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By John Keast

Allan McAllister used to rise early when he was head shepherd in the 70s at Hakatere Station.

It was nothing to be eating a cooked breakfast between 3am and 4am before saddling up in the dark.

“It was great to get out on the high tops early in the morning, to watch the sun come up. It’s God’s own country.”

Mr McAllister went back to Hakatere last Thursday.

He had a special job to do at the stables, a flame-red building squatting beneath the stone face of hills where he used to run – and win – with his dogs at the Hakatere dog trials.

The stables are now part of a group of buildings at Hakatere Corner; they include the restored stone cottage, the cook house, the singlemen’s quarters, a dray, a restored high-country boat and, now, the stables.

The stables began life as a hay shed at Mt Potts, but was brought down the gorge around the 50s, and its inclusion in the heritage precinct was led by the Hakatere Heritage Committee.

Its members have worked through the summer – leader Robert Schikker reckons they struck the hottest days – to repile the building, add yards – donated by Greg Donaldson from the old Tinwald saleyards – and repaint the building.

The stables even has a loft for chaff and hay, fed down a chute for feed troughs.

Committee member David Howden said the committee approached land-owner Donald Whyte with an offer for the land on which the stables sits, and it was accepted. The money for the land was raised through four-wheel drive tours run in association with the Mid Canterbury 4WD Club.

The committee had a year to complete the work – and has – and has now handed the stables, and the land to the Department of Conservation, which, through the Nature Heritage Fund, bought Hakatere Station in 2008.

Mr McAllister was head shepherd at Hakatere for 10 years, when it was owned by Dalgetys.

It was all merinos and a 1000 head of breeding cows and 500 heifers.

“The horses were used for all the cattle work,” he said and the memories flooded back when he went back into the stables with its worm rails, loose boxes and a rail studded with horse shoes.

The honour of cutting the ribbon was given to Mr McAllister, who recalls the station being cut off with more than a metre of snow.

“I loved it up here. We had a lot of snow and I recall the road being closed for 10 days. We just carried on.”

After Hakatere, Mr McAllister went to Inverary for four years, then to town when his multiple sclerosis got worse.

It was John Chapman, of Inverary, who outlined Mr McAllister’s skill with dogs, praised the work of the Hakatere committee and handed over to the committee a prized high-country possession – the silver billy trophies for the Hakatere dog trials.

The trials were started by Sam Chaffey to attract musterers to the area. Run-holders were levied 10 shillings per 1000 sheep and the trial winner got a month’s wages.

It was a great way to attract musterers with good dogs.

Mr Chapman said the trial finished with a social in the cook house – and a midnight run to a nearby bridge and back. The run gave caterers a chance to lay out the food.

Mr McAllister won the hill trial four years in a row and the handy event twice.

Mr Chapman said the silver billy was coveted.

“It was a unique event in New Zealand.”

He recalled some judge’s comments – “a good walker” – and someone whose heading dog did not do what it was supposed to – “great hobnail head” – and dogs’ names – Puff, Muff and Stuff.

The trials lasted 50-odd years and was “absolutely central” to the high-country night life.

There was even a year in which a judge’s marking could not be deciphered, the hand-writing, it is said, hampered by whisky.

Horse shoes in the stables