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The Omakau-Earnscleugh Collie Club is going all out to stage the district’s first South Island championships at Earnscleugh Station next May.

It might be still 10 months away, but dog trial convener Paul McCarthy, of Alexandra, said it was never too soon to let people know the event was happening right on their doorstep.

“It’s going to bring at least 400 people to Alexandra for a week. That is significant.”

And it will be a chance to showcase the new course on the big, wide open spaces of the Old Man Range at Earnscleugh Station, on behalf of the Otago Sheep Dog Trials Centre.

The Campbell family-owned station has been home to the Omakau-Earnscleugh club for the past four years since the shift from the Waikerikeri Valley. The foothills were first used for trials in 2017, but the club had developed the course to championship standard since then.

“It’s quite a selection process getting an [South] Island,” Mr McCarthy said.

Thanks to the Campbells, there would be plenty of sheep, he said.

“They’re the only merino champs left in New Zealand, so we’re very keen to retain that because it’s very unique.”

It cost about $70,000 to put on a championship. It would be very much a community event which would benefit the organisations involved. For instance, Central Otago Hockey Associationwould be doing the catering to fundraise for a new turf.

In recent years, the club had seen a resurgence to about 40 members, and last year qualified 12 dogs for South Island and New Zealand events.

“I think it’s because there’s a lot of older guys, rural people retiring from Southland to Central Otago competing and wanting to be involved. The social side is important too. We build up a real network. Once you’ve gone to a nationals you start meeting up with a bunch of people.”

Omakau-Earnscleugh Collie Club member Paul McCarthy on course at
the club’s home grounds on Earnscleugh Station, with huntaway Jock (left) and heading dog Bill.

Mr McCarthy grew up in North Otago but spent most of his working life in Southland. He was the Mount Linton Station chief executive for 13 years and semi-retired to Alexandra about 10 years ago.

He became involved in dog trials in his 20s and was in the first team to compete in the transtasman dog trials test in Australia in the 1980s. Clubmate Neville Hore was also in that team.

When he started in dog trials, he said there might have been 80 or 90 competing in the huntaway and 150 in the heading dog sections. Now it was triple the number in the huntways and almost double that in the heading dogs.

“The sport has gained popularity, and it’s a real irony when sheep numbers have halved but the number of dog triallists has doubled.”