A Dog for the Job - The Book

A Dog for the Job explores the early history of the Australian Cattle Dog, the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog and the Tasmanian Smithfield against the background of the growing New South Wales colony. The dogs’ ancestors came with the First Fleet in 1788, and with later convict fleets. They came as the pets of the early civilian and military arrivals who made up almost half the colony’s population. Nothing is known about the ancestors of the Tasmanian Smithfield but the ancestors of the Cattle Dogs came into the hands of the Hall family.

George Hall, his wife and four small children immigrated, as free settlers, to New South Wales in 1802. George was granted 100 acres (40 ha) in the Hawkesbury Valley, some 40 km north-west of Sydney. During the next fifty years the Hall family’s holdings grew to more than 40,000 km2 stretching in a discontinuous chain for over 1,000 km from the Hawkesbury Valley to southern Queensland. The Halls’ dogs, later known as Halls Heelers, were integral to the management of that vast area.

The first dog shows were held in England in the 1850s. They had a profound and permanent effect on the dog world and on the book publishing industry. For the first time dogs’ appearances became more important than the function they performed. Breed standards were needed to guide show judging and a new publishing genre, ‘books about dogs’, emerged. These included breed standards and, sometimes, breed histories.

Some twenty years after the first dog shows in England, Australia took up the sport. Classes for Cattle Dogs were scheduled at some shows but, in the absence of a breed standard, judging was according to Rafferty's rules. Feeling disadvantaged, a young Cattle Dog enthusiast, Robert Kaleski, published the first breed standard for Cattle Dogs in 1903 – for Cattle Dogs with Halls Heeler origins. Kaleski also proposed a speculative (but incorrect) ancestry for his Cattle Dogs, based on his study of the late nineteenth century ‘books about dogs’. The requirements of show judging eventually brought about the separation of long-tailed and short-tailed Cattle Dogs as two separate breeds: the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog as they are now known. The Tasmanian Smithfield remains an unofficial breed with a strong following in its home state.

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