Thu, Jun 10, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Flatulent dog warms Australian mining giants’ hearts

Rio Tinto and Woodside Petroleum have thrown their weight behind a low-budget production that brings the story of legendary canine Red Dog to the big screen

By Madeleine Coorey  /  AFP , SYDNEY

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The heart-warming tale of a friendly, flatulent and hitch-hiking dog has seen major mining firms branch out into new territory, as they support an Australian film about the legendary Red Dog.

Companies such as Rio Tinto and Woodside Petroleum have backed the low-budget movie, which depicts Western Australia’s resource-rich Pilbara region in the 1970s when the mining industry was taking off there.

“It was hard in the beginning because they are not in the film business,” producer Nelson Woss said of working with the companies. “But we talked to them and they acknowledged that it was a really important story.”

The result was that the makers of the film Red Dog, which stars American Josh Lucas, were given rare access to mine sites close to the coastal town of Dampier and were able to follow the mining of iron ore from pit to port.

“We’ve had unprecedented access,” Woss said. “We’ve gone right into their operations and filmed it. Yesterday we were on a Chinese ore carrier, filming the ore being put on the carrier.”

Red Dog is based on the life of a russet-colored kelpie (Australian sheep dog) who became a key figure in Dampier as the community grew up around the expanding mining industry.

The entrance to the town now boasts a large statue of the dog, a monument which inspired the writer Louis de Bernieres to pen a half-fictional account of the animal’s life on which the movie is based.

Woss said the stories he has been told about Red Dog during the weeks the crew has been filming in hot and sparsely populated Pilbara have supported the animal’s legendary stature in the region.

“He interacted with everybody,” he said. “But whenever there was an event or a community get-together, whether it was something official or a local barbecue at the beach, the dog had an uncanny ability to turn up.

“And, as a result, he was basically a member of the town.”

Woss said the dog, owned by none but cared for by all, provided company to many of those stranded in the remote area by their work — whether they were carrying out the hardest manual work or middle-managers sitting in the air-conditioned site office. He also interacted with local Aborigines.

“The dog went everywhere, he hitch-hiked on trucks, he was on trains, he apparently was on a boat. The workers just adored him so they would take him along wherever they went,” he said.

“He had a unique ability to hitch-hike. He could tell who his friends were from the sound of their cars,” Woss said, adding that the dog would wait in the middle of the road until the car stopped and picked him up.

The dog traveled intensively in the Pilbara, an area where towns can be hundreds of kilometers apart, as well as around Western Australia — a key producer of the iron ore exports driving the nation’s economic recovery.

Woss said several locals had told him the story of Red Dog being taken by a holidaying miner to Perth, and then escaping from the man and hitch-hiking the 1,500km back to Dampier.

The canine was also known for its flatulence. “I think what happened was everybody fed him,” Woss said. “And they weren’t too worried about what they fed him. And as a result, I think at times he had digestion issues.”

Dampier was shattered when Red Dog died, at an old age, in November 1979 because he had been part of the town for the best part of a decade, Woss said.

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