As you drive towards the two-story home at Tiree, 100 kilometres south of Torrens Creek, you are greeted by the most delightful spectacle of Kelpie puppies rushing to see you, tumbling over each other with their ears pricked.
The black and tan bundle of curiosity and excitement, contained inside the tennis court, is the nucleus of a working dog stud that’s a rarity in north west Queensland.
It started from a need for company but now Nathalie Grimmer has a full-blown business raising and selling Kelpies for cattle work.
Originally hailing from Germany, Nathalie came to Australia with VisitOz on a holiday visa, intent on getting her fill of the wide open spaces and ‘wild west’ reputation the Queensland bush offered.
“I always wanted to see the world but I wasn’t keen on babysitting or waitressing,” is how she explains landing at Tiree, 30,755 hectares of open flats and creeks south of the Flinders Highway.
It’s the breeder block for Blackall couple, Rhett and Jane Webb, and its weaners provide plenty of opportunities for Nathalie to educate her growing pups.
Whistling her dogs to bring a skitterish mob of young cattle to heel is a far cry from Nathalie’s experience of cattle in Germany where a boyfriend’s family ran Limousins on 500ha of land.
Although she loved the freedom of her new bush life with her husband, “Blue” Grimmer, there were times when she needed company, which is where Zack, her first Kelpie came onto the scene.
“I didn’t care if he worked or not, but he skulldragged me into it,” she said.
“I got a blue heeler next but I didn’t like it as much.
“I just got into the breeding then, and finding a type that I really liked.
“It’s quite rewarding when you choose what to breed and you get good feedback from people.
“It’s turned into a passion really. My mum wouldn’t let me have a pet so perhaps I’m compensating now.
“I think I was meant to do this.”
The main lines she breeds from are Jan Lowing’s Karmala Kelpies, along with dogs from David Hart and Tony Parsons.
Nathalie said whenever she considered a new sire or bitch, she asked herself the question, “Do I like the way it works with cattle”.
“A lot of what I do is self-taught, along with talking with Jan about the genetics behind it all,” she said. “I also did a few schools to see what went on there, so I’m a weird mix of everything I’ve seen and learnt.”
It’s a mix that seems to be working – every time she puts out on her Facebook page what she’s planning to mate, orders are quickly placed, even before a litter is on the ground.
She only began breeding in 2015, when she felt she had the “mixture” right, and has sold four litters since then.
Now, with videos of her dogs working on social media, she doesn’t have enough bitches to breed from to fill the demand for the moment.
Nathalie puts the interest down to having well-bred dogs specifically for cattle, in an area where not many others are operating.
“I think I’m filling a gap,” she said.
With this year’s Casterton Working Dog auction, held at the Australian Kelpie Muster in mid-June, setting a new record price of $22,000, Nathalie could have hit on a surefire money maker as well.
“It’s a big price for sure, but I tell people I can save them $45,000, if they use my dogs for their mustering.”
It’s even a challenge at home, where she is still to convince them that her dogs could do the work of a helicopter and five men at mustering time.
“People who’ve always worked with dogs understand but it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime,” she said.
Her location has one drawback, when she needs to send pups off to new homes in places like Gympie, Tambo or even Tamworth.
She could drive them all to their new owners but that’s just not practical, and animal couriers are few and far between in her part of the world.
At the moment Nathalie is managing 13 beautifully smooth-coated dogs with a diet of raw meat and runs for daily exercise, but that’s soon to turn into 20 or so.
Then there’ll be even more of the loyal, observant and affectionate puppies joining the playful rough and tumble of the Tiree tennis court, getting ready for new homes around Australia.