I’ve written a children’s story about the dogs that ran around off the leash among the celebrations on the day in 1913 that the name of Australia’s national capital, Canberra, was announced by the wife of the Governor General, Lady Denman – 12 March.
Historian, Dr David Headon, did a wonderful report for 7.30 Stateline in the ACT about that day’s events, and it can be seen here.
I’ve been thinking about those dogs ever since I saw this report, and this story, Tilly and Banjo, the Canberra Day Kelpies, is my response. But I think it needs illustrations … can anyone help?
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Tilly and Banjo, the Canberra Day Kelpies
By Amanda Caldwell ©2013
Tilly and Banjo are sitting on the back of the truck, which is parked underneath a eucalyptus tree, among lots of other cars, trucks, and horses and buggies. Their owner and master, Mr Cameron, has given them both a pat, and told them to stay.
Both dogs are working dogs on Mr Cameron’s sheep farm. Tilly is black, with white paws and a white tip on her tail. Banjo’s coat is rusty brown coat, with a white flash on her chest.
Tilly is sitting up on her haunches. Her big black ears swivel on her head this way and that, always listening, always alert. She is searching for a sign that Mr Cameron is close.
Banjo, who’s a bit older and more relaxed, has watched Mr Cameron stride away across the paddock. She knows he will be a while, and so has lain down on her side, panting, happy to wait for their owner’s return. Tilly, though, is not so content.
At this time of day, the dogs would usually be hard at work on the farm, not far from Queanbeyan in southern New South Wales. The sun is high in the sky, and they would be dodging and darting around a flock of sheep, listening and watching for Mr Cameron’s whistles and signals from where he sits up on his horse, working with the dogs to move the animals around the paddocks to new pastures.
But today is a very important day. It is 12th March 1913, and a big celebration is taking place. The name of the new capital city for the new federation of Australia is being announced.
Keen to witness the historic day, Mr Cameron has volunteered to drive to Queanbeyan and provide transport to the announcement site on Kurrajong Hill for several of the guests who have travelled on the special train from Melbourne.
Driving them from the train station, he deposited the guests at the bottom of the hill so they could walk up to the grandstands, while he parked the truck away to the side, with all of the other vehicles.
A cool breeze is blowing across the wide, open Limestone Plains, and little swirls of dust kick up as he strides over to the official site.
The Governor-General, Sir John Denman who represents the King in Australia, and his wife, Lady Denman, have travelled from Government House in Melbourne, and are making the official announcements. They will be joined by the Prime Minister, Mr Andrew Fisher, and the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr King O’Malley, who has nothing to do with the King.
Tilly is starting to get restless. Mr Cameron has been away a long time – perhaps five minutes now. And there are lots and lots of people streaming past them, all dressed up in their best suits and pretty dresses. They take no notice of the dogs, despite Tilly’s interest in them.
Suddenly, a band starts to play somewhere in the distance and Tilly is off, jumping down from the truck as if it’s the signal she has been waiting for. Banjo doesn’t miss a beat and leaps down after her.
Together they run up the hill, racing past the stragglers in the crowd. Near the stage, they dart around and through people’s legs, pulling up where the band is playing. They pause for a minute, tongues lolling, listening to the music.
Then Tilly thinks she sees Mr Cameron, and races past the front of the bandstand, and around the raised platforms where people are sitting, to investigate. She sniffs the air. No, it’s not Mr Cameron. The people keep talking and ignore her, and she lifts her head and gives a little bark. But where’s Banjo?
Banjo has darted the other way, heading right around the far side of the grandstands, where there are hundreds of men mounted on horses. They are members of the Light Horse Brigade. The horses are stamping their hooves, impatient to move off, and Banjo decides to steer clear of their angry feet. She is confused, because there are no sheep around, even though there are horses.
The band falls silent, but Tilly continues to run through the crowd, looking this way and that for her owner, or Banjo.
Some of the people are speaking loudly, addressing the crowd of people. The Governor General steps forward to accept a special tool, a golden trowel, to officially lay the foundation stone for the planned commencement column for the new national capital. “I declare this first stone of the commencement column well and truly laid,” he says.
Then his wife, Lady Denman, who is wearing a very fancy dress, with a pretty hat, says, “’I name the capital city of Australia, ‘Canberra’,’’.
There are lots of cheers and hurrahs and calling out, and some of the men wave their hats in the air.
Suddenly, Banjo comes racing back across the paddock, followed by hundreds of soldiers on horseback. Tilly runs over to join her and they keep ahead of the troops, before veering off to make their way back around the paddock to the truck.
In one movement, they leap up onto the tray, just as the big cannons are let off.
Boom! Twenty one guns salute the announcement of the new national capital, to be known as Canberra. Before long, the ceremony is over. People start walking over to the tents for afternoon tea, and to other celebrations.
The dogs have curled up together, though, in behind the boxes and suitcases, exhausted by events.
Mr Cameron strolls back up the hill and sticks his head over behind the cabin, to check on the dogs.
“Good girls,” he murmurs.