Early May, 2016, I was in Australia, where I was invited to judge at the 57th Championship Show of the Shetland Sheepdog
Club of Victoria in Melbourne. During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting, amongst others, two healthy ladies in their eighties who live a stone’s throw away from each other. I will come back
on Bethia Tennyson and her relationship with Bethena later on.
Bethena Bubniw is the daughter of Ena Whestern, one of the first sheltie breeders in Australia, who imported a number of shelties from the U.K.
and had an important role in establishing the breed in Victoria. From 1951
mother and daughter produced a number of champions under the kennel name Melwest. Bethena is now one of the oldest members of the Shetland Sheepdog Club of Victoria. Ever since she joined she has actively promoted the club, a.o. as a show secretary and until recently more than 25 years for the Sheltie Rescue.
When I was visiting Bethena – ‘You should come to see
the excellent movement of my eleven years old sheltie bitch’ – we talked, of course, about shelties. When I was about to leave Bethena told me that we shared another
passion: writing. She told me that she had written two books, that she had published herself and given away to her friends.
The first is about the early period of the Melwest kennels and the Melwest Boarding Kennels in
1966, that she started and managed with her mother and ex husband. It is written as a tribute to her mother Ena from whom she inherited a great love of animals. The second book is a novel she wrote under an alias. During my visit she couldn’t show me the books, as she had given them all away, but a visitor put them from her computer (without internet) on a disk for me. ‘May I use them for an article in our club magazine?’ I asked Bethena, while I had no idea of the content. She agreed.
At home I had some
trouble with reading the files but when the title ‘Buckets, boots & brooms’ finally appeared on my screen, I started reading expectantly. I thought to enter some kind of black and white
movie, but nothing of that
kind. Bethena writes visual and expressive and from the very first page colourful. The title ‘Buckets, boots & brooms’ reveals something about the start of their boarding kennels. The book is a collection of stories and poems. The following stories actually happened although not necessarily told in correct sequence, rather just as they come to mind. In this edition and the next one I would like to share a number of stories and poems with you.
The first story, being the prologue, is about the early years of the Melwest kennels. Please join me back in time for more than sixty years and more than 16.000 km from home.
Please find some explanatory notes in italics.
"From the time I was born, when my mother was breeding Cocker Spaniels, I never lived without dogs and cats
and I followed in Mother’s footsteps with my love of all animals. Over the years we had many different dogs, some were of indeterminate origin and others were pure bred, but
they were all loved no matter how uncertain their history.
For my seventeenth birthday Mother bought me a pure bred Scotch Collie (as they were known then). Her name was Colleen and she was the light of my life. When the time came for her to have her first litter we sought out the best sire and in due course Colleen had four lovely babies and, true to form, I could not part with them all so we kept a male and named him Mac. At this time we lived in a house with a very small yard so we moved to another area where there was more room for our two dogs and our cat.
We were not financially able to buy a house so my uncle, who owned a large boarding house and was looking for someone to run it, suggested we move there and Mother readily agreed. She had been letting rooms to boarders for many years so she was quite capable of running the big house, which had twelve rooms and was a two-story, old fashioned home.
We both became interested in showing my Collies and we were quite successful. Because Mother was a big lady she could not run around the show-ring well enough to show the dogs so I handled them in the ring.
One day, at a show, Mother saw a little dog which she thought was a miniature Collie. She was intrigued and spoke to the lady who was showing the little dog and was told that it was a Shetland Sheepdog and it was only the second one of it’s breed in Australia and they both lived in New South Wales, although she was holidaying with friends who suggested she show her dog while she was in Victoria. He was such a sweet natured little fellow with an outgoing temperament and Mother was besotted. After talking for some time with this lady and when we were on the way home my mother was very quiet and when I asked what she was thinking about she said “I want one of those little Shetland Sheepdogs! They will become very popular in time and I want to be one of the first to have them in this state.”
I reminded her that we already had two Collies and asked where would we put another dog? When my mother made up her mind about things they usually eventuated and I knew I was wasting my breath so when we reached home she started the ball rolling straightaway.
Earlier, in 1936, Mrs Esler in Victoria imported a sable dog, Claudas of Cameliard, born in 1935 (Eng Ch Gawaine of Cameliard x Eng Ch Mary Of Camevock) and a triclour bitch, Riverhill Regal, geboren in 1933 (Eng Ch Tilford Tweet x Kilda Of Clerwood). Though they produced a number of litters, this bloodline ended by lack of other bloodlines. It would take almost twenty years before the next shelties were imported from Great Britain.
