Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Interspecies Mateship: Tom Collins and Pup

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Interspecies Mateship: Tom Collins and Pup

Article excerpt

The renowned loquaciousness of Tom Collins-his prolix verbosity and his penchant for innumerable obtuse digressions-coupled with his notorious myopic unreliability as a narrator-are some of the reasons why Joseph Furphy's Such is Life (1903) has a reputation as a classic Australian novel that is difficult to read and teach. Put more harshly, Furphy's masterpiece is often dismissed as an impenetrable long-winded series of bush yarns with no apparent plot or structure: a shaggy dog story par excellence. However as numerous literary scholars have highlighted, including Furphy himself, there are ways in which Such is Life-and in particular Tom's often oblique digressions-do contain various thematic structures and a carefully crafted plot held together by the use of hidden stories.

A little discussed structural element of Furphy's magnum opus and the two excised chapters that later became the novels Rigby's Romance and The Buln-buln and the Brolga is the importance of dogs to these narratives, especially the centrality of Tom's infamous mayhem-inducing kangaroo dog Pup (aka 'The Eton Boy'). Pup is a major character who, I argue, links these three novels together in his own meandering way and whose misadventures provide not only comic relief, ironies and puns, but also a canine-centric structure to Furphy's collection of shaggy dog stories. Moreover, I contend that the intimate relationship between Tom and Pup points to something deeper and emotional; a companionship between bushman and dog which offers a model for a potentially radical form of interspecies mateship.

Pup may not occupy the same amount of narrative space as Tom's 'two-footed mates',1 such as the American socialist Jefferson Rigby, the boundary rider Barefooted Bob or Tom's childhood friend the bullocky Steve Thompson, but Tom's kangaroo dog is the only character to appear-besides Tom and Steve-in all three novels.2 Pup's continuous presence as Tom's companion provides an important link between texts, especially in his role as a comic plot device. This is perhaps most evident, and utilised to maximum comic effect, in the river crossing episode in Chapter III of Such is Life. In the early evening, just after Tom's meerschaum pipe has delivered a sermon on the virtues of Christian socialism, he attempts to cross the murky fast-moving Murray in a bark canoe but is effectively thwarted by Pup's erratic behaviour. The kangaroo dog firstly capsizes and sinks the canoe, then just as Tom has managed to place his damp clothes and still-dry pocket valuables on his head, Pup unwittingly nearly drowns Tom by 'catapult[ing] himself through twenty feet of space' (99) submerging man, dog and possessions. Pup's behaviour here triggers a confusing and comic chain of events as Tom grapples 'in puris naturalibus' (82) for most of the remaining chapter. As Susan K. Martin argues 'the chapter records the progressive loss of all boundaries' (69). Tom's nude wanderings lead to a loss of not only his trousers and masculinity, but also his sense of time (his watch), geography (he mistakes Victoria for New South Wales), his identity (Tom is misread as a lunatic) and eventually, as Ivor Indyk explains, 'he in effect loses all significance as a human being' (310) when the naked bushman is described as 'Morgan's big white pig' (126) and 'a white thing' (107). Even the absence of Pup forms an important structural role in this chapter as his 'confirmed habit of getting lost' (261) allows Tom to meet the Quarterman family and more importantly the opportunity to indulge in a flirtatious encounter with Jim/Jemima Quarterman.

A possible prototype for the mayhem-inducing antics of Furphy's Pup, as R. S. White has argued, is Shakespeare's Crab: the dog of the clown Launce from the play The Two Gentlemen of Verona (White 9-10). Crab is the subject of Launce's two famous comic monologues. In the first he bemoans his dog's lack of sympathy with his misfortune of having to leave his family to travel with his master (II, iii, 1-31). …

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