Hi all, Bill here
I've spent the last two days at the Star Hotel in Walhalla, a former mining,
now ghost town in Gippsland, Victoria. What a beautiful place.
Between sessions of management discussion (not the highlight of the two
days) I was able to get away and do a bit of birding.
However, the next morning I got a bit of a shock. I was up at 6am and out
climbing to the famous cricket pitch, when I was joined by Jackson, one of
the town dogs. Our group had met him the previous day on one of our walks.
Jackson is a boxer, about thigh high. He's powerfully built, although
according to the publican he's lost some weight of late as his owner, Ginger
Mick the miner (you come across names like this in towns with a population
of 18) doesn't take good care of him.
As my target was a pilotbird, I needed to find lyrebirds. I could see that
in the company of such a beast my chances had taken a nosedive. However,
Jackson wasn't giving me a choice, and tagged along despite my ignoring him.
As I approached the cricket pitch I hard about seven different calls
emanating from a point on the ground about 100 metres into the bush. As one
of the calls seemed to be a CFA firetruck I felt this was most probably a
lyrebird. Unfortunately, so did Jackson who hared off and cleared the bird
(and presumably any attendant pilotbirds) away. He returned, bounding
energetically through the undergrowth, looking quite pleased with himself.
I wasn't pleased, and thought of things I could do to let the dog know this.
I remembered having seen on a television show a dog trainer who recommends
growling at errant dogs. As they see themselves as pack animals, with you
the dominant animal they'll quieten down. Of course, I realise now that as
I had been ignoring the dog until that point, I hadn't established myself as
the dominant animal. As soon as I growled at Jackson he "went me". He
leapt up to my face and snapped with his jaw (on a boxer this is a pretty
scary experience), but I dodged. He then bit my right wrist. I was wearing
a gore-tex jacket with a polar fleece underneath, I had some padding. This
was reasonably loose, so before he could really bite down I was able to slip
my wrist out of his jaw (suffering only some bruises), but he then bit
through the sleeve of my jacket and dropped to the ground (he'd dangled for
a moment from my arm). He then latched onto my foot and tried to drag me to
the ground, something that I felt wouldn't have boded well for me. I was
wearing leather boots, so again I wasn't harmed (I didn't notice the blood
on my hand until afterwards), and with some staggering I was able to remain
At this point, about half an hour's walk from the nearest human, I realised
that the situation was rather serious. I could see the possibility that I
mightn't make it back. Considering my few options I reached into my top
pocket and produced a maglite torch - a long heavy metal object, excellently
suited for use as a weapon. My idea was to try to strike the dog on the
bridge of its nose, below the eyes, with the intention of hurting it so it
would retreat or even disabling it. My normal revulsion at causing pain to
living creatures had been temporarily suspended.
At the time I remember thinking that this was a pretty high-risk strategy,
as if I missed or didn't strike hard enough it might only make the dog more
aggressive. However, at this point my luck changed, as Jackson began
snapping at the torch. Distracting him with the torch, I picked up a stick,
showed it to him and threw it into the bush. Jackson leapt after the stick.
So for the next fifteen minutes I beat a hasty retreat back to town,
alternatively picking up and throwing sticks. Thank goodness there were
lots around. I also found that if I didn't have one ready I'd get snapped
at rather enthusiastically.
I can imagine Ginger Mick saying that Jackson was only playing. Funny sort
When I got back, badly shaken, to the Star Hotel I reported this to the
publican, who confirmed that this wasn't the first time that this had
happened. It seems that Jackson is known for having a mean streak. He has
bailed several people up, including a 12 year old girl, who was able to
escape into a phone box and call for help. One of the townsfolk had been
discussing dispatching the dog himself, as Ginger Mick doesn't seem to be
inclined to address the situation. I think it's now in the hands of the
I would recommend staying in Walhalla to everyone - it's a beautiful
location, with a rich history and friendly people and good birding.
However, having a 5 year old daughter I can't return until I find that this
problem has been solved.
Bird list (in order of being recorded):
White throated tree creeper
Grey shrike thrush
Sulphur crested cockatoo
Yellow faced honeyeater
Aust king parrot
Wonga pigeon (lifer)
Eastern yellow robin
White browed scrubwren
White winged chough
Dipped on the pilotbird.
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