History of the Australian Kelpie Muster

Casterton – The ‘birthplace’ of the Kelpie

As always, any story about the history of the Kelpie 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 in the 1870s.

Fast forward to 1995 when the Casterton community was not alone, being like many Australian rural communities struggling with ‘rural decline’. The community came together to consider its future and developed a working party ‘Casterton Project 2000’ the committee’s clear aim was to have 2000 people living in Casterton by the year 2000.

But more importantly the aim was to promote the unique benefits and position Casterton as a ‘must see’ township for each and every tourist within the wonderful pastoral area of the Western Districts in Victoria.

It was after much research and community ‘think tanks’ that one of the new local Vets mentioned she had been doing some research on the Kelpie as a working dog and discovered that Casterton was were the first ever Kelpie was born!

Well that was it… it was the ‘unique’ thing that Casterton could call its own and nobody could take away – from there everything went into overdrive.

After confirming with the Australian Working Dog Council and a number of other authorities – it was the indisputable truth that the first Kelpie originated from Warrock Station, just north of Casterton.

Australian Kelpie, Photo Karla Northcott

Since 1997, well over $3.6m worth of working dogs have been sold through the annual auction.

With the impending 150th year celebrations for Casterton in 1996, the idea of a bronze statue in front of the Town Hall become a reality with world renowned sculptor Peter Corlett creating the statue, we see today proudly taking pride and place.

Today, a visit to Casterton is not complete for any child without jumping on Kelpie’s back for a ride. You only need to feel her shiny ears and touch her shiny smooth back to tell how loved she is!

During this period the local Apex Club came on board with an idea that club member, Ian ’Spud’ O’Connell thought would be a goer, he worked with the club and under the co-ordination of Steve Crossley the first Casterton Working Dog Auction was held at the local saleyards in 1997.
In the meantime, projects such as the Kelpie Walking Trail were developed embracing many aspects and traits of the kelpie breed. At Ess Lagoon you will find ‘Man’s Best Friend’ and at the main bridge you will find Stockman, Jack Gleeson exchanging a kelpie pup on the banks of the Glenelg River.

At the entry to Island Park Recreational Reserve you can see a George Haddon cartoon which has been recreated on ‘clay tiles’ depicting the Working Dog Auction.

During this period the Working Dog Auction annually went from success to outstanding success and in 2001 the Casterton Kelpie Festival was included to the weekend program to entertain the many visitors that flocked to Casterton each year.

The Kelpie Festival is held in the main street, which comes alive with ‘all things kelpie’ – the local Lions Club’s Poets Breakfast starts the day. But the day moves into full gear with the annual classic country Street Parade which always pleases with its array of fun and excitement with community groups, school and sporting clubs taking part, all hoping to take home the ultimate first prize.

Kelpie handlers and the proud Kelpie’s take part in what is now a massive display of kelpies of all shapes, sizes and colours.

The Kelpie Triathlon – involving the three major events of the Kelpie 50m Dash, Kelpie High Jump (with a world record of 2.951m) and the Kelpie Hill Climb up the amazing Blueberry Hill that walls Casterton, is certainly the most sort after crown.

Today we have sold well over $3.2m worth of working dogs through the annual auction. Not a bad result when the first auction netted at total of $6,120.

The record price for a fully trained Working Dog stands at $22,200 which were achieved in both 2018. It’s interesting to note that some of those original Apex Club members are still there, on the committee working away each and every year, doing what they love.

The official opening of the prized Australian Kelpie Centre over the annual Australian Kelpie Muster weekend in 2018 was heralded as the Grand Prize for the Casterton district community. After 20 plus long years of building a strong reputation as Casterton being the ‘Birthplace of the Kelpie’, much needed funding from Council and Federal Government was received and the community was finally able to achieve its number one goal – to have a centre in Casterton that purely focussed on the rich history of the truly Australian icon – the Kelpie.