The sacrifice of Sendem [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

The sacrifice of Sendem

Now Sendem was a dog.

Just a dog, a town stray, which had become very much at home at Wattle Flat. Sendem came unexpectedly, but his arrival in the township was heralded by a bump, bump, bump of a kerosene-tin attached to his other end.

After this somewhat spectacular entry, Sendem finished up across the second line of a wire fence with the tin on one side of the boundary and the dog on the other.

It was old Jones, the town-bellman and billposter, who was responsible for the release of Sendem from his somewhat precarious position, and it was thus that old Jones made a faithful friend for life.

Sendem was a most peculiar-natured animal, and when old Jones tried to educate him as a housedog, pure and simple, Sendem being a bohemian, resented the domestic habits, and, possessing a bush nature, he never would bring himself down to the purely housing business.

He was no cuddling dog, certainly no lapdog of to-day’s generation, and as nobody at the Flat seemed to recognise his breed, he was placed in the category of Shandy Gaff — a class never catered for in the Dog Section of Wattle Flat Show.

Sendem was upstanding as far as frame was concerned, and was in all probability a cross between a staghound, a retriever, and many other good dogs. It should be recorded that Sendem had an intelligent face and a bright twinkle in his big brown eyes, but possessed a mouth and a set of slashing teeth, like a dingo; and what a grip he had! I never knew a dog that came twice for his bite, though Sendem was never the aggressor.

He was playful to a fault, and would roll over like a puppy, and to watch him with cobber dogs in the street impressed one with his docility. Sendem could eat anything; playing with the kids had taught him to appreciate most things — chocolates, fish and biscuits included. The kids would grab Sendem at any old time, and Sendem was never without a bit of old rope round his neck that acted as a trace for a billy-goat cart that the Wattle Flat kids utilised in their play.

Sendem was a real wood-and-water-joey, belted and booted about from pillar to post, but he was always willing to lick the hand that smote him.

There must have been something good in Wattle Flat, for Sendem seemed to understand that it was home, despite the kicks and cuffs that came to him.

I’ve seen him roped to a billy-goat cart, leading the billy, and a load of iron. He was also first before the band, the fire brigade, and even ahead of the solemn cortege through the pepper-tree township on its way to the little God’s acre.

When the swaggies came to town, Sendem made friends. I’ve seen him follow them round all day, to every pub of Wattle Flat, drink beer, pick up stones, and place them on the swaggie’s boots, then recline on his back with his mouth wide open while the swaggie tickled his ribs.

An exciting period experienced at Wattle Flat was the night when Sendem tore round Constable Marlow at the street corner, barking and howling in such an excited manner as to cause the officer to scent something amiss. As a consequence of that he followed the dog across the deserted mining-claims till Sendem stopped at a spot where groans emanating from an old shaft presaged an accident, and it was only by the sagacity of Sendem that the old bellringer was saved from a night of horror in a slushy, dank and dismal pit.

This adventure was the means of making Sendem a canine hero in the town, and he was translated from a stray to everybody’s dog, and he became still more everybody’s dog after the night of the “big flood” which brought many terrors and heartbreaks to the district.

How few who reside away from the banks of our great rivers know what the night terrors of a big flood mean!

After the Annual Smoke Concert, run in conjunction with the Show, was over, and the inhabitants of the Flat had retired to rest at the end of a perfect day, the hurricane rains which twenty-four hours earlier poured down in the mountains caused the streams to overflow and suddenly the rush of waters reached the creeks, and tore on until the rivers became bankers, and the walls of waters battered the country and brought down with it from the highlands broken timbers, great limbs from the big dead trees along the banks, and all the flotsam and jetsam of a flood. The roar of the waters could be heard for miles, and all through the night of inky darkness the torrent swept and swelled the feeling of awe with it. The volume of flood-waters poured into the Wattle Flat Show Grounds, wrecking the side-show tents, the booths and other structures, causing those who had sought shelter for the night under canvas, hurriedly to seek higher ground.

