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Casterton, VIC

Service town known as the Birthplace of the Kelpie

Casterton is an historic rural service centre on the banks of the Glenelg River. It services a large pastoral, mixed farming, timber-producing and dairying district near the South Australian border. The town is famed as the Birthplace of the Kelpie, a uniquely Australian breed of sheep dog, and it celebrates this connection with a series of sculptures around the town, a pleasant Kelpie Walking Trail, an Australian Kelpie Centre and an annual Working Dog Auction and Kelpie Festival.


Casterton is located 365 km west of Melbourne via Ballarat and Hamilton via the M8 and Glenelg Highway.


Origin of Name

When Casterton was surveyed in 1840 it was named after a settlement in the north of England. The word "casteron" is said to derive from a Roman word meaning 'walled city'. Some sources claim this was intentional as the town is 'protectively' surrounded by hills.


Things to See and Do

Casterton Community Museum
The Casterton Museum is located in the old railway station at the corner of Jackson Street and Clarke Street. It features a display of memorabilia relating to local history. It is open by appointment, tel: (03) 5575 2578 or (03) 5581 2070. Check out http://www.swvic.org/casterton/communitymuseum.htm and http://www.swvic.org/castertonhistoricalsociety.htm for more information.

Kelpie Walking Trail
There are three walking trails around the town which link the five sculptures which are devoted to the history of the Kelpie. The first route is a circuit which starts and ends on the main street. The second is an extended version of the first route which passes Ess Lagoon and Anderson Road. And the third is a pleasant walk along the Glenelg River.
Along the route expect to see:
1. Jack Gleeson (by the river) which depicts the exchange of the first kelpie for a horse. It is made out of tin and is by the artist Barb Dobson.
2. Australian Kelpie Muster (at the Lions Park) which is a large scale reproduction of a George Haddon painting by Annette Taylor
3. Man's Best Friend (at Ess Lagoon) is by the artist John Dixon
4. On The Sheep's Back is in the main street and is by artist Annette Taylor
5. Kelpie is the new bronze statue in the main street. It is by Peter Corlett.
There is a map available as part of the Casterton Kelpie Country brochure.

Australian Kelpie Centre
Opened in 2018, and located adjacent to the Visitor Information Centre, the Australian Kelpie Centre cost $1.5 million and focuses on an interpretative series of displays showcasing the remarkable history of the Kelpie working dog.

Birthplace of the Australian kelpie
It is an amusing comment on small town competitiveness that two towns - Casterton in Victoria and Ardlethan in New South Wales - both lay claim to being the home of the kelpie dog. Ardlethan asserts its claim by having a bronze statue of a kelpie in Stewart Park. Casterton is home to the annual Australian Kelpie Muster. Fortunately both towns have legitimate claims. The truth is that the first kelpie was born near Casterton and the refinement of the breed occurred near Ardlethan.
The Working Kelpie Council of Australia (see http://www.wkc.org.au/About-Kelpies/Origin-of-the-Kelpie.php) explains the conflicting claims with great clarity in its extensive article on the origin of the kelpie.
"The foundation of the Kelpie breed is now well documented. The breed originated from the intermixing of the progeny of three pairs of 'Working Collies' imported into Australia by three early landholders. The foundation female, born of black and tan working collies on Mr. George Robertson's 'Worrock' Station on the Glenelg River, Victoria, eventually came into the possession of Mr. J.D. Gleeson, who named her Kelpie.
‘Jack’ Gleeson was employed on the Murray's 'Dunrobbin' station, which adjoined 'Worrock' Station, at the time of Kelpie's birth. Leaving 'Dunrobbin' shortly afterwards he worked on 'Ballarook' Station where he broke in Kelpie to sheep work. He then accepted the position of overseer on 'North Bolero' Station in the Merool (now Ardlethan) district of New South Wales.
Whilst crossing the Murrumbidgee River on his way to take up the position he met an old friend, Mr. Mark Tully. Mr. Tully gave him an all black dog named Moss, who had been bred by the Rutherfords on their 'Yarrawong' property from stock imported from their family in Scotland. Kelpie was mated to Moss and whelped a litter shortly after arriving at 'North Bolero'; this mating was highly successful and a great line of dogs evolved.
Messrs Elliot and Allen of 'Geraldra' Station near Stockingbingal, not far from 'North Bolero', had imported from Scotland a pair of black and tans, Brutus and Jenny. Mated on the voyage out, Jenny whelped a litter shortly after their arrival. In the litter of black and tans were two red pups. Caesar, one of the black and tan male pups, was given to Mr. John Rich of 'Narriah', a property which adjoined 'North Bolero'. Gleeson's Kelpie was subsequently mated to Caesar and a black and tan bitch pup, named Kelpie after her dam, was given to Mr. C.T.W. King. The outstanding performance of King's Kelpie at the first Sheep Dog Trial conducted at the Forbes Show, New South Wales, resulted in the eventual naming of the Breed. At first, dogs of the strain were known as 'Kelpie's pups', but by the turn of the century the majority of dogs of ‘Kelpie-like’ appearance where described as Kelpies regardless of origin.
Gleeson's Kelpie' was mated on numerous occasions to both Caesar and to Moss with outstanding results and the progeny came into the hands of the landholders in the Merool district and were greatly interbred. A female (a Caesar x Gleeson' kelpie) was mated to Caesar's litter brother Laddie to produced Sally; Sally when mated to Moss, produced The Barb, an all-black dog like his sire, which gained his name from the racehorse, which won the Melbourne Cup.
For many years his descendants were known as 'Barbs' and even today many people persist in describing black members of the family in this way. The original Barb was a blend of the same strains that established the breed now known as Kelpies ...
Since the turn of the century the majority of 'Kelpie-like' dogs have been described as Kelpies whether they were directly traceable to the foundation or not. There is little question that the Kelpie is an Australian version of the short and/or smooth coated 'Working Collie', the foundation being mainly black and tan or black dogs carrying very little white. At the same time the Border Collie was usually referred to as the black and white rough-coated Working Collie ...
The modern, top quality Working Kelpie is traceable to the early foundation stock in the 1870's. He is a short-coated, prick-eared dog who revels in hard going. Established specially for local conditions he is able to muster huge areas under extreme conditions, often having to do without water for hours on end. Derived from a long line of dogs and capable of handling thousands of sheep at a time, the Kelpie has a highly developed ability to solve problems for himself, and actually prefers to do so."
This can be accepted as definitive which, in some ways, is a pity because for a long time the myth around the kelpie was that it was the progeny of the Scottish collie and a dingo. It was a romantic myth - but, sadly, just not true.
It is impossible not to love a kelpie. To watch them in action with a herd of sheep is to marvel at their intelligence while laughing at their initiative. There are dozens of videos on http://www.wkc.org.au/Photos-&-Videos/Video-Gallery/Yard-Trials/2013/Downside-Yard-Trial-Mar-2013/Default.php. My favourite is Anthony Quinn and Jesse. It shows the remarkable qualities of the kelpie. If you're a dog lover you can watch the videos for hours. There is a special Kelpie website for Casterton. Check out http://www.castertonkelpieassociation.com.au/ for extensive information.

