history of the Australian Cattle Dog is as long and varied as the history
of Australia itself and controversy that surrounds this history will be
subject to debate for years to come as there were few written records.
Many years prior to European settlement on this vast island continent
lived a wolf like dog that was known to the aboriginal population as “Warrigal”
were primarily red in colour with a few that were white or black and tan.
They also carried a white tail tip and usually had white feet. These dogs
were taken from their mothers even before they were able to see and were
hand reared by the aborigines to produce a relatively tame dog that was
taught to hunt and track.
In the early
1800’s, the first settlers, having limited availability of labour
to control the large herds of cattle that grazed on unfenced properties
and rugged bushland, set about to create a breed of dog to assist in mustering
and moving wild cattle. The principal requirement of this breed of dog
was that it be strong, possess great stamina, and be able to bite. Initially,
the cattlemen used a bob-tailed dog known as “Smithfields”.
They were big rough coated, square bodied dogs, with flat, wedge shaped
heads, saddle flap ears and bob tails. Black in colour, with white markings
around the neck extending down the front. They were faithful, hardy and
sensible, but had an awkward cumbersome gait, were slow on their feet,
unable to cope with the heat, severe biters and barked too much. As the
colony opened up and the herds increased, the need for a more active dog,
with less voice, became pressing.
1830 a drover named Timmins from the Hawkesbury River approximately 60
miles north of Sydney, drove cattle down from Bathurst over the Blue Mountains
to the Homebush Saleyards in Sydney. Timmins conceived the idea of crossing
his dogs with the red native dog to produce the animal required and thus
originated the red bob tail or “Timmins Biters” as they were
commonly called. (This dog is the fore bearer of today’s ANKC registered
Stumpy Tailed Cattle Dog which is a completely separate breed of dog to
the Australian Cattle Dog) Dogs of this cross were a great improvement
on the Smithfield. They were very active and almost silent. Unfortunately
they possessed one very bad fault. If they got out of the drover’s
sight they would chew the calf or beast nearly to pieces, the Dingo instinct
coming to the fore when out of control. After a time, most of them died
out and the rough haired collie was tried next.
They were except in a small number of cases also a failure, as they tried
to work the cattle as if they were sheep, rushing to the head and barking.
This action made the cattle wild, and was particularly bad for fat cattle
as they would break and rush in all directions with such a dog and therefore
lose all their condition. A cross of the Rough Collie and Russian Poodle
was tried next. Even today a few survivors may still be seen in old country
towns. A blue, rusty, brown or black dog with a coat like that of an Otterhound.
They were very severe dogs, biting anywhere from head to tail, and the
long coat made it particularly unsuitable for our harsh summer conditions.
They soon died out. Crosses of the Bull Terrier and Collie were tried
but they proved to be too slow, too heavy and too severe on the stock.
In places where the cattle were very fierce, crosses of Bull Terrier and
Kangaroo Dog (cross between a Greyhound and Wolfhound) were also tried.
They were very good for catching and throwing outlaws, but useless for
quiet cattle, so they died out too.
a landowner by the name of Thomas Hall, living on “Dartmoor”
at Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, approximately
150 miles north west of Sydney imported two smooth-haired blue merle Highland
Collies (called at that time by the ignorant people Welsh Heelers) from
Scotland. Although these were considerably better than the common collie,
they proved to be less
for work with fractious cattle in the new, hostile and unaccustomed environment
as they displayed some of the heading traits that were undesirable. Therefore,
Hall experimented with native Dingo blood infusions; with the resulting
litters becoming known as “Hall’s Heelers”. As the Dingo
trait is to creep silently from behind and bite, the pups followed this
style of heeling, nipping at the fetlocks of the stragglers until they
rejoined the herd. Immediately the cattle dog nipped it would flatten
itself against the ground to avoid any kick a stubborn bovine might suddenly
was welcomed by grazier and drover alike for their ability to handle wild
cattle, their stamina to travel great distances over all types of terrain,
and their endurance in extremes of temperature. The physical appearance
of the progeny closely resembled small, thickset Dingos, with their heads
tending to be rather broad of skull, bluntly wedge shaped, with brown
glinty eyes and pricked ears with colour being either red or blue merle.
