Australia’s Cattle Dogs: a short history

Today (2018) there are two distinct Australian cattle dog breeds recognised by kennel clubs: the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Both originate from a single breed, the Halls Heeler, developed by Thomas Simpson Hall (1808-1870) at Dartbrook station, in the Upper Hunter valley of New South Wales.

George Hall, and his sons William and Thomas, were pioneering cattlemen who established a string of cattle runs from the Hawkesbury valley, west of Sydney New South Wales, to the Darling Downs in southern Queensland. They grazed some 60000 head of cattle on over a million acres (405000 ha) of land. Thomas was also a notable breeder of horses and cattle.Hall runs

The needs of cattle management on large, unfenced runs, and long-distance droving urged Thomas to breed a stock dog suited to the job. The Hall’s Heeler was the result of a cross between a blue speckled, probably bob-tailed, working cattle dog from County Northumberland, England – the Cur or Drover’s Dog – and the Australian Dingo. Hall’s Heeler litters would have included both long- and short-tailed pups.

After Thomas Hall died in 1870 Hall’s Heelers became generally available to other cattlemen in New South Wales and Queensland. John “Jack” Timmins (1816-1911), a drover from Warialda, in northern New South Wales, was among those who bred on from Hall’s Heelers. Timmins’ dogs, the Timmins’ Biters, were particularly sought after. In time, the Hall’s Heelers became known as Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers, or simply, as Cattle Dogs.

In the late 1870s the show ring began to attract Cattle Dog fanciers. Robert Kaleski (1877-1961), a member of the Sydney coterie, produced a breed standard in 1903 and initiated a breed standard war that persisted for decades. Kaleski was the author of enduring myths about Cattle Dog origins and may also have advanced discrimination against short-tailed animals. Whereas both long- and short-tailed Cattle Dogs were exhibited in Queensland, there is no record of short-tailed exhibits at Sydney shows. The short-tailed Cattle Dog almost became an extinct breed until the Stumpy Tail Redevelopment Scheme was put in place in 1988.

1802 George Hall arrives in Australia.
1803 George granted land on the Hawkesbury River.
1808 Birth of Thomas Simpson Hall.
1825 Thomas settles at Dartbrook.
c.1826 Thomas decides to develop a stock dog from a Dingo cross.
1830s Thomas imports drovers dogs from the north of England and develops the Hall’s Heeler.
1870 Death of Thomas Hall.
1870- Hall’s Heelers generally available to stockmen including John Timmins (1816-1911).
c.1875- Cattle Dogs exhibited in Sydney and Brisbane shows.
1903 Kaleski’s breed standard.

Setting aside Kaleski’s Dalmatian and other myths, it is fanciful to assume breed purity – in Thomas Hall’s time or at any other time up to the recent past when DNA parentage testing became available. Dogs will be dogs. Even as late as the 1950s some breeders have reintroduced Dingo, or Dingo hybrid, and recent introduction of Staffordshire Bull Terrier is not disputed. As to the Dalmatian, the gene contributing to its spots is absent from the genetic make up of Cattle Dogs.

The changing characteristics of cattle, cessation of long-distance droving, the expectations of pet owners and of breeding to show standard have inevitably had impact on the temperament of both Cattle Dog breeds.

– A.B. (Bert) Howard and Noreen R. Clark 2018.

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