The real red dog


National Seniors member Nancy Gillespie wrote the original Red Dog book in 1981, a collection of anecdotes and poetry about a much-loved Kelpie-cross who roamed the Pilbara.

  • Spring 2019
  • Members

In the years that followed, the legend grew thanks to both a Louis de Bernieres retelling and a screen adaptation, which became one of Australia’s highest grossing films.

“It’s something I’ll be proud to leave to my children and they’re very proud of me, I think,” Nancy says.

“My kids reckon I live Red Dog! It was a dare, actually, to write the book but, next thing, the publisher said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it’. I never set out for fame and fortune and I’ll never get it through this book, but I don’t care. I did it to be able to share Red Dog’s story and to see schoolkids’ faces when I tell them about him.”

With 2019 marking the 40th anniversary of the death of the infamous canine, Nancy reflects on his unique place in the Pilbara community.

“Red Dog not only had a meal ticket on his collar, but his own bank account. He would get on the trains that transported iron ore from Tom Price and Paraburdoo and would even go down to Perth with the truckies. One guy who lost him on a trip was frightened to come back to town without him. After he rang his mate and said ‘I can’t come back to Karratha, I’ve lost the dog’, he was told ‘no mate, the dog’s up here’. He had hitched a lift back with another truckie. He didn’t like to live with anybody permanently; he just wandered.”

"My kids reckon I live Red Dog! It was a dare, actually, to write the book but, next thing, the publisher said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it’.

Not everyone was a fan though, Nancy recalls.

“He was banned from most businesses in Karratha because he stunk, but he just ignored everybody and would walk back in to enjoy the air conditioning.

“He also got banned from the caravan park that we were living in at that time. There were a lot of us pregnant ladies there at that time and he used to escort us to the toilets at night time, but the guy running the caravan park was not an animal lover and he threatened to shoot the dog.

“After he did that, a Hamersley Iron bus turned up with all the workers one day and said to the guy, ‘you touch a hair on this dog’s head and see that tree up there? We’ll hang you from it’. The guy and his wife left the town and we never saw them again.”

While Hollywood brought its own ‘take’ to the tale, Nancy says the real Red Dog needed no embellishment.


Grab a copy


Copies of Nancy’s book are available at www.reddogwa.com