- Bendigo's Peter Abbott (who was Warrnambool’s tourism services manager at the time of the movie) has described how the story of Oddball tugged at heartstrings across the world;
- Oddball actor Shane Jacobson says the animal kingdom has lost one of its gentle bodyguards; and
- Warrnambool mayor Kylie Gaston believes a statue of Oddball opposite Middle Island would be a fitting tribute to the late canine.
The dog that gained international fame by guarding penguins, has passed away.
Oddball the Maremma dog died last week at age 15 years, or 105 years in human terms.
Oddball’s pioneering role as a guardian of the fairy penguins on Warrnambool’s Middle Island was portrayed in the movie “Oddball” that has been screened internationally.
Oddball’s owner Allan “Swampy” Marsh said the dog, who was female and not male as portrayed in the move, died on his Dennington farm where she had lived for the past three years.
He said she had a heart condition for the past three to four years that slowed her down.
Oddball’s pioneering role in protecting the Middle Island penguins was a “cameo” role.
She only stayed on the island for three weeks before she got too lonely and swam back to shore to return home.
However her short stint was enough to prove to the doubters that Mr Marsh’s unorthodox idea that Maremma dogs would protect penguins was worth pursuing.
Older dogs and with a partner were later placed on the island to give them a more enjoyable time and discourage them from fleeing to the mainland in search of company.
Mr Marsh said Oddball was chosen for the ground-breaking role because she was an easy-going dog who mollified initial concerns the Maremmas might attack people.
But while she was easy-going with people, Mr Marsh said Oddball was a hard worker at night, scaring off foxes and other predators that had almost wiped out Middle Island’s penguin population.
He said after her crusading role, Oddball went to his poultry farm at Purnim where she guarded chickens for much of her life before returning to Dennington for her final years.
Oddball tugged at heartstrings across the world
Warrnambool’s former tourism services manager and now Bendigo Trust CEO Peter Abbott has described how the story of Oddball tugged at heartstrings across the world.
He said there were a number of Qantas passengers on international flights to Australia who changed their travel plans to visit Warrnambool and the home of the pioneering Maremma.
“When I was there we had people changing their travel patterns because they had seen the movie on their flight,” Mr Abbott said.
He joked Oddball took the glory for the work the other Maremmas had kept up.
“We always laughed that Oddball took all the glory and our current dogs have been doing it for nine years and Oddball was only on the island for two weeks,” Mr Abbott said.
He said the international interest in Oddball’s story was astonishing.
“We had 43 different media visits in the year leading up to the movie,” Mr Abbott said.
He admitted Oddball was at times “cantankerous”, refusing to come out from under the house during media visits.
Mr Abbott said the movie had boosted the city’s tourism numbers, with visitor nights in the city up by 23 per cent in the past calendar year.
He said he believed the movie would continue to bring visitors to the city, with it being released in the US in February this year.
“I have always said it is going to have a long shelf life,” Mr Abbott said.
The Warrnambool City Council fielded inquiries from around the world from other cities hoping to introduce a similar protection program, Mr Abbott said.
The best news?
“We haven’t had a fox on the island since Oddball first went onto it,” Mr Abbott said.
He said the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network was raising $20,000 to continue its penguin monitoring project.
He urged residents to support their fund-raiser by visiting the Middle Island – Maremma Penguin Project Facebook page.
Support for Oddball statue
Warrnambool mayor Kylie Gaston believes a statue of Oddball opposite Middle Island would be a fitting tribute to the late canine.
“I’m aware there are quite a few people who think it would be a good idea to have some sort of sculpture, perhaps across from the island and perhaps this is the impetus for that,” Councillor Gaston said.
She said it would be great for visitors to be able to take a photo with a statue of the iconic dog.
“We are indebted to Oddball,” Cr Gaston said.
“I think we need to acknowledge her for the work he did in turning our penguin population around.
“Our thoughts are with Swampy Marsh as well. Oddball was his loyal dog for many years.”
Shane Jacobson pays tribute to ‘wonderful dog’
Actor Shane Jacobson, who starred in the movie Oddball, has also expressed his sadness at hearing the news.
“The film Oddball was a great Australian story, but the applause truly belongs to that wonderful dog Oddball,” Mr Jacobson said.
“The animal kingdom has lost one of its gentle bodyguards. RIP Oddball.”
Mr Jacobson went on to purchase his own Maremma after filming Oddball.
Richard Keddie, the producer of Oddball, said the news was incredibly sad.
“She and Swampy are heroes. Oddball is such an inspiration for what’s possible.
“Oddball sort of changed the world a little bit.”
Mr Keddie said he supported the idea of a statue to be erected in Oddball’s honour.
He first heard of the story of Oddball when a mate read about the dog protecting penguins in Warrnambool on the back of a tram ticket.
“A friend of mine – Steve Kearney – had his kids on holiday about nine or 10 years ago. Tram tickets at the time had a little story on the back and on his was the story of Oddball,” Mr Keddie said.
He said the story was a case of when the truth is stranger than fiction.
“When I first went to the island it felt sort of too crazy to imagine,” Mr Keddie said.
“The fact that Swampy did that is kind of ridiculous.
“You couldn’t possibly make this story up and you couldn’t make Swampy up.”
Mr Keddie said he had not seen Oddball for a couple of years, but said he was a beautiful dog.
“He was a very calm, very happy dog,” he said.
Mr Keddie admitted it was a challenge working with all the animals involved in the film.
“I have worked with animals before but not foxes and chickens and penguins and dogs,” he laughed.