Kombinalong Australian Cattle Dogs

History of the breed

The Origins of the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy-tail Cattle Dog © Guy Hull 2018

George Hall was a Northumbrian free-settler. He arrived in New South Wales with his wife Mary, and four small children, on the Coromandel in 1802 intent on starting a beef cattle empire. George and Mary Hall’s family later expanded to six sons and three daughters.

Thomas Simpson Hall was born in the Hawkesbury in 1808. He was as driven and ambitious as his father. When he was still in his late teens he ventured north with his older brothers into the upper Hunter Valley to take up the land they had previously scouted for their father. There they established two cattle properties, Dartbrook first, then the much larger Gundebri, close to present day Aberdeen and Merriwa respectively. Thomas may have been young, but he obviously had the respect of his father and older brothers. He set up his home on Dartbrook and eventually oversaw the entire Hall family cattle empire from there. With his father’s financial wherewithal Thomas Hall oversaw an incredible development of the family holdings that would eventually total over one million acres.

Thomas Hall was dissatisfied with the standard of the cattle in New South Wales, he set about doing something about it. He managed the breeding programs for all the family properties from Dartbrook. Developing a polled (hornless) variety, of cattle was his consuming passion. Thomas Hall and his brothers knew only too well the failings of the Smithfield as a long-distance drover’s dog. So he decided to do something about that too. And he saw in the dingo the right basis for a New South Wales drover’s dog. His dingoes would have lived like his other dogs until they neared sexual maturity. Then, to prevent them returning to the bush, he would have had them securely kennelled with domestic dogs of the same sex.

Finding the right working dog was the next challenge. But Hall had connections and knew where to go. It was his Durham cattle beef farming family in Northumbria that delivered him the right working dog. Sometime in the 1820s Thomas imported Durham cattle from family in Northumbria. He also asked for and received some of the blue Curs the family had long been breeding.

Robbie Hall, the Hall family historian in Northumbria has confirmed that the Hall family maintained a line of blue mottled Curs. There is little doubt, therefore that blue mottled, or speckled Curs, or Curs carrying the mottled colour gene, Hall’s Cur, were the dogs sent to New South Wales in the 1820s with Thomas Hall’s Durham cattle.

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The Cur was endemic to northern England. It was another specialised droving breed/type that disappeared with the coming of the railways. Thomas Bewick the Northumbrian naturalist and master engraver published A General History of Quadrupeds in 1790. He described the Cur as a trusty and useful servant to the grazier. He wrote that although it wasn’t recognised as a distinct breed it was the most commonly used type in the north for managing cattle.

This was a very hard dog. They were a stark departure from the sheep-working Shepherd’s Dog a gathering-type worker, being developed for different, much harder work. Their hair was smoother and shorter, they were taller and squarer and were mostly of any colour; they had half-pricked ears; and they were born naturally tailless. They were a pushing, droving worker. In describing their method of working Bewick may as well have been describing today’s Australian cattle dog breeds.

They bite very keenly; and as they always make their attack at the heels, the cattle have no defence against them: in this way, they are more than a match for a Bull, which they quickly compel to run. Their sagacity is uncommonly great: they know their master’s fields, and are singularly attentive to the cattle that are in them. A good dog watches, goes his rounds, and if any strange cattle should happen to appear amongst the herd, although unbidden, he quickly flies at them, and with keen bites obliges them to depart.

Bewick’s engraving of the subject Cur has a short coat, a body squarish in profile, with long legs. It is bobtailed, has half-pricked ears, a longish neck, a strong, tapering muzzle, and typical Collie markings. The pictured specimen looks like it means business, and a Cur in the middle ground is depicted heeling a bull. It appears to be a fast dog and has large, pronounced feet. It is not hard to image terrier of some description, possibly the extinct English White terrier, being present.

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So, Thomas Hall created his heeler by crossbreeding the family working Cur with the dingo. He would have then back-crossed and selectively bred until they were displaying all the necessary physical attributes needed, and working traits. The result was exactly what he was seeking, and he achieved his ideal type in quick time. Like any breeding program there would have been unsuitable specimens, and he obviously culled ruthlessly. By 1840 Thomas Hall had his Heeler, the first working dog created in Australia, and the only modern domestic breed created by using a wolf was perfected.