Hall continued his experimental breeding until his death in 1870. Word
of Hall’s new and superior Cattle Dog variety soon became widespread.
Demand for the young stock spread rapidly throughout New South Wales,
eventually reaching Northern Queensland. Around this time another landowner,
George Elliot of Queensland was experimenting with the crossing of the
Dingo and Collie, producing some excellent workers. He entered into his
diary on the 12th of February 1873 that his two month old quarter Dingo
worked so silently on cattle, he called her “Munya”, which
is aboriginal for silent.
In the early
1870’s these cattle dogs found their way to the Sydney markets and
it was here that some breeders decided to refine Hall’s Heelers.
A butcher named Fred Davis was the first to proudly displayed the ability
of a pair of Hall’s Heelers at the cattle saleyards in Sydney. Two
brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust of Canterbury in Sydney, were among several
cattlemen to purchase pups from Davis. Kaleski writes, “Then a blue
dog came on the field, called Bentley’s dog, who was crossed through
these dogs, and from whom all the latter day blue dogs of any note claim
their descent. He was owned by a butcher working on Glebe Island, called
Tom Bentley and was a marvel for work and appearance. Although his pedigree
was never set out, we know beyond doubt that he was one of the pure Hall
strain. From this on selected bitches, Messers Jack and Harry Bagust,
C Pettie, J Brennan, A Davis (Fred Davis’s son who was my partner
in the blue dogs for years) many other breeders and myself made a start
breeding the blue dogs. About 15 years ago we had them practically perfect”.
was introduced to improve the breed’s rapport with horses, which
was a fundamental requirement to satisfactory station and property work.
from olden times Dalmatian
Dalmatians, the pups are born white, developing their colour gradually
from approximately three weeks of age. As much as the Dalmatian influence
improved the dog’s relationship to both horse and man, unfortunately,
some of the working ability was lost with this cross, so, the Bagust brothers,
after admiring the working ability of the Black and Tan Kelpie, opted
to introduce this cross with their speckled dogs, thus obtaining a line
of compact, highly intelligent, active, controllable workers, similar
in type and construction to the Dingo, but chunkier of build with unique
colouring and peculiar markings known to no other dog. The blue variety
had black eye patches, black ears and brown eyes and all featured a small
star in the centre of the forehead region known as the “Bentley
Star” due to the influence of Tom Bentley’s dog, with the
body colour being dark blue, often with a black saddle and tan markings
on legs, chest and head.
Mr. Robert Kaleski, an avid canine enthusiast and highly respected journalist
of the day took particular interest in this breed, and started showing
the breed in 1897. His involvement proved of great assistance in fixing
type and colour for he soon realised that there was no check on the judge
giving the award in any way he fancied. In Kaleski’s own words:
“My partner and I showed a practically perfect Blue Cattle Dog by
the name of Spot at one big show who was passed over for a lop-eared mongrel
worth about five shillings. Alex showed Spot at the RAS afterwards and
was credited champion with him in a big class. I realised then that it
was no use breeding good dogs true to type if this sort of thing went
on, so I set to work to draw up a standard by which dogs could be judged
and by which the judge was compelled to abide”. Kaleski developing
and stabilising the standard and it was endorsed initially by the Cattle
and Sheepdog Club of Australia, then the Kennel Club of New South Wales
in 1903. He also drew up the standard for the Kelpie and Barb.
standard has been expanded over the years, but the essence of it is still
very much a part of the official standard approved and adopted by the
Australian National Kennel Council in 1963. Coincidental with the writing
of Kaleski’s standard, the breed’s name became official as
the Australian Cattle Dog, commonly known as the Blue Heeler, the Australian
Heeler, or the Queensland Blue. From these unique beginnings the Australian
Cattle Dog has developed into one of the most popular breeds of dog in