty fat off the meat. But then, as I lick my whiskers clean, Billy steps by our side. He ruffles my head, and gives Rocco a bone the size of Australia!

‘Happy days, doggies,’ Billy says, and rushes away.

My tongue plops to my paws, as I watch Rocco chewing the humongous bone.

Oh heavenly doggies! This situation needs some pawrrific attention. So, playfully I plop down with my front legs extended, my shoulders and chest low on the ground, and my rear end pushed up in the air. ‘Need any help?’ I offer.

Rocco turns his back to me, and burps ‘What are you talking about?’

My coat stands on end.

‘Happy chewing!’ Amelia croaks. Her high pitch drills the cold air. She stands between Rocco and me. Dominant. Bully. Her round eyes directed towards our masters.

3. – TALES AND TAILS

‘Wadi-Wadi’s on Facebook?’ says Isabel placing a bowl of tomato salad on the big table. ‘From the red Centre?’

Billy places a tray of fruit. ’Yep. Bapp, my cool cousin Bapp is searching for Wadi-Wadi. He is so desperate that he

created a Facebook account for his pretty little dingo.’

Paul Smith pulls his flashy phone out of his jeans pocket. ‘Tales and Tails.’ He picks up a piece of watermelon. ‘Let’s check it out.’

Amelia, the bossy, fat hen croaks. ‘Tails versus Tales.’ She wriggles her feathery bottom, and gives Rocco and me a suspicious look, as if we were going to eat her master or something.

I scratch my rumbling belly, ‘Eh Rocco, you know the story about the egg and the chicken. Who comes first the chicken or the egg?’

Rocco stops chewing his aromatic, pawrrific looking-bone.

I stop breathing. Rocco’s last bit of bone still lies on the tiles. It has some marrow oozing …

Rocco scratches his ears. ‘Mathematics is not my best subject.’ He scratches his front legs. ‘But, Wadi-Wadi knows all about mathematical stuff.’ He scratches his chest. ‘ Wadi-Wadi is the queen of the Red Centre!’

My tongue goes numb. I don’t know anything about the Red Centre of Australia. Or about that Wadi-Wadi dingo. But I know food. Raw. Bones. In particular.

After a long breath, Rocco nudges me. ‘If you ever go to the red Centre, look for Wadi-Wadi. She always has spare bones full of meat. Wadi-Wadi catches wild cats and rats at the blink of a flea.’

What a pawrrific girl dog she must be.

We leap out from under the long table. Rocco catches a fly. I hurl myself toward his forgotten bone and lick the marrow out. ‘Yum.’

‘Wait a minute,’ burps Rocco, grabbing his bone out of my mouth. ‘My master, Billy, has received calls, emails, and an SMS from his cousin Bapp in the Red Centre.’ His right paw drops heavy on my neck. ‘Blotch, little Blotch,’ he wipes his paws. ’Wadi-Wadi is in danger!’

Danger is a big word. Isabel, my dear mistress has told me all about big words and simple words, “if in doubt follow your gut-feeling.” So, I’ll rack my brain about Wadi-Wadi’s disappearance later on.

Now, I concentrate on the barbeque. I salivate …

‘We have family up there,’ Billy says, munching a huge piece of steak. The juice runs down his mouth, and makes my belly rumble louder than a blender at full speed.

Paul Smith fills up his plate with pork chops and a mountain of lettuce salad. ‘So, your mum is an elder.’

Billy smiles. ‘Yep, my mum is a very important Aboriginal elder, and as you see, my dad is a very important white man.’

Billy’s father winks at him. ‘Ex-Bondi Beach lifesaver. ’ He pats his round belly, and grabs a piece of roast beef. ‘Cheers!’

‘Cheers dad!’ Billy smiles, brightly. He grabs a piece of overcooked chicken leg, and places it on top of his overloaded plate. ‘My cousin Bapp is an expert dancer and he always dances in the Corroboree ceremonies.’

‘Corrobo ... What?’ Paul Smith says. He places his knife and fork on his plate, and pulls out his mobile phone. ‘How do you spell it?’

Isabel taps her iPad, which forever sits by her side, clears her throat:

‘C for carrots.’

‘O for oranges.’

‘R for ribs.’

‘R for raw meat.’

‘O for oregano.’

‘B for beef.’

‘O for onions.’

‘R for rice.’

‘E for endive baby lettuce’

‘E for eggs!’

‘Corroboree!’ Isabel cries out.

Everybody stops eating. They all look at her.

She bows. ‘Corroboree is an Aboriginal dance ceremony.’ She nudges Billy. ‘For expert dancers,’ and asks Paul Smith for the potato salad.

Later on while we are doing the dishes, Aunt Barbara looks at Mr Chiong. ‘Let’s go to the Red Centre?’ He ties his apron up and walks towards the barbeque stand. ‘Well, how about in July? We can celebrate your birthday there.’

‘Can I come too?’ Isabel asks, in that sing-song voice that always makes my heart click back and forwards. ‘Next week will be July! School holidays.’

‘If you study hard and be a good girl,’ says Aunt Barbara.’ Perhaps we could take you.’

I jump up. What about me. What about me! ‘Woof, woof!’ But nobody looks at me. Everybody laughs, clinking glasses and plates around and around. What about me?

Carrying a tray of dirty dishes inside the kitchen, Billy’s dad winks at me. ‘Easy. Easy,’ he tells me.

Billy’s dad smells of coffee today. He usually smells of wood shavings.

Aunt Barbara grabs the dirty plates out of his hands.

One piece of pork lands near me. My tongue rolls down. My teeth ache.

Aunt Barbara clicks open the dishwasher door. ‘Oh dear,’ she says, looking at Billy’s dad. ‘You are a good neighbour, a good carpenter as well as a good Lifesaver.’

Billy dad’s laughs and helps her loading the machine.

I grab the forgotten piece of pork with my trembling paws, and gnaw it. Superb taste. One bit of bone gets stuck across my throat.

I try to breath.

I cough.

I burp.

I don’t know how but when I am ready to say bye-bye beautiful world, Mr Chiong jumps in. ‘Oh boy!’ he cries out. His meat-scented fingers pull out the nasty little bit of pork bone out of my throat.

‘Disgusting dog!’ Aunt Barbara clicks the washing machine on. ‘Disgusting dog!’

Billy’s dad clears his throat. ‘Well, as I was telling, Uluru is amazing. The Red Centre!’

I run outside. Where is the Red Centre? I howl.

‘The Red Centre!’ croaks Amelia. The bully hen gives me an insulting look. ‘The red Centre of what!’

Rocco chases his bushy tail and woofs at me. ‘That’s where my master, Billy, and I come from. Where Wadi-Wadi lives. The Red Centre! The Red Centre is right in the middle of Australia!’

Heavenly doggies, I say to myself, remembering Isabel’s words, ‘Uluru is the biggest rock on Earth, located in the heart of our amazing Australia.’

’Woof, woof, woof!

4. PAWSITIVE IMPACT

Early next morning, I jump out of my basket. Wind whistles around our garden like a wild cat. I sniff around. No cat’s scent though. Just the familiar scent of the possum’ s poo in our roof.

Rain. Rain is in the air. I rest my paws against the tall window. Trees in our garden sway nearly flying out of the ground.

Tongue out, I raise my tail and let it down on the bright thick carpet spread under Isabel’s desk. Among two hundred scattered papers, photos of Uluru glow like an inviting piece of steak.

Wow!

Wouldn’t it be pawrrific to run right around that great big rock?

Wow! I close my eyes.

Training Isabel to win a medal for Australia would be easy. A piece of bone! One full week, running round and around that amazing huge red rock?

Pawsitive impact!

I would have to prepare my tongue to lick her first gold medal. Her previous medals didn’t taste right. So far she has one silver and two bronze medals. Isabel doesn’t like coming second or third. My dear mistress and I train hard. We want to win the best of the best gold medals for Australia. What better place for training her than around the biggest rock on Earth?

I sprawl under her desk, and study the photos of Uluru closely, so closely that I almost lose my tongue. Oh yes, I lick eighty-three photos of Uluru, one by one. Definitely, utterly Uluru looks like a huge, raw piece of steak.

Isabel swivels in the chair, ‘Uluru,’ she sighs. ‘Wadi-Wadi lost in Uluru?’ Her brown eyes are glued to the map of Australia stuck on the wall. ‘I learnt to walk there!’

Without taken any notice of me, Isabel picks up the photo I have licked the most, and waves a kiss at the framed picture of her parents which forever sits on her desk. The shining picture of Isabel and her parents always makes me happy. I feel like licking the ice-cream off their faces. You see Isabel’s parents died three years ago in a car accident. Yep, Isabel is an orphan.

‘Hurry up, Isabel!’ Aunt Barbara screeches. Her voice booms from the front garden louder than the airplanes taking off from Sydney airport.

‘School,’ Isabel sighs. She bends over, and rubs my chest. ‘Be good. Keep safe.’

I wag my tail at Isabel, and lick a tear running down her freckled face.

‘Isabel!’ screeches Aunt Barbara. This time her voice drills louder than a spaceship ready to take off to outer space.

Oh I shiver.

Isabel grabs the photo of her parents, and inserts it into her schoolbag. She winks at me, and bolts towards Aunt Barbara’s car. Yep, Isabel misses her parents.

5. VIGILANT

Tongue out I wait for my dear mistress to come back home from school. Yep, all day long, vigilant.

The sun fights the clouds. Drops of rain here and there make the trees and the flowers and the weeds look like a pawrrific winter postcard.

Vigilant, I wait. No cats. No postmen. No rubbish collectors. No thieves. Yep, today our neighborhood is pretty dull.

Just as I am ready to bury myself in the compost, Isabel pushes the front gate. ‘Home!’ Bouncing like a happy kangaroo, she rubs my chest. ‘Home!’

I wag my tail at her, and we head to the computer room. Under the dim light filtering through the tall window, my dear mistress and I watch “Red Dog!” What a movie! A bit sad though. It is about the adventures of a free-spirited dog around the outback of Australia who never had a home.

While Isabel fixes the Xbox’s cables, I paw on the computer keyboard in my best doggy style.

‘Computer games!’ she says, and keys along with me.

Suddenly, I hear a knock at our front door.

‘Anybody home?’ a voice calls out.

I twitch, and smell the voice and the knocks at the front door.

The scent of Rocco and Billy hits my nose. ‘Go away!’ I woof. ‘My dear mistress and I are busily playing computer games.’

‘Woof?’ Rocco howls.

I trot downstairs and put my nose up against the front door.

‘Eh Blotch,’ woofs Rocco. ‘You know we are here.’ He yawns. ‘Tell your master to hurry up!’ He scratches the door, woofing around. ‘Which computer games are you talking about? Woof, woof!’

‘Quiet, Rocco!’ Billy orders.

Aunt Barbara walks past me, her feet flat and heavy on the wooden floor. ‘Hello Billy,’ she says, opening the door. ‘Isabel is studying now.’ Aunt Barbara wipes flour off her chin.

I crouch on the tiles of the huge hall between the kitchen and the laundry. The washing machine is kicking around and around annoying me as much as mosquitoes do.

‘Hi Billy!’ Isabel says, jumping down the slippery off-white set of stairs. Standing next to me, she takes her earphones off. ‘I was just doing … doing my homework.’

‘Cool!’ Billy says, scratching his head. ‘Homework?’

Aunt Barbara rolls her eyes. ‘Were you really doing your homework?’

Isabel bends down and fiddles with her shoelaces. ‘Uh hum!’

Billy smacks his forehead. ‘But of course. We have to study the history book and …’

‘And work out a plot about holidays,’ says Isabel. ‘The best storyline will be made into a play at our Christmas school celebration.’

Aunt Barbara walks back towards the kitchen. ‘I see. I see,’ she mutters. She comes back with a piece of tart for Billy and piece of chicken for Rocco.

‘Where is my chicken?’ I moan.

She wipes sweat off her forehead. ‘I have plenty of work to do.’ She pokes Isabel and Billy. ‘And both of you have to study.’ In one sharp turn, she bangs the kitchen door closed. It almost takes off my tail.

Rocco twitches his ears and licks his lips. ‘Let’s help our masters with their works.’

‘Homework!’ I correct him.

Rocco gives me a long stare, ‘Home…work?’ He dribbles.

6. MR CHIONG’S MOTORHOME

The following morning, a soggy Saturday, Rocco begins with his odd woofs, ‘Uluru is the best of the best, woof, woof!’

Sniffing the wet morning air, I push my doggy door and trot into the garden.

‘Have you let her know about going to the Red Centre?’ Rocco asks, resting his paws on the wooden fence. ‘I mean Isabel, your master.’

I sit on my haunches. No matter how many times I have corrected him about calling Isabel mistress, not master, Rocco keeps on twisting his tongue the wrong way. ’No,’ I bark. ‘Aunt Barbara hasn’t even let us run outside the house. She would never ever let us go to the Red Centre.’

‘It is not fair.’ Rocco sighs. ‘You should push your master to take you there. Enjoy the view of Uluru at sunrise. At midday. At sunset. No dog should be denied that pleasure.’

I stretch myself tall. ‘I’m working on it.’

I hop around as I notice a ray of sun on the muddy patch of our garden.

‘Woof, woof, woof,’ I run and roll myself all over the aromatic earthy compost, till my coat feels pawrrific. When I look up, Rocco isn’t at the wooden fence.

Shaking my body hard, I howl, ‘Rocco, please tell me how my dear mistress and I can go to Uluru?’

‘With pawrrific charm, of course! Woof, woof, woof!’

‘For dog’s sake, Rocco!’

Through the wooden fence, I sniff Billy. He says ‘Let’s run Rocco!’

Woofing around like a two-month old puppy, Rocco follows his master. ‘With pawrrific charm, woof, woof!’

I lift my leg against the Jacaranda tree, just as a gigantic car drives in. It is white and blue; lots of windows; set of steps and smelling new; new vehicle with a hint of fresh meat.

‘Henry Chiong!’ Aunt Barbara screams, and walks out of the kitchen. ‘Your motorhome looks better than I expected.’

Mr Chiong hops out of his motorhome holding a bag full of meat. Yep, another of his heaven-in-a-bag gifts. He kisses Aunt Barbara’s forehead. ‘This is for our trip.’

‘Yum!’ I woof.

Aunt Barbara gives me a dead serious stare.

Tail down, I retreat to the end of the garden. What can I do to make Aunt Barbara happy? Why doesn’t she like me? How can I convince her to take me with them?

I lie down¾with my paws in the air¾on the aromatic compost, watching the Jacaranda tree dropping blue flowers all over Mr Chiong’s brand new motorhome.

Stomping out of the house, Aunt Barbara, with a large black bag in her hand trips over me. ‘Isabel! Bath your disgusting, stinking dog at once!’

7. AT THE BLINK OF A FLEA

Three days later, my coat still smells of shampoo. I try to camouflage the perfume by rolling in the dirt. But no matter how hard I try I can’t get rid of it.

Now, under a timid sun, Isabel and I are cleaning Mr Chiong’s motorhome. From nowhere, Rocco shows up wagging his bushy tail. ‘So,’ he says, nose to the ground.

Trying to disguise the scent of perfume, I push the soapy sponge with the tip of my nose against the back wheel of the shiny vehicle. ‘Where have you been?’ I growl.

Rocco stretches his legs. ‘C’mon Blotch. You know my master and I are free spirit soul mates. We do and go anywhere we please.’ He scratches his whole body, furiously. Neck, belly, backside, ears, tail. The lot. One dead flea lands on my nose. Black. Long, brown, spindly legs. ‘Uff!’ I shake it off. ‘Is that so?’ I woof.

‘Things happen at the blink of a flea.’

My dear mistress grabs the sponge. Her soft fingers slide around my neck lightly, so pawrrifically lightly that I jump and kiss her chin. She wipes her face, and her brown eyes flash. ‘Hi Rocco,’ she says, and standing on tiptoe, she sponges the rear window of Mr Chiong’s motorhome.

Rocco and I roll on the grass, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ The white and blue stripes of fresh paint on Mr Chiong’s motorhome shine in the sun.

Isabel kneels and pats Rocco, ‘Pew! Rocco … you need a bath.’ She holds her nose. ‘I’ll tell Billy to give you a good wash.’

‘Woof!’ I giggle staring at Rocco. ‘You need a bath more than I did when I rolled in the mud.’

Rocco flattens his belly under Mr Chiong’s motorhome. ‘Oh no!’ he moans. ‘I don’t like to be bathed.’

‘Neither do I!’ I pant back. ‘Actually, I am allergic to soap.’

Right then Aunt Barbara turns on the hose, and splashes water on both of us.

That night I helped Mr Chiong organize tools and maps in his well-washed motorhome.

‘We’ll have a great holiday. Driving along through different towns. The main point is to reach Uluru… of course with Isabel and Blotch.’

‘What!’ Aunt Barbara screams. ‘The dog is coming too?’

Mr Chiong laughs. ‘Barbara my dear, you surely don’t expect to leave Blotch behind. Isabel would be lonely without him.’

