Handlers and breeders of interest

Syd Cavanagh (Cavanagh’s)Sid Cavanagh Barravore Jim

The late Syd Cavanagh was one of my best mates. We spent many, many hours talking and working dogs together. Syd was originally from Eden Park in Victoria where he had a sheep property, and later was a diary farmer. He and the famous handler Bill Marshall (“Herdsmans”) where good friends, and used to travel all over the country together to attend sheep dog trials.

Syd had strong opinions, and was a very good handler. I learnt a lot from him about the earlier dogs and handlers. I used to grill him about the dogs back in the pedigrees, about their good points and faults, what they were like. Photo’s are Syd with Barravore Jim.

Many years ago Syd told me that he thought the Yulong Russ blood dogs were the best, and I have found him to be right ever since.

The main dogs he worked while I knew him were Barravore Jim, Cullens Gordon (Don), Marlowe Benji, and in later years O’Connor’s Shep. Syd bought Barravore Jim (bred by Brendan O’Connor of Ruffy) from Jack Hiscock, and he was from the same litter as Barravore Jean (mother of Moorlands Tomie and Moorlands Emma), by Syd’s dog Miller’s Pete 2nd. Cullen’s Gordon was by Barravore Jim also, out of a McIntosh’s bitch and was another very high quality dog. Jock McIntosh was from the Strezlecki ranges in Gippsland, Victoria, and his dogs were mostly all Yulong Russ blood also. Yulong was the name of Jock’s family property, and the stud name used by his brother Bill McIntosh. A lot of good handlers and dog men, and dogs, came from this part of the country. Bob and Don Ross were not far up the road from the McIntosh’s.

The biggest casting dog I have ever owned, Cavanagh’s Toss, was out of a Barravore Jim bitch. Toss was a big, leggy, pricked eared black and white dog who would cast forever searching for sheep. Jim was a great casting dog too. I remember Syd working him at the Captain Payne Field Trial at Tongala (a 400 yard cast), when Syd was in his late 70’s, and Syd’s eyesight wasn’t too good. Syd thought that a fallen tree trunk in amongst the trees at the far end of the paddock was the sheep, so he broke Jim out around that, but in fact that took Jim right past the sheep at a fair distance. Jim just kept going and going, through the fence, into the next paddock, then the next, then the next, until he could only be seen with binoculars a great distance away, and after about 20 minutes he finally gave up the search and came back.

SidCavanaghBarravoreJimTrialSyd would go through a lot of dogs before he got one he liked. He would train dogs up and run them in a trial or two, then move them on and look for something better. Before that some of his more prominent dogs were Miller’s Pete 2nd, Cavanagh’s Craig, Cavanagh’s Teena, Vervale Beau, and Marlowe Julie, amongst others (many of Ron Seabrook’s earlier “Marlowe” dogs where Yulong Russ type blood, before he later changed over to a Kelton Tom style dog; Ron Seabrook also originally hailed from the Strezlecki Ranges area before he moved to Echuca). Syd was still working dog trials, and winning, into his 80’s.

In his later years, as the good older handlers and judges died out, and the trend of sheep dog trials changed to more of a hobby with fewer practical dog men working, Syd become very disillusioned with sheep dog trials. The younger generation favoured quietening sheep down before working them, increasing time limits from 12 minutes to 15 minutes, making the obstacles wider and easier, and shortening the cast. In fact the time limit was originally 15 mintues in Victoria, but the famous Bill Marshall years ago put a motion to reduce them to 12 mintues, and it was passed until in recent years it has swung back to the longer time limits.

The Victorian Championship also used to be an 800 yard cast, but was shortened to 400 and there is a big push on to shrink it right back to less than a 100. Is it any wonder the majority of today’s dogs are so poor?!

In earlier years, practical dog men worked good, strong, natural, independant workers, and judges judged accordingly, but now more hobby handlers and judges favour a different type of dog and trial not much good for anything except as dogs on show for a sheep dog trial.

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Jack Hiscock (Moorlands)Jack-Hiscock-Ribbons

The late Jack Hiscock came from “Moorlands” in Kilmore, Victoria, and was still working stock off horseback into his eighties.

The Hiscock’s ran, and still run, a lot of country in that area, and in various other areas including Ivanhoe and Balranald in outback NSW. They are in a big way, running merinos, crossbreds, a well-known dorset stud, beef and dairy cattle, irrigated and dryland, from fairly high rainfall to arid country.

