(Submitted to Vibewire's Life column several months ago. Never heard back from 'em.)
I am acquainted with dreams in an ordinary way, and familiar with wildness in a general fashion, but never in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the moment when I stood, outside a news stand on Swanston Street the other day. Amidst a dazzling halo of gossip magazines about celebrities and superstars, my eye was drawn into one particular cover. There was a dated 1980-style supermodel, juxtaposed with a cryptic conjuration of four letters: B – A – R – K: Bark!
I was thrown into confusion. Was this a strange Freudian game of association being played on me by the magazine publishers? Was it a new style of conceptual art, designed for the news stands of Melbourne? Perhaps it was a publication about dated supermodels who barked? If this was the title, then I wondered what other headlines in the magazine would be like …
I sauntered over to the purveyor of these literary, (if not literal), rags, and raised a copy of the magazine in question to scrutinise for several seconds. The full title of the magazine was ‘Australia Bark’, and the dated supermodel on the cover clutched a Shi-Tzu dog. Or did the Shi-Tzu clutch the dated supermodel? From this distance, it was hard to tell. I tried to get closer, but the cover of the magazine got in my way.
It is needless to say what doesn’t have to be said; in short, and shortly, I found myself standing on the corner of Bourke Street and at the other end of a minute with a copy of this iconic magazine in my hands.
As I was soon to discover, ‘Australia Bark’ was one of the publications to be stamped with the brand of Ita (last name Buttrose). It seems it is simply the latest project of the slightly famous editor of that august and respectable collection of literature that is Woman’s Day.
Within two or thee pages, the synonyms dog, doggy, pet, canine, hound, pooch, mutt, best friend, and companion, had been used up, thrown out, taken to the dumpster, raised up from the dead by means of various occult incantations, and recombined. Indeed, the writers of the magazine seemed to have developed a surreal predilection for placing dog-related words in incongruous positions. “Woof-worthy cause!” shouts one headline. “Lactose free puppachinos!” gets an airing. Ita herself uses the joke, “May the hounds be with you”. It doesn’t make sense, but – as one guy said to another guy in some movie or other – “Shut up, he thinks he’s witty.”
There is also an off-putting article about human-canine relationships:
“Some mornings we play ball in the backyard and I give him a treat [or two] before I’m off to work. I tell him when I’ll be back and have a good quality, private conversation with him … Cockers do need a lot of love but what you give in love you receive back tenfold.”
Never has a more disturbing non-pornographic sentence been written.
Dog makeovers abound; the writers of ‘Australia Bark’ have a bizarre habit of anthropomorphising what cannot be anthropomorphised. Dear little Fluffy finds himself primped, permed, preened, pruned, pressed, picked, pricked, pickled, and plucked to within an inch of his palpitating skin. But it is not Fluffy who loses his dignity in the process …
One wonders how the authors find content for each issue: surely only with dogged persistence (pun, sadly, intended) and a hound-like ability to sniff out a good story (see above). There is a dog psychology column, an item on The World’s Largest Dog Show, several interviews with celebrities and their dogs, a Barkscope (nothing less and, sadly, nothing more than a horoscope for dogs), and an article upon a newly-opened dog café – which is, oddly, just down the road from where I used to work. Coincidence? Or are the authors running out of ideas already?
Conspicuous in their absence are any articles treating at length with subjects dogs might be partial to: hunting, urination, sniffing other dogs posteriors, and fresh meat. The canine creature, in this literary portrayal, is steadfastly separated from its wild origins. Not content with anthropomorphising their pets’ coats, the publishers of ‘Australia Bark’ also cast their own gentile thoughts and snobbish aspirations upon the dog's personality.
Whither does ‘Australia Bark’ lead? For surely it portends a new direction for Australian magazine publications. Today we shall have publications treating dogs and their owners; tomorrow we shall have a ‘New Idea’ for dogs:
‘Lassie’s millionaire grandson was this week seen sporting on the beach with Gwyneth Paltrow’s poodle. Could they be a new couple? Sources tell us that Paltrow’s poodle was just doing it to spite Lassie …’
Or maybe we shall soon have a ‘That’s Life!’ magazine for dogs, full of dog crosswords, with clues like:
Across: 1 A sound that a dog makes (4)
3: A sound that a dog makes (4)
Then again, some people might like to say that the publishers of ‘Australia Bark’ are barking bad, have gone to the dogs, have a couple of dingoes loose in their top paddock, and have somehow managed to outfox themselves. I prefer to think that they are people who are merely following a passion. Hopefully, this passion will keep them as far from me as is humanely – and caninely – possible.
(Cross posted here.)
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