Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: A Dog's Life

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak

IT’S tough being a stray in Newcastle now – this city has changed. Her streets, once so familiar and homely, have become a mystery that I cannot fathom. When I became a stray in the late Seventies I discovered, with some surprise, that a dog out on his own will live much longer than his still-domesticated counterparts.

The extension on my life has allowed me to see a great deal more of Newcastle than the average human, which I’m grateful for, but I’m getting tired. One-hundred-and-ninety-two-years I’ve been at it, that’s 40 for you, and in my day this town was the greatest city in Australia

It still is, but those days were the real days of the real Newcastle. They were my days as well, when I was still in awe of how open the city was for a dog like me. I might be looking back through rose-tinted glasses, not the easiest thing when you’re colourblind, but I mean it when I say that the old Newcastle was my place.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the town that was, and I wonder where she went. I used to love her, you know, and I still do, it’s just that things today are … different.

It’s as if a whole other population lives here now, for one thing. And I suppose it’s true, two generations have risen since I became a full-time stray. Most of the people that I used to see around are all gone, the classic types no more. This town used to be well-known in the stray scene, for good reasons.

I once met a dog from Taree who’d trekked in just to see the place. Said he’d heard of the generosity of its inhabitants. That was it, really. The Newcastle of my youth was a generous place, its citizens ready and willing to share their crust. I was one full dog in those days. Used to be I could trot by any three pubs on Hunter Street and at each one have real people toss food out to me with a cheer. Nowadays those same pubs are full of people talking about bitcoin, too busy on their phones to meet the gaze of a hungry dog.

What gets me most about these types is that their parents were probably people I admired, there were a lot of those in this town. I can’t help wondering what happened.

It’s difficult for me to pick a time, a year, a moment when I realised Newcastle was a different place. The change seems to have crept out of nowhere and propped itself up around me with each passing year, and now there are too many suits.

A person wearing a suit on the street is no friend to a dog, especially if they’re with other clones. Even conversation between people has changed. “Matched with three birds last night!” “My latest selfie just hit 293 likes!” “What are the Knights paying on your app?” For a while I thought I was going senile.

These people wouldn’t recognise the old Newcastle, the real Newcastle.

Walking around tires me now. My memories exhaust me. I can’t turn down a street today without images of the past imposing themselves over the current, some days I don’t go out at all. BHP is gone, the Star Hotel is gone, they want to tear down the Queen’s Wharf Tower, and the Palais Royale is a KFC now for goodness’ sake! Of course, we didn’t find out it was an Aboriginal heritage site until well after it was built, but nothing is sacred now.

And they try to cover all this up; each old thing that gets killed has something enormous and shiny erected on its grave and we forget. How tall the buildings are, now! Apartments, high-rises, bang, bang, bang, destroy a beautiful house and cram 200 people on top of each other in the same spot and its okay.

The face of Newcastle is so shiny now that I fear its heart is slowing. A coat of watery paint has been slapped on to cover the mildew growing over our town, the evidence is everywhere. I tried to go for a forage in the forts above King Edward the other day and couldn’t figure my way through the maze of construction that greeted me. I turned back. On the way out I saw men using a crane to plant a pair of six-metre tall, fully mature pines.

Do we have no patience anymore? Are we too busy to plant a seed and wait? Everything is rush, rush, rush, can’t stop to think about slow old dogs, we must ready our face on time! But what are we trying to be in time for? When I left there, fresh rows of smaller trees beamed at me with false smiles and chased me to Bar Beach. I turned down Parkway Avenue and there were more, an infinite amount, blinding in their shininess and still chasing. It took scuttling under a bridge in the drain and meditative breathing to make them stop, I thought they were going to come down and strangle me.

Don’t get me wrong, I like trees. For me, peeing on a tree is a joy you will never know, I think each one that goes into the ground is beneficial to all dog-kind. But are we planting so many because we care, or so that we might maintain a vague and shallow veneer about ourselves?

The face of Newcastle is so shiny now that I fear its heart is slowing.

Different or not, an old dog like me isn’t going anywhere. I can’t leave, not really. I don’t think I’d live much longer if I went somewhere else, but this whirlwind of change is fixing to blow me over anyway. I love Newcastle, it has given me more life than I deserve.

I only get so vocal about the place because I care painfully for it. You can’t reverse time, I realise that, but what’s an old dog to do?

Tomorrow will be different again.