Thanks to Stuff.co.nz for this article.
Musterers gather for last high-country dog trials
By JOHN KEAST – The Press
The high-country dogs are ready for their last run.
So, too, are the dwindling number of musterers who work the tussock country up the Ashburton Gorge in Mid- Canterbury.
Tomorrow night, when the last event is over and the last dogs come off the hill at Hakatere Station, the gorge dog trials will be at an end, save for the storytelling and celebrations.
Musterers’ dog trials have been held at Hakatere since 1946, introduced by Leo Chapman and Sam Chaffey as a way of getting musterers to hold on to their dogs.
As an incentive, a levy was collected from all station owners in the area and the big prize was worth a month’s wages.
James Wright is organising the event and, although he lives in the Hinds Gorge, he is eligible to enter because his property, Tenahaun, backs on to properties in the Ashburton Gorge.
He does not know how he came to organise the past seven or eight trials but he knows this will be the last.
The number of shepherds working in the gorge has dropped as farming practices change and tenure review takes land for the conservation estate. Some stations have no musterers. When the trials start at 8am tomorrow, just 15 will contest the hill and handy events.
Wright said station owners decided to make this trial the last, rather than have a hardy few participating out of a sense of duty.
He said the hill event at Hakatere replicated the type of day-to-day work a musterer would perform. Each contestant uses three dogs.
In its heyday, when mustering was more seasonal, shepherds at the late-autumn muster would often sell dogs before moving on, then start the following year with pups.
The trial event, with its prizes, encouraged the workers to keep their trained dogs ready for the next season.
And there has been a social side to the event. People from Mount Somers and other towns would go to the station to watch the event and take part in the after-trial festivities.
That included musical instruments of all types, a bit of boasting, and whisky and beer.