ABOUT “A DOG CALLED BLUE”

During the 1980s I allowed my irritation with the versions of Australian Cattle Dog history in current circulation to get the better of me. A case of shut up about it or sort it put. I took the second route.

The first step was to build a database of the ADCs that preceded the dogs in the ANKC database. Along the way, and with generous help from friends in Queensland and Victoria, I collected show catalogues from the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne “Royals” and other major shows, stud books from Queensland, and litter registrations for all three states. During my Queensland visits I raided the photo collections of Betty Southall and Iris Heale; both women interesting and informative company and both with fascinating (and sometimes slanderous) stories of the dog world of their younger days. Nobbling the opposition’s dogs may not have been routine but was certainly not unknown.

Cattle Dog entry in the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition catalogue of exhibits 1875. From A Dog Called Blue fig. 29.

Data search was not straight forward. The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland, for example, considered its past show catalogues to be somewhere between Holy Writ and Top Secret, and not to be photocopied under any circumstances. Best not to ask how my sleuth avoided the RNAIA keepers. The Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales was more accommodating and I spent a several days copying its records. Helpers in Victoria copied early ACD litter registrations for that state and I copied litter registrations for New South Wales and Queensland myself. I also acquired, by more or less honorable means, the ANKC database.

The second step was to collect every publication about ACDs that survived. I studied these in publication order and it became obvious that the commonly held ideas on ACD history were taken from Kaleski’s later publications (later than c.1920) and were journeys into fiction. Chapters 4 to 7 of A Dog Called Blue came of this work.

Disaster struck in 1994. The home of Norah McManus, a photographer, where I had lived for most of my life, burned down. All of Norah’s personal property and fifty years of historical photographic records went up in flames. I was lucky. My belongings were in a sleep-out, separate from the main house. Norah’s badly shocked cat survived (she hid in a shed), and my panic stricken dogs were safely in their runs, some seventy-five metres from the fire.

Here I pay tribute to my colleagues, geologists from the N.S.W. Department of Mineral Resources, who volunteered for salvage operations, to the local church ladies who helped them, and to our wonderful neighbours.

One of the first on the disaster scene was Estelle Gould. A long-time family friend, Estelle had been very familiar with the house and its contents before the fire. She was also very knowledgeable about antiques and now took it upon herself to collect broken porcelain, pottery and glassware for dealer valuation. Every week or so, Estelle made off with another box of shards.

On one of her visits, the dealer concerned invited Estelle to a luncheon party. Somehow, the conversation turned to dogs and Estelle was proud to say that she had two ACDs. Estelle’s neighbour at lunch, one Robbie (Robyn) Hall) did better. Her ancestor, she explained, invented them! Estelle introduced me to Robbie, who sent me to her cousin, Beryl, and to Beryl’s husband, Bert Howard. Many visits to Bert and Beryl followed over the next few years, and Bert gave me access to his family history and Halls Heeler data. He was still in his sixties then, fit and well, and tracking down Hall family memories and records in search of anything that related to Halls Heelers. He was not, however, interested in the Halls Heelers’ route to the show ring and the activities of Robert Kaleski. That was left to me.

From Bert’s records and many discussions with him, and from my own data, A Dog Called Blue came into being in 2003.

– Noreen Clark 2019

Image source: A Dog Called Blue fig. 29.

The primary reference to the Hall Family is Over-Halling the Colony, edited by Russell Mackenzie Warner. This includes Bert Howard’s chapter on Halls Heelers (which he later revised in his own records) and his chapter on the Coromandel.

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