Down in the south-west corner of the ground, where the waters came in in big volume, was located the tent covering the mammoth live — very much alive — alligator, whose tank had toppled over. As a consequence, the huge amphibious reptile escaped in the surging torrents. Suddenly a shrill voice penetrated the blackness of the night, and as for a second the moon peeped between two black clouds, there was seen, swirled on the bosom of the waters, which roared into the Show Ground, a woman carrying a child, lying on a rough barn door, now being swept round the Show Ground. The screams of the woman penetrated the night, and the shrill cries of fear roused the whole town. At the first cry of distress the constable on his beat sized up the situation.

There was a human being, carried down on the waters of the flood. Assistance must be given, and the Constable dashed to the Fire Station. Suddenly the bell from the tower rang out. Frantically, people half-dressed rushed towards the Show Ground, and between the vivid flashes of the quick-playing electricity, through the blackened heavens, beheld the alligator lashing the water into foam, and swimming with open jaws towards the raging swirl containing its human cargo.

Amongst the first to reach the waters was Billy Nudgell on his draught mare, Post and Rails, and Billy sized up the situation.

“If someone can attract the attention of the alligator, by heavens I’ll swim in with my mare, and grab the woman on the raft!”

“What the hell can we do!” said someone, excitedly.

“Well,” said the owner of the reptile, “if you can light a fire at once, that will divert attention from the woman, tie a dog between the fire and the water, I’ll promise you we get the woman and the kid!”

The excitement on the banks was intense, and the possibility of an awful tragedy in those flooded waters caused strong men to shudder, and women to become hysterical.

“A dog! A dog is wanted!” cried the police.

Then, instinctively, everybody who owned a dog grasped his pet and moved away.

At that moment the flames of the fire, which had been built on high ground, burst forth, and in the glare the crowd discerned the yawning of the monster reptile, as if about to devour door and all.

At this juncture someone thought of the stray dog, and called out, “Where’s Sendem?”

Well, Sendem was at his post, and when his name was called he answered by plunging into the surging waters.

Sendem scented a duty and tackled the reptile. All this time Billy Nudgell’s mare was straining at the bit, and as the dog swam towards the alligator, Nudgell urged his mount into the waters towards the distracted woman, and as Sendem went gallantly at the jaws of the monster, Nudgell snatched the mother and child, wheeled, and swam his mare for the shore.

Then in the lurid light of the bonfire, and as the burning bushes crackled in the flames, the crowd witnessed the tragedy of the waters.

The monster turned on the dog. One click of the frightful jaw, and Sendem’s last cry was heard.

On the banks an excited crowd gathered round the wet and exhausted woman. On the banks many grips were given to Billy Nudgell, and many a hand stroked the blazed forehead of Post and Rails.

Then someone remembered.

“What about Sendem?”

Someone laughed and remarked. “What does it matter? He was only a mong!” But at Wattle Flat next day there were many who realised that Sendem was more than a mong.

Not far from the spot where the dog went under there is a little deal slab standing to-day, which was erected, sacred to the memory of Sendem, and each year the kiddies of the Flat, led by the old Bellman, run a ring of gum leaves and place it on a grass grown mound, as a token of remembrance of the sacrifice of Sendem.

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 147-152

Editor’s notes:
cobber = friend, mate

deal slab = (also known as “slab-deal”); a board or plank of softwood, particularly pine, fir, or cedar; a slab of softwood (wood from coniferous trees)

God’s acre = a cemetery, especially one adjacent or close to a church, a churchyard

mong = mongrel, an animal of mixed breed

Shandy Gaff = a drink made of beer and soft drink, especially ginger beer or lemonade (also spelt “shandygaff”); also known as a “shandy” [in the context of a dog category, it would be a reference to mixed breeds; from shandygaffs being mixed drinks]

swaggie = swagman (also spelt “swaggy”)

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