Working dogs round up bidders

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Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

Working dogs round up bidders

Casterton’s premiere event, the Casterton Kelpie Festival and Working Dog Auction weekend kicks off tonight with the auction expected to tip over $4m in its 28th year.

The first Working Dog Auction was organised by the local Apex Club and held at the local saleyards in 1997, resulting in a total turnover of $6120.

In 2023, 45 dogs were sold, which accumulates to a total of 1307 dogs sold over the past 27 years for a total value of $3,949,109.

The event will also celebrate another major anniversary this year, celebrated by a key contributor to the event.

Born and raised at Wando Vale, in 2024 auctioneer James Tierney will mark his 25th year with the event and hopefully, knock over that magic $4m – a personal milestone and auction sales record he never envisaged the first time he took up the hammer.

First volunteering his time to help set up for the auctions as a youngster, Mr Tierney took over the auctioneer’s hammer from John Lawson and now makes the journey to Casterton every June long weekend to volunteer his time and expertise.

“I have got a big soft spot for home and I’m happy to come back and give to that community that gave me such a good start,” Mr Tierney said.

“When you look at how many other people give their time, how many hours, days and even weeks over the time leading up to the event, this is the least I can do.

“It’s a great feeling to see all the locals there, chipping in like they do to make sure it’s a success.

“That’s got a lot to do with it really, how successful it is and how good it is to be there … a highlight to get up there in front of that big audience … it’s a pretty unique thing and I’m proud to say I’m part of it.”

Mr Tierney said the sale of a $35,200 dog – the Casterton record – was beyond anyone’s imagination in those days, but not so eyebrow-raising in 2024.

“It’s very different to selling sheep and cattle, was and still is,” he said.

“Sheep and cattle have their own price trends … selling dogs is different and not measurable.

“The final sale price can be on pure ability, some people’s expectations or opinions on what a dog is, what it’s worth can all be different and vary from yours or mine.

“In the early days, no one could ever have thought we’d be selling dogs consistently over $10,000.

“Before (dog auctions), they were just sold and swapped, it was all done privately.

“The auction has shown up what the true value of a good working dog is.

“A good working dog can make an unbelievable difference to your life with livestock … I don’t know how people do without them.”

Featuring the Australian Kelpie Muster Acquisitive Art Award, the art show offers a $2000 prize for the winner and the winning work is retained and permanently exhibited in the Australian Kelpie Centre Casterton.

The arts are also celebrated on the Friday night, with Artists of the Valley hosting the Clarice Beckett Prize and art show at Gorman’s Gallery, with a $1000 trophy offered for the winner.

Born in Casterton and dying of pneumonia at age 48, Beckett was largely unnoticed during her lifetime, but she is now recognised as one of Australia’s most important post-modernist artists,

Her style, characterised by a particular misty or atmospheric quality is now widely known and applauded as Australian tonalism and credited to Beckett’s mentor, Max Meldrum, for his method of building ‘tone on tone’.

Beckett’s work will also be shown at the Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre from June 15, in exhibitions featuring the works of three female artists spanning styles and generations.

The annual street parade will lead the Saturday celebrations, with all community organisations and individuals invited to get their creative caps on and enter a float, with some great prize money up for grabs.

More than 20 market stalls have registered for the Saturday festival and the popular Kelpie Triathlon returns to centre stage.

It is arguably the most popular attraction of Casterton’s Kelpie Festival weekend and this year, when the triathlon – the high jump, dash and hill climb – kicks off, eyes will be on two particular girls and their four-legged mates.

Held for the first time in 2023, the Junior Competitor Competition (formerly Junior Handler) rewards the best human competitor under the age of 16 and kelpie combination, over the high jump and dash events.

Entering for the first time this year is lifetime Kelpie fan, Wando Vale’s Kate Henry, 11 and her best mate, Croc, who lives and works on the family farm.

And just like the senior competitors in the Kelpie Muster triathlon, Kate and Croc are entering this year to show the crowd just what a special bond can be made between human and ‘working dog’.

“It’s a really great feeling when you can work a dog yourself to round up sheep and cattle and do a few tricks,” Kate said.

Casterton Kelpie Association President Karen Stephens said Kate’s positive and fun approach to the Junior Handler Competition was exactly what the event was all about and the reasoning behind the event’s re-naming for 2024.

“The inaugural event was ‘Junior Handler’ and potential participants were interpreting the term ‘handler’, as a requirement for experience, lots of technical know-how and a champion dog to match,” Mrs Stephens said.

“But this event is part of our contribution to the succession plan for our muster and farms across the country – it’s all about allowing young people to come along and enjoy their time with their best mate and learn something along the way.

“The best competitors might not be the most highly skilled or trained, but the one that treats their dog really well, that show they respect the dog and has a great relationship.”

The other ‘girl and her dog’ looking to make a big impact in 2024 is Tegan Eagle and Cooper, who will be shooting for a hattrick of wins – and perhaps even the record – when they face the high jump.

Drawing the greatest number of ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and groans from the crowd, the high jump is standing room only on Saturday afternoon and after winning in 2022, then 2023 with a 16-centimetre improvement in jump height, Cooper has become something of a ‘local’ favourite.

Already in the event’s record books with Cooper’s brother, Hall of Famer Bailey, whose 2.951-metre record jump from 2016 still stands, Eagle said she would be back with her boys this year to have one last crack at the title.

“Cooper’s eight years old now and he’s always been a bigger dog, so we do not want to push him at all,” she said.

“We’ll do the jump and the dash; we do not train for it at all, keep it just like a game when we get there and at Casterton, he just loves the crowd, just lights up and the harder it gets, the louder the crowd gets and the better he jumps.”

The dash, followed by the high jump, will be held on Saturday afternoon, in Henty Street between the Casterton Post Office and Foodworks Supermarket, while the hill climb is held on Blueberry Hill on Noss Road, near the Henty Street bridge.

The Working Dog Auction catalogue is now live on AuctionsPlus, with 52 outstanding dogs from three states up for grabs.

This year’s sale has been well-supported by both local and visiting breeders and trainers, with Tasmania’s Adrian Carpenter joined by fellow Apple Isle vendors on the list.

And long-time sale supporters and successful vendors, Tom Austin of Elfinvale Kelpies and Paul Macphail – whose Beloka Kelpies holds the sale record for top-priced pup – are also featured in the sale list.

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