By Maz Whalan
IT'S one thing to whistle the family dog up from the backyard, but try whistling it to coax nervous sheep around fences, over a bridge and into a pen while being watched by sharp-eyed judges. Some of Australia's best dogs and handlers did just that last weekend at the Bungendore showground as part of the Trans Tasman Sheepdog Trial conducted by the Bungendore and District Sheepdog Association. The event attracted 136 entries
Like any sport, the trans-Tasman rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is a healthy one. "People joke about the sheep industry in Australia being started by convicts from London," Bungendore Sheepdog Club member Bruce Bashford says. "While in New Zealand it was started by shepherds from Scotland." Bruce provided commentary on the Saturday as there was a considerable crowd of interested spectators who turned out to catch the action. “It was great to see so many people come along to learn more about this heritage sport," Mr Bashford said.
And there was certainly plenty for people to see. The trial is a competitive affair, with events divided into encourage, novice, improver and open sections. Dogs and handler start with 100 points and have 15 minutes to take three sheep through a gap in a fence, through an obstacle called the Maltese cross, over a bridge and into a pen. Points are deducted for errors of course or handling.
At least that's how it's meant to work in theory, veteran herder Charlie Cover said, with the results sometimes significantly different. While a good herder could calmly guide the sheep through the series of obstacles in an orderly procession, a less experienced sheepdog could spook them and scatter them to all corners of the field. "The art of trialling is getting the balance right between the sheep, the application of pressure on the sheep by the dog and the control by the handler," Mr Cover explained.
The local club hosted a great four day event. This year the Novice section was named in honour of Barb Stitt in acknowledgement of her dedication to the Club and the Trial over many years. The club was very pleased to have Barb’s daughter Zena travel from Sydney on Saturday 21 July to present the Novice prizes.
The trial was supported extensively by Paul Darmody, who supplied the sheep, the arena set up, as well as judging and competing. Other sponsors included Dog Pro, Infigen Energy, Long Paddock Eggs, Royalla Dorpers, and the Bungendore Show Society. Linda Dening donated a portrait of the winning dog in the Open competition and local Bungendore resident Suzanne Clubb donated the first prize trophy in the Encourage event. The Bungendore Word Works Gallery and Cafe donated two gift vouchers, which were presented as part of the volunteer workers draw to Alison McKenzie and Carol Jordon, both of whom worked tirelessly over the weekend in the canteen.
In the end on Sunday in the open final it was a very close competition. Rather uniquely the overall winner Mick Hudson and runner up Paul Darmody had the unenviable task of judging each other in the final. The final scores indicate the closeness of the competition and the skills of the handlers and their dogs.
Our Sheepdog club is for working sheepdog breeds and hold regular training days to assist people with training their dogs. We also organise and run the Trans Tasman Trial at Bungendore.