I can’t believe my ears!

I chase my tail, madly. ’Woof, woof, woof! ‘At the blink of a flea, adventure!’

From the other side of the fence, ‘At last!’ Rocco. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

8. BYE-BYE SYDNEY

At dawn, on the first Monday of July, I wag bye-bye to Rocco. He is half asleep. ‘Good luck, Blotch,’ he yawns. ’I’ll look after your place. ‘Ah!’ He groans, and stretches his legs out of his plastic bed. ‘Share a bone or two with my dingo mate.’

‘Deal!’

Rocco pulls his blanket over his body. His teeth shine in the dim light. ‘Deal.’

I rub my chest. ‘Deal!’

For a long second the world spins backward.

‘Which one? You have so many girlfriends.’

Rocco steps on top of me. His big paws press my ribs. ‘Blotch stop it!’ he growls.

I moan, ‘Wadi-Wadi.’

Rocco jumps off me. ‘Didn’t I tell you Wadi-Wadi is the most exciting girl dog on earth?’

I rack my brain. Skinny, hot tempered dingo girl with a light brown coat and a white spot on her chest. There are probably hundreds of female dingoes fitting Rocco’s description. But they don’t all have a white spot on their chest.

‘Cross my heart, Rocco, I promise, to find and look after Wadi-Wadi.’

Sniffing the salty scent of Bondi Beach, I lift my leg against my Jacaranda tree. ‘Bye-bye, tree. Keep well. Keep growing.’ And just like that I bolt to Mr Chiong’s motorhome. Yes, just behind Isabel and Aunt Barbara. But …oh oh… I fart. I couldn’t help it. The doggie door was a bit too narrow for me.

‘Henry! Is that you?’ Aunt Barbara fans herself with a kitchen towel.

Mr Chiong shrugs, and opens the fridge which is hidden under the bench, ‘Plenty of food.’ He smiles. ‘We won’t stop until we reach Singleton.’

‘Singleton!’ Isabel echoes and clicks on her tablet. She reads out loud. ’Singleton is a town on the banks of the Hunter River, 197 kilometres north west of Sydney. It has some caravan parks … ’ She taps the computer keyboard furiously and holding me up she whispers, ‘Look at these beautiful pictures, Blotch. There are lots of dog-friendly caravan parks on the way.’

Mr Chiong puts on his sunglasses. ‘Now we are all on board.’ He winks at me. ‘We’ll fix your doggy door later.’

Aunt Barbara turns around and orders Isabel, ‘Strap in the dog!’

Patting the front seats, Mr Chiong smiles. ‘Barbara, dear, please be our navigator.’

I swing in a circle beneath the table, and settle myself at Isabel’s feet. She is wearing her adventure shoes. Thrilled, I nose out the old and the new stains, and clear off the latest: a lump of Vegemite. Yum!

‘Blotch,’ she whispers, her voice smooth as marshmallow. I shake and poke my nose into her belly. She picks me up, folds the table and a little board appears. ‘These are our travelling seats,’ she bows. ‘From now on… ’

No farts, no burps, no catching flies. No barking. No getting excited, I whimper.

She squats next to me and looks me straight in the eye. ‘Yes, Blotch, from now on no farts, no burps, and definitely no barking!’

I squish myself squarely under our travelling seats and gaze at our confined space. Almost everything is the colour of the sea. Soft blue. Dark blue. Azure blue. The bench, the curtains, the floor.

Sniff, sniff!

The pale-blue kitchenette area has an oven, a grill, and a sink that smell of disinfectant. The dark-blue double bed cramped against the wall stinks of deodorant. The azure blue berth at the top of the driver’s seat smells of sand and fresh bread. Between the toilet and the door is a basket. My nose goes crazy. Heavenly doggies, my basket! It has my scent, my dreams, my hope imprinted on it.

‘Here we go!’ Mr Chiong says, and whistling Waltzing Matilda he drives us through the streets of Sydney.

Well strapped in, I watch the sun flame through Isabel’s hair and deep in my heart, I woof bye-bye to Sydney.

I know I have a ton of work to do. For a start I have to keep quiet.

As we are travelling along, I see a little cavalier dog helping his master. The two of them are licking an ice-cream and fighting their way through the crazy traffic to reach the footpath.

Heavenly doggies! Working dogs. Millions of dogs around the world are helping their masters achieve their dreams. Including me. Day in. Day out. 24/7. Vigilant!

I’ve been a vigilant companion for ages. Oh yes, since the day I scented Isabel’s hands patting my neck.

Personally I’ve encountered:

Drug-sniffing dogs.

Companion dogs-for the blind.

Therapy dogs for sick kids in hospitals.

Therapy dogs for old people in nursing homes.

Therapy dogs for prisoners in gaols.

Light duty dogs for active people.

Fluffly-looking dogs for soothing egocentric people on the go. And many other fellow dogs helping their masters to vegetate.

Hard job. Day in. Day out 24/7. Lying down at their feet.

Lucky me. Isabel is energetic. We keep very busy. That’s my job! Companions for life, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Anyhow, now once again we are together for another pawrrific adventure. So I keep my ears and eyes well tuned, as I watch Sydney flash by.

‘Look!’ Isabel says. ‘There’s the Harbour Bridge.’ She pauses. ‘And that’s the Opera House. And the Botanic Gardens are over there.’

I stretch my neck to the max, and together we enjoy the blue and yellow and green and bright pink colours of the most beautiful harbour on earth.

But soon we reach the highway.

9. NOISY WHEELS NOISY WHEELS

Enormous trucks. Small cars. Medium side utility vans flash by. Noisy wheels, noisy wheels. Noisy wheels, noise wheels. Their dreadful, repetitive sound makes me shake all over. I feel like throwing up my latest breakfast, lunch and dinner all together.

I am terrified. And trying not to vomit!

Hard task.

Often those vehicles skid past our motorhome¾buzzing and hitting their horns. Ohhhh. My ears. My tongue. My whole body hurts from the tension as I try not to vomit old food that is bubbling inside my belly.

I want to bark at them: Shut up! Pleeease shut up! Like the way I do at the rubbish collector’s truck and the postman’s bicycle around our home. Woof! Woooooof, woof! But remembering my promise to Isabel, I bite my tongue, and try my best to look cute. Yep, like a cute, good dog I close my eyes tightly, and begin to chew the straps around my chest.

‘Blotch, please,’ Isabel whispers. ‘Don’t be scared of the semi-trailers.’ But I can tell that she is scared of the semi-trailers, as well as the other dreadfully noisy vehicles.

Wagging her ponytail, she shows me pictures of Singleton on her tablet. But I am too nervous to pay attention.

After a while, she cuddles me. ‘We’ll get used to them.’ And true to her words, we do¾snoozing to the rhythmic vibration of our pawrrific motorhome.

‘Singleton!’ Mr Chiong announces, and parks under the shade of eucalyptus trees, near a river. ‘This is the Hunter River.’

Isabel unclips our seatbelts, and we bolt. She somersaults toward a bleached building. ‘Toilet break.’

Earthy scents of mud and fresh cut grass fill my lungs.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Mr Chiong whistles. ‘It is a thirty minute stop.’ He fiddles with his wristwatch. ‘Starting from now!’

Aunt Barbara steps out of the motorhome. ‘Henry Chiong, we are not in the army.’ She waves a red basket smelling of bacon, cheese, celery, carrots, and sausage rolls! ‘A little lunch?’

We munch hard eggs, strips of bacon, and burnt pieces of bread. Fast. Far too fast. So I burp. Isabel rolls her eyes at me. ’We’d better stretch our legs.’

Running at full speed, ‘Blotch, keep an eye open for a sundial,’ she pants. ‘The sundial, I’ve shown you on my tablet!’

‘Woof?’ I whimper, chasing after her. What’s a sundial?

She skips over a little Waratah bush, and pats her backpack¾a gesture she always makes to be sure her table is safe. ‘A sundial is a device that tells the time of the day by the position of the sun.’ She says, looking at me straight in the eye.

Sundial, sundial woof, woof where can I find a sundial? Sniff. Sniff.

Run. Run.

I swallow and before I roll my tongue back, Isabel stops dead in her tracks.

I nose up. The sky is bright pink, but in the far distance turning gray.

‘There it is! ’ She exclaims, and sits on the grass, cross-legged. ’Blotch, this is the famous Singleton sundial.’

I look at the odd metal device. Two galahs are laughing and pooing on top of the famous sundial.

Heavenly doggies!

Woofing my head off, I chase after them.

But, oh, oh, I fly in the air and SPLASH! I end up in the murky water of the Hunter River.

10. KOOKABURRA IN A BOX

Sneezing my head off, I swim back to shore. I shake mud off my coat and my dear mistress runs towards me. ‘Wow!’ she pants, ‘I love you Blotch. I love your dog-paddling swimming style. I’m happy you didn’t drown!’ She pulls her hoodie down. ‘But Blotch, never ever chase birds again, okay?’

Never ever? I sneeze. How could I promise not to chase nasty birds? Back home magpies, crows, seagulls, and kookaburras fly to steal my food. They fart, and off they fly away. Sometimes they peck my head and laugh at me.

Isabel rearranges her tablet inside her jacket, ‘I was sooo scared for you, but not now.’ Her face lights up like the sun above the gum trees.

I roll on my back¾with my legs in the air ‘What about training for the 2020 Olympic Games?’ I yap.

‘C’mon Blotch,’ she giggles. ‘We have fifty seconds to get back.’ She mimics Mr Chiong’s voice, ‘ Counting from NOW!’

Our legs get on fire.

There is something magic about running. The world turns into a whisper of melodic sounds. One paw at a time. One heartbeat. One long stretchy jump. Over and over. Pawfect!

I always let Isabel run faster than me. She has only two legs! She is my trainee. And I am her personal trainer. But now we are running at the same speed.

All of a sudden, a kookaburra falls from a gum tree, and hits me on the head. One of his feathers sticks on my wet nose. ‘Achoo!’

Isabel turns around, and clutches the injured kookaburra to her chest. ‘Blotch. Stop sneezing!’

Running nose. Eyes weeping. Ears tingling. The lot. Poor me. I try my best not to sneeze. But she keeps holding that stinking kookaburra near me. ‘Achoo!’

When we reach our motorhome, my nose feels like a putrid soaking ball. ‘Achoo!’

‘Henry Chiong,’ Aunt Barbara calls, sweeping the floor. She lifts the broom in the air. ‘Henry Chiong, you are so…’

‘Perfect!’ he says, seeing Isabel and me come in.

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘Perfect? You perfect? Ha!’

‘Barbara dear,’ Mr Chiong says, and pats his watch. ‘Perfect timing!’ He winks at Isabel and me.

‘We found this baby kookaburra!’ Isabel cries. ‘I think he lost his mother, then he broke his wing and now he can’t fly!’

Mr Chiong inspects the bird, which shakes with fear. ‘Apparently it has a broken heart and a broken wing.’ With his car keys in hand, he says, ‘The sooner we reach Gunnedah the better.’ He punches some numbers on his mobile phone. ‘I should call WIRES.’

Wires? I whimper.

My dear mistress sits on the bench and plugs her tablet into the electric socket underneath. ‘I hope we have coverage.’ Her speedy fingers bash the keyboard. ‘WIRES stands for Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service.’ She blinks at me.

I leap onto her lap, ‘When I grow up, I’d like to work for WIRES,’ she whispers. ‘They look after injured animals.’

I tilt my head, and nose at her tablet.

I see pawrrific images of Australian native creatures. But, oh heavenly doggies! Badly injured, burnt, run over ohh kangaroos, possums, koalas, bandicoots …

Paws crossed WIRES will accept you and me as helpers.

‘Yes!’ Mr Chiong says, on the phone. ‘Yes, we’ve found a young kookaburra badly injured. Yes, we are on the way. Thank you.’ He grabs the box of cereal from the cupboard, and facing us, he says. ‘Safety first.’

Removing the biscuits, he punches holes in the box. Then he scrunches up some old newspaper, ‘I’ll make you comfortable, little mate,’ he mutters, and puts the sickeningly-smelly bird inside the sweet-smelling box.

Soon, we are all strapped in our seats of the motorhome. ‘Here we go!’ says Mr Chiong and drives us away.

The smell of the disgusting kookaburra hovers like a menacing cloud over me.

‘Blotch, don’t vomit!’ Isabel begs.

‘I am allergic to birds’. I complain, sniffing the poo of the bird emanating from the cereal box.

A rainbow of bile flies out of my throat. I can’t help myself.

By the time we reach Gunnedah, my belly feels oddly empty. And I guess, the kookaburra’s tummy does too.

Aunt Barbara’s long thin nose looms above us. ‘Wash the dog!’ She says to Isabel. ‘We are taking the bird to the vet.’

With the box in his hand, Mr Chiong says. ‘We’ll meet back here.’ He winks at Isabel and me. ‘Let’s say in twenty-five minutes.’

My dear mistress grabs the plastic bags we have used during our journey. ‘Pew!’ she groans, and we run to a noisy caravan park.

Lots of kids are playing around. Lots of mothers are shouting orders at them. Lots of bins are overloaded with rubbish.

I take a long breath, and nudge Isabel towards a half-empty bin at the end of the caravan park.

‘Toilet break!’ she smiles, and somersaults away.

I wag my tail at her, and squat among the bushes.

What a relief!

Right then from behind a compost bin, a pirate jumps up and attacks me.

11. THE PIRATE’S PATH

‘Password!’ the pirate orders, pointing a long stick at me.

Heavenly doggies! I shake, and sniff the pirate from foot to head. He smells of popcorn and sour milk and he has a fascinating stick in his hands. Wow! My eyes are glued to the stick.

The pirate kicks my rock solid poo away. ‘You like my new bandana?’ he shifts the black piece of material from his eye over his shiny bald head. Then arms outstretched, he looks at me straight in the eye. ‘Password!’

I scratch my belly and backside. ‘Blotch,’ I yap.

He smiles, ‘I have leukaemia. I’ll be six tomorrow. It’s my birthday. How old are you?’

I roll back on alert mode. ‘Well, if you convert human life into doggy’s years, I am five going on fifty multiplied by fifty,’ I yap.

‘Fetch!’ He raises the stick over his head.

My paws itch, waiting and waiting.

He throws the stick as far as the last gum tree of the caravan park, and my paws are on fire. He hides himself behind the wattle bushes. Stick in my mouth, I whoosh back, crushing the crispy leaves of the trees and the yellow blanket of flowers with my four lucky paws. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

You see, the pirate and I play a mixture of fetch and hide-and-seek. Fetch and run back! Woof! Best game ever, until from the clothesline a lady calls, ‘Oliver!’

‘That’s my mum. Let’s hide.’ Gently Oliver grabs me by the tail and we crouch down behind the half-empty garbage bin.

‘Oliver, come here at once and get your pyjamas on!’

Somehow she has spotted us.

‘Where did you get that filthy dog?’ she asks, flapping Oliver’s pyjamas.

Oliver kneels by my side. ‘You are a good little dog.’ He grins. ‘Tomorrow, I’ll dress myself as a koala.’

I lick snot from Oliver’s runny nose. ‘A pirate dressed as a koala?’ I wag my tail. Pawrrific!

‘Oliver!’ His mother orders. ‘Enough is enough!’

I stop wagging my tail, so I sniff her from toe to head. She smells of washing powder and tomato paste. I stretch myself across the patch of weeds. ‘Woof!’ I yap at her. ‘So you mean it is reading time. I love that!’ I jump. ‘Bedtime is reading time. My dear mistress Isabel always reads wonderful books to me, woof, woof, woof!’

‘Shoo!’ she shouts. ‘Shoo! Dog!’ And she chases me away.

Oliver complains, ‘It’s not fair.’

His mother mumbles, ‘I know it is not fair. But now you must have your medicine and a nap.’

Tail down, I skirt around Oliver’s mother’s washing basket and trot in search of my dear mistress.

12 MEATBALLS

That night we have dinner under two million stars. The air is pretty cold, even the moisture on my nose feels icy. But I don’t mind, for Isabel puts my basket with my teddy bear next to her.

Mr Chiong places a huge tray of food on the table. His big warm hands rub the tip of my head.

The aroma flies to the full moon above and back.

For dog’s sake! While I was playing with the pirate, Mr. Chiong was preparing a banquet!

Isabel grabs some meatballs, and tosses one to me. I somersault, catch it in my mouth and break it with my lucky teeth.

‘Mmm. Oh. Ouch!’ It is too hot but I eat it anyway. The second meatball tastes a bit too spicy. The third one tastes a bit too salty. The fourth meatball tastes perfect! Absolutely pawrrifically perfect balls of meat. What a perfect combination meat and ball!

Tongue out, I sit on my haunches and watch Isabel wiping Mr Chiong’s tray clean with paper towels. She turns around and with her palms up. ‘Botch! No use begging. Nothing. No more food. Nada! Everything’s clean now.’

As you see, I am not offered anything else. But still my belly roars for more food. Paws on alert, I check the kitchen garbage bin. What a delicious curry! The spicy food makes my tongue tingle. But later on oh heavenly doggies my far-end burns.

