ACT News

Save
Print
License article

Gang-gang. War Memorial statue honours Explosives Detection Dogs and handlers.

The genius of Ewen Coates' sculpture Evolution of the Senses dedicated at the Australian War Memorial on Thursday lies in the way in which it has a man and a dog looking lovingly into one another's eyes.

The true dog lovers among the hundreds of thousands who will see the big, 700 kilo bronze artwork over the years will recognise and remember a wondrous man-and-dog loveliness about it. They will remember that long after they forget the exact facts about why its posed there. But those exact facts are that the sculpture honours the dangerous work and the brave service of military Explosive Detection Dogs (EDDs) and their handlers.

On everyone's minds at Thursday's ceremony and mentioned in some dignitaries' speeches was the tragedy of 26-years-old Sapper Darren Smith and his Collie/Cross EDD dog Herbie. They were killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan in June 2010.

For true dog lovers there is probably no more poignant, gladsome moment than the one in which dry-nosed you and your wet-nosed dog get lovingly nose-to-nose and stare adoringly into one another's eyes. Ewen Coates tells us that, yes, aware of this, he has arranged the bronze dog and bronze handler nose to nose.

"Yes, it translates well. It's quite a powerful, moving dynamic that's going on there."

He's enabled this face-to-faceness by having the dear dog posed atop a stylised rock of bronze. He explains that this raising up, giving the heroic hound a kind of face-to-face equality with its human handler, is also meant to symbolise how the dog with its magical sense of smell beyond our comprehension is at the very least an equal member of these two-being teams.

Advertisement

Coates tell us tells us how while creating the sculpture he once, briefly, resorted to a very unorthodox tool. It was a Schmacko, an irresistible dog treat. He used it to keep the attention of a real dog, Jake, whose handsome features he, Coates, wanted to study and capture for the dog of the statue.

"He's a friend's dog, a Labrador/Dobermann cross and probably a bit of something else as well. He's a rescued dog. You just fall in love with them, with dogs like Jake."

At Thursday's event (at which dignitaries included as well as braided and bemedalled top brass, Dr Harry the celebrity TV vet) we couldn't take our eyes off Jake's face. His now immortalised mongrel features will last long, long after flesh and blood Jake has gone to Dog Heaven.

For research about the handlers and their dogs Coates went to a Sydney facility to watch the handlers and their dogs in training. Fruits of that research include very fine details in the uniform and gear of the very young handler (Coates imagines him being 21), and lots of finessed small details. The latter include for example a tennis ball sitting on the rucksack on the ground behind the handler. It turns out that the dogs are sent chasing and retrieving, learning while they play, a scent-impregnated tennis ball pungent (for a dog) with the scents of the explosives they are asked to go looking for.

And Coates explains that the five parts of the sculpture, lined up, have a kind of "dog's eye view" of a 'tunnel' running through them. This represents the ways in which the dogs are trained to worm their ways into caves and tunnels. Coates hopes that urchins too who visit the statue will worm their way through the 'tunnel' and certainly some did it before Thursday's ceremony.

That ceremony, because it concerned love of dogs blended with love of country and because there were 12 adoring service dogs in the audience, was emotionally, sentimentally intense. On the minds of everyone there and mentioned in dignitaries' speeches, was the tragic death in Afghanistan in 2010 of Sapper Darren Smith and his beloved Collie/Cross EDD dog Hughie.

Emotions were intensified by country music troubadour Tania Kernaghan. Her Song For Grace, from the perspective of a 13-year-suffering her three handsome brothers leaving the farm to go off to the Great War had some of us fumbling for our tissues.

One of those very touched by this ditty was Doug Thompson. He and his late wife Monique, both extreme dog lovers, were there at the conception of the idea of the monument and it is their generosity that has enabled it to happen.

Following after Ms Kernaghan's lugubrious gig Diug Thompson chided her gently for having made him cry.

Then he began his talk, gesturing at the row of service dogs with a "A very warm welcome to our 12 special friends here. Aren't they magnificent! And thank you guys for bringing your handlers with you."

"Dogs are so important in all our lives," he fancied, with lots of nods of assent from an audience that included many folk who, at the memorial's invitation had brought their dogs.

"The love and the care people give to dogs, they get back tenfold," he thought, uncontroversially.

An unspoken but heartfelt "Amen" went out from all of us there.

Major Kendall Crocker a veterinary officer with great experience with EDDs and their works made a witty point. It was that now the memorial had among its sculptures this second human-with-animal work "it's going to give [the statue of] Simpson and his donkey, Duffy, a run for their money".

Yes, Evolution of the Senses promises to be heartstring-tuggingly popular. Visitors will find it next to Poppy's Cafe, just across from the statue of 'Weary' Dunlop.