Aus Ch Rodaneih Rock Mundi produced 18 champions and Aus Ch Rodanieh Francehill Typhoo was the sire of 15 champion dogs. Champions from the combination of Aus Ch Rodaneih Rock Mundi and Soraya from Shiel (Rae) were Aus Ch Melwest Man Milton (dog) and Ch. Melwest Mandolin UD (bitch).
She studied the breed with all the information available and spent a lot of time on the phone making inquiries about where she could get one of these dogs but after a time it became apparent that she would have to import one if she really wanted to go ahead with her hope of having a Shetland Sheepdog. After several months and a lot of money later, some of which was borrowed from my uncle, our first Shetland Sheepdog arrived in Australia by ship. The Shaw Saville line ship “Medic” lost it’s propeller en route and took eleven weeks to reach Australia and had to stay offshore for some time until another propeller could be fitted and the poor dog, which was a female and in whelp to a dog in the United Kingdom had to deliver them on board with the help of the captain, who was a kind man but had never had anything to do with breeding dogs. The captain felt so sorry for Rae that he kept her in his cabin after the puppies were born.
Rae had only one surviving puppy but he died whilst they were both in quarantine due to the spartan conditions of the quarantine station. This was a blow to Mother as she had hoped for an outstanding show career for both the mother and the puppy. However, Rae was not an outstanding example of the breed and she never made it to the show-ring. We kept her as a brood bitch and after sending her interstate to a stud dog she produced other puppies which became some of the first of the breed to be shown in Victoria.
Because we were still interested in showing our own Shetland Sheepdogs Mother decided that we needed another one imported from the United Kingdom, but this time she would bring out a male. Mundi arrived in Australia, again by ship, but this time we asked a friend who lived in Western Australia to have him kept in quarantine there as we were told the conditions were better there. After he came out of quarantine and was sent to us we were delighted to see that he was a lovely Shetland Sheepdog and we knew we were sure to do well in the show-ring with him. Within a very short time Mundi became an Australian Champion and we knew the breed was established in Victoria. Before long Mundi was joined by Timmy, who also came from United Kingdom and he also became a Champion in a short time. We now had two Collies and three Shetland Sheepdogs, a cat, a cockatoo and a rabbit, which had been given to me by my cousin as a birthday present. It was obvious we needed a bigger yard to house them all, so we moved yet again into a house with a lovely big yard, which my uncle bought and told Mother it was hers because she had spent so long running his other house so successfully.
Aus Ch Rodanieh Francehill Typhoo
It was not long after we moved into the new home that poor Rae became very sick and after the vet told us she would not get better we sadly had to put her ‘to sleep’. Although our back yard was quite big we had neighbours, and one of those was an elderly man who complained about the dogs barking even though we kept them quiet as much as possible but being good eaters they always barked when they saw us coming with their food bowls. The barking didn’t last long as they always fell on their food as though they hadn’t been fed for a week, but the neighbour still didn’t like dogs and at every opportunity he complained, so we decided that we had to have enough room to let the dogs enjoy a bark if they felt like it without worrying anyone else."
A poem of Bethena, named ‘A big decision’:
A BIG DECISION
Both big and small, they all stood tall, as they marched into the ring.
Without a sound the judge looked round, and didn’t say a thing.
Up and down, then all around, he studied each conformation.
They were all so good that he thought “I should give each one a great ovation!
But alas! Just one can say “I’ve won”, there’s only one Best in Show
And because of this I can’t be remiss—my choice must be right, I know.
The Pom, so small, but overall a great little dog for his breed.
The Scottie, too, was sound and true, with the fiery nature they need.
Then the Irish Setter—I’ve never seen better and his coat has that coppery glow.
The Basset’s deep chest—he could rank with the best and I’m sure he didn’t move slow.
The Sheltie is sweet and light on his feet and his movement’s a pleasure to see.
The Doberman’s size brings a gleam to my eyes and his gait was so easy and free.
And last, but not least, for a visual feast, the Great Dane is so regal and proud,
But I must pick the best and discard all the rest, though my choice will not please all the crowd.”
So thanking them all, both the big and the small, the decision had been oh! so slow.
He holds out the prize with a smile in his eyes—The Sheltie is Best Exhibit in Show!!
Above I introduced Bethena Bubniw, the daughter of Ena Whestern, one of the first sheltie breeders in Austrlia, to you. From 1951 on mother and daughter produced a number of champions under the prefix Melwest. In ‘Buckets, boots & brooms’ Bethena writes about the start of their breeding and boarding kennels. I already told you about the first shelties they imported. In this edition I go back in time till 1966, the year Ena, Bethena and her Russian husband started the Melwest Boarding Kennels. That it wasn’t easy in the beginning, the title of Bethena’s book, ‘Buckets, boots & brooms’, already suggests.
