The Victorian town where working dog breed reigns supreme


The now-retired 11-year-old pooch was inducted into the hall of fame for his efforts, with three consecutive wins in the event.

Cooper, Bailey’s half-brother, a winner of two high jump events at Casterton in the past two years, is on track to become the next Bailey, says Eagle.

Cooper climbs a 2.6-metre hay bale in preparation for the kelpie high jump event.

Cooper climbs a 2.6-metre hay bale in preparation for the kelpie high jump event.Credit: Joe Armao

Eagle says the high jump had become a dying sport, but was experiencing a small resurgence recently, as more people chose kelpies as pets due to their loyal nature and the film Red Dog.

“Sometimes we would go to high jumps at smaller shows, and they’d be like two dogs in the event; now, there’s a lot more dogs competing,” she says.

While owners like Eagle pocket about $200 in prize money for the kelpie high jump, it’s less about the cash and more about supporting local communities and watching her dogs have fun, she says. Eagle and other attendees made a trip out of this weekend’s show, driving up a few days earlier to Casterton.

Karen Stephens, president of the Casterton Kelpie Association, which runs the muster, says the event is “serious business” for the local community as tourism numbers double over the weekend.

The Casterton Kelpie Association ran the kelpie auction on Sunday.

The Casterton Kelpie Association ran the kelpie auction on Sunday.Credit: Nicole Cleary

The working dog auction on the second day of the event has turned over $4 million in mostly kelpie sales in the past 28 years, including just under $1 million in the past three years, Stephens says.

“Casterton in the mid-90s went through a downturn like most rural Australian communities, and we were looking for something to secure as our very own and what was unique to our community. We realised that Casterton is the birthplace of the kelpie,” says Stephens, who is also the mayor of Glenelg Shire Council. “This event has certainly put Casterton on the map.”

“We’ve got people coming from the UK and Japan just to experience the Casterton Kelpie Muster. Last year, we had people from the USA – they’ve actually put Casterton on their bucket list,” he says.

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The Australian Kelpie Centre, a big, modern building in the centre of Casterton, showcases the history of the kelpie and its relationship to the small town.

According to its website, the original kelpie was born in 1871 on Warrock Homestead, just north of Casterton, and was bred from Scottish collies to help settlers manage their livestock on new terrain.

The breed has been popular ever since but demand for kelpies has surged in the past decade as farmers struggle to find long-term workers.

Some of the pups can sell for thousands of dollars. In 2020, one kelpie sold for $36,200, Stephens says.

“Farmers can buy a kelpie for $30,000 to 40,000. It’s cheap in reality because the dogs don’t get sick and take leave,” says Stephens.

Kelpies competed in high jump and sprints in Casteron over the weekend.

Kelpies competed in high jump and sprints in Casteron over the weekend.Credit: Nicole Cleary

But for owners like Tegan, it’s the people in Casterton that make the experience special.

“It’s just very friendly. You don’t feel like you’re an outsider when you go to town.”



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