The Development of the Halls Heeler
The Dingo arrived in Australia several thousand years ago with early human immigrants and were an accepted part of the aboriginal communities in which they lived. With the passing of time dingoes became less trustful of humans – attributable to the breakdown of aboriginal society and exacerbated by the attempts of sheep graziers to exterminate them. In the 1820s and 1830s, however, the Dingoes in the Hunter Valley had yet to learn fear of the white settlers and probably visited Dartbrook to scavenge for anything edible. Thomas may even have made pets of them, particularly of their pups. His familiarity with Dingoes invited the idea of crossing them on to the working dogs from Northumberland.
Consensus is rare in the Halls Heeler story, but there is consensus on one matter: Thomas Simpson Hall developed the breed on Dartbrook. One Hall descendent, remembering family recollections, told me: “He bred a lot of dogs, and he shot a lot of them”, but eventually he got what he wanted: a dog that could handle the difficulties of overland droving; a dog that could muster stock and cut out a particular beast if needed; a dog that would guard the homestead and give warning if strangers approached. Relationships with the local indigenous peoples were not always amicable.
There is also agreement on the obvious: the Hunter stations, in particular Dartbrook, were the hub for Hall cattle movement – particularly after the northward expansion of the 1840s.
In 1847, the childless William Hall learned of the death of a Macdonald Valley (Hawkesbury River catchment) farmer, one Silvester Butler. During a visit to his own land on the Macdonald, William became acquainted with Silvester’s widow, who was struggling to raise a large family. He was particularly impressed by the five-year-old James Butler and took him to live at Percy Place. In adulthood, James became known as William’s “General”. James was devoted to William and to Hall interests and, in effect, became Williams’s manager. In his later years, James shared his memories with his grandson, Neville, who not only listened but wrote them down.
James Butler described how the stations were sited in such a way that stock could easily be moved from one to the another, and they were grouped to give easy access to the three main markets of the 1860s, Sydney, Port Macquarie and Brisbane.
The Halls, when founding a new station, always sought a location that would fit in with their expansion program. The boundaries were then agreed upon, often following a watershed, river or creek. The site for the hut and stockyards was chosen next, on level ground near permanent water.
When the hut and yards were erected, they were enclosed by a horse paddock of some thirty or forty acres, which was fenced by a dog-leg or two-rail fence. This paddock was cleared of all cover so that anyone approaching the hut was clearly visible. The rest of the station remained unfenced. Once the station was established it did not need many men to run it. There was an overseer, either a member of the Hall family or a trusted stockman. The overseer organised the station, and kept in touch with neighbouring stations. He passed messages, usually by letter, back to Dartbrook or to the headquarters at Percy Place.
There was also a hut keeper who looked after the sleeping hut, doled out the rations, did the cooking and looked after the spare horses. Depending on the number of stock on the station, there would also be three or four stockmen to complete the permanent work force. At branding or drafting time, stockmen from other Hall properties came to assist. Some of the Hall brothers, or their nephews, were often in these mustering gangs. James was convinced that, had it not been for the excellent dogs that the Halls bred, they would never have been able to take up so many stations or cope with the amount of stock work involved. The Hall’s Heelers not only lightened the stockmen’s load, but were highly regarded for their faithfulness in warning them of danger during the day, and protecting them while they slept at night.
In the context of James Butler’s reminiscences, it is probable that the hut keeper’s duties also included feeding and caring for the station dogs, particularly bitches in whelp and pups. Because of the distances from Dartbrook to the Liverpool Plains and southern Queensland, Halls Heeler breeding must have been decentralised.
It is common, in present day western New South Wales, to keep dogs of one sex, only, on individual stations. The practice avoids fights, and distractions to dogs on the job. When a bitch is to be mated the necessary arrangements are made by the owners of the stations concerned. The same arrangements very likely were made between the various Hall stations.
The Halls Heeler moved north into Queensland, to accompany and support the Halls’ expansion into what was still part of the New South Wales colony. Queensland became a separate colony in 1859.
© Noreen Clark 2019.
Scott, J.C. James Butler becomes Hall’s General, in Warner, R.M. Over-Halling the Colony, pp. 94-96. Australian Documents Library, Sydney. 1990.