Junior Showmanship - a Royal Melbourne Show Initiative

Australian ShepherdAustralian Shepherd

Who would have dreamed that when the 'Australian Canine Turnout (Juvenile Handlers' Classes)' were born 1948, this would grow into a worldwide phenomena. From this event's infancy, the impact of Juniors experiencing their own contests has had a definite impact on the continuance of all purebred dog activities. I am proud that I have been a first-hand witness to this growth.

History of Junior Showmanship in USA and England

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. Most notably, the Royal Melbourne Show 1948 was where the world's first formal Junior Showmanship classes where held.

In USA in the 1920's, it was first proposed to introduce a new generation of fanciers to the sport. In Long Island, New York in 1932, the first Child Handling competition was held at the Westbury Kennel Club Show. Then a competition was held every year and judged by members of the Professional Handlers Association at the Westminster Kennel Club with the winners receiving silver cups and their names recorded. A perusal of these names is quite a revelation as many of these children became the 'who's who' in America's dog world. But, according to the AKC website, it was not until 1971 that the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the virtues of Junior Handler activities and granted them official recognition at AKC events[2].

England commenced in 1977 when 'The Junior Handler of The Year' was held at Ascot Racecourse in conjunction with the Richmond Championship Show[3]. By then, the Royal Melbourne Show had been conducting Junior Handler's Classes under specific rules, for almost 30 years!

The Australian Background

Gundog Group, Melbourne c 1948Gundog Group, Melbourne c 1948

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.

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 and exhibitors who slept 'rough', sloping lawns outside the Government Pavilion for judging, a separate Secretary's office and a small cottage for the groundsmen.

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

The highlight of these early Royal Melbourne Shows was the Grand Parade which included the dogs, together with the prize winners of most of the competing farm animals. The horse events were the most glamorous, especially 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.

The First Australian 'Canine Turnout'

This historic competition was the first structured Juvenile Handlers' Class held anywhere in the world. First called the Australian 'Canine Turnout', points were allotted based on the points for the already successful Garryowen (horse dressage) '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 of the handler's costume with the dog being exhibited.

There were 4 classes:

  • Boys under 12
  • Girls under 12
  • Boys under 17
  • Girls under 17.

The Royal Melbourne Show 1948

Royal Melbourne Show 1948Royal Melbourne Show 1948

By 1948, Melbourne epitomized the prosperity of post-war Australia. Constantly setting standards for the public, social and cultural advancement of the Australian community, that year Melbourne made a bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere! So 1948 had to be a special Royal Melbourne Show.

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

The panel of 3 judges included the famous Mr J.W. Marples F.Z.S (Fellow of the Zoological Society) of England. He was the eldest son of the great Mr Theo Marples, whose books are still in great demand. In 1894, he also founded the English publication 'Our Dogs'. When one considers people that had to travel by ship for months to and from the UK, seldom did Australia enjoy the presence of such celebrities. So Mr J.W. Marples' presence at the Royal Show 1948 was well anticipated and publicized.

The 'special' event masterminded for Royal Melbourne Show 1948 was 'Manton's Canine Turnout'. Manton's was one of several Bourke Street Stores selling clothing, along with the famous Myers, Buckley & Nun's, Foy and Gibson's etc. As Mr Marples was regarded as a 'fashion expert', Manton's was chosen as sponsor. The name 'Turnout' was because the rules included points for the colour, design and appropriateness of the handler's costumes for the breed of dog each child handled.



Meanwhile, the first successful commercial Australian dog food 'Tucker Box' had commenced manufacture in Australia. By 1952, over 100 children (including yours truly) competed in these Child Handlers Classes[1]. The dog food sponsor also gave the competition a name change to the 'Tuckerbox Canine Turnout (Juvenile Handlers' Classes)'. This ran under the same name and rules from 1948 until 1977, pioneering structured Junior Showmanship competitions becoming official events recognized by kennel clubs and other dog-controlling bodies around the world!

References and Further Reading

[1] Royal Melbourne Show catalogue 1952 Published by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria 'Tucker Box Canine Turnout' Class H4  - Girls of 12 years and under 17 years of age on 19/9/52

[2] AKC Website https://www.akc.org/sports/conformation/junior-showmanship/junior-history

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

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