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Christopher O'Connor

Christopher O'Connor is a writer and photographer. Over the years he has documented life in Australia and New Zealand.

The joy of a companion dog.

I wish I had the money to clone the most loyal companion I have ever had the pleasure to know, You see, nothing compares with the love and affection he gives me no matter what type of mood I’m in or whether – God forbid – I don’t feel like taking him for a walk because it is too hot or cold.

Nugget came into my life 7 years ago as an abandoned and abused puppy from the far north region of South Australia. He was dehydrated, full of worms, had scabies and part of his tail had been chopped off. The area he came from doesn’t care too much about their pets but I got lucky here. To cut a long story short he was brought down to me where a vet spent many hours bringing him from the edge of death to a healthy puppy. Within weeks he was charging around no longer the timid, nervous little four legged creature he had been before.

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A tribute to the unknown soldier. Lest we forget.

.Anzac Day, 25 April, is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers had died in the campaign. Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.

Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future.

On the11th of November 1993 Australian entombed an unknown Australian soldier at the Australia War Memorial in Canberra. The following is a speech given by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. It is a speech we should imprint in our minds:

Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier | Tonkin Zulaikha Greer ...

We do not know this Australian’s name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.

Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.

He is all of them. And he is one of us.

WW1 Photos: 31 Images From The Darkest Days Of The Great War

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He may have been one of those who believed that the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are he went for no other reason than that he believed it was his duty – the duty he owed his country and his King.

Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible, war –  we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.

But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true.

It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.

For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly.

On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.

The Unknown Australian Soldier we inter today was one of those who by his deeds proved that real nobility and grandeur belong not to empires and nations but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.

That is surely at the heart of the ANZAC story, the Australian legend which emerged from the war. It is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity.

It is a democratic tradition, the tradition in which Australians have gone to war ever since.

This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier’s character above a civilian’s; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which he fought and died above any other war; or of one generation above any that has or will come later.

The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia.

His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.

We have lost more than 100,000 lives, and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.

We have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.

It is not too much to hope, therefore, that this Unknown Australian Soldier might continue to serve his country – he might enshrine a nation’s love of peace and remind us that in the sacrifice of the men and women whose names are recorded here there is faith enough for all of us.

The Hon. P.J. Keating MP
Prime Minister of Australia

No change to words ... The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Marina Neil

The oddball dog that everybody wants……until they realise what they’ve got.

They look majestic, have a wonderful way with all creatures great and small, protect their flock but one thing is certain – they are not suited to a life of domestic family bliss, trapped in a suburban home and unable to carry out the duties they were born to do. Welcome to the world of the Maremma.

Photo Bec Whetham ABC Mount Gambier

Before the 2015 film Oddball, Maremma Rescue Victoria had rehomed only two puppies, but following the film’s success they have rehomed hundreds of young maremmas. Jodie Cawood is the leader of the four-woman operation and has fostered 500 in her home alone.

“People just see something cute and grab it,” Ms Cawood said.

The Italian sheepdogs were made famous in the film Oddball where an eccentric chicken farmer, played by Shane Jacobson, trains his mischievous maremma Oddball to protect a penguin sanctuary from fox attack. While it tried to inform people maremmas are not a suburban backyard dog, Ms Cawood said the film made things much worse.

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Do you give your dog extra vitamins? Could be wasting your money.

Don’t know about you but I’m at an age where stiff, achy joints are painful and most of all frustrating. Gone are the days of a brisk walk along the river, instead replaced by a gentle stroll with my ever faithful companion who looks up with pleading brown eyes begging to be let off the leash to roam freely. Sorry mate but the local Council gendarmes are very strict on that rule and the snakes can be a bit nasty too.*

A friend suggested I start taking turmeric. Nah, I tried fish oil and all the other so called remedies and none have worked but it got me to thinking if old faithful might benefit from them, so I did a bit of research. Got to admit I’m still in the dark but here goes. And please note that throughout this article I use the word alleged a lot, and with good reason. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there still.

First of all you are not going to save any money by trying to avoid the high cost of over-the-counter and prescription medications by using natural anti-inflammatory options like turmeric. Indeed it will probably cost you more.

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Is your dog tripping out? You’d be surprised.

For months it has been nothing but heat and wild fires and now right along the east coast of Australia there is torrential rain with some areas flooded, and while most people have welcomed the deluge others are now cursing the rain that has caused untold damage to their homes. It’s a catch 22 situation, whether your house burns down or its gets washed away in the flood. For pet owners there is another problem. The danger of your dog tripping out – I kid you not. With the advent of rain and hot humid conditions magic mushrooms, indeed mushrooms on any kind are bursting forth and vets are warning they pose a major problem for our four legged companions.