Mickle Lookout
Mickle Lookout is located on the north-eastern side of town. Head off the highway along Robertson Street and turn left into Moodie Street. The lookout provides panoramic views over the town and is located near to the Scout Emblem.

Scout Emblem
In 1941 a fleur-de-lis, the distinctive symbol of the Scouts, with a circumference of 91 metres, was carved into Toorak Hill overlooking the town. It was carved by the local Scouts. When it was first created it was illuminated by old rags soaked in kerosene and set alight. More recently electric lighting has been installed.


Other Attractions in the Area

Warrock Homestead Complex
The Warrock Homestead Complex is located at 826 Warrock Road, Warrock. The property was established in 1841 and was taken over, in 1843, by Scottish cabinet-maker George Robertson. By 1860, when he obtained freehold title to the land, Robertson had erected 57 buildings which was effectively a private village. He initially lived in a cottage which he constructed of Tasmanian timber, handmade nails and blackwood shingles.
Thirty-six of Robertson's  buildings remain. Principally designed after mid-19th century pattern book sources, the buildings typically feature Gothic effects such as steeply-pitched roofs with pronounced gables, fretted bargeboards and finials. They are spread over two acres and include the original cottage, the homestead (built from 1848 to 1853 and retaining the handmade original timber furniture), the woolshed, a smokehouse, a slaughtering shed, the shearer's quarters, a belfry (the bell was used to summon hands to meals), a dairy, a grain store, a baking house, the stables, a blacksmiths and the brick dog compound which housed the canines used to hunt the local dingoes. Robertson bred the ancestor of the first kelpie at Warrock.
The architectural and historical value of these buildings is recognised by the National Trust which considers it the "most important pastoral station complex in Victoria". Robertson's descendants (he had no children and the property passed to his nephew George Robertson Patterson) lived on the property until 1992 and there is much in the way of antique equipment and tools (steam engines, treadle lathes, chaff cutters etc). There is a picnic area and it is open daily from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. 
To access Warrock Homestead Complex, head east from Casterton along the Glenelg Highway for 6 km and turn left onto the Chetwynd Road. After 15 km turn into Warrock Road. Alternatively, travel north from Casterton along Apsley Road and turn right into Warrock Road 24 km north of Casterton. For more information check out http://warrockhomestead.com.au or tel: 0417 938 533.

