(hee-haw)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Win­nie Pelz Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

“Why do you love don­keys?” I am of­ten asked this ques­tion in a tone of voice that sug­gests my san­ity is be­ing weighed up.

I have had don­keys since I was 18 years old, when I fell in love with a jenny at the Ade­laide Zoo. She was des­tined for the lion’s cage — des­tined to be drawn and quar­tered — a fate I couldn’t coun­te­nance. I bought her and got two for the price of one. Six months later her son Christo ar­rived, wrapped in his birth-sac like a neat plas­tic-wrapped sculp­ture by his artis­tic name­sake.

The in­cest taboo didn’t seem to ap­ply in the don­key world and af­ter a few years my lit­tle herd had in­creased to six.

Don­keys’ rep­u­ta­tion for stub­born­ness can come only from gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple who have tried to beat them into sub­mis­sion and com­pli­ance. They are not stub­born; they are smart. Horses are com­pli­ant. Bred to be obe­di­ent to the point where they will charge into bat­tle or un­der­take dan­ger­ous jumps, risk­ing hor­ri­ble in­jury and death, to please their mas­ters.

Don­keys are much can­nier and smarter. They need to be con­vinced that what they are be­ing asked to do won’t hurt them and will be worth their while. This has re­sulted in me demon­strat­ing how to go through gates, over bridges, across roads and so on. Some­times it’s taken a few at­tempts and once, I had to get down on all fours to show them how to cross a skinny, slightly wob­bly bridge.

Once con­vinced that what they are do­ing is wor­thy of their ef­forts, they are the most loyal, pa­tient and hard­work­ing crea­tures, as Simp­son found when he had to rely on his sure-footed mate at Gal­lipoli.

Over the years I have had the plea­sure of own­ing 10 don­keys, all with highly in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties. I now share my small farm­let with Morag the high­land cow and her don­key friends Gor­don and Gre­gory. Gor­don has a fine voice — loud, res­o­nant and deeply dis­cor­dant as only a don­key’s bray can be. He is a crea­ture of the night and he loves the moon. His fre­quently noc­tur­nal singing fol­lows the lu­nar cy­cle. The wax­ing moon clearly ex­cites him and by the time the full moon rises, Gor­don’s vo­cal chords have been ex­er­cised and are in full vol­ume and vi­brato. It may not be Rusalka but the ex­pe­ri­ence is mem­o­rable.

But he doesn’t re­strict him­self just to the dark hours. A rooster down the road crows at 5.14am, fol­lowed by a fam­ily of kook­abur­ras, then Gor­don joins in and, fi­nally, to com­plete the rural sym­phony, the geese across the road add their cho­rus. By 5.30am no one within a kilome­tre ra­dius is asleep — no need for alarm clocks.

How can you not love a don­key?

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to In the musical teach­ing El­iza? Julius Chan was prime min­is­ter of which coun­try in the 1980s and 90s? What are the last two let­ters of the Greek al­pha­bet? Richard Adams was best known for writ­ing which 1972 novel? What is the cap­i­tal city of Es­to­nia?

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