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The Beginning

"Hall's Heelers"

Excerpts from "Over-Halling The Colony",
edited by Russell Mackenzie Warner.

A remarkable story that reveals the Hall Family's beginnings well before 1066 in Northumberland, England to the family's start with a 100 acre grant in the Hawkesbury district of NSW in the early 1800's, which became more than two million acres stretching from the suburb of Auburn in Sydney to the town of Surat in Queensland.

The Hall's Heeler
By Albert James Howard

The ACDSCNQ acknowledges the Hall Family Group and in particular, Mr.Bert Howard, the copyright holder, for their kind permission to reproduce the information contained herein.

Thomas Simpson Hall

Before the arrival of farmers on the "Coromandel"in 1802,colonists relied heavily on supplies of salt pork and beef from England and America. By 1805, colony-bred pork became the staple meat. Mutton and lamb were gradually added to the menu as sheep numbers increased, but there were few cattle and these were used for dairy and for beasts of burden.

George Hall, with his wife and four young children, arrived in the fourteen-year-old New South Wales Colony in 1802. At first, George was put to work on a Government farm at Toongabbie but in 1803 he was granted 100 acres on the Hawkesbury River, on the north-western fringe of the Colony. George prospered and soon added to his land holdings. By 1820 he owned or rented some 850 acres. George's family also grew. Thomas (1808-1870) was one of six sons and three daughters.

The settled areas were situated around Sydney Town,Parramatta and Green Hills (Windsor), where cattle and sheep were kept in fenced paddocks close to dwellings. Consequently, stock were quiet-natured and easily handled. Therefore, before 1820, there was little need for working dogs.

From the early to mid-1820's, when pioneers began to move out from the settled areas and follow the tracks of explorers, they found grazing lands in the Bathurst and Upper Hunter Valley regions.The domesticated stock that were taken to these new areas, soon lost their quiet natures when put out to graze on the wild acres of un-fenced country.Pioneers in the Upper Hunter Valley region were getting set to move stock to the Liverpool Plains after Allan Cunningham had discovered a suitable stock route through the Range (Pandora's Pass). However, the country started drying up in 1825 and by 1826 a severe drought had gripped the colony which lasted until 1830. Expansion plans had to be shelved and many graziers and farmers were obliged to borrow money at 10% interest to sustain themselves through the drought. By 1830 the interest rate had risen to 20% and many were forced to sell up to pay debts incurred during the drought.

James Aitkenson described the cattle, then in the colony, as being derived from many countries and:"of a very mixed and mongrel description." A large proportion derived from the Bengal breed(The Zebu) and these were recognized by their affinity to the buffalo. They are of small stock and of little use for dairy, but make strong and hardy working stock. Cattle from the government stock were of very poor class, and the breed had quickly deteriorated by indiscriminate and unrestrained breeding, so much of the stock was therefore unsaleable by 1830".

At Dartbrook Station, Thomas Simpson Hall was fortunate to have had ample water and sufficient finances. He used the drought period to improve breeding standards and increase the numbers of cattle, horses and sheep, which would be needed once drought conditions eased and, as they did, the family established the massive cattle runs they had planned for the Liverpool Plains.

The quality of the stock bred by Thomas Simpson Hall was already legendary at that time. He cross-bred cattle from imported Durhams and established the first herd of pure-bred Poll cattle in the colony. He also maintained a Lincoln sheep stud and bred excellent stock horses at Dartbrook.

Later, and until modern times, the Munroe family have been numbered among Australia's leading cattle breeders. As a young man when A.G.F. Monroe first came out from Scotland, he visited Dartbrook Station and was so impressed with the quality,size and scale of the Hall cattle, that he told his father he would one day come back and buy them. When the Hall estates were sold in 1873 he made good his earlier boast.The Monroe family bought Weebollabolla and Bullerue Stations and included were the cattle from Dartbrook that had been transferred to these properties,in 1886,to save them from severe drought conditions in the Hunter Valley region.

By the 1830's the Halls had moved over the Liverpool Range and established the first of their cattle runs near present Manilla (Cuerindi) and at present day Moree(Weebollabolla and Bullerue). Their cattle were put to graze on thousands of acres of unfenced virgin land and soon became very wild.Handling these wild range cattle became extremely hard and dangerous work for men on horseback. They soon found out about the great problems to be faced in driving these cattle to market in Sydney.On open country they could manage reasonably well, but on bush tracks through mountainous and timbered country, they found they had real problems.

Early colonial working dogs came from the southern sector of Britain and were of sheep dog type. The first type of droving dog imported was called the Smithfield. This was a large, long-haired dog, thought to be bred from the Old Bobtail (Old English Sheepdog) with an infusion of blood from various other breeds.This dog worked at and derived its name from the Smithfield Meat Markets of London.

The English Sheepdogs were suitable for working the sheep, but working wild cattle in a harsh environment was another matter.These cattle needed a dog that would work silently from the rear and be forceful enough to move the most stubborn beast. Such a dog must be able to sustain hard work for prolonged periods in all types of weather conditions and over all types of terrain.

One of Hall's Heelers
One Of Hall's Heelers circa 1910

Around 1830, a drover by the name of Timmins, who worked between Bathurst and Sydney, developed a cross breed between the Dingo and the Smithfield. They were known as red bobtails or Timmim's Biters, and they were big, hairy dogs with an awkward gait. They worked from the rear but were noisy and had a most severe bite. As one historian wrote:- "they barked like a consumptive and bit like an alligator!!"

