Fog a Dox is another addition to the reviews of children’s books which I’m contributing to Indigenous Literature Week that I’ve been hosting on my ANZ LitLovers Blog.
Bruce Pascoe, of Bunerong-Tasmanian heritage, is an award-winning indigenous author, editor and compiler of anthologies. (I have a copy of his adult novel Earth on my TBR and will be reading it soon.) In addition to writing a number of novels and non-fiction books for adults, he has also published a Wathaurong dictionary to support the retrieval and teaching of the Wathaurong language in south-western Victoria. His other children’s novel, The Chainsaw File, was released in 2011.
A chapter book suitable for 10-14 year old readers, Fog a Dox tells the story of Albert Cutts, a tree-feller who despite the disapproval of others keeps a ‘dox’: a fox cub raised by a Albert’s dingo Brim. Albert lives a solitary life as a bushman until he has an accident which changes everything …
The publisher’s blurb says that his gentle story-telling style is reminiscent of Alan (I Can Jump Puddles) Marshall but Pascoe has a dry humour all his own. Brim, the dog, does ‘what dogs are very good at: scratching’ because there is
Nothing like a good scratch, followed by a little sniff of the air, a glance at Albert, and then a little dog-think, which never took very long; food always looms too large in their mind and blots out anything but the thought of a bone buried near the woodheap – or was it under the verandah, or the apple tree? Oh well, I forget where, I’ll have to check them all.
Albert would sometimes catch Brim as one of her thoughts evaporated under the dominant influence of bone memories and call out to her, ‘Lose concentration again, darlin’? It happens my furry princess, even to the best of brains. One minute we’re working out how many eight-bee-one planks in a sixty-foot log and next minute we’re thinking of rabbit stew. It happens, ol’ darlin’, and that’s a fact.
But what Albert didn’t know was that Brim had been teaching herself to count. (p10-11)
And because Brim can count she knows when Albert produces three little motherless fox cubs for her to mother along with her own pups, that this is ‘lotsa foxes’ and she is not best pleased. But a dog that loves and trusts its master will do a lot to please:
That’s another one, Brim’s eyes signalled alarm, that’s … lotsa foxes.
But the foxes just suckled ferociously while Albert squatted down beside Brim and reassured her with a calming hand repeatedly following the curve of her brow to the base of her neck, strong, sure strokes pressing calm and acceptance into her heart. If Albert thought it was all right for a bitch to suckle a fox, lotsa foxes, then it must be all right. Why, even Rome was built by human babies suckled by a wolf. Dogs didn’t learn much history but paid particular attention to the bits where dogs and wolves were involved. (p30)
The cub that stays with Albert after weaning turns out to be a little miracle that changes a lot of lives.
Cranky Dave performs a kind of Boo Radley role in the plot, but all the characters – despite their flaws - have that honest bush quirkiness that Aussies love to admire. The elements of indigenous cultural knowledge and awareness are lightly handled but respectful, and readers who love animals will be enchanted by this book. It would make an exciting film with a heart-warming ending, and is a good one for reading aloud and discussing with a class too.
Like all good books about Aboriginal history and culture, the book acknowledges the Aboriginal heritage of the author and locates his country.
Author: Bruce Pascoe
Title: Fog a Dox
Publisher: Magabala Books, 2012
Review copy courtesy of Magabala Books