Following on from last year’s Berryden Sheep Dog Trials I thought I’d do something similar to what I did with this year’s Blessing of the Bikes story, that is, give greater coverage to the people that attend these events, where they come from, what attracts them to these events and anything else that will shine some light on those who make these events so typically Australian and so enduring. Yes, I know that sheep dog trials are held around the world, but Australia is unique and that makes such things equally unique; call me parochial. I’m not going to go into excruciating detail on each person that I spoke to, but just provide a simple brief on their background. As I mentioned last time, people come from far and wide to attend these events and this year was no exception, with some from as far away as Queensland, dogs included.
Jim and his Border Collie Wally, from Sale Victoria, has been actively interested in sheep dog trials for at least ten years. Jim told me that he’s really a ‘city slicker’, but got interested in these competitions when he began working on a sheep farm in his later years, where he learned about sheep herding using these intelligent and capable dogs. He was given the opportunity to adopt one such dog, for the princely sum of $500 as it turned out, and thus began his interest in sheep dog trials. Jim is now getting on in years and I understand that the Berryden trials will likely be his last, but I’m sure that Jim and Wally will retain fond memories of these events, even if it is the last one in which they can participate.
Dave and wife Helina (not pictured) hail from Beaudesert Queensland and have been on the road now for around eight weeks and have just come back from Tasmania, where they attended sheep dog trials on the Apple Isle. Dave is a sheep and cattle farmer from Queensland and uses the sheep dog trials as a break from his farming life; taking wife, caravan and dogs on touring holidays that are somewhat different from those adopted by the typical ‘grey nomads’. Dave has been touring the sheep dog trials for around 10 years (though been involved with working dogs for over 30 years) and enjoys the trials as a reason to go on the road, with places to arrive at where there are activities of interest that are close to his heart. Dave and Helina bring along their young Border Collies (and one Labrador, I think), as well a Tasmanian Smithfield sheepdog, something that you probably don’t see all that often at these events. Dave said his focus is really on training young dogs to be their best as working dogs and gets his greatest pleasure from knowing that he’s trained effective working dogs, which he uses on his farm to break in young cattle.
Fiona, daughter Talia and Border Collie Jilly, hail from Cardinia Victoria, so not that far away, and have been attending sheep dog trials for around three years. Fiona has a sheep farming background through her father, though nowadays is well removed from farm life, but has had an interest in working dogs for the last 12 years. Fiona’s love of sheep dogs and the related trials comes from her earlier background and is working hard to get Jilly to be competitive. But Jilly is still learning and, at today’s trials, was somewhat confused as to where the sheep would start and finish at each event. I guess her heart was in the right right place, even though her head was a tad confused.
Luke, with one of his dogs, Kelpie Tina (pictured), has been involved in sheep dog trials for four years now and is the youngest competitor in these events, at the moment. Luke grew up on a sheep and cattle farm at Mt Eccles, South Gippsland, and from this life grew an interest in working dogs, which then led to his interest in sheep dog trials. Luke was running three dogs today, two in the Open Class and one in the Novice Class, that being Tina. Considering that Luke only started competing in sheep dog trials fairly recently, from all accounts, he has been doing extremely well in these trials and may well be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Another ‘city slicker’ attending today’s trials was Peter from Brunswick who is a priest and social worker in Melbourne. Peter has been involved in social social work both in Melbourne and Sydney, and while living in Sydney, was introduced to working dogs and offered a lost dog, as well as an opportunity to learn how to train and control working dogs. Peter spent many years learning about working dogs and now uses this experience and the sheep dog trials as a way to relax and unwind from what I would assume to be a potentially stressful life as a social worker. Having access to a cattle farm at Lysterfield Victoria, Peter, uses this opportunity to train two of his own dogs, as well as three owned by others.
Barry, John and Eddie (L-R), Barry being the overall winner at last year’s Berryden Sheep Dog Trials, are old hands at these events and I’m fairly certain that I remember all three from last year’s trials. Barry hails from Koraleigh NSW, west of the Riverina region, while John comes from Ballarat Victoria and Eddie from Foster Victoria. And, like old farm hands, they are always into fixing things; in this case making their leaning post or fence slightly more comfortable with some ag pipe padding. I’m sure that if I’d hung around longer, there would have been interesting tales to be told by these three amigos (maybe next year).
While the attendance was smaller than last year, I don’t think that it made the event any less enjoyable than were the numbers significantly larger. These are almost like family events, so the numbers are mostly irrelevant, but even if you had no association or idea of what this was about and simply turned up as a complete stranger and showed a modicum of interest, like most country activities, you would be welcomed with open arms and leave feeling like you had spent the day with your family (a family that carries no baggage). And if you had young kids, they would have had a ball simply adoring the dogs.
Last, but not least, I shouldn’t forget those working in the background who provided the morning teas, lunches and dinners throughout the three days of the trials. I suspect that this goes on at every one of the trials and it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Morning tea on this day was a constant flow of marvelous scones, cakes and other delights that I had to resist as best I could, as I didn’t want to be distracted from why I was there in the first place. However, it did give rise to a number of interesting conversations, with another one of those ‘it’s a small world’ situations where you find someone that was almost your neighbour some half century or more ago.
As I said last year, if you’re cruising about in the country and not on a mission to get somewhere, and happen to see a sign saying ‘Sheep Dog Trials’, go and have a look, take the time to meet the people and you will be pleasantly surprised.
This story also appeared in the Victorian Working Dog Association News Publication.