Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy
by Lynley Dodd



I felt a natural affinity for Hairy Maclary when I was little. He was from Donaldson’s Dairy, I was from Coverdale’s Dairy. He was small and a bit scruffy. So was I. All he shared in common with his mates was location and species, but that was all they needed. Much like me and my primary school friends.

But I recently discovered something alarming about Hairy Maclary, something that I never would have suspected when I was a kid. We were from completely different kinds of dairy. Mine was a farm where cows were milked. His was a little shop that sells ice-creams and newspapers and bread and cans of baked beans that look like they’ve been there since the 1960s.

Did you know that? If you’re a Kiwi, you’re probably thinking: “Of course we did, you idiot”.

Because in New Zealand that’s what a dairy is – the kind of corner store Australians would call a milk bar. I learnt that a few years ago. And Hairy Maclary is a New Zealander. I learnt that in recent years too. Until now, though, I never put those two pieces of information together. I thought Hairy was a farm dog, like the one in Footrot Flats. Turns out he’s as much a farm dog as Brian Griffin.

Hairy’s creator, Lynley Dodd, confirmed it in 2014 in an interview with Fairfax. Or, to use her full title, Dame Lynley Dodd. So well-loved is the Hairy Maclary series that Lynley received a damehood in 2001.

There are currently only 52 dames in the New Zealand honours system, among them a former prime minister (Jenny Shipley), a former governor-general (Silvia Cartwright) and an Oscar-nominee (Jane Campion). For a children’s author and illustrator to be in such elite company is a serious honour.

But then, Hairy Maclary is a classic, so much so that it was the first bedtime story I ever read to baby Heidi. Not much happens plot-wise. Hairy and his friends go for a wander around town and run into Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town. Then they all scamper home with their tails between their legs, literally.

So why is Hairy Maclary so enjoyable? In part it’s the pictures, the variety of the dogs, each adorable in their own way. But mostly it’s the rhymes and their easy rhythm, the fun of reading through the names of Hairy’s gang. Hercules Morse, as big as a horse. Muffin McLay, like a bundle of hay. Bottomley Potts, all covered in spots. Theophilus Tutts, who loves sniffing butts. Okay, I made that one up.

My favourite was always Schnitzel von Krumm, with a very low tum. And all these years later, the one I forgot about was Bitzer Maloney, all skinny and bony. Poor old Bitzer, I imagine he was always getting forgotten about. If you told me one of the gang would end up at the pound, I’d have Bitzer the skinny whippet a $1.25 favourite.

But the scruffy little star of this classic story, and the series that followed, is Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy Milk Bar.

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