‘Not happy!’ Isabel says, looking with at the rubbish on the floor.

Wagging my tail, I raise my paw, ‘I was just helping with the cleanup.’

‘Move!’ Isabel picks up the broom hidden behind the door of our motorhome. ‘Move. Don’t fart. Oh Blotch.’

She sweeps.

I squeeze my far end tight.

Holding a fart is a hard task.

Before I’d squeezed my back legs, Aunt Barbara storms into the motorhome. ‘Nice. Hygienically clean.’ Her long thin nose wiggles.

Isabel picks up her tablet, and blinks at me. ‘Let’s study.’

I jump on her lap.

‘Gunnedah is the Koala Capital of the World! Home of one of the largest and healthiest colonies of koalas in Australia! Look at these photos, Blotch!’

Wow! Are they real bears? Just as cute as my teddy bear? I jump out of her arms, and grab him in my teeth.

She bends over, and flicking her ponytail she caresses my head. ‘No, no, no, Blotch,’ she giggles. ‘Koalas are not bears. They are related to kangaroos and wombats.’

Very confusing I sigh, and sprawl on the bench next to her. With my teddy bear in her hands, she continues reading aloud. ‘Koalas drink milk from their mothers. They sleep around 19 hours a day. They eat eucalyptus leaves. They belch!’ She laughs. ‘Koalas are the cutest marsupials on Earth, aren’t’ they?’

Probably. But if they belch, do they fart? My belly rumbles, and a loud noise come out of my backside.

Isabel twists her nose. ‘Ooooh Blotch!’

Embarrassed, I retreat under the bench my tail between my legs. What a relief!

Isabel continues punching her tablet. ‘Miranda Kerr, the supermodel was born here.’ And Dorothea Mackellar, the famous poet wrote “My Country” because she was inspired by the beauty of Gunnedah!’

‘Yes!’ Aunt Barbara says, and stops dusting the window. ‘As far as I remember it goes like this,’

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror –

The wide brown land for me!”

‘I love that poem too!’ says Isabel.

Aunt Barbara kisses Isabel. ‘Time for bed.’

I pick up my teddy bear and head for my basket. Tuning up my ears to crickets and frogs and all sorts of nocturnal creatures, I curl up by my teddy bear.

My dear mistress moves my basket towards the stairs and pats me. Head up, I kiss her chin, ‘night-night.’ And I watch as she climbs up the ladder to the bed above the cabin. ‘Tomorrow, we’ll have a big day,’ she says.

Better than today? Better than the day before yesterday? Better than the day before the day before that?

To the soothing chorus of the crickets, we fall asleep.

13 KOALA’S GRIP

‘The sooner we leave Gunnedah, the faster we’ll reach Moree, Goondiwindi and many other amazing places until we reach Uluru!’ says Mr Chiong .

Aunt Barbara, Isabel and I line up outside the motorhome.

Mr Chiong salutes us, his right hand squared on his forehead. ‘Breakfast is served!’ He bows.

I nose up. Porridge and grapes and yoghurt. What an unpawrrifc menu! Tail down, I stroll over the dry long grass.

Rat’s poo.

My dear mistress senses my distress. Smiling at me, she fills up one of my doggie bowls with water, and the other with crunchy doggy biscuits.

Yum!

I trot down the caravan park. The scent of bush land hits me. Tongue out I reach a pond and share a drink of delicious pond water with a couple of lizards. One has a long green tongue, and the other a reddish one. Both have halitosis. Yuck!

Belly up to the sun I notice four bluish eucalyptus trees huddled together in the morning wind. Between them, a gigantic koala.

‘Hey, little dog! Let’s play!’ the gigantic koala demands. ‘Wait!’

My nose goes crazy, sniffing around. Oliver! ‘Woof, woof!’ He lies next to me. ‘You like my koala costume?’ he asks, scratching his bald head.

We roll and roll down the weeds. ‘I think I like you better as a pirate.’ I pant. ‘You are the coolest six year-old I have ever met. But why don’t you have hair?’

Oliver jumps up, ‘I have a bug growing up inside me, and the medicine made my hair fall out.’ He fixes his koala tail and tells me about his trips to hospital wards. ‘But luckily at last my mum has come to her senses.’ He squats. ‘No more chemotherapy. Just fun travelling around the country.’

I lick his nose. ‘We are heading to Uluru.’

‘So are we!’ Oliver blinks at the sun.

Pawrrific! I sit on my haunches and yap loud and clear. Yep, I tell Oliver all about Wadi-Wadi. ‘She is lost somewhere around Uluru.’ I insist. ‘That beautiful dingo girl needs our help.’

Oliver pats me and promises to help me find Wadi-Wadi. ‘Dressed on my pirate costume or my koala?’

I sprawl flat on the red path and lick Oliver’s forehead. ‘You’ll impress Wadi-Wadi better with a raw bone in your hand. She won’t feel threatened.’

Oliver twitches, ‘Oh!’ He squeezes me to his chest and tells me more about hospital wards. Needles. People poking instruments to his body.

Drops of rain starts falling upon us.

Oliver points at the sky. ‘Rainbow!’

I roll on my back, my four legs up to the clouds. Rainbow. Oh what a pawfect colours!

He pokes his tongue out at me, ‘I forgot to put on my koala gloves!’ He rushes to his caravan.

I wag my tail, and wait for him in the shade. But after a long while I hear his mother singing to him. ‘I love Oliver, Oliver my baby, one day at a time. Now just have a little nap.’

Tail down, I trot back to our pawrrific motorhome.

14. BALLOONS

The dried-out tree rustles its branches against the window of our motorhome. A soothing sound. Great for a good afternoon nap.

‘Knock. Knock!’

‘Woof!?’

I open one eye then the other.

Oliver’s mother pops in. ‘Knock. Knock,’ she says, ‘My name’s Sarah and I would like to invite you to my little boy’s sixth birthday party.’ She clears her throat. ‘We are practically neighbours.’ She smiles, pointing at the pink caravan not far from ours.

Mr Chiong takes his apron off. ‘ Well, thank you. But ...’

‘But we have other plans,’ says Aunt Barbara.

Oliver’s mother scrunches her eyes, and sighs, ‘My little boy is very sick, leukaemia, but he loves dogs, unfortunately.’

Aunt Barbara gasps, and looks seriously sad. ‘Perhaps, my niece and the dog, ’ she murmurs, ‘Isabel! Put the dog on the leash, please.’

Isabel winks at me and we trot behind Oliver’s mother.

The moment we reach Oliver’s caravan. ‘Boom!’ A huge red balloon bursts against my floppy ears.

I run for my life.

Isabel chases after me. ‘Blotch, Blotch come back,’ she begs.

I hide myself behind a bush, ‘Please forgive me, dear mistress Isabel,’ I yap. ‘Go, and have fun with Oliver. I will wait for you right here. I don’t like balloons.’

She steps on my leash. ‘Oliver wants to play with you.’

‘Boom!’ another balloon explodes.

Isabel sweeps me into her arms. Listening to the rhythm of her heart, I relax a bit.

Salami. I smell it before we hit the door.

‘You want some?’ Oliver giggles. He is playing with two little girls, but when he sees me. ‘Blotch!’ he jumps, and shares a piece of salami with me.

‘Pavlova!’ Oliver’s mother announces. She places the fluffy white cloud of deliciousness on the table, kisses him on his forehead, and carefully puts six candles among the fruit: mangoes, bananas, strawberries, peaches and cherries. Not my kind of food.

At the chorus of ‘Happy Birthday Oliver!’ I sit under the table. Smiling wearily Oliver pats me. I jump up and I lick his face. Just to give him a little comfort. Now, I can feel and smell how sick he is.

Clapping their hands the little girls sing and dance, ‘Open your gifts, Oliver. Open your gifts, Oliver!’

‘Now?’ he says, and tears the colourful wrapping on the gifts. ‘Wow! It’s a toy truck!’ Rolling the yellow truck on the table. ‘I am six years old today, but I don’t feel any different than yesterday when I was five.’

His mother flashes her camera. ‘Yes, my dear boy, it is amazing that you’ve reached six!’

Click. Click.

She apologizes for the small space. ‘Caravan life is great, but on occasions like this … restricted,’

‘Oh!’ Oliver shrugs, looking at me. Quickly, he pulls a tennis ball out of his overall pocket. ‘This is my gift for you. It is my lucky-lucky ball.’

As soon as Oliver blows out the candles, his mother thanks us, so I grab Oliver’s gift with my lucky teeth and my dear mistress and I trot away. By the side of the pond, Isabel stops and hugs me. ‘We may never see Oliver again.’ She taps her tablet. ‘Cancer. Leukemia.’

One look at the images of children sick with cancer makes my heart race harder inside my chest. Oh no! Oliver is my friend! Paws crossed, Oliver kicks cancer away. He promised to help me find Wadi-Wadi, and play “catch me if you can” in Uluru!

I drop the tennis ball on the dry grass.

Isabel picks it up. ‘I saw you wagging your tail at Oliver.’ She snuggles me in her arms.

I yap, ‘Yes, Oliver gave me his lucky tennis ball. Will Oliver get rid of that horrible disease?’

Isabel’s tablet clinks inside her bag. But she ignores it! She just hugs me tighter, and together we watch the pink motorhome drive away.

15 KOALA FUR-REAL

Waves of heat hits at all. In a haze, I chew Oliver’s tennis ball. Aunt Barbara calls. ‘Isabel! Go brush your teeth, and bring back my make-up bag.’

Paws in action, I dig Oliver’s ball under the caravan, and trot behind Isabel. Against the haze, the red sun becomes rosy.

After a short run, she pants. ‘Blotch, you are a good dog. Wait for me here!’

Sniffing shrubs and grass I wait. But after a long time, my ears hurt and my belly too!

While she is brushing her teeth and looking for Aunt Barbara’s make-up bag, inside the “Ladies” ¾ I mean the squared little place where female two-leggeds do their business ¾ I empty my bladder on the nearest gum tree.

‘Plop!’ Something lands on my head.

‘What was that?’ I yap.

‘You pee on my tree,’ says a voice. ‘I poo on your head!’

I look up and there I see a REAL koala. A girl koala clutches a branch of the tallest gum tree. ‘Keep away from my tree!’ she orders. ‘I am the boss of this tree, and you are just an ugly, disgusting dog.’

I step back. ‘I am not an ugly dog. I am the most beautiful dog in the whole world.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘My dear mistress Isabel tells me everyday that I am the most beautiful, clever, kind dog in the whole world. And she knows everything! She has a tablet.’ I rub my head on the back of the tree to get rid of the koala’s poo. ‘Anyhow what’s so special about this tree?’ I ask.

The chubby koala inspects her grey fur. Her bright round eyes go up and down. ‘This tree has the most delicious leaves on Earth.’ She grabs a leaf and munches contentedly.

‘Yuk!’ I shake. ‘You eat gum leaves?’

‘Only special ones,’ she retorts. ‘Not like you. Dogs eat anything.’

‘Don’t you like bones, chewing bones?’ I ask.

‘How gross!’ she says. She bends her head and I am surprised to see a tiny koala on her back.

‘Who’s that?’ I yap.

‘It’s my baby joey,’ says the koala. ‘His name is Timmy-Timmy.’ She shifts her baby from her back to her chest. ‘By the way, I’m Misty. What’s your name?’

I stand like a meerkat watching the baby koala watching me. My breath explodes in steam-puffs. ‘Blo… Blo…. Blotch.’ I stammer. ‘My name is Blotch.’

Heavenly doggies! What a cute little creature! I suck in my breath. The little joey has button-shaped fascinating eyes. Black spoon-shaped nose. Tiny fluffy ears, and he smells of warm milk. ‘Misty, please come down so we can all play together.’

Hugging the tree, Misty, with Timmy-Timmy clinging to her back begins to climb down. When she is about to jump next to me, ‘Danger!’ she cries out. ‘Blotch go away. You are a trustful dog, but your human companion is not!’

I twist back and see Isabel approaching us.

‘Blotch!’ she calls. ‘Hurry up, Blotch!’

I want to chat a bit more with the bossy koala and her cute son. I nip Isabel on her leg. She twitches. ‘What’s wrong with you Blotch?’ I run around and around the eucalyptus tree. ‘Isabel, please take a look at Timmy-Timmy.’ I yap, until my dear mistress looks up.

‘A koala! And a baby koala.’ Isabel exclaims. ‘Oh, they are soooo cute.’ She fishes her tablet out of her bag.

Misty rolls her eyes at me, ‘See you later,’ she says. ‘I don’t like two-leggeds. I don’t trust humans that much.’ And she climbs further up the tree till she disappears among the foliage.

Isabel tries to take some photos. Misty gets so upset that finally she belches. ’Leave us alone!’

Isabel doesn’t get messages from other animals. Only me! ‘Woof!’ But how can I train her to understand bush creatures?

16 WOMBAT’S GRADUATION PARTY

One drop of rain is followed by many ...

That night, for the first time ever I sleep inside of our motorhome. Isabel managed Aunt Barbara’s uncool temper! I think Isabel’s bracing teeth play the trick.

to set my basket between Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong’s seats.

bunk. and the driving The rain that started early has developed into a deluge. So lucky me, curled up in my cozy basket, I think about Misty and Timmy-Timmy, her beautiful baby koala.

What happens to creatures in the bush? I mean in heavy rain like this drumming on the roof. I rub my ears against my teddy bear. What about when there is a fire? Where do Misty and her baby go? I remember watching bushfires on TV. Heavenly doggies! What happens to birds and animals when the trees burn down?

I hug my teddy bear against my chest. I’ve a flash of memory – Isabel talking about wires. ’Thank Goodness for WIRES! I whisper to him. ’The animal rescue organization, my dear mistress has told me, stands for Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service. ‘Woof!’

The next morning the sun shines and dries up the rain on the wet grass. ‘Best day for travelling,’ says Mr Chiong. He checks his wristwatch. ‘It’s 9 o’clock. We should be arriving at Goondiwindi at 1 pm this afternoon.’

‘Henry Chiong!’ Aunt Barbara says. ‘We are not in the army.’

After lots of mucking around, we leave Gunnedah at the midday gong of its church. Yes, Aunt takes a long time to be ready.

We stop in small towns for the usual: Petrol. Toilet. Photos. Narrabri, Moree and lots of other towns with weird names that I can’t recall.

‘Goondiwindi!’ Mr Chiong announces, and parks at the end of a friendly-looking caravan park. Not far from a big sign. Welcome to Goondiwindi. Population: 5670.

Isabel pats me. ’The word Goondiwindi derives from an Aboriginal word meaning, “the resting place of the birds.” She says, and inserts her tablet into her backpack.

I peer up and down. No birds fly around. They all must be resting. Gaily I check my paws.

Banging on the tartan Esky Aunt Barbara asks Isabel to help with the vegetables, so I decide to have a little stroll all by myself.

Tail up, I trot towards the aromatic bushes in a gully.

As I sniff around, a wombat steps on my tail.

‘Ouch!’

‘I’m sorry, little dog,’ says the dark brown wombat. ‘You see I’m in a hurry. I have to groom myself for a party.’

‘What kind of party?’ I ask.

She studies her thick, curvy claws. ‘My cousin’s graduation,’ she says. ‘He’s graduating for his TD with honours!’

TD with honours? I scratch my ears. ‘What’s that?’

Her small eyes inspect me up and down. ‘Tunnelling Diploma, of course.’ She sighs. ‘You want to come to the party?’

‘Are there balloons? I hope not. I hate balloons.’

She shakes her head. ‘No balloons, thank you! By the way my name is Weena,’ she adds as she disappears down a tunnel.

Intrigued by the idea of a wombat party, my paws go crazy. Digging in my best style, I follow Weena, my new friend, through the inviting tunnel. But soon I lose my bearings.

Heavenly doggies!

The underground world doesn’t smell right. Something in the air emanates danger. I feel it in my nose. And my nose doesn’t lie.

Fighting against roots of trees in the oppressive dark, I hear some music in the distance – a chanting type of song that makes my heart twist backwards.

Darkness is all around me.

‘Woof?’

Adjusting my eyes, I blink. At the end of the tunnel I see rays of moonlight. The party is already in full swing. Wombats of all sizes are dancing under the moonlight, which comes through a hole in the roof of a big underground clearing.

‘Want to dance?’ a large wombat asks me. She smells like chewed-up grass, but the rhythm is contagious.

Howling at the moonlight, I dance with that lady wombat and many others, till my belly hurts. Dizzy, I rest my paws on top of the roots of a gigantic old tree.

‘Want some snow grass?’ a stout wombat with thick grey fur asks me. His blunt head and short strong neck turn toward me. ‘This is one of the best grasses I’ve ever enjoyed.’ He munches. ‘It’s a bit tussocky, though.’

I shudder. ‘Woof? Haven’t you got a biscuit or piece of steak?’

‘What?’ the wombat squeals. His broad teeth shine. ‘I am a vegetarian.’

