Breed history

Theories on the breed history

It is a shame that all the recognized breeders of Australian
Cattle Dogs in the late1800’s, e.g., Thomas Hall, F.Davis,
G.W.and H.Bagust, C.Pettitt, J.Brennan, A Davis and J.Rose, and
others that were instrumental in the development of the breed,
did not put pen to paper and record for history their endeavors
to breed true and so ensure the survival of the breed as we know
it today.

Robert Kaleski, when he took up breeding from the pure Hall line,
recorded quite a lot of information on the breed and breeders of
the time. Whilst I am not for one moment suggesting that Mr.
Kaleski’s writings are not a true record of events, it would have
been interesting to know what other breeders of that era had to
say. However, Robert Kaleski did have the forethought to record
the events as he saw them and we are indeed indebted to him for
his recorded history of the breed as he envisaged it, related as

When the first settlers arrived here, they brought with them
their stock. Along with the stock came the dogs they used to work
that stock in their country of origin. Everything was bearable
until explorers opened up the country west of the Great Dividing
Range and people moved their stock into these better pastures.
The dogs that accompanied the settlers stock were used to
different climates and different conditions. The long haired,
mostly bob tailed «Smithfield » type of dog that were basically a
mix of breeds that used to work stock of any sort at the
Smithfield Markets in England, were a disaster in Australia’s
rugged type of country and climate.

The early «Cockies» (pastoral property owners) and drovers
realised the need to improve on the dogs they had and it wasn’t
until about 1850 that a Mr. Thomas Hall, studmaster for the Hall
family, according to Robert Kaleski, imported some Smooth-coated
Blue Merle Scotch or Highland Collies, which, were misnamed Welsh
Heelers. These dogs were «headers» that tried to force from the
front of the cattle, which often resulted in some being gored.
They also couldn’t handle the climate or the conditions. These
were crossed with Australia’s own fully acclimatized and
genetically evolved dog, the Dingo, reputed for his silent
approach and endurance to heat. This cross resulted with a
successful type of dog known then as Hall’s Heelers. These dogs
were also known at that time as Merlins or Blue Heelers.

It has been recorded that the Dalmatian was introduced to give
the breed «a love of horses», the Dalmatian being a coach dog
that worked close to the heels of horses. There has been
speculation as to the use and the availability of the Dalmatian
at that time. However, it is recorded that the cross did happen
and the resultant loss of herding ability was put down to this
infusion. To rectify this situation Black and Tan Kelpies were
introduced to provide heading instinct. There is also speculation
on this point as it has been suggested that the only black and
tan dogs in the colony at that time were Black and Tan Terriers,
with development of the Kelpie occurring at a later date. Robert
Kaleski’s recorded history dictates that the Kelpie was used and
that the resulting progeny threw true to type and had distinctive
markings indicative of the strain and the resultant abilities
from each strain.

In 1930, Kaleski wrote in an article to the AKC Gazette, titled
«Whence Came Australian Dogs», where he wrote,……… «rigid
adherence to these markings is necessary, since they are
«utility» points. The black head shows Kelpie strain, and hence
keen working qualities; the red head the Dingo strain and hence
great hardiness; the brown eyes show keen sight; the white stripe
down the forehead and the black spot on the tail butt show
descent from «Tom Bently’s Dog» – one of the most perfect workers
ever known».

There have been ‘discussions` over the years that the Bull
Terrier was used in the initial setting of the type. There is
probably food for argument here as there are often dogs today
with obvious Bull Terrier fronts, hardly any «stop”, heavy jaws
and rabbit ears appearing from well-established lines. The Barb,
a black sheepdog, was another infusion that was not successful,
mainly because the Barb, a good header, could not handle wild
cattle. Early attempts to produce cattle dogs included a Russian
Poodle – Collie cross; a Bull Terrier – Collie cross; and the
Kangaroo Dog – Bull Terrier cross, none of which proved
successful for one reason or another

Robert Kaleski wrote the Standard for the Australian Cattle Dog,
the Kelpie and the Barb and it has been through his efforts that
we do have a recorded history of our breed. The Standard that
Kaleski wrote for the ACD back in 1903 is basically the standard
that applies today. Little has changed. His book, «Barkers and
Biters» is very informative and every ACD owner should have a

The Australian Cattle Dog has been, and is known world wide under
quite a few different names. Queensland Heelers, Queensland Blue
Heelers, Queensland Blues ( which we find quite amusing as that
is a type of pumpkin grown here in Queensland), Blueys, and just
plain Queenslands. All these names refer to the same breed, The
AUSTRALIAN CATTLE DOG. Regardless of what name is attached to
him, or what you may call him, whether good or bad, he is still
the same loyal, honest and reliable mate you could every wish to

There are basically two accepted «histories» of the breed and it
is left to the reader to decide which is correct. We have the
recorded history as presented by Robert Kaleski, who was only one
of many breeders during the evolution of the breed in the late
1800’s and early 1900’s. Unfortunately none of the other breeders
at that time kept breeding programs or records to support
Kaleski’s writings.

The other theory is that the Hall family, which at that time
owned pastoral holdings from Surat in Queensland to Sydney in New
South Wales, of which Thomas Hall was the Studmaster, also owned
property in Scotland. The Hall family claims that the Drover’s
Dog or «Cur», a bob tailed dog was brought out from their
properties in Scotland, not the blue merled Collies. The main
controversy stems from the early history of the breed from 1830
to 1870, and the use or non-use of blue merle Highlamd Collies
and their ability or non-ability as ‘heelers’ or ‘headers’.

It has been established that the Australian Cattle Dog does not
carry the merling gene of the blue merle collie. It carries a
ticking gene, which may or may not add weight to the Hall theory.
Also, the fact that in those early years, to import dogs from
England or Scotland, would require quite a substantial amount of
money. The dogs would have to be accompanied by a handler, who
would have to ensure the well-being of the dogs during the months
at sea. Also, food for the dogs would also have to be slaughtered
on board during the sea passage. No dry dog food back then.
Hall’s dogs would not have to be purchased but supplied by the
Hall family’s pastoral interests in Scotland. Ticket of leave
drovers of those times may well have been wealthy enough to bring
out dogs, either collies or any other breed. I do not know, nor
can I find evidence of such imports happening.

Both theories accept that the Dingo was used, regardless of what
other breed it was crossed with. It is up to you to decide which
theory you wish to support.

Author: John Chandler “Wooramun” ACD Kennels

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