Magic mushrooms are one of the most psychoactive, mind altering substances on the planet – a fact which your dog might find out the hard way.

The names alone should tell you how dangerous they are, although just by looking at them you may not be able to tell. The most common mushrooms to cause death in humans and dogs contain Amanita toxins and have names such as Death Cap and Destroying Angel. So as you tip toe through the tulips beware of the dangers that lurk beneath your dog’s feet.

Of course the hard part is keeping your eye on your dog. I know that even in the large dog park I take my companion each morning mushrooms grow and although thankfully he has shown no interest in them I always knock them down and ground them into the dirt just in case. I’m not willing to take a chance. Ironically I’m more concerned about snakes than mushrooms and their lies the rub.

There are thousands of mushrooms out there, but only about 100 types are poisonous. Dogs that eat mushrooms containing these toxins will show signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, and eventually liver damage .Often dogs do not develop poising symptoms until 6 to 24 hours after ingestion and there is often a period of time after the initial gastro intestinal signs have resolved where the dog seems to be doing better, however liver failure is developing, and may become irreversible if it isn’t treated.

So what do you do if your dog has ingested a mushroom and you think it is poison? First and foremost contact an on duty vet and get your dog on the way to the vet hospital without delay. Then induce vomiting. Your vet will probably ask you to try and get some charcoal into your dogs system and although this is not often on hand it is helpful in getting into the gastro intestinal tract and absorbs the poison. From there on in it is up to your vet and hope you have got it in time.

Just remember to look for the signs and if you see them don’t wait.  

Shocking case of animal cruelty.

The heavily matted King Charles Spaniel. Photo RSPCA South Australia

An Australian has been banned from keeping pets for five years after failing to groom four cavalier King Charles spaniels, in what has described as a shocking case of animal neglect.

RSPCA inspectors seized the four maltreated dogs from the owner’s property following a tip-off. The woman pleaded guilty and was convicted in a magistrates court of 13 counts of ill-treatment of an animal. She was given a three-month suspended prison sentence, with a $500 good behaviour bond for two years. The magistrate also prohibited the woman from having any animals for five years.

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Roll on winter – I never thought I’d say that!

Summer in Australia is something I’ve always look forward to. After all, our national identity epitomizes sun bronzed people enjoying the beach. It is embedded in tourist minds. It’s a time when we go on holidays, and head outdoors. But for many Australians, summer 2019/2020 has been far from carefree.

Bush fires have been burning since September. Lives have been lost. Houses and livelihoods have been decimated in fires that burnt so hot they created their own weather systems.

On the east coast, more than 800 homes have been destroyed in bush fires since December. Behind those statistics is an anxious community. Just a few kilometres from where I live some over 25 homes and hundreds of storage sheds have been lost and farms have been razed along with the death of several people caught in the monstrosity of a fire storm and unable to escape.

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Blue trees lift the blues

The Strezlecki Track is one of the most remote and desolate areas of Australia. In ideal conditions it takes a good 14 hours to get there if you were to drive from Adelaide in South Australia in a 4WD. A few months ago while driving along the track I came across a solitary dead gum tree, devoid of all its foliage painted sky blue. Why? I would ask myself in a conversation with my mind over and over again.

After all, while this area of the world has a certain rugged and naked beauty it is not the type of place where you would sit down and paint for the hell of it. But apparently you do and there is a solid reason behind painting not only this tree but thousands of others too.

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Koalas killed after loggers bulldoze tree plantation.

Hundreds of koalas have allegedly been killed during a logging operation in a regional Australian forest according to wildlife volunteers. Upwards of 500 koalas are thought to have died. This is on top of hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the devastating bushfires that have obliterated their homes in recent weeks.

Blue gum trees – an important koala habitat – were harvested from the plantation in December, leaving only a few isolated stands of trees. Some koalas had starved to death in the remaining trees. Others were apparently killed by bulldozers brought in to clear the remaining trees following the fires in recent weeks. About 80 surviving koalas have been removed and are being cared for.

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The joy of slow travel

The world of travel these days is more often than not a long queue, delayed flights, overcrowded terminals and impatient passengers seemingly in a hurry to go nowhere. Enter the great railway journeys and in this instance the rebirth of a journey that first began in 1937.

The Spirit of Progress in 1937

33 years ago the Spirit of Progress stopped running an overnight service between Melbourne and Sydney. Although a day time service still operates it is not in the romantic vein of the old Spirit which dominated the night time service between the two capital cities for 24 years and was seemingly abandoned following the introduction of cheap air fares and allegedly better roads, although anyone who drove on the Hume highway in those days would dispute that.

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