Jack was one of the top sheep dog trial handlers, and judges, in the country, winning just about everything there was to be won, multiple times. He was a life member of the Victorian Working Sheep Dog Association. I used to enjoy sitting down at the kitchen table to talk dogs with Jack and his wife Joan. The photo to the top right shows a selection of some of his first place trial ribbons. This doesn’t include many others, and all the second and third placings, and trophies! At his funeral, the church and coffin was decorated with a huge number of ribbons.

JackHiscockMoorlandsBlazingLoadingRampPhotoJack HiscockSyd often referred to Jack as “the master”. Cavanagh’s Esjay was the dog Jack regarded as his best all-round dog, named after Syd (SJ Cavanagh). Jack had very good, practical, strong dogs, often fairly hard headed and in need of a very good handler. And yet, he spoke of the dogs of earlier years, particular those of Sinclair’s from Lancefield (from where he got his first dog, Duke, who was by MacPherson’s Moss, see article), as being much better again. In his later years he outcrossed to a different, softer strain, and in my view the dogs were never much good after that.

One of Jack’s favourite demonstrations with a dog was to have it back a few sheep tight into a corner, until the dog’s nose was only inches from the sheep’s, as a show of a dog’s holding ability, strength, and force. He showed me this quite often with Moorlands Blazing (see photo at right). Miller’s Mighty (by Yulong Russ ex Moorlands Tracey), one of his earlier dogs, was renowned as being exceptionally strong, and John O’Connor from Ruffy (a sheep farmer and life member of the VWSDA) described Jack giving this demonstration forcing pigs up the ramp into the shearing shed with the door closed at the top! Jack would also demonstrate a dog’s force working pigs in a stable, including Cavanagh’s Esjay. Sinclair’s Butch was another of Jack’s earlier, well-known dogs. (Photo bottom left courtesy Rod Cavanagh.)

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Bob Ross (Craigielea)

Owner and handler of the famous Yulong Russ, Bob bred his border collies on his home property “Craigielea” under that prefix. Bob gave Rod Cavanagh his very first pup, Craigielea Toss, sired by Yulong Russ. Toss went on to sire Moorlands Judy.

The Ross brothers ran more beef cattle than sheep, including fattening quite a few bullocks. Their property in the Strezlecki Ranges in Gippsland, Victoria, was extremely steep hill country.

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Don RossDon Ross and McIntoshs Boss

Don Ross was the elder brother of Bob Ross. Both lived and worked on the family property of “Craigielea” in Strezlecki, Victoria, and were still actively working the steep hill country well into their eighties.

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W. (Bill) McIntosh (Yulong)W.McIntosh with Yulong Stella

Breeder of the “Yulong” Dogs, Bill McIntosh (elder brother of Jock McIntosh), also hailed from the Strezlecki Ranges in Victoria. He lived on the families home property “Yulong”, and bred his border collies under that prefix. Photo at right is Bill with Yulong Stella (Esmond Vale Peter x Campden Jip).

Bill unfortunately collapsed and died of a heart attack when very young, only 47, doing what he loved – on the trial ground competing, and looking set to win! He was on top score working Yulong Judy in the finals of the National Championships at Canberra, where a few years later Yulong Russ would win the Centenary Championships worked by Bob Ross (a nearby neighbour of the McIntosh’s).

Yulong Judy was a half sister to Russ, both being out of Campden Jip (regarded by some old hands I have talked to as the best bitch they had ever seen work), by Esmond Vale Peter (where Russ was by Austral Star). After Bill’s death, his dogs were auctioned, and Judy sold for a then record price of $900 to Eddie Sage (Sage’s). Her influence lives on mostly through a son of her’s, Sages Shep (by another National Champion, Herdsman’s Kenny, who won the National at the very same event).

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Allan Miller (Miller’s)

Allan Miller was regarded by most of the older generation of dog men I have known as the greatest dog handler of all. He was a sheep farmer from Woodend in Victoria.

