Man of the Land
Rick Fenny has built his life upon taking care of all creatures great and small, And his beloved red dogs have seen it all.
TrueBlue - October/November 2018
Words by: Michelle Hespe
Rick Fenny wears many hats: he’s a vet, a property developer, a reality TV star in the new series Desert Vet, a businessman and an entrepreneur. His name keeps popping up in the media for a couple of reasons, which are poles apart in terms of subject matter. One, he was Red Dog’s vet. Two, Lady Gaga stayed at Maitraya Private Retreat, his stunning flagship property in Western Australia’s Albany. She was so inspired by the natural beauty and peacefulness of the place that she composed two songs on his piano.
Gaga aside, it’s animals that Rick has dedicated his life to. He graduated from Queensland University as a vet in 1972, and being the go-getter that he is, shot straight to work in two outback WA regions that will always hold a place in his heart: the Kimberley and the Pilbara.
“It was opportunity and a sense of freedom that took me out there,” he says, smiling as he takes a moment to reminisce. “Freedom for self-expression and the freedom to work my own hours. Outback Western Australia was and still is a a wild country full of adventure. And despite it being an ancient place, it also holds a sense of the new – it’s just so unspoilt.”
Rick regularly packs a bag of his veterinary equipment and hits the road to help all creatures great and small. He sets up a pop-up vet clinic in some of the most remote places on the planet, and word travels like wildfire when he’s in town, because for many people their animal is the main love of their life, and often a major part of their business.
And so the locals arrive in their droves with their furry (and sometimes feathered) friends, gratefully placing them in Rick’s experienced hands.
Whether you’re watching Rick on TV or meeting him in person, you can sense something in his nature that makes people trust him. He’s a salt-of-the-Earth kinda bloke that country folk gravitate towards, and helping an animal to get well can be the best thing that has happened to someone in months, if not years.
“My job is so rewarding,” Rick says. “People are incredibly appreciative that I travel to these out-of the-way places to help their animals, and in turn, them. I provide a service in remote areas that has never been available before.”
Rick also owns a chain of conventional vet practises with 12 surgeons, called Pets + Vets, and although still very hands-on in business, now his role is to be a “leader, inspirer and innovator.” Teamed up with his on-the-road business in the places he loves, and he has the best of both worlds.
Geographically Rick also has the best of both worlds, as he spends half his days exploring and working in the outback and then heads to WA’s stunning coast, where he has businesses and homes in Shark Bay and Albany. Some of his children are also based in the area, with his son Ed working as a marine biologist and managing director at Ocean Park Shark Bay, and one of his daughters, Louisa, working as a vet.
If Rick truly wants to escape to paradise, there’s his beloved Maitraya, just outside Albany, which is elegantly sprawled above a headland jutting into the Great Southern Ocean. “Maitraya means place of love and kindness, and this place is like nothing else in Australia,” Rick says. “You can sense something really special here. Something you can’t touch.”
He’s right: the spectacular eight-suite, 11-bathroomed homestead complete with a 20-seat movie theatre, heli-pad and private airstrip is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but it’s the 650 acres of land that it sits upon that is magical.
Rick has a deep-rooted passion for Albany and surrounds. It was here that he had an idyllic childhood, learning to fish with his grandfather, swimming in the wild ocean and roaming the land “Huckleberry Finn” style.
Rick has had four red dogs at four different periods in his life, and the first, Pip, enjoyed his adventures by the sea in Albany. “Pip was with me while I was doing everything boys were able to do living in the country in the 1950s and ‘60s,” says Rick. “We really had so much fun.”
The second major period of Rick’s life was spent with Kelly the Kelpie. “She came along at a time of abrupt change,” Rick explains. “I was a fish out of water studying in Brisbane — a kid more comfortable in the outback than at uni, learning and becoming a man.”
The third period for Rick was post- university in 1972, when he moved to the Kimberley. “It’s not an easy life, living in that part of the world,” he says. “It’s harsh, and anything can happen. Sadly, my third red dog was kicked by a bulluck and died up there.”
Marny was Rick’s fourth red dog. “With her, I became a man and learnt to be a great vet. As anyone does, I made a few mistakes along the way, but I bought property in emerging towns and set up my vet practice.” Around then Rick met his ex-wife, who he spent two decades with. She had two children already, and they went on to have five. “People often ask me what I’ve done with my life, and I say — I raised seven children!” he says with a big laugh.
In 1975 Rick met the dog of Red Dog film fame. “Red Dog” was one of those adored animals that Rick travelled far to treat, and he has many fond memories of the famous canine and his well-documented journeys across the outback. But as you’d know if you’ve watched the tear-jerking Aussie film — in 1979 Red Dog passed away.
“I’m writing a book about the red dogs in my life,” Rick says. “Because they’ve been with me through thick and thin. They’ve seen it all.”
Watch this space, as there’s a little rumour that there might be another red dog joining Rick on the next part of his remarkable life journey.
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