Bilstons Tree
Located on Glenmia Road at Dergholm, which is 15 km north via Chetwynd Road from the Warrock Homestead Complex, is a signposted turnoff to Bilstons Tree. The tree is considered to have the largest volume of millable river red gum in the world. It is thought to be over 800 years old (it was a seedling about 1200 AD) and stands 44 m high with a girth of 7.62 metres. It is estimated to contain 9100 cubic feet of timber. In recent times limbs have broken off (one in 1973 and one in 2013) and a local sculptor has carved animals into the dead limbs. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/52692/download-report for more detailed information.

Baileys Rocks and Dergholm State Park
Baileys Rocks are a series of enormous and unusual green-coloured granite boulders in a dry creek bed within the northern section of Dergholm State Park. Follow the Casterton-Naracoorte Road north-west for 36 km (then drive another 7 km beyond the settlement of Dergholm) there is a signposted turnoff which leads to the Baileys Rocks Picnic and Camping Area where there are two walking tracks. A short (3230 m) loop track leads to the boulders while the Rocky Creek Trail (5 km return) starts further upstream. It is clearly marked by blue arrows.
There are also driving tracks in the park which features a diversity of vegetation (woodlands, open forests, heath and swamp communities and spectacular spring wildflowers) and fauna (red-tailed black cockatoos, swift parrots, echidnas, koalas, grey kangaroos and a diverse range of reptiles).
The park covers 10,400 ha and is divided into two blocks - the Youpayang Block in the south and the Bogalara Block in the north - which are separated by the Dergholm-Edenhope Road. It was declared a Park in 1992. A useful Park Note and map of the two sections can be download at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/313796/Park-note-Dergholm-State-Park.pdf.



* The Kanalgundidj clan (part of the Jardwadjali language group) occupied the area prior to white settlement.

* The Surveyor Thomas Mitchell passed through the area during the Australia Felix expedition of 1836.

* Mitchell's reports of good pasturage encouraged the Henty Brothers to move inland in 1837, marking the start of European settlement in the Western district. They took up 28,000 ha of land in the area and an original homestead, 'Muntham', still stands between Casterton and Coleraine.

* A massacre of Aborigines occurred at a camping and corroboree site now known as Murdering Flat in 1839. They were allegedly shot with bolts, nails and gravel loaded into a cannon.

* The townsite of Casterton emerged as a crossing place on the Glenelg River. It was surveyed in 1840.

* Warrock Station was established north of the present site of Casterton in 1841.

* The Glenelg River experienced a serious flood in 1845.

* The Glenelg Inn was established in 1846.

* A post office was opened in 1847.

* In 1855 Casterton held its first race meeting.

* By 1857 James Bonwick observed of the local Aborigines that "The tribe is nearly extinct" and noted that alcoholism had spread through the community as the traditional culture collapsed.

* The telegraph arrived in the the town in the 1860s.

* In 1870 a local newspaper the Casterton News was published.

* The Casterton Football Club was founded in 1875.

* By 1880 the large squatting runs were being broken up for closer settlement by selectors.

* The railway arrived in 1884 and Casterton became the western terminus of the state's rail service.

* A kangaroo skin tannery was established in 1885

* A cheese factory opened in 1892.

* In 1892 the premier of Victoria, William Shiels, his ministry and about 40 journalists travelled to Casterton by a special train to present the state government's policies in a media event which amounted to the first rural policy launch.

* Wheat production declined in the 1890s owing to soil erosion.

* By 1900 the town had five hotels, five butchers, eleven general storekeepers, two tinsmiths, seven blacksmiths and wheelwrights, three banks, four tailors, three drapers and milliners, six auctioneers and agents and a chemist.

* In 1902, poet and political radical Mary Gilmore (later Dame Mary Gilmore), settled on a property at Strathdownie, to the south-west of Casterton.

* On 20 July, 1906, after 100 mm fell near the town, the Glenelg River flooded.

* Gilmore moved to Casterton in 1907 where her son attended school.

* The Casterton Hospital was opened in 1908.

* Gilmore left Casterton in 1912.

* In 1914 the infamous versifier and swindler, George Henry Cochrane (aka 'Grant Hervey' and 'Hervey G. Madison') perpetrated fraud upon the Casterton News. He was caught, charged with forgery and uttering and jailed.

* The 1920s saw soldier settlers moving into the town.

* The Casterton Town Hall was opened in 1936.

* In March, 1946 the Glenelg River flooded forcing 50 families to flee their homes.

* In 1977 the railway closed.


Visitor Information

Casterton Visitor Information Centre, 139 Henty Street, tel: (03) 5554 2440. Open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily.


Useful Websites

There is a dedicated local website. Check out http://www.casterton.org.au.

Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • I could not see a mention of Clarice Beckett on your site.
    Clarice was born in Casterton and is an extraordinary artist. She has a world acclaimed reputation. Her work is currently being exhibited by the South Australian Art Gallery and is a source of rich information about her work and her life; this is where we saw mention of her early years.
    Do you have any sites we can visit relating to her life or work?

  • There is a new online Casterton Business and Community Directory starting up at http://www.casterton.au.