THE GERMAN COOLIE OR KOOLIE:
AUSTRALIA’S GERMAN COLLIE
– Some Background on the Coolie/Koolie
of Australia’s oldest working dogs has been little-known outside its homeland,
but is beginning to gain more attention. There
are slightly different versions of its name – German Coolie, Australian Koolie
– but the names apply to the same agile, tough, versatile sheep and cattle
dog. Long bred solely for
stock-working ability, the Coolie or Koolie varies in details of appearance, as
has always been the case with working-bred dogs.
Ears may be prick or may be folded over to varying degrees.
Many are fairly smooth-coated, but medium-long coats also occur.
Depending on the area of Australia where they are bred, they may tend to
be larger or smaller, rangier or stockier, to fit local conditions.
The color most often associated with them is merle, blue or red, often
with blue or china-white eyes, but colors include solid black or solid chocolate
brown/red, with white and/or tan markings. They
are adaptable and biddable, comfortable working both close-in and at a further
distance, will gather or drive as needed, and
generally work upright with a flexible amount of eye rather than crouching or
fixing on their stock with a sticky eye.
most likely explanation for the unusual coolie/koolie name is that it is a
variant spelling and pronunciation of collie.
By the mid-19th century, the
collie had become so well known as a sheepdog that the word “collie” was
often used as a synonym for sheepdog. Thus
references can be found to French
collies, Italian collies, Russian collies, Norwegian collies (from the
description, a Buhund or Elkhound), even an Arabian collie.
And of course, German collies. Even
when it was the Scottish collie that was being referred to, the earlier spelling
could take on various forms – collie, colley, coaly, coley, coly, cullie,
coulie, coolie. In
1827 in The World in Miniature; England,
Scotland and Ireland, Vol IV, W. H. Pyne writes, “‘On
the Cheviot hills, the Lammermoors, and the heights of Tweedale,’ says Mr.
Gray, ‘one of these shepherds with his coolly (dog) will take care of from
thirty to a hundred score of sheep.’”
Coolie was a term long used in Australia for collie-type dogs, and didn’t necessarily relate to dogs of German origin. A notice in 1836 the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser informed readers that “The Scotch shepherds per Florentia have brought out a number of dogs of the Coolie breed, well adapted for sheep dogs.”
Dogs and Curs
by Sydenham Edwards
English Shepherd’s Dog (1847) Shepherd’s Dog. Colly. (1858)
1839, a reward of five pounds was offered via the Sydney
Gazette for the apprehension of James
McIntyre, an emigrant who “absconded from his hired Service, at Belubula,
where he was in charge of a Flock of Sheep,” and not only skipped out
on his three-year employment contract but took with him “ two
black Scotch Cooley Dogs.”
In Brisbane in 1859, “Scotch coolie dogs” were performing in a
trained animal act with Klaer’s Lilliputian Hippodrome.
An “Imported pure-bred Scotch coolie dog” was listed for sale in late
December and through January 1879 in the Sydney
Morning Herald. Newspaper
notices and ads refer to “Scotch coolies” as well as German ones.
The English writer Morley Roberts, who had worked in rural Australia for
three years beginning in 1877, noted in his 1891
travel memoirs, “There the men working with sheep delight in having well-bred
animals and devote immense care and patience to their education.
Their dogs are always collies – called by the way in the bush coolies
– they come very often from good imported strains, and are frequently
exceedingly handsome and clever.”
such as coolie and cooley turn up in Canada and the U.S. as well.
An article in a Canadian journal in 1888 referenced “Scotch coolies.”
In 1906 a Pennsylvania subscriber to the “Hunter-Trader-Trapper”
magazine wrote of hunting with his “bunty-tailed [bobtail] Scotch coolie,”
named Cooley. The resemblance of the
word used for the working collie-type dogs to the word “coolie” used for
immigrant workers, a word of Hindi origin (translated into German as “kuli”),
is coincidental. One 1842 Sydney
newspaper entry relates a joke having to do with the misunderstanding of a
Scotsman when hearing about the need to bring in more coolie workers, and it is
readers as may not be cognizant of the fact,
a Colie, or Coolie, is the term used in Scotland for a Shepherd's dog.”
are numerous references in Australia to the importation of collies and
“coolies” from Britain, as well as other strains of British working dogs
such as the Smithfield dog. Dogs for
handling livestock were brought to Australia from England, Scotland, Wales,
Ireland, and some were brought from Germany too.
Note was made in 1826 of an importation of sheep handled by William
Hampden Dutton involving 9 Saxon rams, 172 Saxon ewes, 29 lambs, 500 additional
sheep of the same kind which were expected to be shipped within the month, and a
German master shepherd, three German and two English under-shepherds, two wolf
dogs (guardian dogs) and two sheep dogs. There
were other large importations of sheep from Germany being made in this period,
and it is probable that shepherds and dogs came with some of those as well.
FRIDAY, 2nd MAY, 1851.
SAXON MERINO RAMS.
Will sell by auction, at
close by Liardet's,
on FRIDAY, 2nd MAY NEXT,
at one o'clock,
SAXON MERINO RAMS,
ex ANTONIE from Hamburgh.
11 Pure Saxon Merino Rams,
And 3 Pure Bred Saxon Merino Rams,
2 German Sheep Dogs and 1 Bitch, of the finest
The Auctioneer begs to call the attention of
Breeders to the above Rams, as some of them
are of the very highest class to be obtained in Germany.
In the 1850s in particular there was a strong
demand for German immigrant farmworkers, especially shepherds, although very
little is said about dogs. A notice of a German sheepdog
being sold at auction was printed in the Hobart Mercury
on Aug. 20, 1861, in a listing that continued on through October 26.
