Kelpies, guinea pigs and a Coonawarra Patron – what could possibly go wrong?
“Dusty and other stories” is not just another collection of shaggy dog tales – it’s about life in rural Australia, the people, the changes and the past.
Written by Doug Balnaves, Dusty takes you into the world of the South-East of South Australia and the many and varied characters he has come across in his life as a shearer, and since the 1970s, leading the family wine business in Coonawarra.
While Dusty the sheepdog leads off the 18 short stories, many of which are full of humour and people we can all relate to, the book also takes a philosophical path through rural life and the changes in attitudes and responsibilities we now face. It is a gentle book, written with empathy and understanding that comes with age and experience and a deep love for life and a laugh. Set in the rich wine growing area of Coonawarra, the stories and reflections they evoke about people, life, the environment, and ourselves, can be from anywhere in Australia.
With illustrations by John Draper, Dusty rounds up a collection of short stories as varied and colourful from The Race to the indigenous history of the area, rural evictions, the environment, personal hardships and friendships.
It has taken a while for Dusty and other stories to come to life. Doug was first encouraged in 1953 to write by a teacher at the Penola Area School who could see that Doug knew how to spin a yarn. But the establishment and growth of the family wine business, Balnaves of Coonawarra, prevented any serious tilt.
While the book is classified as “fiction”, there is no doubt many will know (or be) a Charlie, Uncle Albie, Campbell the banker down for a duck shoot, or Percy Parsons at the front bar.
One tale, The Race, gives readers an insight into the rarefied sport of guinea pig racing. While not widely practised outside of Coonawarra, guinea pig racing is taken very seriously by Doug who was the Chairman of the Coonawarra Guinea Pig Racing Association. The Race tells the tale of Noble Rot, a three-time winner of Coonawarra Cup on the flat but not tested over the more technical Coonawarra Guinea Pig Hurdle Racecourse. Unbeknown to Doug and Noble Rot’s Connections, the main rival in the race, Miss Chardonnay, was not only fast, she left a trail of sexual pheromones behind her that Noble Rot (which for some reason still under investigation was not fitted with nose blinkers) found too much and jumped the lane barrier and…… The Race goes into the finer details of the ensuing Stewards inquiry and aftermath, but also begs the question – why is guinea pig racing not a mainstream sport?