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Muster Dogs (2023)
Documentary

Five graziers from across Australia are given five Kelpie puppies from the same litter and set with the challenge of transforming these uniquely Australian dogs into champion muster dogs.

Muster Dogs (2023)

National Narratives

This is a TV series, created for Australian Broadcasting. Season 1 is five episodes, tracking the training life of 5 puppies from the same quality litter. Each goes to a different rancher across the country, three women (one indigenous) and two men. We’re watching Kelpie pups and there is a season 2 imminent with border collies.

There are three narratives woven into this compact project. The first is a rather manufactured element: a ‘competition’ among the five dogs to see who can be the best ‘muster dog’ in 12 months. Episodes are centred on tests at 6, 9, and 12 months. This does a few clever things. It sets up enough narrative for us to be whisked through the project; it is almost believable that it matters who wins. But the key thing it does is introduce us to what these dogs actually do, which is move livestock around, as a quality of their nature.

The second narrative is about the characters we are introduced to. We are guided to be interested in these people by the oft-mentioned notion that the relative success of the dogs depends on their relationship to and training by their owners and how they relate. So we have as much — actually more — about the owners as the pups. And there are a few support people that play significant roles; trainers, breeders and such. These are seriously likeable people, but that’s because they are situated in the larger narrative of land and creature.

And that’s the enveloping narrative here. The five dogs are quite literally placed on ranches at five corners of Australia. This is a pretty vast place, absolutely unique in the world. We’re given many drone shots of the land. While Australia has desolate areas and rain forests, here we are given the in-between. Rugged is the word.

Non-Australian readers should know a national narrative that I am discovering as an immigrant. It comes from the Indigenous and takes the form of a deep natural agency that we are blessed to enter if we choose harmony.

The story here is ‘going back to the old ways’, using dogs to manage cattle rather than helicopters and bikes. The dogs emerge from this nature as totems of collaboration. The core of each episode, and what could become a franchise is health: health of the stock, health of the land, and health of its stewards.

Posted in 2024

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.

IMDB

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