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Margaret has something to shout about

STAYING POWER: Experienced stockwoman Margaret Donovan won the inaugural Karara Top Female Handler title at the working sheep dog trials over the weekend.
STAYING POWER: Experienced stockwoman Margaret Donovan won the inaugural Karara Top Female Handler title at the working sheep dog trials over the weekend. Toni Somes

SHE is softly spoken, English-born, refined and in so many ways the lady least likely to yell at a dog.

Yet 73-year-old Margaret Donovan is also one of the most successful women on the Queensland working sheep dog trial circuit.

At the weekend she added to her list of achievements by becoming the first winner of the inaugural Top Female Handler Trophy at the annual Karara trials.

Maybe there was a little opposition from the blokes, but I always believed, as in anything you just go out and do your best.

It is an honour this genteel trialler accepts with the gracious manner she also uses to control her canine charges.

"If your dog knows what he is doing you shouldn't have to yell too often," she laughed.

Whether it was her dog, a border collie she imported from Scotland called Craig, or her ability to read stock, the combination proved a success earning her a top score at Karara of 95.

It was a high score in a tough field where talented women like Mrs Donovan are gradually coming to the fore in a sport that has long been dominated by blokes.

But being a particularly feminine participant in a male dominated world has never daunted her.

"My family came over from England when I was about six; my father was a pharmaceutical chemist, who bought a dairy farm south of Rockhampton.

"But that was a long time ago, yet even then I loved animals."

As a young woman she married and shifted to a Central Queensland cattle station, west of Moura, where she lived and worked for 30 years.

She was a hands-on partner in the business and spent her share of time working outside.

It was here she fine-tuned her handling skills, believing the true test of a working dog was their ability in the paddock.

In 1998 she decided - urged on by those who had seen her in action - to enter a cattle dog trial.

 

"In many ways I was self taught when it came to working dogs.

"I had bought a book and simply gone from there.

"We didn't have a large property, just 9000 acres, but our dogs were used to working 200 and 300 head of cattle.

"So they were very practical dogs, for me their ability in the paddock always came first, before their recognition in a trial situation."

Within two years she had earnt selection in the Queensland team, where she had the challenging honour of being the only female.

"Maybe there was a little opposition from the blokes, but I always believed, as in anything you just go out and do your best.

A little over a decade ago she retired to the southern east corner and decided to try her hand in a three-sheep trial.

"It was absolutely marvellous, I actually discovered I like sheep far better than cattle."

In 2005 she won the Brisbane Exhibition trial beating some of the state's most recognised, male, working sheep dog triallers.

"It was a trial for open dogs and it was an honour to win; must say the blokes took it very well.

"It was my 15 minutes of glory and they were very sporting."

However she hasn't limited her interest in border collies to just trialling, in recent times she has invested heavily in a breeding operation.

"I have imported two dogs from the United Kingdom.

"I am English and I guess I like English-type dogs so I bought a bitch from there.

"And then seven years ago I bought Craig from Scotland.

"I suppose you could say I am a "bit fussy" and I couldn't find a dog in Australia with the genetics I wanted so I imported one.

"It was a ghastly, very expensive experience and there is no way I would do it again, even if I was 20 years younger."

These days she and three border collies live on a small acreage property at Hodgson Vale, south of Toowoomba, and travel to a handful of nearby trials.

"My health is not what it once was so I am unsure how much longer I will be trialling.

"Though competing has been a great adventure and I love the people you meet so I may soldier on a while yet.

"It is very rewarding to have a good run with your dog; it's a lovely sense of achievement.

"Yet even when I give away competing, I will hold onto my dogs; they are my reason for getting out of bed each morning."

Topics:  queen of the paddock