When author Jesse Blackadder was awarded an arts fellowship to travel to Antarctica to research her novel Chasing the Light, about Ingrid Christensen, the first woman to reach Antarctica, little did she know she was about to meet a character who would demand to have her own book.
In Blackadder’s blog she writes about the odd moment of sitting on a snow-covered hill, a 70-year-old Australian red ensign flag in her hand and a life-size fibreglass guide dog called Stay sitting by her feet.
Back at home, Blackadder found herself thinking about Stay, whose real story is as strange, if not stranger, than fiction. The fibreglass guide dog was ”dognapped” from the streets of Hobart in 1992. Stay’s arrival in Antarctica coincided with the departure of the last of the huskies from the environmentally protected continent, and she was quickly adopted as a replacement canine mascot.
Since then, Stay has been on so many adventures that, according to Blackadder, ”she’s lost count”. She’s travelled around Antarctica on helicopters, aeroplanes, skiddoos, Haggs, quad bikes, tractors and utes. She’s been a wintering expeditioner at every Australian base, and at Macquarie Island, and has visited the Antarctic bases and ships of many other countries. And Blackadder confesses she was involved in a Stay dognapping episode.
These adventures, and the endowment of a real canine personality on Stay, are Blackadder’s starting point for this charming children’s book, which is also – albeit in a quiet way – an educational story for Australian kids about the remote beauty of Antarctica, 3400 kilometres from our shores. This is the first in a trilogy of animal-based books by Blackadder for children aged eight to 12.
Blackadder had not written for children before, but you would not know it. She has created a perfect tone for the book – the language is simple, clear and visual. The plot twists and turns, and we never know exactly what is going to happen to Stay next.
It’s not an easy task to endow a fibreglass dog with feelings and yet stay true to its physically lifeless form, but Blackadder manages it, and for any child who owns a dog, many of Stay’s thought processes will feel familiar.
It’s true that when the huskies first met Stay, they didn’t take to her, territorially peeing on her in protest at her arrival. Did they know they were about to leave their home, and that this strange new arrival would claim people’s affections as they once did? Who knows? It would appear stranger things have happened.
Stay: The Last Dog in Antarctica
ABC Books, $14.99