The photo at right shows Miller working Moorlands Lad. Lad was by Minnieburn Pedro (a dog of Jack Hiscock’s who was by Minnieburn Bing who was by Yulong Russ) out of Miller’s Kim (another of Jack’s, sister to Miller’s Pete 2nd, also by Yulong Russ out of a Sinclair’s Butch bitch). What I would give now to have a dog with a double cross like this of Yulong Russ, and with the cross of Sinclair’s Butch! Photo left shows Miller with Butch after winning the Bendigo trial in 1966, with scores of 91 + 92. Butch was the sire of Sinclair’s Butch, therefore the great grand sire of Moorlands Lad.Alan Miller Moorlands Lad

AllanMillerButchAllan Miller’s prefix “Miller’s” included many good dogs. Most of what I know of Allan Miller I have gleaned from talking to Jack Hiscock, Syd Cavanagh, Rod Cavanagh, and others.

Jack said Miller did a lot of training with his dogs of an evening after the day’s work was done, in the pen’s in the shearing shed with the lights on. Evidently he had a liking for strong dogs with great force, and used to spend a lot of time with strong dogs working ram’s to build up their strength even further. Rod has told me that when he went to visit Miller, one of Miller’s favourite tests was to get Rod to work his dog in a pen in the shearing shed with a few big, rough wethers and see how it handled itself.

There is a story of Allan Miller sitting on the sidelines at a sheep dog trial, while another handler worked his dog. Things didn’t go the dogs way, and as the handler came off the ground past Miller, he made some comment to the effect that “the dog’s a champion at home!” to which Miller replied, “Well, if you leave him at home he’ll stay a champion!”.

Rod Cavanagh (Stocklight)RodCavanagh

Rod Cavanagh is from Yea, Victoria, although originally from the family farm in Eden Park. He is Syd Cavanagh’s nephew. A man of the highest integrity and character, Rod is one of my best mates. Photo at right is of Rod with Cummins Creek Jim (by Wyuna Butch), Minnieburn Cap (by Yulong Russ), and Wyuna Butch (by Miller’s Pete 2nd, who was by Yulong Russ). Photo at left is Butch and Cap.

WyunaButchMinnieburnCapRodCavanaghRod rates Cap as the best dog he has owned, extremely strong with a great temperament and brains. Rod’s first dog was Craigielea Toss (also by Yulong Russ), given to him by Bob Ross, and Rod said he was also a very good dog, and very strong.

Rod has been a shearer and general farm worker for most of his life, and been competing in sheep dog trials for most of that time. Rod has had by far the biggest influence on my sheep dog training methods of anyone, both through his personal influence and through his fantastic book “Australian Sheep Dogs – Training and Handling”, which I highly recommend as a must read for all sheep dog people. In my opinion he is the best sheep dog trial judge I have come across, although many people would disagree nowadays, when judges who favour practical working dogs over “push button trial dogs” are not too popular among the modern day sheep dog trial fraternity.

Rod has had the good fortune to be involved with most of the top dog men around, including Allan Miller, Jack Hiscock, Bob and Don Ross, Syd Cavanagh, and others, and of witnessing the best handlers and dogs of the past in action, both on the trial ground and out in the paddock. The great handlers of old would roll over in their graves if they could see the dogs, handlers, and judges in sheep dog trials today.

Rod’s book includes a very sound description of the “complete – utility dog” – “capable of any conceiveable sheep dog job imaginable”. It is included here with Rod’s permission:

RodBookCover“Complete”-“utility” sheep dogs are capable of working wild cattle one day and succesfully competing in a stylish arena trial the next; from mustering on a station property, to withstanding the trampling and squashing that goes with yard, shed and trucking work; from being strong enough to control and force hostile rams backwards up a ramp, to having the patience to manoeuvre and nudge new born lambs with the nose. They are capable of any conceivable sheep dog job imaginable; but there are many “utility” dogs of the type that refuse to work and may be found only in the back of a ute.”Complete” and well finished sheep dogs, referred to as “top dogs” and “true champions”, are not easy to come by. You are very fortunate if you have one as no amount of money can replace them.

– Rod Cavanagh, “Australian Sheep Dogs – Training and Handling”.

Les Hall Glendaloch


Les Hall (Glendaloch)

Les Hall manages the 5,000 acre property “Glendaloch” in Glenburn, near Yea, Victoria. It is very steep, hilly country, running merinos, crossbred sheep, and beef cattle, and Les knows the value of a good dog. Formerly he worked as a cattleman in the high country of Victoria.

Les and I have worked in together a bit in the past, and continue to do so, in the breeding of good dogs.

Photo is some of the country on “Glendaloch”.