‘Actually, I love meat. Leftovers are my specialty!’ Tongue out I sit on my haunches, thinking of fat chops, juicy T-bones, the marrow of osso bucco. Wow! I realize how empty my belly is.

The wombat turns around and burrows away. Soon his strong paws and flat claws echo down the warrens. I clean my ears with my lucky left front paw.

‘Hello there!’ a sweet little voice says. I jump up.

From another tunnel, which I haven’t noticed before, a light brown wombat emerges. ‘I need some herbs.’

Herbs? I wriggle. ‘Where are they?’

‘You’re sitting on them!’ she snarls, and bowls me over with her super extra strong backside. ‘As you see, I need to be strong to feed my baby.’

Standing up, I right myself on my four paws. In her pouch I see a tiny baby wombat. ‘Why is your baby facing backwards?’ I ask.

She stares at me. Her little sharp eyes shine. ‘So my baby doesn’t get dirt in her face when I dig.’ She plucks up some herbs with her front paws and stuffs them into her mouth.

Just then from above the ground, I hear a cry. ‘Blotch, Blotch! Where are you?’

Isabel!

My tail goes crazy.

I try to bark to attract her attention, but my throat is dried out. So I tunnel towards my dear mistress’s voice as quickly as I can. I can’t tell where her voice is coming from. Panic attack. Dirt and rocks fall on me. No matter how hard I try I can’t reach her. I am stuck! I can’t move forwards or backwards.

Where am I?

I am lost in a maze of burrows deep down, suffocating underground, trying to find another way out of the dark humid tunnel. But which way? Which burrow? Everything is blocked! Heavenly doggies! I moan for hours and hours on end. The beat of music is in the background. Everything is unreal as if it is happening to someone else.

Where have all the wombats gone?

Terrified, I close my eyes and think about my dear mistress, Isabel. Will I ever see her again? I despair that I might not.

Paws over my head I tell you.

The first time I sniffed Isabel, I knew she was the right owner for me. The two of us were running across the Hampden Bridge, in Kangaroo Valley.

Before I met her, she lived with her parents. Sadly, she lost them in a freak car accident and ended up in the care of her Aunt Barbara. Aunt Barbara doesn’t like dogs. But Isabel says I am the best dog in the world!

I can hardly breathe. Am I lost forever?

Blinded, claustrophobic, thirsty and starving to death, I doze off.

Squeezed between some ancient roots and rocks, I wake up. Isabel Isabel, where are you? I howl, but no sound comes out of my throat. My mouth is full of dirt!

For what seems like years, I dig and dig and keep on digging. Don’t give up, I say to myself over and over.

I rest my paws for a bit, and smell Weena. Yes, my first wombat friend, Weena.

Pushing some rocks, she smiles at me. ‘You left the party far too quickly. I wanted to introduce you to my cousin Roro the fourth.’

I stretch my neck. My legs. My tail. ‘Roro the fourth? The one who likes tussock grass?’

Weena burps. ‘Yes, Roro is our top tunnelling expert.’ She points at a sign that I haven’t noticed: Never ever be lost underground, burp Roro! ‘That means, if you are lost underground, just call Roro.’

‘I wish I’d done that,’ I whimper. ‘Then I wouldn’t have been lost.’

Weena grins, and gives me a mighty push with her back legs. ‘Good luck little dog.’

And suddenly, I find myself facing a sunny sky. The bluest sky I’ve ever seen. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ It’s daytime!

17 DRIPPING NOSE

Strawberry scent fills the air.

A top dog like me will always keep on alert. Where can I find Isabel?

I stand on all fours.

I look at the vast land.

When I was a puppy I used to waste time chewing and sniffing people’s shoes. How needed of care was I?

Now, I am a personal trainer. So whenever my trainee may be, her scent makes my nose drip with joy. Ears up, I listen as the wind dances around the trees.

Sniff, sniff.

My nose quivers. Oh heavenly doggies, it is my trainee’s scent? I rest my paws against a rock. From behind the rockery fence ¾ just over the little hill I see a massive strawberry plant. My nose guides me towards Isabel. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ Running at full speed towards her, my heart racing like a wild wolf inside my chest, I jump and knock her down.

‘Oh, is it you … Blotch? Or, is it another phantom dog?’

I lick her freckled chin.

She straightens up.

My nose is dripping and hers is too.

We roll over together in the dew. ‘Oh Blotch, I thought I’d lost you forever.’ She wipes her nose on the sleeve of her T-shirt. Tears running down her cheeks, she hiccups, ‘Oh… Blotch… I thought … I’d never … see you … again.’

Immersed in Isabel’s scent I moan, ’me too.’

19. KANGAROO KEKEY

Two days later, we arrive in Roma, a colourful town in Queensland. Aunt Barbara is still cross with me. ‘We lost a day, Isabel, looking for that dog of yours!’ She thumps her handbag on the dashboard.

Chewing her ponytail, Isabel tries to explain that I am a good dog, that maybe I had been lost, trapped or something. As you see Isabel understands me.

I whip my crooked tail and anxiously wait for Mr Chiong to park near a huge bottle tree. My tail has never been the same since my awful accident back in Chile. There, Isabel and I suffered an earthquake measuring 8.9. Yes, it was catastrophic.

Anyway, after a little lunch Aunt Barbara says, ‘We are going hunting for souvenirs.’

Hunting? I jump around and around. When we go hunting it would be pawfet.

Mr Chiong complains, ‘We have far too many mementos already.’

I check my fleas, and look at Isabel for guidance. But she is busily tuning her tablet, and dancing tap music.

‘Isabel!’ Aunt Barbara exclaims. ‘Tie up the dog, now!’

In two seconds flat, I find myself tied up to the bottle tree. And they are gone!

The leash around my throat makes me cough, but I fight the awful thing, till it feels soft and nicely loose. Bored to death, I look around.

Our outside motorhome table smells of leftovers. No matter how much Aunt Barbara has urged Mr Chiong and Isabel to clean up, the leftover scent remains.

Nose up I catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Wadi-Wadi? I stretch my neck to the limit. Hiding in the tall grass just behind the fence of the camping site is a kangaroo!

‘Woof!’

A slow grin spreads across the kangaroo’s face as he watches me watching him. After a long sniff, he says, ‘Have you seen my mum?’

At the cry of the joey, my heart thumps, so I lurch forward biting my leash. ‘I think your mum was hopping toward the river.’ My teeth fight the leash. ‘Well, when I was looking for my dingo friend Wadi-Wadi, I saw a mob of kangaroos going by.’

The kangaroo excitingly bleats, ‘My mum has a grey coat, long strong tail and a round cosy pouch.’

Heavenly doggies, I say to myself. I must help this lost joey find his mother. There must be millions of female kangaroos with grey coats, strong tails and round cosy pouches, but this timid joey smells of desperation.

I twist and turn until my head slips free of the leash. ‘Let’s find your mum!’

The joey hops, mumbling, ’I’m Kekey, the hip-hop kangaroo. And I’m almost ten months old. And I was exploring around for the fifth or maybe for the twenty-fifth time in my life. And you are, you are … a dog,’ he says timidly.

‘Yes, I am Blotch the dog,’ I clear my throat, and we hop through the vast red land. But as we are about to reach the river Kekey stops dead on his tracks. ‘You are not a dingo, are you?’ he asks me.

I stand stiffly on my front paws. ‘Of course not! I am searching for a dingo named, Wadi Wadi.’

Kekey sighs, ‘Oh, good. My mum has told me scary situations about dingoes, foxes and eagles attacking kangaroos.’

Predators. I shudder at the thought. Paws crossed, I tell Kekey not to be worried. But deep inside me, what would I do if Wadi-Wadi turns up to be a predator?

Kekey gives me a wide toothy grin, and squats on the grassy edge of the river. Nose to the ground I inspect Kekey’s poo. Black, round flat with fiber sticking out of it. And smelling of fermented pasture.

‘Croak. Croak.’

Oh what a dreadful sound. I blink at the sun and watch as black birds fly around and around the low hills. ‘Croak. Croak.’ Menacingly, the big black birds croak like Aunt Barbara. I cover my ears with my shaking paws. If I don’t get back to my post on time, I’ll be a dead dog.

Gently, Kekey lifts my floppy ears. ‘Blotch, the birds are gone.’

Before long we come to a group of big kangaroos chewing banksia flowers.

‘Mum, mum,’ Kekey bleats, and somersaults into the pouch of a tall kangaroo.

I wag my tail at Kekey and his mother, and bolt back to our motorhome. As I’m squeezing myself through the wire fence, I see Aunt Barbara walking toward our campsite.

Heavenly doggies! I moan, and in a jiffy I’m under the shade of the bottle tree. From there I watch Isabel as she plays with her tablet.

I think when people go hunting for souvenirs and come back home empty handed they get very hungry.

Later at sunset with a full belly, I howl to the sun. Thank you sun for guiding me to Kekey’s mother. Woof, woof, woof!

19. TRUE BLUE

Our amazing trip goes on along the highway. Mr Chiong drives. Aunt Barbara snores. My dear mistress and I watch the strips of asphalt stretching under the sun.

That night we eat pizza in Charleville, a town in South West Queensland. The sky above looks like Christmas. Lit up, adventurous, with pawrrific scents floating in the air.

Isabel shares the last bit of pizza with me, and we contemplate the sparkling sky once more. ‘That’s the Southern Cross. That’s Saturn. That’s …’

‘Let’s visit the Cosmos Observatory!’ Mr Chiong says, throwing the empty pizza box into the garbage bin.

Aunt Barbara puts on lipstick, and checks herself in the rear mirror of the motorhome, ‘Isabel, tie up the dog!’

Isabel jumps up from the ratty plastic chair, ‘Oh no please Aunt Barbara, Blotch, doesn’t like to be tied up.’ Clashing her table to her chest, Isabel gives Aunt Barbara a broad smile. ‘Look at the pictures of Wadi-Wadi and Bapp! Bapp is super excited that we are searching for his cute dingo pet!’

Aunt Barbara coughs. ‘Is that so?’ Splashing saliva all over Isabel’s tablet and me, in a fury Aunt Barbara ties me up to a palm tree. Its trunk is quite spiky like a pineapple but super flexible. It dances in the breeze. The leaves of the palm tree pump out pure oxygen. But I am scared of Aunt Barbara. She is so unpredictable.

My admiration for trees is pawrrifically profound. Without trees, life in our planet Earth is not possible. Isabel has told me all about it. But now she is busily taking photos of them.

I twitch the gross leash around my neck, and Aunt Barbara stands tall by my side. Bubbles of fear rise in my chest, and I wee on the stop. ‘Isabel, get in the motorhome now!’

Watching they leave, I moan. ‘Why am I not allowed to visit the Cosmos Observatory? It is not fair!’

‘What’s fair?’ a croaky voice says. ‘What’s not fair?’

I look up. A dragon! A real dragon the size of Isabel’s ruler!

Am I dreaming?

I rub my eyes with my right front paw. Still, I see a dragon perched on the rock in front of me.

My heart races inside my chest. But nose up I sniff his blue, rough, scaly skin. His long tail. His five toes and strong short legs. He stares at me as I were a vet inspector or something.

I fart.

His eyes roll in big circles. Swiftly he twitches his mobile eyelids and says, ‘so, you are a dog. A city dog. I am a dragon lizard. A true blue bush dragon lizard.’

No fire comes out of his mouth! Just saliva. We high five, and enjoy the nocturnal soothing peace of another dry night in South West Queensland.

20. STICKY TONGUE

The heat starts cooking the leaves of the palm trees, and we haven’t finished our breakfast. I wipe my whiskers, and watch little clouds of evaporation swirl up to the sky.

Car keys in hand, Mr Chiong says. ‘Let’s get going!’

Aunt Barbara, Isabel and I troop into the motorhome and we leave the caravan park. Stretching my neck, I peer at the rock by the side of the trees. My friend the dragon lizard is not there!

Mr Chiong turns on his country music. ‘Lunch in Blackall and a good night’s sleep in Winton,’ He revs the engine and drives us away.

Thirsty, really dried out, we stop for petrol in Blackall. Just above the rusty post the sign says, Welcome to Blackall. Population, 1598.

I am not keen on petrol stations. Luckily, my dear mistress pours some water into my travelling dish, and sets it far from disgusting chemical fumes¾closer to the fragrant bushes.

She skips over the grassy path. ‘It won’t be long, Blotch.’ She pats me. ‘I’ll bring something nice for you.’ And trots towards the noisy restaurant at the front of the petrol station.

Bum up, my tongue shovels cool water. I drink and drink till I feel someone watching me. I turn around. Through the dark deep canopy, I see a spiky, long-nosed creature digging up worms and grubs with his sharp claws. ‘Come and catch me!’ he mocks.

I wipe water off my whiskers. Images on Isabel’s calendar fly past my mind. She adores native animals. ‘Woof! Mr Echidna. I am not in the mood to play right now.’

‘Ah ha! Mr Dog,’ the echidna sighs.

I sit on my haunches. ‘I’ve sniffed lots of Australian native creatures but none of them are as spiky as you.’

’Name some Australian animals you’ve sniffed,’ he says, grabbing ants with his paws and shovelling them into his mouth.

I rub my head. ‘Koalas. Kangaroos. Kookaburras. Wombats. Dragon lizards. Fleas. Ants!’

Mr Echidna rolls his tiny eyes. ‘What about, emus, bilbys, crocodiles, dingoes, goannas, ibises, platypus, quokkas, Tasmanian devils?’ he asks, wriggling his sticky tongue over the mass of ants.

‘Well,’ I sprawl on the grassy path, ‘Do you really like eating ants?’

He claws around the soil. ‘Ants taste better than anything in the world! They have more protein than worms.’ He digs out a long slimy worm. ‘I am a mammal, like you and your human companion. That silly looking girl.’ He flicks his nose.’

I look behind and see Isabel searching for me.

Mr Echidna waggles. ‘I am proud to be exquisitely different.’ His spiky fur spreads up to the sky. ’

I stretch my legs, neck and paws. ‘Everyone is different.’ ‘Ha!’ Mr Echidna mocks. ‘But not at my level or at my mate, the platypus. We are the only mammals whose mothers lay eggs.’

‘That’s truly amazing.’ I shake. ‘When I was a pup, I sniffed a platypus down a river. The Kangaroo Valley River. But before I’d blinked, he bit me. See this mark on my nose?’

Mr Echidna studies my nose. ‘I suggest you, little dog, study survival around the desert.’ He swallows the rest of the worm, ‘I can tell that you are travelling.’

‘Yes, I am on my way to Uluru. And also I’m looking for Wadi-Wadi, she is a cute little dingo. Just in case you meet her….’

‘Shh?’ Mr Echina cuts me off. He nods towards the tall trees. We hear the sound of crunching leaves.

I continue, ‘But my travelling companions stop here and there in different towns. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to that amazing rock.’

‘Blotch!’ Isabel calls.

I spend a few extra seconds with Mr Echidna. Rolling his eyes as Isabel runs toward me, he says, ‘Bye Mr Dog. Happy, safe travelling,’ and rolls into a ball of spines. In one second flat, he burrows down, flicks leaves onto his back and vanishes.

In shock, I sniff his scent. Nothing but ants’ poo.

21. ITCHY PAWS

Travelling through our pawrrific country is surprising. You find new friends all the time! Friendship makes the world turn round and round. No wars. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

I rub my itchy paws against the wheels of our motorhome, and notice dingo footprints on the soil. Wadi-Wadi’s?

I bolt to the far end of the caravan park, and peer at the vast red land. Tongue out I pant. Australia is big. It is a continent! Isabel has told me all about it. ‘Blotch, we would need three lifetimes to discover it all.’

I chase my tail. Wadi-Wadi, where are you? I’ve been looking for you since we left Bondi. I promised Rocco that I would share a couple of bones with you.

Dusty red wind blinds me.

All the way till now, I’ve made new friends. Four-leggeds. Two-leggeds. Six-leggeds. Creatures of all sizes. Some of them showing off their spikes, others showing off their antenneas. The best of all Oliver! Oh heavenly doggies!

Oliver is a legend. Fighting cancer and still laughing about that awful disease?

I chew Oliver’s tennis ball for a while. I’ve sniffed funny, witty, weird native animals. I feel proud of being an Aussie Australian true blue dog.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Right then Mr Chiong whistles, and beeps the horn. ‘Toot. Toot.’

We arrive in Winton at sunset. Red clouds glow in the sky, and there’s a pawrrific scent of chops and sausages in the air. Barbeque time. Best time ever.

I love caravan travellers. They always share some leftovers with me. But now, stretching our legs at the entrance of another pet-friendly caravan park, Isabel pats me ‘ Blotch,’ she says, ‘Winton is the dinosaur country.’

Heavenly doggies, I’d love to sniff a dinosaur. I jump peering at the soil just in case I can see dinosaur prints.

Isabel giggles, ‘Blotch, dinosaurs lived in this land millions of years ago.’ She wipes sand off the bench, and sets the camera on her tablet. ‘A selfie.’ She winks at me. ‘With you!’

