Bucky with Grandpa Phil and my mum, Gilda 4yo, c1931
Bucky - the story of the real dog who inspired the canine character in
I first learned of Bucky from Mum after she’d been diagnosed with vascular dementia. She was still at home at that stage and still pretty good but was becoming increasingly detached. We’d been going through old photos and came across a pic of her as a four-year-old or so, with her dad, and a dog whose face I couldn’t see. He looked like a good-sized adult spaniel.
When I asked her about it, her recall was clear as a bell –
‘Bucky,’ she said. ‘That’s Bucky.’
‘What happened to Bucky? I didn’t know you had a dog.’
‘When we went to live over the green grocer’s shop, we had to leave him behind.’
‘What do you mean—leave him behind?’
She looked a bit distant, then said, ‘The last I remember of him was when I was sitting in the back of the car with my brother and my sister. We were leaving for the new place. I was looking out the back window watching Bucky, who was running hard behind the car.’
‘You just left him? You just drove away?’
She took my hand. ‘We were going to a place with no backyard. I suppose we couldn’t keep him in a few rooms over a fruit shop.’
She couldn't say how old she was when they moved, but we think she would've been about ten.
I could see that the memory still distressed her - it distressed me - but she’d never said a word about it over the years. Not a word while we learned about all Dad’s dogs when he was young, or after having and losing our own dogs when we were kids, or when I began to have my own beloved dogs. Not a word.
At the time she told me about Bucky, she would have been 88, so it was at least an 84-year-old memory. Her dementia prevented her from crying, so with my face in her hands I cried for all of us—for Mum who’d been that devastated child, who was now devastated by an insidious illness, and for Bucky and how he would have felt. I hoped that someone in the neighbourhood at the time would have taken him in. I didn’t want to think of the alternative.
It was Bucky’s story that inspired me to include a Murray River Retriever in my novel The Good Woman of Renmark. After visitors Chris C & Andrew B from Ocean Grove Victoria gave me the information about this dog (bred on the Murray from the 19th century by the rivermen), I did some research and found a way to honour not only my mum’s beloved pet, but also part of river history.
So, Bucky lives in this story set in 1896 or so, as a different breed to the one he really was.
He lives with a family who love him and who will be there for him, as he is there for them. The real Bucky is as much a part of my history as all my own dogs have been, and I treasure the only picture I have of him, circa 1931. He’s with my mum Gilda, the little girl, and her father,
Felice (Philip) Barbuto.
I'd like to thank the generous and dog-loving folk at the Murray River Retriever pages:
Shane Borham Photography for the huge selection of pics
Special thanks to Jen Kn, and Jax (who is the perfect Bucky) at
Bucky was a rescue!
I treasure my current rescue boy, Hamish the Wonder-dog, the dashing black and shiny kelpie/border-collie.