Aussie Kelpies Go To Korea: Australia's role in Korean rural development in the early 1970s 

Project Team: Hae-Jin Park, Jo Elfving-Hwang, Younghye Seo-Whitney

Tough as nails, intelligent and hardy working dogs, kelpies are known as the quintessential Australian dogs. Yet it is a little known fact that Aussie kelpies have played a small role in building Korea-Australia relations. In the early 1970s, three kelpies from Avenpart in New South Wales - Mick, Monty and another dog whose name was not recorded - were part of a project funded by the Australian government to support the development of South Korean agricultural industry. This KRC research project examines the importance of this little known chapter in Australia-ROK agricultural relations.

Our research examines the role and impact of Australia’s only overseas development assistance (ODA) project with the Republic of Korea under the Colombo Plan in the 1960s and 1970s. Contrary to an oft-cited claim that the Australia-ROK relations came to a virtual standstill after the end of the Korean War (1950-53) during which Australian troops took part in fighting alongside the ROK troops, this project seeks to understand the historical significance of a little known agricultural collaboration in Unbong, South Korea and its impact on the development of ROK-Australia relations. The then Department of External Affairs (later changed to Department of Foreign Affairs, now Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) funded project, which was located in North Jeolla province, included a shipment of 2,500 Australian sheep and two lead kelpies called Mick and Monty from NSW as well as a group of highly skilled Australian professionals, who would support the building of a Korea-Australia Sheep Demonstration Farm using latest agricultural technologies developed in Australia. The project was led and approved by both Korean and Australian governments, and as such represents the earliest known official agricultural scientific collaboration between the two countries. Although the official project only lasted for five years, our preliminary research suggests that the impact of the people-to-people relations between ROK and Australia which were created during 1968-1976 may have had a more significant impact than previously thought. This project thus seeks to locate the Unbong Sheep Demonstration Farm in the broader diplomatic context of early ROK-Australia relations, and explore its social, political and economic significance on later bilateral relations, and the significance of these encounters in laying the foundations of this now-crucial bilateral economic, diplomatic and security partnership. 

While most of the data collection will rely on archival records and media reports from the era both in Australia and Korea, the researcher team will also interview a number of contemporaries of the projects to better understand how the project fitted into the ROK-Australia relations as an early (forgotten) example of agricultural cooperation and technology exchange, how Australian experts sought to make a difference in developing countries and what made them specifically suited for this work, and what perceived long term benefits the project brought to both Australia and Korea even after the project had officially ended.

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Catch a glimpse of the offspring of the first kelpies toward the end of this 1982 video here!

(Source: 대한뉴스 제 1380호-길따라 풍물따라)

Mick, Monty and the third unnamed kelpie preparing to travel to Korea in 1972.

Source: National Archives of Australia

One of the kelpies working in Unbong.


Project publications:

Park, H., Elfving-Hwang, J., Whitney, Y. (2022), ‘Why aid diplomacy eventually pays off : Lessons from Australia’s Demonstration Sheep Farm Project in 1970s South Korea‘, Melbourne Asia Review

Why aid diplomacy eventually pays off: Lessons from Australia’s Sheep Demonstration Farm Project in 1970s South Korea   | Melbourne Asia Review 

This project was supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2020-OLU-20200039).