A sheepdog of 1864
No physical descriptions were given of these early German sheepdog imports. The sheepdogs brought to Australia from various countries, and subsequently bred from, included individuals of various colors and coat types. Merles featured strongly among the British dogs. The smooth collie of Northern England and Scotland was often merle colored, and the color was particularly associated with Welsh sheepdogs. Robert Kaleski, in an article on Cattle Dogs in the August 1903 issue of the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, describes the “Welsh heeler or merle, erroneously known as the German collie,” as a “blue-gray dog about the size and build of a smooth-haired collie, generally with wall eyes.” The British background predominated in the dogs that came to be associated with the “German collie” name, but the working dogs from different backgrounds had much in common and were readily interbred to suit the needs of stockmen. It was also during this period that the original collie was being turned into a show dog, and the formerly common merle color was being eclipsed by the fashionable sable to the extent that merles became uncommon in the dogs that show breeders were presenting to the public as “the Collie.” At some point along the way, the German strain in the blend of the working “coolie” dog provided a more distinctive name.
the history of dog breeding, it is not uncommon for color to be associated with
a breed. Because merle cannot
be bred “pure” due to the detrimental effects on health that can result when a
pup gets a merle gene from each parent (the merle itself is a dog which gets a
gene for merle from the merle parent and a gene for non-merle from the non-merle
parent), solid-colored dogs continued to be bred in the German collie as well,
even though the more eye-catching merle color came to be closely associated with
the breed. Dogs with merle coloring
frequently have one or both eyes blue, china-white, or marbled, although the collie
breeds also have a blue or china-white eye that is inherited separately from the
By the late 1850s,
notices were appearing in newspaper “For sale” and “Lost and
Found” entries for German collies and German coolies, and by the 1870s the
notices were more numerous. In the
later 19th and early 20th century, German collie was the most common form of the
name in newspapers in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart and Perth.
When descriptions were provided in the ads and notices, many gave the
color as grey, others were black and white; black, tan and white; brown; and one
was white. A couple were bobtailed.
Several of the ads mentioned the dog as having one or both eyes white, or
“wall eyes,” including dogs that didn’t appear to be merle.
Blue-eyed “German collies” were known in New Zealand as well.
blue merle sheepdog in Germany, 1900
The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture, Von Stephanitz)
the sheepdog trial held in conjunction with the 25th annual spring stock show of
the South Tasmanian Agricultural and Pastoral Society, the first prize was won
by the German collie, Maid, worked by Mr. Harwick of Oatlands and owned by S. B.
Barwick. The reporter related that
she was “A very fine specimen of a sheepdog, and secured within two of the
total maximum number of points.” Maid
and the second-place dog were “exceptionally tractable, each securing the
maximum number of points awarded for this class of work,” in contrast to
several of the other contestants who were “rather unruly, and showed a
disposition to add to their labors by unnecessarily chasing the sheep about.
Judged on the whole, however, the work was very creditable, and in
several instances the sheep were smartly yarded.”
In June 1900, Maid came second at the trial held at the Campbell Town
Show of the Midland Agricultural Association.
the “Kennel” column in the Sydney
Morning Herald, July 14, 1900, the columnist wrote about the very popular
sheepdog, the black or blue prick-eared barb (a strain with an origin in common
with the Kelpie, which eventually became part of the Kelpie breed), named after
a notable dog called Barb who had been named after a black racehorse, The Barb.
The columnist went on to mention the merle dog with a wall eye, known as
a smooth sheepdog, that was common in Wales, Lancashire and Westmoreland, and
how that dog would be called in New South Wales and perhaps all over Australia,
“German coalys.” He was puzzled
about the name, and asked whether some reader might provide some information.
The next week, he related that someone had come forward, and that according to Charles Gould of Sydney, “this dog is named after a blue dog imported from Germany early in the sixties by Mr. C. W. Bucknell of Minigver [Mungyer] station, Gwydir district, New South Wales. With him were associated a lot of sheep and cattle matrons, hence the variety. They were never supposed to have the prick ears of the barb, and all the Germans were blue, with marble eyes. The German sheepdog proper, however, is little like the one known as such in this country. One of the oldest authorities wrote of him, ‘The German collie is of a small and variable breed, resembling greatly the Spitz (Pomeranian) in appearance, but without any definite points.’”
German collies were being shown at dog shows in the Adelaide area and continued
to appear in dog show classes until 1911. After
that, they disappeared from the show ring and continued on solely as working
blue merle smooth collie, 1900
Australia, the German coolie, partly descended from the old German herding dogs
which were blended with the more numerous dogs of British origin,
continued to be bred solely as a stockdog, doing its work far from the
more-publicized world of the organized dog fancy.
No doubt some of these dogs were among the working dogs that went to
America from Australia in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th
century, when sheep from Australia were being imported into the American west.
There they likely played a part in the formation of the Australian
Shepherd, another breed that similarly came to have an association with the
merle color. And in a situation
similar to that of the Australian Shepherd, which has some Australian ancestry
which contributed to its name but was developed in the United States, the German
collie, now known by the early outback name, is an
Coolie or Koolie, continuing on with its focus on stock work, is now being
registered in working-oriented organizations, including the International
German Coolie Society and Registry, Koolie Club of
Australia, and Working Koolie Association of Australia. There
may be some variation in the details of the name, but there is agreement on the
good working qualities, intelligence and soundness that have made it a dog of
note in the working world of the Australian stockdog.
photos courtesy of Ruth Anne Stevens
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