After dinner, we all relax to the murmur of the Western River.

Aunt Barbara fixes her scarf around her wrinkly neck. ‘This is one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.’ She sits on the steps of our motorhome fanning herself with her travelling map. ‘What’s the next town?’ she asks.

‘Cloncurry I believe,’ replies Mr Chiong. ’By the way dear, do you know that Waltzing Matilda was written at a cattle station here in Winton?’

Aunt Barbara starts singing, Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda. You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me …’

Frogs, cicadas, water rats, crickets and all sorts of jumping creatures echo, Waltzing Matilda¾sounding like a percussion band in the background. ‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’

We all follow Aunt Barbara’s falsetto voice. But after a while a long while, Isabel winks at me, and humming Waltzing Matilda, she opens up her brand new dinosaur photo album.

22.DOGASAURUS REX

There is something about boom-boom and humming sounds that makes me sleepy. No matter how much I try to keep my eyes open, my eyelids twitch down. I have no other choice but to grab my teddy bear and sprawl myself inside my basket.

So, cosily settled now, I hug my teddy bear tighter and tighter… and begin to dream.

‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’

‘What are you doing with my teddy bear?’ a voice cried over and over. ‘I want my teddy bear! Oh poor me.’

I wagged my tail. I shook my head, and there in front of me, watched a spotty dinosaur crying and hooting and honking and crying, ‘I want my teddy bear.’

I jumped out. ‘No, no, no, Mr Dinosaur, this is my teddy bear. You want me to help you find yours?’

‘What!’ he cried out. ‘I am a Dogasaurus Rex! Not just an ordinary Mr Dinosaur. ’ He wiped tears running from his spectacular, gigantic green eyes. ‘Are you blind or something?’ Shaking his long neck he reached the high treetop and munched on the green juicy leaves. ‘I’m starving for real food.’ He said. ‘Meat!’

‘Mmm,’ I said. ‘I think we are related. My great grandfather told me pawrrific stories about our ancestors. And I love meat too.’

‘Wow!’ Dogasaurus Rex exclaimed, whipping his powerful long tail over me. ‘So we are cousins! We both love our teddy bears and meat!’ He bent over, grabbed me and lifted me into the air with his extraordinary humongous teeth. I shook with fear, but he gently placed me on his long horned neck. I breathed a sigh of relief as he stomped through the jungle in search of his teddy bear.

Soon we reached a hill covered with flowers. Pink. Violet. Yellow. Red. A red field of poppies, with lots of butterflies and bees buzzing and flapping around.

From my high position on the Dogasaurus’ neck, I delighted in their intense colours, and surveyed the vastness of our red land. At the core of it, Uluru!

I held on tighter. He bounced higher and higher.

As I adjusted my bearings, I saw a tiny, shiny thing wedged in a crevice of the most magnificent rock on Earth. ‘Does your teddy-bear have a shiny striped belly?’ I asked.

‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Dogasaurus Rex said, and stomps toward the majestic rock. ‘That’s my precious teddy bear.’

When we reached the most pawrrific rock on Earth, he sprawled on the powdery red soil. ‘Thank you little cousin.’

I slid off his neck.

He grabbed his teddy bear, and whispered, ‘the secret of our sacred land is pawrrific.’ He hunched close to me, ‘Secrets are to be kept to the end of time.’

‘Dreamtime!’ I jumped, ‘is this the Dreamtime stories Isabel told me about? What is the secret?’

‘The secret is…’ Dogasaurous Rex said, hugging his dusty teddy bear.’ And with that he launched into the sky.

Snout wide open, I watched him as he disappeared among the fluffy clouds¾holding his beloved teddy bear. ‘What’s his name?’ I asked over and over and ….

‘Blotch!’ Isabel cries. ‘Stop biting my dinosaur album!’

I jump with a start.

Munching an apple, Isabel pulls her dinosaur album out of my mouth. ‘Let’s go swimming.’

‘Yes!’ Mr Chiong echoes. ‘To the Cloncurry River.’

23. PLATYPUS

We arrive at the Cloncurry River just as a swarm of locusts are clouding away. Mr Chiong parks at the end of a banana plantation. ‘Locusts are pests. They destroy …’

‘Everything!’ Aunt Barbara cries out, and in one awkward but super fast movement, she gets out of her seat, clicks shut the windows and stands against the door like a soldier.

So no-one can get out.

Juggling his car keys, Mr Chiong grins. ‘Okay Barbara dear, we better wait.’ He puts on his Akubra hat, and checks his mobile phone.

Oh heavenly doggies! Why do we have to wait to get out of our motorhome? I skid over Isabel’s tablet, and place my paws on the windowsill. I gasp for air. Claustrophobic, and super anxious to run out and go swimming in the inviting- looking river, I notice the noisy cloud of locusts. My nose goes crazy at their stench. I bark at the stinky insects. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Aunt Barbara picks up a wooden spoon, and waves it at me. ‘I don’t like dogs barking. I don’t like their smell. I don’t like their pleading eyes. I don’t understand how my dear niece copes with you. Lousy mongrel!’

My tail goes under my shaking body.

Mr Chiong grabs his sports bag. ‘I think now it is safe to go for a swim.’

‘Swimming!’ Aunt Barbara grumbles. ‘In that creepy water?’ She fixes up her stiff hair-do, and opens the door of the motorhome.

We all rush out.

Mr Chiong lifts the bonnet and inspects the motor. ‘I’d better check the radiator then I’ll go for a swim.’ He winks at Isabel. She winks at me, and we dash toward the inviting green water.

One paw at a time…

Swimming faster than sharks, my dear mistress and I reach an island in the bend of the river.

I sniff for pirates. I sniff for ghosts. I sniff for leftovers.

Nothing. Except for some scent of musty wet fur. As I wipe mud off my whiskers, on the mossy side of the riverbank, I spot a weird looking creature scooping a shellfish in her bill.

Her bill and webbed feet look like a duck’s. Her tail looks as flat as a boat paddle.

’Wow! Isabel exclaims. ‘That’s a platypus.’ She shakes water off her swimming costume¾the blue one-piece that she always wears for her school swimming competitions. ‘What a pity I don’t have my camera.’

Good. I say to myself. Humans like taking photos. We just enjoy life as it comes. I shake water off my coat, thinking of my encounter with Mr Echidna, when he told me all about his friend, the platypus. ‘If you ever meet a lady platypus nursing her young, swim away! She’ll attack you!’

Isabel fixes her goggles. ‘We better go before mother platypus gets upset.’ And off we swim back to our motorhome.

Glancing sideways, I look for Wadi-Wadi’s tracks in the dirt, but there’s none. Only marks of tires, and people’s shoes.

That evening Aunt Barbara takes her turn cooking. She bakes a damper the size of Uluru! It tastes a little odd though. I think she put garlic in it. But we eat it anyway.

Looking happy and relaxed, she throws a tea towel to Mr Chiong. ‘Would it be alright to spend the night in Cloncurry?’

Mr Chiong catches the pawrrifically-scented tea towel. ‘No, let’s move on to Mount Isa, okay?’

I chase my tail, woofing Uluru. Uluru. Uluru! Why don’t we just rush to the Big Rock?

Aunt Barbara clears her throat, and gives me one of those dirty looks that make me go flat on the ground.

24. THE SMELL OF SILENCE

Among millions of smells, the smell of fear zigzags through me that sunny morning. Yep, from the tip of my nose to the core of my guts.

My nose is super extra powerful. It perceives all kinds of smells. From earthy scents to outer space stinky junk.

Well, like any other dog, I am also able to predict disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hailstorm, cyclones. Or any other unpawrrific situation. And today, I smell fear. Cold blooded fear. Oh heavenly doggies!

We drive to Mount Isa. The locals call it Isa.

We wake up to a pawfect fine hot day. From the caravan park I see what could be the tallest chimney in the entire world.

‘Smokestack!’ Isabel pipes, pointing at the chimney. She grabs her tablet, and tells me all about Mount Isa. ‘Blotch, this is a mining town. Silver. Lead. Zinc. Copper. Great minerals.’

‘That’s right,’ says Aunt Barbara. ’Welcome to Isa. Now, you’re a real Aussie!’ She turns on the radio and sits on the bench under the shade of the gum trees. Tapping her foot along to the rhythm of the music, she hums, ‘I come from a land down under … Lah, lah, lah, lah, lah.’

Mr Chiong picks up his toolbox, ‘Great old Aussie song.’

I stretch on the grassy path – bum up, face down, tail wagging in the breeze.

But fear is still in the air!

Where?

My nose wriggles round and down. I can feel anxiety, fear, panic but I can’t pinpoint the source.

I look at my dear mistress. She is downloading photos on her tablet. Just behind her, Mr Chiong is putting away his toolbox.

The smell of fear overpowers me once again.

Where is it coming from?

My ears twitch. No music now. No tapping. The only thing I hear is silence.

The smell of silence …

My nose tingles. It’s Aunt Barbara! Her wrinkly face is white. She is trembling. Her eyes are wide, staring ahead as if hypnotized.

I have never seen Aunt Barbara like that. I let my eyes travel all around. A snake! A brown snake – the same colour as the soil is coiled upright ready to attack Aunt Barbara’s leg.

My coat stands on end. Isabel has told me all about snakes. They are deaf but very sensitive to vibration. And Aunt Barbara has been tapping her foot. The snake feels threatened … so … its fangs drip venom.

I spring faster than a bolt of lightening, and my teeth grab the snake by the neck. I shake the cold-blooded creature and bang him onto the ground over and over.

‘Oh, dear, God,’ mumbles Aunt Barbara and sweeps me into her arms. ‘Blotch, you have saved my life!’

And for the first time ever, Aunt Barbara hugs me.

25 DEEMO AND DROMO

There is something amazing about hugs. And being hugged and patted by someone who has always hated you? Oh heavenly doggies!

Aunt Barbara’s little eyes glint, ‘Oh Blotch, you are so brave, and so–’

‘-Good!’ exclaims Mr Chiong, and grabs the snake and throws it into a bag. ‘Little Blotch is a hero. Saving you from that snake.’ He wipes his hands on his pants and in one go he scoops Aunt Barbara, Isabel and me to his chest. His long arms stink of car oil. I shiver. Normally, his arms smell of beef and sausages.

But anyhow, after the longest bear-hug ever, he spreads out his travelling map. ‘Australia is such a big country. Our next stop will be Avon Downs. Then Barkly Homestead and the third night Tennant Creek. That will take us three days and onto The Alice!’

He folds the map, walks around the motorhome, and kicks the wheels one by one with shiny boots ‘All good.’

That afternoon Isabel decides to brush my teeth. Reeling in shock from the whole situation with the snake as well as Aunt Barbara hugging me, I wee myself. I couldn’t help it.

But then we jump into the motorhome.

All the way to Alice Springs Aunt Barbara sings, ’How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggley tail, ’ and feeds me treats. Gourmet doggie food! I think she bought the pawrrifically-tasting bags full of treats in one of the petrol station shops.

This amuses Isabel because Aunt Barbara was always complaining about Isabel giving me too much food. By the time Mr Chiong parks in the first caravan park available, my belly hurts and my back end too.

Isabel unclips my seatbelt, ‘Toilet!’

I bolt out of the motorhome, and poo in the shade of a she-oak tree.

‘What a relief!’

That evening we all go for a walk in the dry Todd River. In the distance I see a pack of dingoes. Wadi-Wadi?

My dear mistress wags her ponytail. ‘A river without water!’ She clicks some photos of the chocolate-looking dry riverbed.

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘There is a regatta race held here every year. The competitors get inside a bottomless boat and run. Literally on foot!’

‘And talking about racing,’ says Mr Chiong. ‘Tomorrow the Camel Cup will be held at Blatherskite Park.’ He points at a huge poster glued to a tree.

Paws up against the tree, I stare at the picture of camels. Heavenly doggies! I have never even sniffed a camel!

Early next morning, before anyone else is up I step out of my basket and trot toward Todd River – the river without water. I lift my leg against a pole – a warm pole with a foul smell? I look up. Oh heavenly doggies! It is the leg of a camel!

‘Are you a working dog?’ the camel asks. He sways his long neck down, opens his gigantic eyes and rolls them from side to side¾under his thick, bushy eyelashes. ‘Are you really a working dog?’ He yawns.

I step back. ‘Yes, I am a personal trainer.’

‘Aha! What kind of experience do you have?’ he asks, splashing saliva all over me.

‘Well, I’m training my dear mistress, Isabel. So one day she will win a gold medal for Australia.’

The camel gulps lungful of dusty air. ‘My name is Dreemo, and I’ve been trying to win the Alice Spring Camel Cup for years.’ He stands up in full view. His head almost touches the clouds in the sky. ‘Last night, I dreamed I was slobbering the golden camel cup.’

My heart thumps backward inside my chest.

‘Can you train me to win the Camel Cup today?’ Dreemo’s long rough tongue sways above me.

I scratch my belly, and sprawl on the brownish powdery riverbed, ‘Okay, today is Camel Cup, so when is the Dingo Cup?’

Dreemo stretches his legs. His tail. His neck. His whole body. ‘Dingo cup?’ He twitches. ‘Never heard about dingoes running a race or licking a golden cup.’

‘Well, I am looking for Wadi-Wadi. She is a little dingo. And as you are so tall …’

‘I’ll keep on eye out for that little dingo,’ says Dreemo. His big padded feet flash above. ‘ Now, I am ready for training.’ He twitches. ‘So trainer, what’s next?’

I stand up squarely on all fours. ‘Focus!’ I order him. ‘Lesson number one: Take a deep breath through your nose. Out through your mouth.’

‘Like this?’ says Dreemo shaking and puffing like a derailed train.

‘Relax.’ I shake. ‘Lesson, number two: Relax.’

‘What about lesson number one?’ Dreemo complains. ‘Did I do it right?’

Nose up I take a long, deep, frustrated breath. ‘Now, lesson number three: Shake your legs.’

Dreemo leans back. ‘How can I shake all my legs at once?’

‘Not all at once. One at a time!’

Dreemo blinks at me. ‘Aha!’ He sways like a ship, both feet on one side of his body, then both feet on the other. ‘Like this?’

I step on his padded front paws, ‘Come on Dreemo, let’s practice.’ And we bolt away.

As I am training him another camel stomps across. I stand in front of them. Both camels smell and look exactly alike!

Which is which? Who is who?

Shaking and puffing like derailed train¾just the way Dreemo did¾the stomping camel says, ‘Are you Blotch?’

I nod.

He sways, ’I’m Dromo.

‘Twin brother of me,’ bellows Dreemo.

And just like that Dreemo and Dromo follow me. Alice Spring Camel Cup. Alice Springs Camel Cup.

we run and run and run until our hearts click backwards.

‘Ah!’ pants Dromo. ’I almost forgot to tell you that a bunch of crazy people down the caravan park were calling, ‘Blotch, Blotch, Blotch!’

Tongue out, for a second I see Dreemo and Dromo roll on the red earth, giggling like gigantic toys. A wave of jealousy invades me. I used to bite my siblings.

Dromo farts. ‘Oops. Enjoy Alice Springs, little dog.’

26 THE CAMEL CUP DAY

Alice Springs is a pawrrific town. It is located just in the middle of Australia. Halfway between Darwin and Adelaide. Isabel has told me all about it. But the beauty of trotting up close and personal makes my paws itch to explore more and more.

When I reach our motorhome my tongue feels like camel’s poo.

‘Now, to the races!’ says Aunt Barbara, and we head across the river with no water. Todd River, of course.

Skipping over empty beer tins, torn newspapers, squashed cigarette boxes and lots of forgotten things that humans have left behind, I sniff wild flowers.

What a pawfect scent!

Finally we encounter a noisy crowd queuing up to get into the camel’s sweaty-smelling compound.

From the speakers a raspy voice croaks: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the battle of the ships is underway!’

I rub my ears. Ships? How do ships battle on a dry land like this? I peer up and around. Where are the camels? Where is Dromo? Where is Dreemo? I yap.

Isabel puts on her just-bought Alice Springs hat. ‘Blotch, enjoy the show, quietly!’

Blinking at the blazing sun, I bite my tongue and together we watch the greatest battleship war ever!

One car shows up decorated as a pirate ship. ‘Arr!’ the captain bellows, and waves his right hand up to the crowd. ‘Arr!’ The crew behind him cheers, fixing their eye patches and scarves and waving their swords.

From across the dusty field comes another car dressed up as a warship. The captain salutes the crowd his gloved hand squared to the tip of his hat.

My heart skips out of tune. Cannons full of water shoot from one ship to the other. The whole place is pure excitement. I think the water war makes everybody feel refreshed and happy.

I lift my leg against the wooden fence. Just as I am ready to wee, the creaky voice speaker says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Now, get ready for the famous Alice Springs Camel Cup!’

My back leg wiggles.

Mr Chiong applauds, ‘I’m betting on camel number 5!’ Aunt Barbara takes off her sunglasses. ‘Me too. He looks frisky.’

