Breed History

Halls Heeler

Thomas Simpson Hall
Thomas Simpson Hall c. 1832.

The Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog share common origins in the Halls Heeler, a distinct working-dog breed developed in the 1830s by Thomas Hall. George Hall, with his wife and four young children, arrived in the New South Wales Colony in 1802. At first, George was put to work on a Government farm at Toongabbie (now a Sydney suburb) but in 1803 he was granted 100 acres on the Hawkesbury River, on the north-western fringe of the Colony. George prospered. By 1820 he owned or rented some 850 acres. George's family also grew. Thomas (1808-1870) was one of six sons and three daughters.

Exploration during the 1810s discovered rich grazing land to north, west and south of the highlands that surround Sydney.   By 1825 the Halls had established two cattle stations in the Upper Hunter Valley, Gundebri and Dartbrook. Thomas Hall settled at Dartbrook and his home became the base for the northward expansion of the Halls' pastoral interests.

Droving from the Hunter Valley stations to the Sydney meat markets, was difficult because of dense scrub and difficult terrain. Droving from the Liverpool Plains runs to Sydney presented a more acute problem.  In droving terms, thousands of head of cattle had to be moved for thousands of kilometres along unfenced stock routes, through the rugged Liverpool Range.  A note, in his own writing, records Thomas Hall's anger at losing 200 head in scrub.

The Halls desperately needed robust droving dogs but the colony offered nothing suitable. The colonial working dogs are understood to have been of Old English Sheepdog type (commonly referred to as Smithfields), imported from the south of England. With their heavy build, shaggy coats and intolerance to climatic and vegetation conditions, the Colonial Smithfields were useful only over short distances and for yard work with domesticated cattle.

Thomas Hall addressed the problem. For some years, he had kept Dingoes at Dartbrook for study and realised that they had potential for the development of a working dog. He now looked for a second breed to cross with Dingo. Thomas imported Drovers Dogs from his parents' home county, Northumberland.

These Drovers Dogs had long been bred for their working characteristics and distinctive colour by farmers in Northumberland and across the border in Scotland. By the early 1830s, when Thomas Hall imported his Drovers Dogs, these and many other Drovers Dog strains were becoming extinct in Britain. The distinctive blue colour, however, persisted among modern British working dogs.

British working dog
British working-dog ca 1990.
Photo, courtesy David Hancock

Thomas Hall crossed Drovers Dogs with Dingoes and by 1840 was satisfied with the result. During the next thirty years, the Halls Heelers, as they became known, did not disperse beyond the Hall properties. The Halls were dependent on their dogs and, given the number and size of the runs needing Halls Heelers, it is unlikely that there was a surplus. Besides, working dogs of such excellence gave the Hall family a considerable advantage over its competitors in the cattle industry.

Halls Heeler Dispersal

After Thomas Hall's death in 1870, the Hall cattle empire came to an end. The runs in northern New South Wales and Queensland went to auction with the stock on them (including dogs) and, for the first time, Halls Heelers became freely available. Some were retained by stockmen on the former Hall properties but others, from outside the Hall estates, were eager to obtain them. The stockman, Jack Timmins, probably acquired his famed Timmins Biters (Halls Heelers) at this time. The wholesale butcher, Alexander Davis, is said to have brought Halls Heelers to Sydney, from the Hunter Valley, to work in his cattle yards and move cattle from yards to abattoir.

By the 1890s, Halls Heelers, by then known simply as Cattle Dogs, had attracted the attention of Sydney dog breeders with interests in the show ring, of whom the Bagust family (particularly Harry Bagust, c.1860-1914) was the most influential.

In Queensland in the 1890s, Cattle Dogs of Halls Heeler derivation were seen in the kennels of exhibiting dog breeders such as William Byrne. Unlike the Cattle Dogs shown in New South Wales those shown in Queensland included both long-tailed and stumpy-tailed types. Both types were exhibited in the same classes. There is no record of Stumpy Tail Cattle Dogs being exhibited in New South Wales.