From the earliest days, long-tailed and stumpy tails appeared in all Hall’s Heeler litters. The union of Cur and the dingo produced two types of offspring: a tailed dog with a predominately rectangular dingo appearance – the forebear of the Australian Cattle Dog, and a bob-tailed type that had a squarish, more Cur-like profile – which became known as the Timmins Biter and eventually the Australian Stumpy-tail Cattle Dog. From the dingo, the Hall’s Heelers inherited cunning, high intelligence, resourcefulness, perfect adaption to the environment, and a tireless, economical gait.

From the Cur, both Heeler types inherited a powerful work ethic, the courage to confront wild cattle, a willingness to please, and a natural suspicion of strangers. The Cur’s protective devotion to its master manifested itself in both types of the Hall’s Heeler to a high degree. From the outset, the Hall’s Heeler was a dog that took its guarding duties seriously. Its vigilance combined with its inherited dingo territoriality gave Hall’s isolated outposts excellent protection from warring Aborigines, and their plant when in thief-rich Sydney.

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As Thomas Hall bred his Heelers he distributed them throughout his father’s holdings that stretched northwards through the northern tablelands, the near-western plains, and the New England regions of New South Wales. The Hall pastoral empire eventually reached Surat in mid-western Queensland. His station managers assumed the responsibility for breeding the Heelers, and both Hall’s Heelers types found their own supporters with the Hall stockmen.

Thomas Hall, at the southern extreme of the chain of  the huge beef cattle concerns seemed to favour the tailed dogs. His fellows in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland appeared to prefer the stumpy-tailed dogs. As drover’s dogs, the Stumpy had a much longer career. Like their Cur ancestors in northern England the tailed dogs that predominated Hall’s southern-most properties found themselves out of long-range droving to Sydney as soon as the rail made it to the upper Hunter Valley in 1872. That coincided with the introduction of mass-produced wire, followed soon after by barbed wire. Fenced and paddocked properties bred more quiet and easier to manage stock that didn’t need such a hard dog.

Hall’s Heelers took their work too seriously for quiet stock on smaller improved holdings. Hall’s Heeler’s heyday of wrangling semi-wild cattle on the long eastern droving routes, had come and gone. The Hall’s Heeler’s status as the world’s only privately-owned working dog breed ended soon after Thomas Hall died in 1870, aged 62. What is certain is that after the passing of Thomas Hall his Heelers the tailed southern type, and the stumpy-tailed northern type took vastly different roads towards the two-distinct breeds we know today.

The southern type of Hall’s Heeler was only in fulltime work for around forty years before progress and technology began to supersede it. Hall’s Heelers were hard dogs, developed for controlling wild cattle in wild terrain. They not only kept a mob together, but they were efficient at driving beasts out of thick cover or a recalcitrant steer back to the mob when they decided to go their own way. This was one tough dog, but rather than disappearing when faced with redundancy the southern, or tailed variety, the dog we now know as the Australian Cattle Dog found many friends in Sydney, its future assured by the widespread support of the show ring.

Around the same time the stumpy-tailed version of Hall’s Heelers that became known as the Timmins’ Biter  found popularity in the more remote districts of north-west New South Wales and southern Queensland. Conditions there called for the type of cattle worker developed by Thomas Hall; a dog with plenty of daylight under him; a tireless worker of wild cattle on large holdings and long-distance droving in rough country. But eventually railheads were established in western New South Wales and western Queensland and then road stock transport became popular in the early twentieth century. The reduced demand for such hard dogs, compounded by indiscriminate breeding, cross-breeding, and little popular patronage almost caused the original Stumpy’s extinction by the late twentieth century. The Stumpy has never been as popular as the ACD in the show ring.

Out in the bush where Heelers were still hard at it, the average cow cocky only cared about workability, not what length his Heeler’s tail was. In both types, there have developed many, many, strains. Both breeds enjoyed legendary status for their work ethic, faithfulness, intelligence, and devotion to master and family, and both varieties became extremely popular as first-class family, show, and watch dogs. If it was blue or red speckled it had a reputation for being fiercely protective and biting first and asking questions later. Both are handsome, remarkable breeds but neither is an exact representation of the original Hall’s Heeler.

 

 

 


Contact Details

Narelle Hammond

ANKC/FCI International All Breeds Judge # 17719

Sydney Australia

DogsNSW member 2100054230

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 0419787375