Everyone has their job to do

On Tumbywood’s Elmore property, a team of six dogs are working around the clock to get things done. There are the stars of the court, the paddock pushers and a mouse patrol. The six dogs belong to Jessica Conlan, her mother Jo and her partner John McDonald.

Who is the oldest?

It’ll be Wok, he’s a 12-year-old koolie.

Where does the name Wok come from?

Jessica: It is named after the nickname of the herdsman who owned his mother. We got it at the Echuca slaughterhouse. Her mother was a cattle dog and she had her litter box in the yard. She would drive off and then come back to take care of them. We were taking cattle there and we saw it.

A big happy family: Egg, Ryder and Ziggy with John McDonald and Jessica Conlan.

Who comes after Wok?

Jo: Topey. He’s an 11-year-old black kelpie from Topra station and comes from the blood of a test dog. My husband’s sister owned the parents. He’s got a lot of eyes – he’s really good on a small number of sheep. They always say he’s very stylish.

Next to the oldest?

Jessica: Ryder. He’s our third generation Jack Russell and he’s six years old. We have had Jack Russells for years and keep them for mice, rabbits and foxes. His name is Ryder because he likes to walk around. He still wants to be in a vehicle.

What is Ryder’s personality?

Complex. He’s like a human, he’s very emotional.

Who came after Ryder?

Atticus. He’s a five-year-old red koolie. He comes from a koolie stud near Cairns. Mom explicitly asked for a truly fearless dog. He is a great support and pusher – a great catching dog too. If you have a fly-struck sheep, they’ll get it. We had heard his name and thought it was cool, and as it turns out we got him shortly after and decided to call him Atticus. Now we shout it out a hundred times a day and we’re a little overwhelmed.

We’re until the second youngest – who is he?

Ziggy is four years old and he is Wok’s son. He is fast, very good barker and very good at pushing. The mother was from Silhouette Koolies near Lockington. It’s named after Ziggy Stardust [a persona created by singer David Bowie] because it has a lightning shape on its head.

The youngest?

The egg is five months old. She is Ryder’s daughter and our fourth generation. She is also the only girl. Usually we keep the boys but her litter was entirely made up of girls. We named her Egguf because she looked like a soft-boiled egg when she was a puppy and was sticky. We hope she will become a good hunter. Our first generation dog was a fantastic hunter but the instinct was fading. Her mother was a great hunter, so I hope she finds out soon. At the moment, she is very interested in chooks.

What made you a koolie family?

We have always had them. We’ve had a few border collies and kelpies, but koolies are great all-around working dogs.

Ready to work: Ziggy and Atticus, aka the young duo.

Do they get along?

Everyone has their job and when they go everywhere together, no one is jealous. When the older two (Wok, Topey) are working out you don’t even have to say anything, they know the exercise and where the doors are. The two youngest (Ziggy, Atticus) can do stupid things.

How much stock do these guys have to handle?

We have 3000 sheep and a few cattle. They all love cattle, it’s a little more exciting. If they’re in a hurry by a cow, that’s their favorite part. We mainly have Belgian Blues and Limousin cattle.

Do they all sleep in kennels?

Yeah. They eat hunting dog food because it contains the best protein and fat. It maintains the weight when they are working hard. Excess eggs from our hooks are fine too. Keeps their coat shiny.

Words and images: Daneka Hill

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