In these days of motorbikes and utes, the need for a dog that makes decisions all by itself seems almost outdated, at the graziers' peril, but producers of great Kelpies continue to celebrate the greatest of working canines that have an ability to self-start, even in the dark.
Good breeding seems to come down the line, says the Riverina's Graeme O'Bree, and so it was with his foundation Kelpie Boolimba Chum, or "Limbo" bred by Noel Waters at Hillgrove, east of Armidale. Limbo traced his DNA back to Frank Scanlon, from Coolah, and beyond in time to the great Scotland-bred Rutherford types, with short coat and pricked ears.
Mr O'Bree knew something about the lineage when he purchased Limbo. He realised he was getting a Scanlon dog that understood independent work and later, when he showed the respected breeder how the keen Kelpie operated, Frank exclaimed Limbo worked just like his old dogs, which gave Mr O'Bree some confidence that the intelligence he searched for had been passed down the line.
During one of the infamous Balranald trials, with 20 competitors, Mr O'Bree and his dogs were the first to compete with big and wild Yanga Station wethers. Limbo was one of only a few dogs to pen those sheep.
"I knew nothing about trialing in those days," Mr O'Bree recalled. "This dog taught me how to work correctly. "He had a beautiful instinct, even at the age of four months, and by the time he got fast enough to head them they never got away."
Mr O'Bree says the Scanlon dogs were bred from proven workers, using the family tree method which ensured a continuation of the right blood down the line.
"Sure, he'd bring in some new blood but he would always cross back to the family tree," said Mr O'Bree.
The ability of a dog to think and work for itself propelled the Kelpie to prominence and they excelled in mustering sheep and cattle in rough country.
For Noel Waters this inherent intelligence was central to his breeding program and he, too, followed closely the family tee method.
Before the family's rugged gorge country was sold to the government to create the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park Mr Waters relied on his line-bred Kelpies to find cattle and muster them back to the yards, up steep spurs and through close bush more often than not in a moon-less pitch.
"We'd let cattle into those areas in March and we might not see them again until the following Christmas," Mr Waters recalled. "Our dogs had to be strong enough to head them and hold them without instruction. I'd crack a whip and they'd bark and then I would head that way to find the mob."
Good dogs that worked this Yowie country needed to have a natural instinct and a durability that included being light on their feet. There were rocky rivers to be crossed, with sand banks that burnt the soles of lesser beings when the sun warmed them to blistering at the peak of summer.
In fact, it was easier to muster during hot and dry times because the cattle would be concentrated near the river, not up the steep slopes hiding in scrub.
Mr Waters started his Boolimba stud after writing a letter to The Land in 1964, at a time when this paper published a question and answer column.
He asked a wider audience how to set about pursuing his dream and after some feedback he purchased his first bitch, Scanlon's Jill from Coolah breeder Frank Scanlon, who bred Kelpies to work the rugged range country around Weetalibah.
From the beginning I knew I was looking for a working dog that could think for itself and work on its own
"From the beginning I knew I was looking for a working dog that could think for itself and work on its own," said Mr Waters.
When it came to pursuing that lineage the Hillgrove breeder followed the advice of Barbara Cooper, vice-president and registrar of The Working Kelpie Council of Australia, who said if you cross closely and the results are good then that is line breeding.
However, if the progeny are not so flash, well ... that's in-breeding!
"Basically she said, try it and see," recalled Mr Waters, who's lineage today includes up to 10 generations.
"Along with standard traditional breeding I've experimented by mating fathers and daughters, mums and sons and brothers and sisters. I've had the most success with fathers and daughters because that seems to concentrate the father's genetic traits.
"Results from the mums and sons have been reasonable but the mother's genetics don't seem as dominant and siblings have proven to be a real no-no as they tend to throw every which way," Mr Waters said.
"With siblings there is nothing consistent and consistency is the name of the game.
"Certainly I've outcrossed to try way-out strains and occasionally this works but I find that distantly related dogs work best."