Mouth wide opened Isabel swats flies away.

I rest my front paws on the wooden fence and watch the camels as they line up in the mounting yard. They all have painted numbers on their necks. Among eight energetic camels, I sniff the twins.

Dreemo is number 5, and Dromo is number 6.

I chase my tail, woofing round and around. Camel number 5 is frisky. But camel number 6 is super extra charming. The best trainer in the entire world has trained both. Me. Woof, woof, woof!

Isabel coughs, and under the scorching sun, she tells me all about camels. A one-hump camel. A two-hump camel. And how camels arrived to enjoy our Australian outback deserts. ’They were imported to Australia in the 19th century from Arabia, India and Afghanistan for transport and heavy work in our sunny land.’

Oh heavenly doggies! Work?

Isabel flashes the camera of her tablet. ‘Blotch, look.’

I sprawl on the red land, and notice as Dreemo’s jockey adjusts his massive bum on top of him.

‘Great!’ Isabel exclaims taking pictures.

Great? I think that’s gross.

Dreemo and Dromo sway their tails at me, ‘I will be the winner of the Alice Springs Camel Cup today.’ They bellow at unison. ‘Thank you trainer.’

‘Shoo!’ A cauliflower scented man orders. He waves a flag. My heart twists inside my chest. Number 5. Number 6. Dreemo. Dromo. The cauliflower scented man blows his whistle. ‘Off you go!’

I rub dust out of my eyes with the back of my paws. Camel number 8 stops and lies down cross the track.

Playing dead in a very important race?

I blink and the crackly speaker says, ‘Camel number 2 is leading. Camel Number 7 is half a neck behind. Camel Number 1 is on the pace and moving forward. But number 5 is picking up.’

Isabel jumps, ‘Blotch, this is sooooo exciting. Camel number 1 is about to win.’

Red dust flies and blinds me.

‘Camel number 3 is ahead. Followed by 6.’ The speaker’s creaks out.

Stretching my neck through a gap on the fence I watch as the camels run. Camel number 2 twirls and bolts toward the stands. He almost sends his jockey flying away.

Spectators shout.

I cover my ears at the noise, for camel number two collides with the wooden fence not far from me.

Oh heavenly doggies!

Sliding on camel’s wee Dreemo approaches the final corner.

I walk on my hind legs, Dreemo woof, woof, woof!

Far behind camel number 6, camel number 1 approaches faster. His long skinny legs–stretching longer and longer as he rushes pass by the big stand.

People scream number 1! Camel number 1!’

Everything blurs into one.

Waving a flag, the tall man screams, ‘Are we going to have a heat? Camel number 5 and Camel number 6 are head to head.’

From the speakers the creaky voice. ‘Ladies and gentleman we have the pleasure to announce the winner of the Alice Springs Cup of this year. Camel number 5.’

From the corner of my eye I watch the twins rub their noses in glorious joy.

’Woof, woof, woof!

27. SHAGGY BIG BIRD

All excited, we leave the camel compound, and head back to our motorhome.

Aunt Barbara pats her handbag. ‘From the winnings, we should buy a new pair of joggers each, and a collar for Blotch. His old one is falling apart.’ She kneels next to me. ‘I’ve seen doggy collars with diamonds.’ She waves one bright leash.

It almost blinds me.

Heavenly doggies! A girlie collar with diamonds around my neck? I don’t need a new collar. I shoot off.

Heart pounding, tongue out, I reach a billabong the size of Isabel’s school playground.

I look for Wadi-Wadi.

I sniff the muddy smelling air. As I nose up, a large shaggy bird pops out of the water.

He looks at me.

I look at him.

‘Are you afraid of water?’ he asks.

I dive in–just to prove I am not.

At close range the muddy water smells of rotten mushrooms from outer space. But swimming in my best doggie style, I skirt around weeds and wild flowers and forgotten shoes and all sorts of plastic things, and stop in front of the big shaggy bird.

‘I know you,’ I pant. ’You are an emu! ‘Isabel, my dear mistress has told me all about emus. And your image is on the Coat of Arms!’

‘As well as on coins!’ the emu says, proudly. ‘Are you a native?’

‘Actually, no. But I am as Australian as you are!’

He flaps his short little wings, ‘Good on you’. And he wades out of the water.

‘Heavenly doggies! You are almost as tall as a tree!’ I pant, trotting behind his tremendous powerful skinny legs. ‘Two metres tall and about 6o kilograms?’ I gasp and push on. ‘So you don’t fly, do you? So, as a male you incubate the female eggs for two months and then you look after the babies for over a month?’

He stretches his long slender neck down, and pokes my tag up with his beak. ‘You are a nosey dog. Do you have something to eat?’

I twitch.

‘For a moment, I thought you were Blotch the dog.’ He stares at me truly disappointed. ‘I’ve heard wonderful stories about him. Ha!’ He croaks. ‘A famous dog like Blotch would have some food to share under his tag,’ he mumbles under his breath.

With all my strength, I fight and fight till I manage to pull the tag out off the collar around my neck. ‘Why do I have to have a collar around my neck?’

The emu turns around and says, ‘Just because you are a pet dog.’ He picks up my faded tag, and strides away. In a flash his long legs are out of sight.

As I watch the emu leave, I hear, from the other side of the billabong, ‘Blotch! Come on!’ Heavenly doggies! Isabel is calling me! Jumping over fallen mangrove trees and rubbish bins on the way, I trot to her side,

‘Here you are!’ she says, and hugs me for a long pawrrific time.

Next morning we wake up to a nice, hot day. The sun hangs low in the pink and blue sky.

I lift my leg against the tree by the side of our motorhome. The vast red land looks inviting, so truly inviting that I feel my paws itch for adventure.

Aunt Barbara smiles at me. ‘You won’t get lost anymore.’ Her fingers work around my neck. She takes off my beloved pawrrific old collar and puts a stiff, leather-smelling new collar on. ‘Now, little Blotch, you look sparkling!’

Sparkling? I moan, shaking my whole body. I almost choke trying to get rid of the thing on my neck.

Mr Chiong claps, and says, ‘Well, the quicker we clean up, the faster we’ll hit the road.’ He checks his map. ‘We’ll have lunch at Erldunda Roadhouse and then to Uluru!’

Uluru, Uluru, woof, woof, woof! I jump around and around.

‘No, no, not just yet Blotch’, says Isabel and picks me up. ‘Let’s start cleaning first, okay?’

28. TONGUE IN ACTION

There is something about cleaning that makes me nervy. Tongue out I look at our camping site, oh heavenly doggies! It is a big exercise to set it up, and very hard to leave the place looking sparkling.

Nervy as I am, I join my team leader, Isabel.

Sweep. Dust. Fold tables and chairs and umbrellas, and newspapers, and hundreds of other things … including my bowls.

Tongue in action, I help by cleaning up crumbs and leftovers of any kind.

As I am getting ready to lick our last night’s bit of pizza crust, a soft scratch-scratch-scratch noise hits my ears. Heavenly doggies! The noise is coming from under the bushes by the side of the motorhome.

Tail up, in my best detective doggie style, I skirt around Isabel’s broom and head towards the underground scratch-scratch –scratch noise.

‘Mum, are you there?!’

I step back.

Could it be Wadi-Wadi?

Out of the red soil pops up a small creature with large ears, grey fur, pink pointy nose. ‘You are not a predator, are you?’ His strong thick claws flash high. ‘I’m looking for my mother,’ he says, shaking dust off his fur.

I sit on my haunches and study the shaking creature.

The size of a kitten.

Big ears like a rabbit.

Long black tail with a white tip … like a rat.

‘Who are you?’ I ask.

He looks at me. ‘I am a bilby.’

Heavenly doggies! How can I help a baby bilby? ‘Cool!’ I say, sniffing him all over. ‘My name is Blotch and you are…?’

‘Neenu.’

In my best doggie style, I help him search for his mother up and around the shrubs.

Where could she be?

Hopping like a kangaroo, Neenu tells me that his mother has promised to find some food. ‘My favourites are witchetty grubs and termites and spiders and insects and spinifex grass.’

He goes on and on.

‘Plus seeds and fruit.’ He sighs, licking his lips with his long tongue. ’But my mum says that drought season is ¾ ’

‘Quiet!’ I order him.

In total silence, we keep looking for his mother. As we reach the main entrance of the caravan park, I notice some drops of blood on the pathway. I stare up and across the road.

Trucks and cars boom, rushing by on the asphalt strip nonstop. Heavenly doggies! I remember when I was almost squashed by a stinky van.

Neenu sits next to me. In his eyes I see terror. Trembling, we both stare at the other side of the road.

Just as we are about to run up towards the horrible scary highway, Isabel’s scent flashes above me.

‘Oh Blotch,’ she says. ‘I was looking for you!’ She pauses, clutching a furry creature¾the size of a cat to her chest.

Is it a cat?

It can’t be.

Isabel understands that I don’t get along with ferocious, atrocious feline creatures.

Before I pass out, my dear mistress says. ‘I found this bilby by the side of the road. She is badly injured.’

‘Mum, Mum, ’ cries Neenu. ‘That’s my mum!’ He hops over the shiny clean concrete steps¾leading to the caravan park office, and lands on his back. ‘Muuuuum!’

Rushing from the caravan office, Aunt Barbara calls. ‘Hurry up Isabel, the vet in Alice Springs Desert Park is waiting for us.’

Car keys in hand, Mr Chiong winks at me. ‘ Hope your little friend doesn’t poo on Barbara’s new blanket.’

And off we go to the magnificent animal sanctuary. My dear mistress tells me to wait by the gate. ‘ Sorry Blotch, pet dogs are not allowed to get inside this wildlife park, okay?’

It is not fair! I moan.

From the rear side of the sunny-zoo-type place, I wag bye-bye to Neenu. ‘ I hope your mum recovers soon. And as my dear mistress has told me, both of you will live here, well protected forever after.’

29. SNIFFING AROUND THE HEART OF OUR COUNTRY

As soon as we leave the animal shelter, ‘On the road again!’ Mr Chiong sings.

Isabel, Aunt Barbara and I troop inside our squeaky clean motorhome.

Radio at full blast. Air-con whooshing.

‘Off we go!’

Suddenly, BOOM!

The motorhome swerves.

Mr Chiong bangs his fists against the steering wheel and switches off the engine.

We all rush out.

‘A flat tyre!’ Mr Chiong cries out.

My dear mistress and Aunt Barbara echo, ‘A flat tyre!’

I sit on my haunches. The Stuart Highway looks like stretching to the end of the world.

An hour later, Isabel and I are still stretching our muscles by the side of the road. ‘We must keep active,’ she advises me, and starts skipping with my leash.

Sniffing the incredible hot air, I mark my scent on the tree above us. It’s an ancient Casuarina tree whose leaves are ready to fall over the dry red soil.

I chew my paws, one by one, wondering how trees survive without water in this heat. Powdery red soil keeps getting stuck between the pads of my paws. Furiously, I wipe the powdery red soil off. As I am about to chew my tail off, I sense serious action. This means we are leaving soon. In my best watchdog style, I prick my ears and look around.

Mr Chiong is wiping his bald head. ’I hope the new spare tyre gets us to the homestead place,’ he mumbles under his breath.

Aunt Barbara spreads open our travelling map. ‘We are in the heart of Australia, aren’t we?’ She smiles, putting on her new sunglasses.

Up the hilly road, a yellow truck blows its horn loudly at the slow pink motorhome in front of it.

I cover my ears with shaking paws.

The driver of the pink motorhome, trying to avoid a collision, stops by the side of the road. Red dust rises up in clouds to the sky.

All shaking, a lady gets out. With her is a little boy holding a toy koala.

Heavenly doggies! It’s my friend Oliver!

‘Mum!’ little Oliver exclaims. ‘Look, Blotch and his family!’

I bolt to his arms and Oliver hugs me, and gives me a huge Anzac biscuit.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Oliver’s mother smiles, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we meet in Uluru!’ And off they drive away.

30. FOR DOG’S SAKE

The short and sweet encounter with Oliver fills my dreams. His banana milk’s scent on my nose, ‘We’ll meet soon.’

Now, with my eyes glued to the window of our dusty motorhome, I gape at the beauty of the arid red land. Every now and then I see flashes of colourful wildflowers. Rugged terrain.

Driving slower than Oliver’s mother, Mr Chiong manages to avoid cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles.

‘Backpackers riding bikes!’ Isabel exclaims, and starts clicking her tablet. She turns to me. ‘We see lots of backpackers in Bondi, don’t we Blotch?’

I like backpackers very much. They always share food with me. Food? My belly groans. Empty. When are we going to have dinner? I moan.

Right then our motorhome groans louder than my belly, and with a cloud of red dust up rising to the azure sky, stops dead in the middle of the road.

‘What’s wrong now?’ says Aunt Barbara.

We all climb out and try to push it to the side of the road.

The backpackers get off their bikes and rush to help us. The tallest backpacker says to Mr Chiong, ‘You steer, and we’ll push, all right?’

Mr Chiong gets behind the wheel of the motorhome.

I get behind the backpacker.

‘One, two, three … PUSH!’

He pushes hard. His belly rumbles … whoa! … He lets off right in front of my nose.

The motorhome purrs and rumbles to life.

‘Oops little mate,’ says the backpacker fixing his jeans up. ‘The only food I have with me is an apple.’

I wipe my nose with my paw. Rotten apple makes you pass wind? I crawl inside our motorhome.

Aunt Barbara and Isabel wave their hands out of the dusty window. ‘Enjoy Australia!’

Backfiring and puffing smoke our motorhome struggles until we reach the Erldunda campsite. Finally, Mr Chiong decides to find a mechanic. ‘I think we have a problem with the fuel injector. We need a high tech mechanic. , so I’m afraid we’ll have to spend a night in this camping ground.’

While they organize our stay, I trot towards the clump of shrubs. From twigs and dry leaves, I hear little moans.

Oh no! Some creature cries for help now? Just as I’m ready to do my business, for dog’s sake!

‘Are you a backpacker’s pet dog?’ a howling voice screeches from a hollow log.

I sniff around and find a girl dingo feeding her pups. She has made her den in the hollow log. Three males. One female. All black, except for the smallest pup. He has a caramel coat with a white spot on his chest. Exactly like his mother. He is crying. He cannot reach his mother’s belly. I give him a nudge with my strong nose.

‘I’m not a backpacker’s dog. I live in Bondi.’ I say.

‘Bondi?’ howls the mother dingo. ‘That’s where my friend Rocco lives.’

‘Heavenly doggies! Rocco is my best mate. He lives next door. We play together almost everyday.’

The beautiful dingo mother sighs, ‘Rocco!’ She pulls her pups closer to her chest. ‘My name is Wadi-Wadi and Rocco is the father of my children. See the black marks on their backs?’

‘Wow!’ I jump up.

The sun above hits hard. But I manage to keep my four legs steady on the muddy spot. My best mate’s a father?

I sprawl in front of her log. ‘Wadi-Wadi, I’m Blotch!’ I lick the tip of her black pup’s nose. ‘Uncle Blotch.’

Wadi-Wadi bites my tail. ‘Uncle Blotch? Ha! ’ She mocks spiting pieces of my fur. She stares at me, as I was a putrid pumpkin.

‘Your master is a boy named Bapp.’ I say. ‘Rocco told me all about you. Two months ago Rocco and his master, Billy, came for a visit here in the Red Centre…’

Wadi-Wadi cocks her head, ’Yes, almost two months ago. Rocco is very charming, but¾’

‘Unpredictable,’ I finish for her. ‘Rocco says he is a free spirit kelpie.’ I sit on my haunches, but captivated at sight of the milky-scented pups, I jump up. ‘Wadi-Wadi, I’ve been searching for you since my human family and I left Bondi.’ I pause. ’I promised Rocco to share a bone or two with you … ‘What’s your favourite?’

Licking her lips Wadi-Wadi says, ‘a lizard, or a grasshopper, or a goanna, or a rat … and lots and lots of water.’

‘Deal!’ Right paw squared against my chest. ‘First, go and have a drink of water.’ I nudge her. ‘Uncle Blotch is here. I’ll look after your pups. ’ I wag my tail at her.

‘Promise?’

‘A promise is a promise,’ I remind her.

Reluctantly, she trots towards the puddle. ‘I think Bapp will like to play with the five of us.’ She wipes water off her whiskers.

‘Pawfect!’ I say, and rush off toward the camping site.

How can I find a lizard? Or a grasshopper? Or a goanna? Or a rat? In this place?

What a quest!

31. SECRET CAMADERIE

That night before dinner, Isabel whispers to me. ’I need to send some photos to Billy and my other school friends. But¾’

Aunt Barbara laughs. ‘I hear that, Isabel. Off you go to the office and ask for access to the Wi-Fi.’ She stirs pots and saucepans with her pawrrifically-scented wooden spoon. ‘Chicken tonight. And raw chicken wings for Blotch, okay?’

‘My favourite!’ I woof.

‘Yum!’ says Isabel and we trot towards the front of the caravan park. ‘I’ll be back in five.’ She pats me, and rushes into the office.

