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Casterton Working Kelpie Muster

By Edited Apr 23, 2014 0 0

Herding Dogs - Kelpies

Australian Working Kelpies are great stock dogs and excite devoted loyalty among their owners. This endemic Australian breed can easily replace one, two or more men when it comes to working sheep and cattle on the properties and stations of Australia. What with the love and admiration that kelpie owners have for their dogs and the Australian love of a competition and a day of fun, it was to be expected that something like the Great Australian Kelpie Muster would eventually be thought of and brought to fruition.

One of the original ancestors of the present-day kelpie was born on Warrock Station near Casterton western Victoria. This was a black and tan bitch with floppy ears. It was around 1872 when Jack Gleeson bought the pup. Since then, kelpies have gone from strength to strength making a name for themselves as great working dogs. They are intelligent, tough and tireless. Kelpies can be found in New Zealand, Sweden, USA, New Caledonia, Korea, Canada, Italy and Argentina. In Sweden they have excelled in tracking and rescue work.


The kelpie's popularity has received a boost with the production of the film 'Red Dog'. This tells the story of a stray kelpie which hitch-hiked his way around the outback of Western Australia. So loved was he by the local communities of miners, truckers and townsfolk that he had his own bank account and was a fully paid up member of several unions.

Another notable kelpie was Gunner who was born around 1941. Gunner was another stray who would sound the alarm well before Japanese aircraft arrived on their bombing missions on Darwin in the Northern Territory during World War II. He was found with a broken front leg under a destroyed mess hut in 1942. The doctor would only fix those with a name and serial number so the dog became Gunner with the number '0000'.

Once his new owner realised Gunner could hear or sense an imminent attack, the dog was relied on to alert the airforce personnel. Gunner would give the alarm up to 20 minutes before the enemy aircraft arrives. He could differentiate between allied and enemy aircraft.

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But back to the Kelpie Muster...

In 1996 and with the new century looming on the horizon, Casterton Apex Club was looking for ideas to promote the town's 150th anniversary. The Casterton 2000 project decided to use the kelpie as their promotional theme. The first working dog auction was held at the local saleyards in 1997. Pups outnumbered started or trained dogs two to one with the result that 43% of dogs were passed in. Total turnover was $6,120. Over the next two years, turnover increased five fold as better systems were implemented for the auction.

In 2001, the first Casterton Kelpie Festival was introduced. This was a huge hit with families, gaining national media attention.

The 15th Australian Kelpie Muster was held on 11 and 12 June, 2011, the Queen's Birthday long weekend. The event drew 5,000 people including kelpie fanciers from all over the country. On Saturday, aptly named a 'festival', the day started at 8.00am with a Poet's Breakfast. While everyone enjoys a hearty 'the lot' type breakfast, bush poets share their own and others' work keeping the crowd entertained.

A Parade of Floats then moves down the main street followed by a range of events suitable for all kelpies and their owners.

The Kelpie High Jump is a star attraction. The hour long drama has the crowd holding their collective breath as each dog makes his assault on a barrier of wooden boards. Dogs regularly jump on to the tail of a flatbed truck and this event simulates this. Owners can stand behind this artificial barrier and call their dogs to them. The starting height is 1.5 metres but the record stands at an staggering 2.91 metres which was set in 2007 by a kelpie rescued from the pound by Clare O'Callaghan. Riley cleared 2.89 metres in his first high jump event in 2006. He then set the record which still stands at 2.91 in 2007 and finished with a hat-trick in 2008 by clearing 2.625 metres and sharing equal first.

Riley goes into the newly established Kelpie Hall of Fame along with Roy who has won the dog division of the Stockman's Challenge in 2005, 2007 and 2008. The Stockman's Challenge involves a timed race manoeuvring 15 sheep through a set course, over a ramp and into sheep yards. The Challenge has prizes for best team (horse, rider and dog), highest scoring horse work and highest scoring dog work.

Novelty events include Kelpie Pinball (manoeuvring Indian Runner Ducks through an obstacle course), Fattest Dog, Kelpie Idol, Best Six Legs, Dog Most Like Its Owner, Egg and Spoon Kelpie Race and the 11-Legged Race.

The Kelpie Dash involves kelpies racing 50 metres to get to their owner first. The Dash, together with the Kelpie High Jump and Kelpie Hill Climb, form the Kelpie Triathlon.

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Sunday is the day of the auction. The first auction of working dogs was held in 1997. Three groups are offered – trained dogs, started dogs and pups. One of the advantages of this type of auction is that the dogs are able to showcase their talents on neutral ground leading to buyers bidding with confidence for their favourites. This 'try before you buy' method has become increasingly popular over the years.

In 2011, new records were set at the Australian Pedigree Working Dog Auction. Because of the high demand for good working dogs, numbers of dogs on offer were the lowest since 1997 but the average price and turnover were the highest in the history of the event. Fifty-one dogs were offered and 47 sold at an average price of $3174. Top price was paid for Wybimbie Ted who sold for $9,000. He is a 17 month old male and will be moving from Victoria to New South Wales.

On the Monday, a Working Dog School was held with Matt Webb helping with advice on training sheepdogs.

Casterton now has an annual well-run and popular event. It has cemented its identity as the birthplace of the kelpie with the commissioning of a bronze sculpture. The Kelpie Muster is on my 'bucket list' and one of these days I'll get there.



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