Clermont grazier Frank Finger to feature in new documentary series Muster Dogs

Ben Harden
By Ben Harden
Updated January 24 2022 - 3:19am, first published January 18 2022 - 9:00am
Frank Finger, Clermont, with his muster dog. Photo: Melissa Spencer (Stock Chick Films)

For Central Queensland grazier Frank Finger, his pack of kelpie dogs are invaluable to the successful running of his family's cattle operation at Hillview near Clermont.

Frank and his wife Catherine Finger and family operate three properties at Capella and Clermont, running a pure high-grade Brahman herd, pure Droughtmasters and crossing Simmentals over the Brahman breeders.

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With over 45 years experience of working with cattle dogs, Frank and his family's passion for dog training began 28 years ago.

"In 1994, we started holding on farm short courses of horse breaking, horse shoeing and a lot of people in the district were coming to them and seeing a need for it," Mr Finger said.

"After each one of those schools, I'd ask them what they wanted to do next and in about 1995 they all wanted a dog school."

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Frank enlisted the help of nationally renowned livestock educator Neil McDonald and his wife Helen from South Australia.

Frank Finger alongside his working Kelpie dogs at his cattle property Hillview, Clermont. Photo: Melissa Spencer

Mr Finger said he was amazed at the ability Neil had in recognising and understanding the importance of livestock handling and its flow-on effects.

"Quarter of a century ago, people in the south thought that it was too hot in our climate to work dogs, but Neil and Helen have in their training have changed our way of thinking and it's far more acceptable and a lot more here," he said.

"Working dogs with sheep and cattle are nothing new, they were doing this 100 years ago, we just went away from it for a while I think and now they're getting back to it again."

Neil McDonald working a mob of weaners.

In 1996, the McDonalds and Fingers set up a dog training school in Clermont and that's when Mr Finger said his passion for kelpie dogs was born.

"I had never seen Kelpies working cattle like Neil did. I had never seen that and it was a big eye opening for me," he said.

"From then on, my daughters and I started with a couple of Kelpie pups and then we got them back the following year and we've had them every year since."

The Fingers have held 38 cattle dog training schools on their property and have brought in other renowned dog trainers as well.

The family has hosted over 900 people over the years on their property, and Mr Finger said they've built a passion for passing on knowledge to other up and coming dog handlers.

"We've got a passion for training, training people on property and training for ourselves," he said.

"The downside of working dogs is that there working life span is eight to 10 years and you get terribly attached to them but you have to have a few coming on all the time."

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Love for kelpie training pays off 

Three years ago, Frank was approached by Ambient Entertainment, to ask if he would be interested in featuring in the new ABC Documentary series Muster Dogs.

The four-part series, supported by the Queensland government through Screen Queensland's Screen Finance Program, follows five Aussie graziers as they train five Kelpie puppies from the same litter to become champion muster dogs. Of the five graziers, Frank is the only one from Queensland.

The series highlights the bond between farmer and animal, the science behind muster dog behaviour and how the mustering affects livestock welfare and the lives of farmers.

"Through ABC and Ambient Entertainment, who could see a need for this doco series, they contacted Neil McDonald and he gave them our name and that's how it started," he said.

"They first started filming here in September 2020. The pups were born on the second of July 2020 and then that would have made them nearly two months old by the time they got here."

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Bred by renowned Victorian Kelpie breeder Joe Spicer, GoGetta Kelpie stud, Mr Finger received a black and tan female pup and he said she did well for him.

"Joe Spicer is the breeder and he has selected these pups out of the one litter and it will be explained in the series how he paired them up with us," he said.

"I hope the series will show our love for the the working Kelpie and our commitment to on farm training, using quality trainers and also the need to have cooperative livestock and that's what dogs do."

Local videographer enlisted

Due to COVID restrictions, the production company were restricted from filming Frank and his pup's training.

Central Highlands videographer Melissa Spencer of Stock Chick Films. Photo: Paige Donald, Captured by a cowgirl.

Ambient Entertainment enlisted the help from a local videographer and photographer Mellisa Spencer, who runs her own rural business called Stock Chick Films.

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Frank said the opportunity had arisen for Melissa to feature her beautiful camera work in the series.

"It was a absolutely brilliant opportunity for Melissa, who had done a little bit of study in movie making," Mr Finger said.

"For all my milestones, that I had to meet every two months, Melissa was able to film my journey with the pup and I was able to see her footage and it was brilliant."

Series will speak to global audience

Executive producer and series director Monica O'Brien of Ambience Entertainment said the team was delighted to film in the Clermont region and engage both experienced and up-an-coming local screen talent.

"Muster Dogs was filmed across regional Australia and we captured some incredible footage in Central Queensland where we loved the opportunity work with local emerging filmmaker Melissa Spencer of Stock Chick Films, who is herself also a grazier," Ms O'Brien said.

"The post-production team led by Queenslander John Unwin has really allowed us to craft a story that we believe will speak to a global audience.

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"The participants we filmed are incredibly inspiring, authentic and quintessentially Australian characters, with interesting and diverse stories.

"And let's not forget to mention cute puppies that are sure to win hearts across Australia and beyond."

Muster Dogs premieres 23 January, 7.40pm on ABC TV and iview.

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Ben Harden

Ben Harden

Queensland Country Life Journalist

Based in Rockhampton, Central Queensland. Contact: 0437528907

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