Cattlemen desperate for a good working dog tried to overlook their failings. However, the dog's bite was just too severe to be tolerated, so the breed was gradually allowed to die out. Various other people experimented with cross breeding but with no success.

As the Hall cattle empire grew, their need for a suitable working dog became greater than for most cattlemen. In the Hall's world it finally became the responsibility of Thomas Simpson Hall, as family studmaster, to set about the breeding of such a dog.

As it happened, Thomas Simpson had long studied the Dingo and he had kept selected specimens at Dartbrook. He decided the Dingo would form a major part of his cross-breeding but in none of the other dogs, existing in the colony at that time, could he find the attributes he wanted for the other part of his cross.

His Father and Mother were born on farms in Northumberland. They would have first hand knowledge of the working breeds used in Scotland and the northern counties in England and their advice probably influenced Thomas Simpson. In any event, he decided on the Northumberland Blue Merle Drover's Dog to form the other part of his cross and he imported a pair of them.

The Drover's Dog had evolved from the Shepherd's Dog of Scotland,(Border Collie type) crossed with the Old Beardie( Highland Collie)with a splash of terrier thrown in. Traditionally, the home of this dog was Northumberland. The Drover's Dog was a much more aggressive and forceful dog than the Shepherd's Dog. It was slightly heavier boned, it was obedient, faithful, and highly intelligent with the natural ability of being able to work stock from the rear.

At Dartbrook Station Thomas Simpson selectively crossed the progeny of the Drover's Dogs with progeny of the Dingoes. How many back crosses he made we do not know. We do know that by 1840 he achieved what he, as an experienced studmaster, considered to be a suitable cross. The resulting dogs were called Hall's Heelers.Much later they became universally known as Blue heelers. Halls Heelers were the foundation breed of the present day Australian Cattle Dog.

It is recorded how Hall's Heelers were a marvel at working wild cattle. From the dingo they inherited their stocky powerful body, their quick brown eyes, their double coat of hair, the wedge shaped head with powerful snapping jaws, the heavy foot pads, the stamina to work long hours in extreme conditions, with the instinct to dart in suddenly from behind and sharply nip the heels of stubborn beasts. From the Drover's Dog came the intelligence and obedience plus the ability of that dog to faithfully guard his masters possessions.

From 1840 until his death in 1870, Thomas did not find the necessity to infuse any other blood into his dogs. We have no record of any other person experimenting with the breed during Thomas's lifetime. After his death in 1870, there were numerous people in Sydney that set about introducing other strains into his breed, including Bull Terriers etc. The results of these experiments was a dog which, by their own admission, had lost most of its working ability.

People refer to crosses between the Heeler and the Kelpie. It must be remembered that the Kelpie was not introduced into Australia until 1869, and because Thomas Hall died the following year, the Kelpie certainly formed no part of his original breed.

In 1850, Thomas Simpson Hall was granted huge leases totalling 304,000 acres of land on the Balonne River in the Darling Downs. Hall family members and Hall stockmen on the remote northern runs, including the Queensland properties, continued to breed the pure strain of dogs after Thomas Hall died . Another Queensland grazier, George Elliott, also continued selective breeding from Hall stock. These dogs, in isolation, became famous as Queensland Blue Heelers and there are records of the original Hall breed still being bred pure on some properties as late as 1927.

The dogs Thomas Simpson Hall bred were "working" dogs. There can be great visual differences between "working dogs" and "show dogs" of the same breed. This is usually the most misunderstood aspect when laymen start discussing breeds of dogs. "Show" dogs are bred to what are called "bench" standards (or breed standards) and are judged according to these visual standards.

With "working dogs", looks are secondary to the dog's ability to "work". These dogs are usually leaner and meaner than their "show" counterparts. Often the best "working"dog could be the runt of the litter. In his rare old book,"Australian Barkers and Biters", Robert Kaleski gives us a wonderful description of the cattle dogs:

"I was riding one day along the Southern Road near Liverpool with my two blue speckles, when I overtook a mob of cattle. The drovers were swearing, the cattle camping; a knocked up Barb (Kelpie) lay panting under a bush. Between language they told me their trouble.They had an outlaw dairy cow in the mob; she behaved herself until they got to where I found them. There she had slipped into a thick patch of tea-tree scrub adjoining the road and defied them.It was too thick to ride in after her; she charged them on foot and merely laughed at the Barb's efforts to put her out. I asked them if they would like her shifted.
Their reply was so crisp and affirmative that I sent my dogs in at once. Inside of a minute we heard a terrible bellow, then the cow burst out of the scrub and into the mob as if possessed with a devil. I clicked; the two dogs slipped in after her, one to each heel, threaded her out the other side and into the scrub again, then back into the mob, which she firmly refused to leave, in spite of their arguments. I whistled the dogs off and sent the mob away, rejoicing. The next time I met those drovers, they bought a blue-speckled pup from me at my own price."

As large properties were split up and cattle became generally quieter, then the need for a forceful working dog like the Hall's or Blue Heeler diminished. Be that as it may, it must never be forgotten, that at a most important time in the development of Australia as a Nation, Thomas Simpson Hall, himself born and bred in the colony, used his skill to provide some of the finest foundation breeds of cattle, and he bred the first "Blue Heelers"- the greatest working cattle dogs the world has seen.

Submitted by John Chandler