I wriggle over the “welcome mat”, and oh oh a cat stench hits my nose. I bolt towards the horrible odour. Holding my breath, I squeeze myself under the biggest motorhome I’ve ever seen.

I adjust my bearings, and watch a kitten as he tries to catch a mouse from under the axle of the motorhome.

‘Need a hand?’ I offer.

He sniffs me, and meows, ‘ Okay dog! My parents won’t be pleased to see you, though.’ He cocks his head. ‘The mouse is trapped in those wires, see?’

‘Pawrrific! I need a rat!’ I guess a mouse will do, I say to myself thinking about Wadi-Wadi’s wish. Putting aside my odd situation of being involved with a cat, I step closer to inspect the mouse.

‘But dogs don’t eat rats.’ The kitten complains.

‘No, but my dingo friend, Wadi-Wadi does. She has just given birth to four pups. She is a single mother. She is starving. She needs to produce milk for her pups.’

‘Shhh, ’ the kitten hisses, jumping across me. ‘A lizard!’ With a nervous glint in his eyes he springs back. ‘I’d rather play with a lizard than a mouse or a dog.’

From under the weeds a grasshopper grab a mosquito and leaps away. I take a deep lungful. The mouse has disappeared and the lizard and the cat too!

Heavenly doggies, I have nothing to offer Wadi-Wadi. What can I do?

As I am biting my nails, Isabel calls me.

‘Blotch!’.

Squeezing myself out, I bolt to her side.

‘Billy has built a new kennel for Rocco!’

I nose her bag up. A pencil. A pear. Her iPhone.

Biting the pear, Isabel shows some pictures of Rocco’s and Billy on her iPad.

Tail down, I follow Isabel thinking Rocco and how lucky he is.

‘Perfect timing,’ Mr Chiong says, watching Isabel and me stepping into our motorhome. He kisses Aunt Barbara on her chin. ’Mmmm, He sniffs over the pots. ‘Chicken casserole cooked to perfection.’

Aunt Barbara smiles, and asks Isabel to set the table. ‘Blotch’s dinner is by the sink.’

Isabel pours water into my bowl. Wagging my tail, I drink it in two seconds flat. Not one drop wasted.

‘Dinner’s served!’ She places one chicken wing into the other the other bowl.

My belly rumbles … Oh, what a I must keep my promise. I pick up the chicken wing.

Ignoring the rumbles inside my belly, I run toward the clump of shrubs at the far end of the campsite, with the chicken wing between my teeth.

When I reach the hollow log, I find Wadi-Wadi fast asleep. Mouth wide-open, tongue hanging out. Her rhythmic snores grow in crescendo like a soothing lullaby.

The smallest pup rolls out from under his mother’s belly.

I let the chicken wing drop. ‘A promise is a promise’ I whisper to Wadi-Wadi’s pup. And before I breathe out.

‘Don’t you dare touch my baby!’ Wadi-Wadi howls, and in one almighty jump, her teeth flash around my neck.

The world stops.

From the tree above us someone says ‘Meow! Leave my dog friend alone, now, now, now!’

In shock Wadi-Wadi lets me free.

After a long minute, she says, ‘Sorry Blotch. It happens that I feel so tired. I didn’t mean to hurt you.’ She pauses. ‘Silly cat, eh?’

‘Silly cat but one of my best mates.’

Suddenly, noticing the chicken wing lying in front of her, Wadi-Wadi says. ‘Thank you, Blotch, you are a good mate. Actually, the second best friend I’ve ever met in my life.’

32. DINGO’S SALUTE

Early next morning, a lady smelling of petrol steps over my basket. ‘Hope your owners are up.’ She pats me and knocks on the fly-screen.

Mr Chiong pops his head out the window. ‘How can I help you?’

The lady steps back. ‘I’ve just received the spare part for your engine.’ She waves a small box.

Mr Chiong’s eyes shine with excitement. ‘The fuel injector!’ he says, and rushes out.

Shaking hands with Mr Chiong the petrol-smelling lady explains that she is the chief mechanic of the whole region. She has managed to get the fuel injector from Sydney. Not from Alice Springs as expected.

Aunt Barbara steps out, carrying a tray of food, bacon and eggs, toast and … sausages! I almost lose my nose.

‘So today we’ll be able to drive to Uluru!’ says Aunt Barbara.

The mechanic smiles, ‘It won’t take long at all.’

After breakfast as usual we all start cleaning. As I’m licking crumbs of bread, I notice a sausage ¾a forgotten sausage–in the saucepan. Mmmm, what a beauty! What a scented juicy beauty! Hold on a minute. My belly is full. I burp. But the sausage looks so pawrrifcally tempting ...

I don’t know why but just then Wadi-Wadi flashes on my mind. I pick up the sausage and sprint towards the bushes. I’ll share the sausage with Wadi-Wadi. I’ll say goodbye to her and the pups. I’ll tell them about Rocco.

But when I reach their den, it is empty. A gum tree is lying over their log. The roots of the fallen tree are all over it.

Oh heavenly doggies!

I sniff around.

My nose tells me that Wadi-Wadi has hidden her pups somewhere. For sure she has organized a new home. Soon my nose directs me to their scent. They are under the bank of the waterhole.

But where is Wadi-Wadi?

From the distance the sound of a horn pierces the hot air. For a millisecond, I wait to hear Mr Chiong’s whistle and Isabel’s call. I drop the sausage at the entrance of Wadi-Wadi’s new den.

One of the pups rolls out. He blinks, and rolls back. ‘Milk. Mum, mum. Milk. ’ The tiny black dingo mumbles, sniffing me, truly disappointed.

The blaring hoot sound of our family motorhome hits my ears. I jump over the old fallen tree. And right then Wadi-Wadi hurtles out of the shrubs.

Shaking water off her snout, she nudges me down playfully. I struggle up. Out of breath the two of us stop to sniff the pawrrifically-scented sausage lying on the ground.

‘Wow!’ She picks it up. ‘Thank you a million times.’ She swallows, ‘ Tell Rocco that the Red Centre’s sun wakes everybody up with doggies lullaby.’

‘Blotch, Blotch!’ I hear Isabel’s call. ‘Time to go!’

Wadi-Wadi and I high-paw. ‘Best of luck.’

33. STICKY GIFTS IN ULURU

Sweat brims on Isabel’s face as she straps me into the seatbelt. ‘I hope Aunt Barbara likes my gift.’

What is it? I moan, thrusting my nose against the square red box in her hands. Mmmm it is something … yummy!

Tight-lipped she whispers to me. ‘Blotch, quiet! It is a secret.’ She hides the packet of biscuit under her seat with a bunch of wild flowers.

‘This is our last stretch to Uluru!’ says Mr Chiong driving along. ‘We’re nearly there.’

I quiver with excitement. My dream is coming true. I’ll run around the big rock with Isabel and she will win a gold medal.

‘U.LU.RU!’ exclaims Isabel pointing at the majestic rock. ‘Look, there it is!’

I stretch my neck to have my first glimpse of the rock. In the flat immense land, the most famous rock on Earth is just a blur. Poking my nose out of the dusty window, I smell rain in the hot air. Heart pumping against my ribs, I watch the rock appear and disappear as we drive along.

Drumming her fingers on her iPad Isabel tells me all about Uluru and Kata Tjuta. ‘Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith. It’s sacred. It’s about 700 million years old!’ She wags her ponytail and continues reading. ‘Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has plenty of native animals, plants and bush tucker.’

Tucker! My belly rumbles. Tucker means food. I lick my lips. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

‘Shhh,’ Isabel pats me.

The rain starts bombarding the roof of our motorhome with such force that I almost lose my balance. After a while the rain settles into a soothing bass drum in my ears. To the rhythm of the rain we reach Yulara campground.

Isabel closes her tablet. ‘Never thought we’d see rain here.’ By now the sun has dried up the red soil.

‘Nice allocation,’ says Mr Chiong plugging the power cord of our motorhome into the socket of our allocated site.

Isabel blinks at me. ‘Off you go.’

Tail up, I trot towards the bushes. I lift my back leg against the tallest tree. As I am ready to wee on its spiky trunk a creature lifts his tail above the colourful wild flowers.

As soon as my bladder feels right, I jump across the shrubs and go to check on the odd, scary-looking reptile.

‘I’m starving. Oh poor me,’ he says, lying flat on the red soil, with his head up like a unicorn. He whines, ‘Oh poor me, I’m a starving thorny devil.’

‘You are what?’ I say. ‘You are what?’

‘Do you have some spare ants?’

‘Ants?’ I stand back. ’Look Mr Thorny Devil, I’m pretty busy¾I have to attend to my family. We’ve just arrived at Uluru.’

‘Okay, Mr Busy Dog, off you go then.’ He puffs himself up and gets fatter and changes colours – from orange to bright yellow to white. He sways his tail from one side to the other, ‘Outback Australia is beautiful and peaceful. Please don’t bring your busy ways up here.’ And slowly he moves away.

Oh heavenly doggies! I rush back home.

As I pop my head through my doggy door, I find my family busy getting dressed.

‘Kangaroo steak tonight,’ says Aunt Barbara.

Isabel covers her mouth. ‘I won’t eat kangaroo!’

‘Yes, you will,’ says Aunt Barbara putting her earrings on.

Mr Chiong buttons up his shirt. ‘What about emu stew? Or camel burger? Or a crocodile dish cooked to perfection?’ He puts on his hat, grabs a tie and checking himself in the mirror behind the door, he arranges it around his neck.

I scratch my head. I’ve never seen him wearing a tie.

‘Eh! Little Blotch,’ he says, ‘you will guard our motorhome tonight, alright?’

But I always do, I complain, sniffing the excitement in the air. I want to go with you. I mean with all of you. So where are we going? ‘Woof!’

Isabel rests her shoe on my tail, ‘Sorry Blotch.’ She bends down, ‘Tonight we’re celebrating Aunt Barbara’s birthday.’ Isabel swallows, and stares at me right in the eye. ‘I think it is in a very exclusive restaurant. Under the stars in total silence or something like that.’

But Aunt Barbara’s birthday is tomorrow, I moan.

‘Blotch please shhh!’ Isabel inserts a small plastic bag into the back pocket of her new jeans. ‘Doggy-bag,’ she whispers.

I lick my lips. Whenever Isabel goes to a fancy restaurant, she always brings back some leftovers for me.

‘At dawn, we’ll go to watch Uluru at sunrise.’

Watch Uluru? I wonder.

‘A promise is a promise,’ says Mr Chiong and hugs Aunt Barbara.

And just like that, all dressed up, Isabel, Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong head off to celebrate Aunt Barbara’s birthday.Without me.

34 REDHEADS

Curled up in my basket, I watch the full moon sliding among dark clouds. Bathed in the moonlight, the most famous rock on earth, Uluru, is a dark, gigantic silhouette.

All of a sudden, I hear footsteps on the gravel by the side of our motorhome. Against the silhouette of Uluru, I watch a boy with red curly hair and green eyes throwing a boomerang.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ I bark running towards him. He smells of yoghurt and something else that makes my nose itch.

I sneeze.

He throws the boomerang to the sky. ’Whoosh! It falls near me. I pick it up with my strong teeth, and take it to him.

‘Isn’t it supposed to come to me?’ He says, tripping over. He fell flat on the red powdery soil. ‘Hi, little doggy,’ he pants, ‘you look almost as cute as Bailey.’ He smiles. ‘Bailey is my dog, and I’m Sean, I come from Ireland to see Uluru, here in the Red Centre of Australia.’ He stands up. ‘I lost my key.’ He sits on the steps of the large motorhome next to ours. ‘My family went shopping in the resort. I don’t like shopping.’

I sit on my haunches, and Sean tells me all about Ireland. Oh what a pawfect country! I hope one day I step on the green-green grass of Ireland.

At five in the morning, Isabel’s iPad wakes us up with “Still call Australia home.” I nudge the doggie-door and jump on my seat, paws up, panting I’m ready. I’m ready!

Isabel rushes to strap me in.

Mr Chiong clears his throat, and pats Isabel and me. ’Blotch is not a problem at the camp ¾ here in Yulara¾but he’s not allowed in the lookout of the National Park. Dogs are not allowed.’

Isabel cries out, ‘It’s not fair!’ She throws the leash away. Defeated.

Aunt Barbara hugs Isabel. ‘Blotch will guard our home. That boy, Sean, told us that Blotch did such a nice job last night.’

I sit tall and hold my ears straight up.

Mr Chiong checks his wristwatch. ‘It’s time to go. The shuttle bus is due in three minutes.’ He steps out of the motorhome like a dog-on-a leash and calls me, ‘Stay!’

Isabel cuddles me, ‘I’ll be back as fast as I can. Aunt Barbara has promised to let us go for a run around the rock later on.’ And just like that, Isabel, Aunt Barbara and Mr Chiong head off to watch Uluru at sunrise.

Without me.

I snooze the sunrise away till footsteps wake me.

I jump up. Yoghurt scent in the air, mmm it should be my new friend, the redhead Irish boy.

‘Hi Bailey, I mean Blotch,’ says Sean squatting by my side. We play rough – rolling and turning on the red soil. I show Sean all my tricks.

I walk on my two back legs. I shake hands. I chase my tail. He laughs and in his funny voice he tells me he misses his dog. I feel sorry for him so I show him a bit of pawrrific affection. In return he lifts up on his shoulder, climbs on top of his gigantic motorhome and together we watch Uluru. ‘Bailey, I mean Blotch, you are grand.’

Right then the shuttle bus pulls over. Among the noisy tourists, I hear Isabel’s voice. Jumping out of the bus, she hugs me. ‘It’s true! Uluru changes colours.’

I lick sweat off her cheeks. ‘At sunrise Uluru is the colour of burnt toast. At midday Uluru is blue-green like Bondi’s waves. At sunset Uluru glows red.’ I lick my lips. ‘Uluru at night is a pawrrific gigantic red roast beef shining in the grand land.’

Isabel caresses my floppy ears. ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ She fixes her backpack. ‘Let’s run to the base of the famous rock!’

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ I wag my tail. ‘We’ll run around the base and then up to the top of Uluru!’
Isabel puts on her Uluru hat, and kneeling in front of me, she tells me that Uluru is sacred. Best protected sacred rock on the Earth. Walking over Uluru is forbidden. ‘But never mind Blotch, we’ll run to its base.’

Sean springs around us, ‘Can I come with you?’

Isabel stares at Sean’s legs. ‘The Uluru base is 10.6 km, a three and a half hour walk. So…’

‘So?’ says Sean. ‘One mile!’

‘Blotch and I will run it in less than two hours.’

And just like that Isabel and I set off at full speed.

35. ULURU HERE WE GO

The wildlife aroma of Uluru approaches me like a tsunami of wonder. Its red soil feels too soft beneath my paws. Oh what a pawfect sensation.

We run till we reach a snake-like groove at the base of the rock. At close encounter the most photographed rock on Planet Earth smells of herbs.

‘Beep!’

A car screeches near us.

Sean hops out, and introduces us to his family. ‘This is my mother, Joy, and my father, John, and my big sisters, Mary, Alanna and Jessica.’

‘Nice dog,’ Sean’s sisters say flashing their camera to Uluru. ‘What’s his name?’

Sean steps across, ‘Blotch!’ His voice echoes like my old chewed doggie toy.

Isabel pulls her water bottle out of her backpack. She sips and fills her hands with water for me to drink. ‘Blotch and I’ve run so far 7.7 km.’ She shows Sean her iPad.

Sean nods, ‘4.8 miles!’ He pulls his backpack upfront. ‘That’s grand.’

I roll on the sandy patch. How can I adjust my ears to different accents? I’m used to Australian people’s orders. As I stretch my paws, Sean’s parents wave, ‘Have fun, kids! We’ll pick you up by the gorge.’ They point at the far distance. The only thing I see is an eagle hovering in the blue-blue sky.

In a cloud of red dust their car drives off.

‘Look!’ Isabel points at the sky. ‘An eagle!’

The huge majestic bird sweeps around the rock in a graceful aerial dance up and down. And then from the bushes we hear the melodic sound of a didgeridoo. Stepping out of the mulga, an aboriginal boy smiles, ‘Want to play didgeridoo?’

Sean steps up. ‘Could you teach me to throw a boomerang first?’ He pulls out his boomerang from his backpack. ‘Please?’

‘My name is Bapp, which means blue gum tree,’ the boy says. ‘I am a tourist guide!’ He wipes sweat off his armpits. ‘You hold it like this.’ He twists his fingers around the boomerang and throws it in the air. It makes a full circle, and returns to his bare feet.

‘Oh boy,’ Sean applauds. ‘Oh boy. I mean, Bapp, blue gum tree boy, you are grand.’ They hi-five, and I almost pass out. Both stink of yoghourt.

I love food. My teeth enjoy chewing leftovers of any kind. But fermented milk?

Anyway after trillions attempts Sean learns the secret of throwing a boomerang. Smiling from ear to ear he lets his sisters and Isabel try too. I chase and chase my tail but I never catch it. I enjoy the pawrrific game, woof, woof!

