The dingo was regarded as a bad, wild breed, somehow symbolic of colonial Australia to the folks back ''home''. But just as the colonies started to shuffle towards Federation, along came the kelpie, our own mild colonial sheepdog.
Overnight, the breed joined Henry Lawson, the gun shearer, clipper ships and a thousand other exemplars of pastoral Australia. And as the golden age of wool spread across southern NSW and western Victoria, kelpies rode shotgun on the mobs and jauntily jogged into the inner sanctum of what it meant to be a real Australian.
Now, barely a century later, there are fears the breed is in danger of going the way of the stump-jump plough, the swagman and the two-bob watch.
The kelpie's gone doggo.
For the first time in 70 years, the National Sheep Dog Trial Championships will be kelpieless.
None made the cut for the event at Canberra's Hall Showground on March 17. This title is regarded as the most prestigious accolade on the Australian sheepdog trial calendar and is of national significance due to Canberra's self-imposed title as the bush capital.
But Barbara Cooper, registrar of the Working Kelpie Council of Australia, said the competition was not the only measure of a dog.
Kelpies, she said, were still bred in great numbers - she estimated there were at least 100,000 - and if the four-legged motion machines were a big ask for city dwellers, most rural properties worth their salt boasted two or three lying around the yard, or under the house.
It's just that the breed's participation in sheepdog trials has been on the wane for years.
''They're bred to work in big open areas like stations and don't take to the confined spaces of a trial,'' Cooper said. ''Besides, there is something very Australian about the kelpie. They just don't like to be told what to do. They know what they've got to do and would prefer to get on and do it. Let's say, they're the rugged individuals of the dog world.''
Still, the breed took a long time to become a moneymaker. Down the years Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Timmy (George's best friend in Enid Blyton's Famous Five), Old Yeller and a litter of literary and video dogs kept the kelpie at bay.
But Red Dog, a 2011 film about a well-travelled kelpie/cattle-dog cross in the Pilbara turned the breed into a cash cow.
A DOG'S LIFE: The life and times of the Kelpie
1872: Western District sheepman Jack Gleeson owned the ‘‘foundation female’’. Called Gleeson’s Kelpie, she was bred from three Scottish collie-type dogs, was black and tan and named after a water horse in Celtic mythology.
1879: One of her pups, King’s Kelpie, puts the breed on the map coming equal first in the Forbes Trial with a Tasmanian dog called Tweed. As the wool industry boomed, and the colonies moved towards Federation, local pride transformed the kelpie into our own wild colonial sheepdog.
1902: Registered as a breed in Australia. Did early breeders introduce the then-hated dingo strain? The debate continues.
1960s: The breed splits. Working kelpies muster sheep and cattle; show kelpies comprise the exhibit/pet trade.
1983: The dog becomes myth with Nancy Gillespie’s book, Red Dog. The dog died in 1979 but the yarn inspired Englishman Louis de Bernieres, whose 2001 book became a box-office success in 2011