History of The Kelpie Muster
As always, the story must begin with Jack Gleeson, the stockman who single handedly embedded the kelpie into Casterton’s history with one unknowing act: the trading of a horse for a kelpie pup on the banks of the Glenelg River.
Over one hundred years later, while attending a clearing sale in Dartmoor in 1989, Ian “Spud” O’Connell was also unknowingly considering an historic move. Mr. O’Connell watched as an old black dog worked stock prior to the auction. This allowed the audience to observe its capabilities before it was sold. Mr. O’Connell embraced the concept and to this day recalls himself thinking that anything could be sold.
As an Apex member, Mr. O’Connell often brainstormed ideas for future events with fellow member Steve Crossley; from which they found the notion of a dog auction was a recurrent theme.
Yet it was not until Casterton’s 2000 project group began in 1996 that gave the prospect of an auction a glimmer of reality. With the year 2000 looming, Casterton was in search of ways to promote their 150th anniversary, tourism and heritage.
Research was conducted, and shortly after it was found the Kelpie breed had originated from Warrock Homestead, Casterton. The Casterton 2000 project decided to use the Kelpie as their promotional theme.
As a result, Casterton’s service clubs were asked for suggestions to help celebrate the town’s anniversary using the kelpie as the general theme. Apex put forward the notion of holding a dog auction, of which Mr. Crossley offered to coordinate, via the guidance of Mr. O’Connell.
Although the concept itself was tangible, the initial auction proved otherwise, as it was not only the first event of its kind, but also exploited conventional methods of dog sales leaving dog breeders, buyers and sellers in unfamiliar territory; with some breeders complaining it would ruin their usual business.
But as the idea grew, and the location progressed from its initial launch at the Casterton sale yards to Island Park, so did the widespread acceptance, as dog seekers realized the auction was to an extent, a “try before you buy” method of sales.
By its third consecutive year, Casterton found the auction’s critics had diminished, attendance rates were considerably higher and revenues were more than doubled, as what could only be described as “Kelpie fever” took hold.
And as the muster has grown, so has its reputation. The key essence is captured in the way the dogs are able to showcase their talents prior to bidding; thus a well performing dog will sell better. The auction also provides equal grounds for all dogs involved, as the portable yards at Island Park ensure that it is neutral territory for everybody concerned, with no advantage to dogs not familiar with the set up.
“Ian (O’Connell) always said training was important, and if they could set up a way to show how well a dog was trained and demonstrate that, then the auction would be successful.” said Mr. Crossley, summarizing not only the principles behind good working dogs, but also the reason the Casterton Working Dog Auction remains such a successful and innovative idea.
Ten Years On . . .
Mention the town of Casterton these days and the image of an Australian icon springs immediately to the minds of most. The Kelpie and Casterton have become synonymous, but ten years ago most people would have heard of neither.
It is not by chance that Casterton now holds the most successful and well-publicised working dog auction in Australia. There has been a band of dedicated volunteers pouring hours of their time and all of their passion into building an event which now creates this recognition.
In 1997, the Casterton Apex Club held the first working dog auction at the local saleyards, taking bids from the back of a utility. That year the pups out-numbered started or trained dogs two to one, the pass in rate was 43% and turn over for the entire auction was $6,120.
Over the next two years, turnover increased five fold and some of the systems for running a successful working dog auction were developed.
During these years, Casterton was also cementing its identity as the Birthplace of Kelpie, the foundation bitch of the breed, with the commissioning of a bronze sculpture and the branding of the region as Kelpie Country.
The event continued to grow, with the introduction of the first Casterton Kelpie Festival in 2001. In its first year the festival was a huge hit with families and gained national media attention.
The tension and excitement of the 2003 Casterton Working Dog Auction still brings animated conversation from breeders, as they tell the story of the auction where the prices continued to rise and rise. The auction commenced with the first few lots passed in, then the bidding wars began and the old record of $3,300 was broken not once but three times on that wintry June day.
As the sun began to slide below the pavilion, stalwart auctioneer John Lawson strained to catch the bids, while Paul Macphail stood next to him with Spuds Mick. The hammer fell at $5,000 and the auction topped a turn over of $100,000.
With the 20th anniversary of this event which has put Casterton on the map, and the Kelpie on the lips of dog lovers, is it any wonder that the locals are looking forward to entertaining the crowds and providing hospitality as only they know how.
Traditions need to start somewhere, and with 19 auctions and half as many festivals under its belt, attendance at the Clark Rubber Australian Kelpie Muster has certainly become a tradition with many people. We look forward to seeing you there on the 11th and 12th June 2016 in Casterton, Victoria.