‘Good dog,’ says Bapp staring at me. ‘I have a good dog too. A beautiful dingo. But she is gone. ’ He scratches a scab on his knee. ‘I miss her so much.’

Isabel jumps in, ‘Wadi-Wadi?’

Bapp nods.

‘Your cousin Billy and I are best friends. We go to the same school in Bondi.’

‘Bondi Beach?’ Bapp’s eyes brighten up. ‘Billy tells me that he surfs with his dog, Rocco over there.’

She opens her iPad and shows Bapp photos of our life back in Sydney.

‘Me and Wadi-Wadi,’ says Bapp, ‘enjoy helping tourists here, around Uluru.’ He scratches his knee, till a piece of crust of skin fells off. ‘Without Wadi-Wadi I feel lost. Wadi-Wadi is my radar.’

Isabel and the Irish kids tie up the joggers. They check their iPhones. ‘Where is Waddi-Wadi?’

In my best pawrrific style I jump across Bapp, ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ Wadi-Wadi is in the cave where you hurt your knee. Your scent was printed all over the branches.’ I rub my nose against his jeans. ‘Wadi-Wadi is a mother now! She is nursing her pups and needs water!’ I wag my tail at him till it almost drops off my bum. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

But everybody now is engaged with Bapp’s knowledge that I just roll on the red soil and enjoy the sun.

Suddenly, a drop of poo lands straight on my forehead. It slides towards my nose as a snowball. In a fury I bark at a flock of red-tailed, black cockatoos and budgerigars. Pooing their heads off they fly above the rock. One drop of poo after another …

I roll on the spinifex grass and spy small animals. Lizards, mice, insects oh what pawrrific wildlife! Under my bare paws I sniff beetle tracks. Ants, rabbits, feral cats, snakes. Oh heavenly doggies!

As we trot, Bapp tells us all about the rock, its sacred sites, its waterholes, its rock art.

‘Uluru is cool,’ Isabel says.

I chase my tail. Uluru is the coolest looking-rock on Earth! Woof, woof, woof!

Abruptly Bapp stops. ‘Hey, I’ll show you some good bush tucker.’ He grabs a stick and begins to dig under a little bush.

Heads down we all pant, and watch as Bapp digs into the red soil. ‘See, I found a witchetty grub.’ He waves something around that looks like a fat white caterpillar.

‘Good tucker,’ he says. ‘Want some?’

Isabel covers her mouth. Sean and his sisters shake their heads, ‘No, no, thank you!’

‘Good tucker,’ Bapp insists.

I scrawl on the soft red sand. ‘Woof, woof!’ What about me? What about me?

Bapp throws it and I catch it mid-air. ‘Delicious. Easy to swallow pawrrifically tasty! Any more?’

Bapp turns his palms up. ‘No more.’

Isabel and I run so fast we lose Sean and his sisters. By the time we reach home, Sean is sitting on the steps, eating yoghurt. ‘We beat you!’ He laughs. ‘Our parents drove us home.’ Slowly he walks away, ‘Our holidays are over. Bye-bye Uluru. We fly back to Ireland tomorrow.’

36. CLAWS AND PAWS

I wake up to the ringing of a bell. Where is the sound coming from?

I spring out.

Perched on my water bowl, a bird is wagging his tail and singing a ding-dong song that sounds like Isabel’s school bell.

He has black feathers above a white belly. I sit very still and watch him as he drinks and sings and dances and preens his shiny feathers.

I’m not very keen on birds. But I like this little bird’s ding-dong song.

Suddenly, from nowhere, a gigantic cat leaps, twisting his body as he falls four-footed on the red soil. In one go, he grabs the wagging-tail bird by the neck.

Heavenly doggies!

His giant claws threaten at the little body.

‘Woof!’ I bark and jump across the enormous feral cat. ‘Leave the little bird alone! Woof, woof, woof!’

He drops the bird off, and attacks me.

Rolling down the path in a tangle of fur the cat and I trade paws and claws. Out of breath we stalk each other.

Sniff. Sniff.

Claws wickedly at me, the feral cat swings a right cross blow to my nose. I fight him off but his sharp teeth sink into my front leg.

My heart pumps, this is the end of me …

In a swirl of dust, a pink motorhome parks across the road, and, a Tasmanian devil pops out of it. ‘Blotch!’ he calls.

At once, the feral cat’s teeth release me, and in total silence with elegant movements he slinks into the bush.

Flat on my belly, I sniff Oliver and relaxed. My little friend, as usual is wearing a costume. Today Oliver is a dressed as a Tasmanian devil. ‘I saw the cat attacking … you,’ he pulls his Tasmanian devil gloves off and holds me up. ‘Friends. Fur. Ever’, he hiccups.

Unaware of the situation, Isabel calls, ‘Blotch! Breakfast!’ She pours doggy biscuits and fresh water into my bowls. Then as she stands up, Oliver’s mother hugs Isabel. ‘It was a feral cat.’

Tears run down Isabel’s face as she carries me inside our motorhome. ‘Aunt Barbara, Blotch has been attacked!’

‘Attacked?’ Aunt Barbara shakes her head in disbelief, ‘Oh poor little Blotch.’

Mr Chiong grabs the first aid kit from the pantry. ‘Wash your hands and keep calm.’

Isabel follows Mr Chiong’s instructions. ‘This will hurt,’ she warns me, and rubs the blood off my paws. And my belly. And my nose.

‘Ouch!’ I whine.

Carefully she bandages my tail. ‘Feral cats are very dangerous. They have exterminated lots of beautiful native animals!’

Cuddling me to her chest, ‘Now, we are ready to go to the Olgas, I mean Kata Tjuta!’

‘Change of plans,’ Mr Chiong says, ‘First, we’ll look for a vet here in Yulara. Blotch needs a needle to fight any infections that the horrible cat may have given him.’

A vet? Oh no! Straighten my bandaged tail I follow Isabel. ‘Look I’m fine. Don’t take me to the vet.’

Oliver pats me. ‘I am fighting cancer and you will fight cat’s infection.’ He stands up and rushes to his mother’s arms. As he steps into their pink motorhome, I notice pencil- drawings on the front of his shoes. Dogs’ paws!

37. SHOES

There is something intriguing about peoples’ shoes.

When I was a pup my mum used to say, “One glance at people’s shoes and you’ll know all about them.” I think she meant: once you chew a human’s shoe you’d know all about them. And Oliver has let me chewed his best joggers. And also his new colouring pencils. Woof, woof, woof!

I wag my tail sideways–cheekily and faster than our little friend, the Willy Wagtail. Without Oliver’s help the nasty wild cat would have destroyed that beautiful singing bird.

‘Calm down, Blotch,’ says Isabel, as she puts on her medal-winning shoes. She wears them only when she runs for a gold medal.

She clicks her iPad on and wagging her ponytail she tells me about vaccinations. Distemper. Hepatitis. Parvovirus. Para influenza. Rabies … ‘You must have the injection!’ She adjusts her bag over her shoulder. ‘Now, let’s go to the Uluru Rangers Centre. I hope we find a vet there.’

Vaccinations? Oh heavenly doggies! And vets? Ohhhh I whine.

Aunt Barbara rubs sun cream on Isabel’s face. ‘Henry and I will meet you as fast as we can manage. Just go on ahead!’

Isabel clutches me tightly and off we go to the vet. When reach the crowded Uluru Resort Town, I stick my head out of her denim jacket, and I see Bapp among the tourists. In his sweet voice he is saying to them, ‘Welcome! Do you want to play the didgeridoo?’

Isabel pushes to the front of the tourists. ‘Bapp, a wild cat attacked Blotch!’ she yells. Ignoring his audience, he takes me in his arms. ‘What happened to you Blotch?’

Isabel tells Bapp about my dreadful encounter with the feral cat. ‘Now, we are looking for a vet.’

‘My dad will fix Blotch,’ says Bapp and points at a green building. ‘That’s the Ranger’s.’ And my dad ‘He’s the local medicine man.’

When we get to the Rangers’ we find a tall man with twinkling eyes and shiny shoes smelling of bush tucker.

‘I hope you’re not too busy, dad,’ says Bapp.

‘Never too busy to hug my cheeky boy,’ he jokes.

Bapp hides under the metal table but his dad catches him and squeezes him to his chest. ‘I’ve just finished fixing up a kangaroo and an echidna.’ He grins and moves a scary looking instrument away.

I shudder.

‘Nice dog,’ he says, as Isabel puts me on the table. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Blotch,’ she says. ‘Actually, Blotch needs to be checked. A feral cat attacked him. See?’

Bapp’s father grabs a pair of plastic gloves, and I feel a prick on the back of my neck. Oh! That was quick. I’ve had the needle already. But his fingers keep prodding my shaking body. He bandages my front leg, and declares I am fit. ‘One of the fittest three-legged dogs I have ever seen,’ he winks at me, and ties a bucket without bottom around my neck.

Oh heavenly doggies!

‘This device is called dog cone,’ he says, smiling from ear to ear.

Isabel lifts me off the cold steel table.

I waddle like a drunken duck.

From the air-conditioned room, to hot, steamy scented Uluru air! ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

The Uluru Resort Town Square shines in the blazing sun. I limp along its colourful path, a bus pulls over, load of people get out. The place was already crowded!

Bapp steps up on a bench. ‘People from all over the world come to learn about the magic of our land,’ he nudges Isabel. She pulls out her iPad. Click. Click. Click.

I thrust my nose against my bandaged leg. Oh heavenly doggies! How can I get rid of this plastic bucket?

‘Need a hand?’ a sweet voice says.

I turn around, and see Wadi-Wadi and her pups.

My heart swirls inside my chest. I want to say I am happy to see you. But my tongue goes numb.

She wags at me. ‘Blotch, I want to surprise my master Bapp. Now he is working. See, he is teaching the tourists to play the Didgeridoo.’

I turn awkwardly to look at Bapp.

Wadi-Wadi says, ‘Come on kids, let’s help uncle Blotch.’ And before I breathe out Wadi-Wadi’s pups jump on top of me, and pull the stinky dressing off my leg. Then they tug and tug at the bucket. Their sharp tiny teeth tickle me crazy.

Wadi-Wadi pounces on me. ‘Thank you Blotch, you were right. A family together conquers the world.’ Leaning stiffly forward she calls her pups. ‘My kids are ready to go home. To Bapp and his father, of course.’

And just like that Wadi-Wadi and her pups leap over the colourful path and trot to the back of the Ranger’s site.

Stunned, I watch them for a long moment and then my hurting nose throbs as I sniff people’s shoes. Some smell of garlic. Others smell of spaghetti, soy sauce, chips, sushi, poo and … every shoe is different. I can tell by their smell that they are tourists.

When I was a pup I chewed shoes day in and day out, till I met Isabel. I felt that her love was so pawrrifically great that I did not bite any of her shoes. At the blink of a flea, I became her personal trainer. From a bored loveless life, to an exciting adventurous one together, we will conquer the world. ‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Just then Isabel calls me. ‘Let’s go to Kata Tjuta!’

38. THE OWNER OF KATA TJUTA

Accompanied by the buzzing sound of a mosquito, Mr Chiong drives us to Kata Tjuta. Luckily Isabel has invited Bapp to come along. He has adjusted the plastic cone onto my neck. ‘Ouch!’

He cheers us up telling wonderful stories of his family and friends. Suddenly in an acrobatic way, he reaches up his hands and claps with a bang and catches the annoying mosquito. ‘Wadi-Wadi used to catch all sorts of things,’ he says, looking very sad.

By then whistling the song, “I Still Call Australia Home,” Mr Chiong parks near some gigantic boulders. They look taller than a cathedral. Wider than Isabel’s school gymnasium!

‘Amazing!’ Aunt Barbara exclaims. She points at into the distance. ‘Henry and I will meet you at the Valley of the Wind.’

Bapp smiles at Isabel. ‘Easy, eight thousands paces ahead.’

Isabel says, ‘You mean eight kilometres?’

We run the eight kilometres till Bapp stops. ‘The Valley of the Winds!’ he announces with a bow.

‘Wow!’ Isabel clicks photos.

They laugh and clap and talk. ‘Mulga is the most common shrub in the Red Centre.’

‘Really?’ Isabel clicks her iPad furiously.

Oh no. Please don’t take any photos of me. I am sick of posing. Tail down, I trot towards the shrub and sniff around spiny tussock grass and kangaroo poo. The sun warms up my paws so I keep going.

I peer down nests of mulga ants. I catch a bug mid-air and roll myself in the red soil.

Heaven!

All of a sudden a strange whiff is in the air. Keeping very still I hear a rustling noise close by.

What can it be?

I spot a strange animal with big feet and a long tail peering at me from behind a bush. He has a speckled brown coat and a long pointed snout.

For a long second we stare at each other.

‘What are you doing?’ he grunts. ‘You are a funny looking creature. You don’t belong here!’

‘I am a dog.’

‘I am a bandicoot,’ he says proudly. ‘Roger the Eighth!’ He licks his whiskers, ‘And this bush belongs to me. You are in my territory!’

‘Don’t worry. I am not staying. We are on a holiday.’

‘Chiff chuff,’ Roger says, and makes a whistling shriek that deafens me.

‘Don’t come any closer or I will bite you.’

I back off.

Roger laughs. ‘Don’t be scared. I won’t attack you. Unless I have to!’ He rolls his eyes. ‘As long as you go away and don’t come back.’ He rubs his paw. ‘I own this land, you know. My family has been here for centuries. Bandicoots are the best and the bravest animals in the world.’

I sit on my haunches. Crazy. Crazy bandicoot. Lots of creatures have been here before you. Dinosaurs. Cockroaches. Bees. And trillions of bugs!

Of all the animals I’ve met on our journey this bandicoot is the craziest. He really believes he owns Uluru-Kata Tjuta.

Ha!

I skid around Roger the Eighth, and sniffing rain in the air I bolt to my dear mistress.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

39. FRIENDS-FUR-EVER

That afternoon, Isabel, Bapp, and I chase a rainbow. It is arched from the Valley of the Winds to the entrance of the Uluru car park.

As we run my eyes water at the sight of the colours filtering through the light rain. But at the end of the rainbow I glance at a pink motorhome.

Oliver! Oliver my paws are on fire.

Out of breath, Bapp pats me, and tells us all about rain in the Red Centre. ‘The rain brings luck to everyone. Flowers and plants and trees flourish. It’s easy then to find good tucker. Bush tucker.’

Isabel winks at me. ‘Kata Tjuta is sooooo beautiful. We are lucky, aren’t we Blotch? We made it!’

Wagging my tail, I sniff the grand aromas of the Red Centre. Oh this is pure bliss.

Isabel says, ‘Hope you visit us sometime in Bondi.’

‘I’ll try my best,’ says Bapp. ‘It would be so cool to meet Billy and his dog. What’s his dog’s name?’

‘Rocco,’ Isabel replies.

They talk until the rainbow vanishes from the sky.

Isabel fixes her ponytail and we rush back to our motorhome. Mr Chiong in his butcher’s apron has cooked kangaroo tail stew.

‘Yum!’

After dinner, I roll myself cozily in my basket, and hug my teddy bear. From a hot-hot rainy day, to this freezing cold windy night? How strange is this Uluru weather. I fall sleep and dream …

Wadi-Wadi is herding her pups toward a cliff. And my teddy bear is pushing her … Oh heavenly doggies!

I woke up. Laughing and clapping.

‘I’m going to renovate my butcher shop,’ says Mr Chiong.

‘I’ll foster streets kids,’ says Aunt Barbara.

‘I’ll help Billy build a shelter for stray dogs,’ says Isabel. She looks at Aunt Barbara, ‘And I will study harder than ever.’

I sit on my haunches. I love butcher’s shops. I love street kids. I like Billy. I sniff the hot scent of fresh manure in the air. ‘Mmm’ Rocco always smells of sweet manure. I used to be jealous of Rocco but now Aunt Barbara is my friend too, since I saved her life.

The wind outside our motorme Wadi-Wadi also smells of sweet manure!

I scretch AmI hear Stretching my neck outwndow

‘Blotch!’ Isabel calls.

I jump into her arms, and together we enjoy the sunset of the most magnificent rock on earth.

Bapp is so happy that Wadi-Wadi

She clicks her iPad. ’Billy and Rocco will be amazed with our photos. She crouches and orders me to sit still by the side of our motorhome. Click. Click. Click.

‘Perfect picture!’ Isabel says. ‘Blotch, we are going home.’

Click. Click. Click!

Home! I wag my tail crazily.

Back to Bondi!

Back to the white sand!

Back to the blue water!

Back to my friends!

Back to my neighbours!

Back to Mr Chiong’s butcher shop.

Back to Bondi!

‘Woof, woof, woof!’

Maybe we’ll have another pawrrific adventure, somewhere else. As I chew my paws I sniff the pawrrific scent of Oliver in the air.

‘Friends.Fur.Ever,’ Oliver says and he hugs me.

Continue Reading
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