Junior Showmanship - a Melbourne Initiative

Australian ShepherdAustralian Shepherd

England has huge Dog Shows like Crufts. USA has famous Dog Shows like the Westminster Kennel Club. But for Australia, our largest and most famous Dog Shows were tied to the Royal Agricultural Societies in each State. According to my research, it was at the Royal Melbourne Show 1948 where the first structured Junior Showmanship classes were conducted anywhere in the world.

Afghan HoundAfghan Hound

"The first classes for Junior Handlers were held in the United States at the Westbury Kennel Club Show in Long Island, New York in 1932. In those early days it was the cute children handling unruly dogs who usually won. The judges did not know what they were looking for, toffees and chocolates were handed out to all competitors. It was not until 1971 that Junior Showmanship, as it is called in the States, received official recognition and rules and guidelines were standardized".[1] 

When England commenced in 1977 with 'The Junior Handler of The Year' being staged at Ascot Racecourse in conjunction with the Richmond Championship Show, the Royal Melbourne Show had been conducting Junior Handler's Classes for almost 30 years!

The Australian Background

By 1946 the Royal Melbourne Show resumed following World War 2. In those days at the ordinary Shows a bus collected many of us and delivered us to and from the Show. There were no gazebos, tents, or even grooming tables. We all sat around on the grass beside the ring with our dogs and maybe a chair and/or brush and comb, sometimes under the shade of a beach umbrella.

Royal Melbourne Show c 1948Royal Melbourne Show c 1948

How we all looked forward to the Royal Melbourne Show where the dogs were displayed on open benches! Some of the dogs traveled to the Royal Show by train unaccompanied. On arrival at the railway station, Stewards collected the dogs, benched them, exercised them and exhibited them. Other exhibitors transported their own dogs to the Royal Show and exhibited them, but left them benched in the care of the Stewards to be exercised, fed and returned to their owners the next day by train. Those exhibitors who were not comfortable leaving their dogs (including me), slept in the Cockbill Pavilion overnight. Facilities for dogs at the Royal Melbourne Show consisted of the Cockbill Pavilion for benching, sloping lawns between the Government Pavilion and the railway line for judging, a separate Secretary's office and a groundsman's small cottage.

The highlight of the early Royal Melbourne Shows for me was sitting in the arena watching the Grand Parade of all the competing farm animals, especially horse events, the most glamorous of which was the Garryowen Turnout, a dressage competition for female riders. The rules for this event were laid down in 1934 and consisted of points for the conformation of the horse, the saddlery and costume, and the riding ability.

So when the rules for an Australian 'Canine Turnout' were first structured, points were allotted based on the points for the already successful Garryowen (horse) Turnout as follows:

  • 30 points for the conformation, condition, and bloom of the dog
  • 30 points for the appropriate lead and skill of the handler in exhibiting the dog
  • 30 points for the appropriateness in design, cut and harmony in colour of the handler's costume.

There were 4 classes Boys under 12, Girls under 12, Boys under 17 and Girls under 17. The second dot point is particularly interesting in that the skill of the handler had such little importance. How times have changed!

The Royal Melbourne Show 1948

Dog Exhibitor Certificate Royal Melbourne Show 1934Dog Exhibitor Certificate Royal Melbourne Show 1934

The panel of 3 judges included the famous Mr J.W. Marples F.Z.S (Fellow of the Zoological Society) of England. Mr J. W. Marples was the eldest son of the great Mr Theo Marples, whose books are still in great demand. Mr Theo Marples founded the English publication 'Our Dogs' in 1894. Seldom did Australia enjoy the presence of such celebrities when one considers they would have had to travel by boat for a month each way. Mr J.W. Marples' presence at the Royal Show 1948 was well anticipated and well publicized. To give you some idea of the hype, some 11 years before when he visited USA, the 'Syracus Sports Journal' 19th February 1937 carried this report written by Dan Parker:

'More interesting to me than the kyoodles themselves are the colourful characters one encounters there. Like Chihuahuas they are a breed apart. Who, for instance, finding himself suddenly blinded by the dazzling effulgence of Vinton Plushbottom Breeze's canary-coloured block-striped vest, could mistake that eminent canine jurist for the Spaniel Solomon he is? Or fail to become kennel conscious in the presence of Mr J.W Marples F.Z.S. of England. Man and boy, Mr Marples has been judging exhibiting, handling and writing about dogs longer than any man living. In fact he was an old man at the bow-wow business when Hector's great, great, grand-father was still only a glint in an Airedale's eye. The Westminster Kennel Club has Mr Marples as one of its distinguished guests at 61st Championship Show at Madison Square Garden[2].

(Note: the Airedale 'Hector' was made famous by the story of a stowaway dog 'the Ballad of Hector')

Jane with her first dog a Fox Terrier (Wire)Jane with her first dog a Fox Terrier (Wire)

So Melbourne had to do something special for the Royal Melbourne Show 1948. As Mr Marples was advertised as a 'fashion expert' one can only speculate how and why the 'Manton's Canine Turnout' was devised for this Show. Certainly at that time Melbourne epitomized the prosperity of post-war Australia, constantly setting standards of public, social and cultural service to the whole community. After all, that year Melbourne had also mounted a bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games.

Manton's was one of several Bourke Street Stores selling clothing, along with the famous Myers, Buckley & Nun's, Foy and Gibson's etc. So maybe Manton's wished to put themselves in the public eye in the field of fashion. Hence in the rules points were allocated on the appropriateness of design, cut and harmony in colour of the handler's costumes.

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

Meanwhile, Tucker Box Dog Food had commenced manufacture in Australia, arguably the first commercial Australian tinned dog food. From 1946 they sponsored the 'Novice Classes' (a Sweepstakes Class for dogs and bitches that had never won a First Prize).

In 1952, these structured Child Handlers Classes changed their sponsor and became known as the 'Tuckerbox Canine Turnout' (Juvenile Handlers' Classes) under the same rules with over 100 children competing, including yours truly! Tucker Box sponsorship continued until 1977 and certainly laid the foundation for today's Australian Junior Showmanship Classes.

References and Further Reading

[1] Felix Cosme - "Junior Handling" by Felix Cosme Pub 1990, 2009  Hereford UK ISBN 978-0-9563324-0-0 Chapter 1 Page 16

[2] Dan Parker - "Syracus Sports Journal" Report published 19th February 1937

Published as "Junior Showmanship - a Melbourne Initiative" by Jane Harvey in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 10, 2012 Page 68

Also published "Junior Showmanship - a Melbourne Initiative" by Jane Harvey in "Dogs Victoria Magazine" Victorian Canine Association Inc. Cranbourne Vic Vol. 79 Issue 1 January 2013 Pages 18 - 19