Hereunder please find a summary of (parts of) stories from ‘Buckets, boots & brooms’, informatiion I received later and quotes from the book:
The Melwest Boarding Kennels
For years Ena and Bethena had the idea of starting their own boarding kennels:
Bethena: ‘We never had enough room for all the dogs we would have liked to own , so we compensated by having canaries and finches—a whole aviary full, and a female cat who seemed to be permanently pregnant with the most delightful kittens which I could not part with, so the cat family grew and grew until finally the neighbours tired of the feline population and my cats began mysteriously disappearing. At the age of six, one doesn’t believe that people can be so cruel as they are in reality, and being an only child of a widowed mother who couldn’t bear to see me hurt, I never really learned the reason my cats disappeared. I’m sure Mother was aware of what was happening but I believed her when she told me they had run away to another home and I fondly pictured them all being loved and cared for.’
Then Ena felt she has no time to waste anymore: it was now or never. Together with Bethena en her new husband, A Russian who came to Australia after the Second World War, she careful considered several properties to built their new house and kennels on. The three of them were very excited once they found a five acre property of virgin land, where there were no immediate neighbours and not too far from shops. The bought the land with a down payment and put their house for sale. But after two months the house hadn’t been sold yet and so they had no money to continue building. So the house got for auction, which resulted in a far lower price than what the new house costed. For their was no bank that would grant them a loan, they could only borrow through a finance company with cripping interest rates. Despite all this finally the day came that they could move into their brand new house. When they entered, admiring and not quite believing that it had actually happened at last, it was as if a dream came true.
Bethena: ‘I don’t think I had ever seen such a look of joy on my mother’s face when we looked at each other and she said “Can you believe it? It’s ours and we can have all the dogs and cats we want!” We all giggled like children and hugged each other and opened champagne. Then we sat on the bare floor (no carpet had been bought yet and chairs were still in storage) and we ate fish and chips out of newspaper!’
An unpleasant surprise
The first night after heavy rainfall they got an unpleasant surprise: Every yard which ran off each kennel was at least eight inches underwater! The dogs had never seen so much water at once and were paddling through it up to their elbows, the two youngest yapping happily and playing in it. It appeared that they haad a natural watercourse through the middle of their five acres of ground. The council had not expected anyone to buy this block of land and therefore had not cleared the drain for some time.
One council blamed the other as they were on the boundaries of adjoining councils and so no one would take responsibility for solving the problem. In fact, it was twelve years before the local council finally put pipes in and covered that drain. Meanwhile they had the entire property cross-drained and extra pipes laid to take away the excess water. Buckets, boots and brooms were needed and often dogs had to move to other kennels because their own were underwater.
Bethena: ‘It took twelve years of extra work and worry, very often in the early morning hours, before we finally saw that drain cleared and covered. Unfortunately, before the satisfaction of that, my mother had died and my first thought when I saw the council men working on the drain was: ‘How pleased she would have been to see that happening!’
During the early months of running the kennels they did not do much in the way of breeding, but shortly after their first Christmas in their new home one of their bitches was pregnant. When she was on labour and not getting any results, and the vet performed a Caesarian on her. Though Bethena and her mother were experienced breeders, they never had puppies with a lot of white colouring on the main part of their bodies. They felt as though they had committed a heinous crime by breeding this ‘mismarks’ and thought they should have done more deeply investigations about the genetic background of the sire. Then they found out that even the most conscientious breeders sometimes have to deal with this and that ‘mismarks’ proved very easy to sell because they were so pretty.
The two Beth's and their lifelong friendship
Bethia (left) and Bethena (right), two ‘tough’ ladies drinking beer, after the championship show in Canberra (1996).
One of the breeders who used Mundi (Rodaneih Rock Mundi, born in 1959), the dog that was imported by Ena Whester from the United Kingdom, was Bethia Mathieson, later Bethia Tennyson. She had a bitch, CH. Sheltie Gold Surprise, a daughter from two imported shelties from the Hallinwood kennels in England. This bitch gained the title of ROMA which stands for Register Of Merit Australia, meaning she produced more than 5 champions. During her breeding life she produced 3 litters of TEN puppies. The contact between Ena and Bethia, who is about the same age as Bethena, resulted in a lifelong friendship between the two ‘Beth’s’. Both ladies bred under their own prefix, Melwest and Bethalice, but had several stud dogs in partnership, namely: Sealay Scottish Laird, Grand Champ. Shernhills Odany boy, Ch. Glenkinchie Magill, Ch. Kendarlyn Klooney, Ch. Bethalice Believeitornot, and Shelbrae Swedish Travla . Of these 6 4 of them were put through to their titles. So Bethena and Bethia were and are often seen at shows, even though they don’t show anymore these days.
