If your heart is locked in permafrost (for we live in chilling, cold-hearted, lock-em-up-on-Nauru-and-throw-away-the-key times) we think we may be able to thaw it out a little with this heart-warming tale. We tell of how Briar, an orphan Maremma sheepdog (pictured), has, against all the Maremma-challenging odds, found an ideal home.
As the sentimental feature film Oddball (showing in Canberra as we speak) testifies, Maremmas are adorable but odd. Bred to be the vigilant 24/7 guardians of sheep in wolf-infested Italian places, and bred to bark a far-reaching nocturnal alarm call they may not adapt well to suburban life. But ACT Rescue and Foster (ARF) has triumphed in finding Briar, an orphan no longer, an idyllic home and workplace on a farm at Gunning.
She is now one of six Maremmas protecting about 4500 chickens, from foxes, at the Gunning Bum Nuts free-range egg farm. Though still only nine months old Briar has fitted in beautifully, and with hardly any need of training, farm co-owner Theresa Robinson rejoices to us.
"In fact she's just about my best dog."
There's tons of work for the Maremmas to do because, Theresa Robinson laments, "foxes are in plague proportions here at the moment".
She says that the Maremmas have an instinctive talent for protecting farm creatures and have such empathy with the chickens "It's almost as if they're being chickens themselves. They think they're chooks. They'll chase the foxes to kingdom come. One has even killed a fox. They're shepherds. They're lovely dogs. Lovely dogs."
ARF's Dallas Burkevics testifies (and she tells the story too in the new, Spring edition of ARF's magazine CHINWAG, for which Briar is the glamorous cover girl) "When I first saw [that] big white ball of fluff [Briar] – I fell in love!"
"How could you not? The little black button nose, the big fat paws. But knowing that this ball of fluff was a Maremma had me immediately thinking about the sort of home that I would find for her. As foster carers, one of the most important things we do for our foster dogs is match them to the right home, but in Briar's case I knew I had an extra responsibility. As a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) Briar was never designed to live in suburbia being confined by fences, having strangers pat her, and having neighbours who won't appreciate her instinctual alert barking in the middle of the night. And, yes, even at eight weeks old she was already [displaying her breed's characteristics].
"So I cast the net wide and hoped and hoped that a working dog home would come along. All my hopes were answered when I got an email from Theresa from Gunning Bum Nuts. Not only would Briar be going to a great working home where she could do what she was bred for and actually be thanked for her night time vocals, but she would be joining other working Maremmas."
"Theresa and Craig welcomed me out to see the farm to meet the chooks and introduce Briar to her new job."
There was some suspense.
"I'll admit to having a bit of an 'eek' moment when Theresa suggested we put her straight in the yard with the chickens. I could just see myself heading home with my tail between my legs … and a dog with a mouth full of feathers. But Briar knew exactly what to do and after an initial moment of worry, she was off exploring the paddock and saying hello to the chickens and her guardian friends. While we do see some LGD's living successfully in suburbia, enabling a dog to do what it was bred for is such a highlight."*
Our hearts warmed, but tiring a little of the bush (for this is essentially a sophisticated, metropolitan column), we zoom back to the city, and to the Parliamentary Triangle.
Here we muse that the notion of someone wrapping themselves in the flag (an expression usually used to deplore the way in which scoundrels, often politicians, make vulgar displays of jingoistic patriotism) will never be quite the same again after ogling today's picture of a comely, flag-wrapped damsel.
Her name is Marie Celeste (yes, I know it sounds improbable, but trust me, for I am a journalist).
Her father was the professional photographer Albert Bellier de Villentroy and he had a studio on Hunter Street, Sydney, in the early 1920s. He took this photograph of her in 1921 and obviously had commercial expectations of it because he gave it a title, Young Australia, and quickly submitted it the federal government in search of copyright protection of it. That is how it has fallen into the gentle archival clutches of the National Archives of Australia, in the Parliamentary Triangle.
Now it comes to pass that Marie Celeste's 1921 portrait is topical because it is getting a very 21st century guernsey during Monday's Canberra Family and Community Day activities. Visitors to the National Archives on that day will among other activities galore be able to pose with Marie Celeste (with a life-sized version of her portrait) to take selfies in her celebrity company.
An Archives spokeswoman advises that, yes, there will be big Australian flags for us to wrap ourselves in for the selfie takings posed with Marie. But she adds, a little prudishly, that unlike the lubricious Marie we must keep our clothes on and only flag-wrap our already dressed bodies.
*To read ChinWag and to find how you can help ARF's heart-warming work go to ARF's website fosterdogs.org