The Gundog Club of WA

Club History

A short history of the Club

The GunDog Club of Western Australia was formed some time before the Second World War but unfortunately all written records of that period of the Club's history appear to have been lost to the Club.  Two of the early office bearers of the Club appear to have been Mr Eric Dart, later to become the first life member, and Mr Joe O'Neill, and although at the time the only breed being shown was Cocker Spaniels they were adamant that the Club be open to all gundogs in case some more breeds should arrive.  The club was re-formed late in 1945 and it is from this date that we now calculate the age of the Club.  Thankfully many of the Club's official documents from 1945 onwards still exist and provide a unique window, not only into the activities of the canine world, but also a valuable insight into the times.

It is thought that the first post War show was held on the 9th of November 1945 on the Esplanade in Perth (after the Club gained the necessary permission from the City of Perth as well as the formal permission from Bernie Hardwick, the proprietor of the famous Bernie’s barbecue, which was granted on the basis that the Club advertised in the newspaper that "the used of the grounds is kindly donated by Bernie’s!").  The Club became affiliated with the WAKC (WA Kennel Club - now know as Dogs West) late in 1946 and conducted its first championship show in May 1947 at the showgrounds in Claremont in the Poultry Pavilion.  The judge for this show was Mr Norman McConnell from Melbourne, the beginning of the Clubs commitment to bringing judges to Western Australia to judge at Club shows.  This first 'importation' of a judge was made possible by Mr Eric Dart the Patron of the Club, who on being asked whether he would be patron of the Club accepted with the following commitment "I have been turning over in my mind, in what way I could render most assistance to the Club's welfare. - It seems to me that instead of the usual donation or trophy, it would be of much more value to the Club , to pay a proportion of the cost of securing the services of a tip top interstate gundog judge for your first championship show".  The catalogue shows that there was an entry of 36 dogs being 22 Cocker Spaniels, 8 English Setters, and 8 Irish Setters.  From that first entry of just 3 breeds the GunDog Club has grown continuously until we now regularly receive entries from approximately 20 different breeds.

While Eric Dart was the first post-war patron of the Club, for many decades the Governor of Western Australia was the Club's patron, hence the Governor's Shield trophies which are still awarded today.  On several occasions serving Governors attended the Club shows and took an active interest in the activities of the Club.

The Club's first involvement with obedience and retrieving began with Pat McKenna and her mother Frances who approached the then Club President Joe O'Neill to begin retrieving and obedience training so that they could learn to train Pat's Cocker Spaniels in the activities that she had seen in books.  Eventually Mr O'Neill took the young Pat and her mother to meet the Captain Phillip Holloway who was then the head trainer with the Guide Dogs Association.  The following is Pat's recollection of the start of retrieving training in Western Australia:

"Captain Holloway was a really nice person and he agreed to start us off.  We started at Churchlands, on Sunday mornings, just off the Boulevard.  There were small streams and marshy bits and flat land.  After a few weeks of obedience we made up a rabbit dummy on his suggestion, and after the lesson was over Captain Holloway took us to the stream.  It was only about 3 metres across. 

They tried 4 Labradors first but they would not cross the water and the dummy was on the other side.  I had little Leda the Cocker Spaniel "Lilli-illa Leda' and she had been bringing me the dummy since we had made it, not across the water of course.  So eventually Captain Holloway said to try the little dog to retrieve the dummy back.

We threw a piece of mud to land near the dummy and she just flew in the water, crossed it and brought it back to us. Then each Labrador separately he sent with Leda and by the end of the lesson every Gundog had followed her across the water and back".

After much training the first obedience test was held at Churchlands in 1956 with the judge being Charlie Percsy.  Charlie Percsy also judged the first water test which was held in 1957.  Charlie and his brother Dick had joined the club with a setter earlier and were instrumental in the re-establishment of the club in 1945.  They later had English Setters and Pointers.  in 1958 a group consisting of Joan Piggford, Pat Thomas, Jill Alexander and Pat McKenna developed the first point scoring system for retrieving, the beginning of modern day retrieving trial competition.  Joan Piggford, a noted artist and potter, also designed the Club's logo which is still in use today.

In the early days of retrieving there were no mechanical throwers and the birds had to be thrown by hand.  For many years there were very large numbers in retrieving trials and a wide variety of breeds participated with many individual dogs competing in show, obedience and retrieving.

Over the years the Club has continued to successfully run shows in May and August for all gundogs as well as retrieving and obedience trials.  Such was the importance of  retrieving that the judge for the August show, who always came from the east coast, judged the show on Saturday and either an All Aged Trial or the State Retrieving Trial in the Sunday.  For several years the entry was so high (largely of Cockers, Labradors and Irish Setters) that two judges were contracted to officiate.

For many years the Club also provided obedience training starting in the mid 1950's.  Obedience was a popular activity with the training grounds scattered around the suburbs, including Redcliffe, Clontarf, Centennial Park in Wilson, Sir James Mitchell Park and McCallum Park.  As a part of bringing the dogs to the community the GunDog Club also conducted displays of obedience at shopping centres.

The GunDog Club's activities were not just restricted to gundogs with the Club being an active contributor to the general canine world as well and the wider population.  Charity dog shows have been a feature of the Clubs activities.  The club held shows for the Guide Dogs for the Blind, Make a Wish Foundation, Daily News Christmas Cheer Fund and the Murdoch Research Foundation, which were all responsible for raising considerable funds.  The most famous of the Club's charity events however was the Darwin Relief Fund show held at the night (a real novelty in those days) early in 1985 to raise money for the re-homing and care of animals who suffered during Cyclone Tracy.  In the exodus of vehicles which left Darwin after the Cyclone were many dogs separated from their owners, many of which were hosted by members of the gundog Club.  The show attracted a considerable number of sponsors including major companies such as Qantas who provided the catering, and raised a large sum for the cause.  Fittingly, an Irish Setter from Darwin whose owner had been made homeless by the cyclone was the winner of the CC.

The GunDog Club was also responsible for many years for organising and running the All Breeds Dog Show section of the Busselton Agricultural show.  This involved all of the committee, their children and dogs decamping to a Busselton motel for the weekend of the show.  Many hilarious evenings were spent in motel rooms populated by a mix of exuberant gundogs and at least one motel bed collapsed under the force of a wagging Labrador 'otter tail'.

As well as raising funds for charity, the Club also conducted a wide range of events to provide funds for the Club activities.  In the 1950's, picnics in Mandurah, river cruises and Club Barbecues featured.  Over the years the second hand stalls, Christmas picnics, quiz nights, car rallies and barn dances were important parts of a vibrant socials life in the Club.  Many members will remember the smiling faces of the Ladies Auxiliary, who cooked up fabulous meals and refreshments in the caravan provided by Ted Kempin, which appeared at every Club event.

Throughout its history, the GunDog Club has been served by a continuous line of office bearers and committee members who have generously contributed their time, efforts and enthusiasm to the pursuit of the betterment of the gundog breeds.  It is not possible to mention them all here, some are remembered through perpetual trophies such as the Eric Dart Shield and the Piggford Memorial Trophy, some through the naming of events, such as the annual Frances McKenna Restricted Retrieving Trial, and other have been honoured with life membership of the Club.  All have contributed to establishing a fine tradition that will hopefully continue well into the future.

Contact Details

GunDog Club of WA
Gosnells, WA, Australia
Email : [email protected]