How often have you heard a remark like that made in regard to someone who, despite being in the depths of suffering, is being helped to die well?
Last night I had time out to see a movie, The Red Dog that subtly brought this type of statement into question. The Star of the show is, you guessed it, a dog, named rather obviously, for its auburn coat. We Australians are not known for original nomenclature when it comes to dogs. The dog has a special place in our culture as a smart worker and, of course a man’s best friend. Red Dog’s character is based on a real dog who lived in the 1970’s among a tough mining community of North-Western Australia
In the opening scene, Red Dog, who has been poisoned, probably with bait intended for a rabbit or dingo, lies dying. Or more to the point, he has the barrel of a rifle pointed at his head with those around, hard working country men with apparently little appreciation for life’s niceties, appeal for the one holding the gun to put the animal out of its misery.
From the crowd steps another man, calling a holt to proceedings and reminding all around of the place this particular dog has played in their lives, and that his life ought, then, to be spared. From this point, the plot unfolds as stories are told of how Red Dog’s exploits have shaped the community. Red Dog is responsible for an increase of love, heroism, respect, compassion.
‘What if the dog were human?’ I thought. Would he not be worthy of the same respect? The cumulative weight and effect of our actions builds up our persona and helps to shape the communities in which we live, however slightly. Shamefully, this fact seems often forgotten or taken as a reason for hastily dispatching the person suffering, instead of offering genuine compassion as result of reflecting on and truly acknowledging the contribution individuals make to the whole.
In the end, this is exactly what happens to Red Dog when the inevitable happens. The film is playing to packed-out cinemas, to the extent that extra sessions have had to be laid on to cater for all. Poignantly, it includes the last performance on film of the legendary Bill Hunter, who died what seemed to be a good death from cancer, and is well remembered.
I hope that the film’s subtle message,whether intended or not, is not lost on the many folks of all ages who have the pleasure of seeing it. It is time to examine how far this country’s culture of mateship really extends, and whether, as the film gently suggests, it is capable of embracing all, at every stage of life