Bethena and her mother have had hundred of boarding guests. Many of them were special to Bethena. I chose two of them for this article:
A very big Labrador-type dog, who was blessed with the imaginative name of Dog, was having his daily romp in the grass yard, supervised by my husband, when he thought he would see what was on the other side of the fence and without even stopping to size up the fence, he cleared it without touching. My husband, who was very tall, managed to grab his tail as he sailed over and, picture if you can, a very large dog suspended in mid-air with my husband holding the last few inches of a black tail on the other side of the fence and yelling for help. He was too frightened to let go in case Dog took off into the bush and parts unknown and yet the weight of the animal was almost breaking his thumb, which was supporting most of the weight. The poor dog must have been very uncomfortable, too! As I was not anywhere within hearing range, after several minutes of calling and great discomfort to both of them, he was forced to let go. He ran as fast as he could to the gate to see where Dog was headed, only to see the last flash of that well-remembered tail disappearing back over the fence INTO the exercise yard! The big black dog was having a great time, back and forth over that fence, as though it was pure joy to jump. Finally, after sizing up the situation, husband took control and called Dog to come into his own kennel, which he did happily, after getting his own idea of exercise.
When the family left Trixie with us the two children left in tears and their parents had trouble getting them into the car. She was obviously very much loved by those children and I promised them I would make sure she had a good holiday in the kennels, just like they were going to have, too. I could see they were very distressed at having to leave her behind. We decided that before much more time went by we had better try to find out when they were coming to collect Trixie and I went to the address they had given us, hoping that a neighbour or someone else might be able to give us some information.
The next door neighbour came out when she saw me knocking on the door and after inquiring if she had any information about their return she told me they had moved into a caravan park some four weeks previously as they could not pay their rent and the landlord had put them out. This meant, of course, that they were not going on holiday at all so I was determined to go to all the caravan parks in the area and take Trixie with me. I was walking through the second caravan park with the little Corgi trotting along beside me when I heard a child screaming her name. The dog strained at the leash to get to the child and then the man who had been with them when they left her with us came out of the next caravan with a very angry look on his face. I asked him what was going on and when were they going to collect Trixie and he said quietly to me through clenched teeth so the children couldn’t hear: “I told them she was dead because we couldn’t afford to pay you and the caravan park would not let us have her here. Now what am I going to do? They know I’ve told them a lie and I can’t have her here so what will I do about her?”
I was angry that he had lied to his children and they must have been heartbroken when they thought their little dog had died, but I said I would try to help him if he promised to pay what was owing a little at a time and in the meantime I would try to find another home for Trixie. Then I explained to the children what I was going to do, even though I knew it would break their hearts to give up their little friend who they thought was dead and now they had her back again. It was a very sad situation but I couldn’t see any other answer. Eventually I found another lady who lived alone and was glad to have a little dog like Trixie for a companion and she lived quite close to the caravan park. She understood the situation and promised to take her to see the children and let them know that Trixie was loved and well-cared for.
Time to go on
They had been in the boarding kennel business for ten years, when Ena had a sudden heart attack and died in Bethena's arms. This was a few months after the marriage with her Russian husband had come to an end. There she was, alone with a business to run and fully booked for the coming holiday season. Eight years later Bethena thought the time had come to sell the business. She sold the Melwest Boarding Kennels to a British couple, who had run boarding kennels in the U.K. and wanted to do the same in Australia.
"I felt rather sad when the time came for me to move out. After all we (my mother, my husband and I ) had built it up from nothing and had established an excellent reputation both in our own state and in other states as well—a fact which made me very proud. But I knew the time had come for me to move on, so I moved into another house on a large property with my four dogs and my cat. I couldn’t bear to live in close proximity with other people after all those years of space around me so now I had plenty of room for my own dogs to run freely without worrying any one else. I was no longer a kennel proprietor."
Thirty years later the kennels which they built are no longer there. In place of that business, which they built and ran with all the trials and tribulations which went into building it, there is a shopping mall. When Bethena saw those shops being built on the site where her husband had built those brick fences and some of the kennels, using hands which had never seen a trowel or mortar and where she had ruined her pianiste’s hands using wire and wire cutters and nailing boards and where her mother had despaired of ever having good drainage in those kennels—it was too much for her and she burst into tears.
"I can only suppose the people who bought the business found it too much to cope with and I can only guess at the price they must have sold the place for - certainly a lot more than they paid me! But - such is life!"
Bethena Bubniw has given permission to send 'Buckets, Boots & Brooms’ to those who are interested. Please send a request to email@example.com. Bethena also published a novel - under the alias Zoe Adams - called 'Stolen Youth'. If you want to read this novel, please let me know.
May, 2016 - Ineke Fritz