‘See you at the white dog’

Fred Bramich's mum and aunt with Duke the white bull mastiff. Pictures: SUPPLIED.

By Mikayla Van Loon

Being a publican was the family business when Fred Bramich was young and so naturally he wanted nothing to do with it.

But coming from a long line of publicans, it was hard to escape it.

Mr Bramich is the grandson of former Lilydale Hotel owner Joanna Connelly.

Although not there for too long in the early 1920s, Ms Connelly acquired the ownership and licence for the Lilydale Hotel in 1921.

“My mum used to say ‘we came there when Sister Olive won the Melbourne Cup’ and that was 1921,” Mr Bramich said.

“In 1926 grandma and my mum and my aunt were able to get back into the White Dog and about that time the Silvan Dam started up which was a major project for the area and it brought lots of migrant workers into the area and business really boomed from then on.”

The hotel did so well in fact, Ms Connelly was able to purchase The Crown Hotel as well in 1938.

“So they did pretty well once the Silvan Dam came into existence,” Mr Bramich said.

But as three women running a working man’s pub, it was decided that a white bull mastiff would help keep things in order.

“Duke [the dog] would be sort of patrolling around. Grandma, my mum and my aunt thought they better have a savage dog to help them keep law and order particularly with these burly guys who were working on the Silvan Dam.

“A lot of them were migrants without a lot of English and when they had knocked off work they would agree to meet at the pub.

“So instead of saying ‘we’ll meet you at the Lilydale Hotel’ they’d just say something like ‘see you at white dog’. So it seemed to get its name from that workforce there, the workers at the Silvan Dam.”

Since then the pub has been known as The White Dog Hotel and Duke became the much loved mascot, featuring on t-shirts, jumpers and coasters.

“Somewhere down the track mum got married in 1933. My dad [Cyril Bramich] had been a customer at the White Dog.

“By 1944 grandma had passed away and there was a question about what to do with the pubs. Mum had a brother and two sisters and no one else was interested in stepping into the breach and running them, so dad decided he would leave the SCC and become a publican.”

By that point the The White Dog was being leased by someone else and so, the family moved into The Crown Hotel which they ran for 17 years until Cyril Bramich decided to retire in 1961.

“After a few months he was that restless I think he was driving mum crazy and she said ‘you can’t go back into The Crown that’s leased but you’ve just got a manager in the White Dog, let’s go there’. So we got back into business in the White Dog,” Mr Bramich said.

Until his death in September 1972, Cyril Bramich operated The White Dog Hotel.

From there it fell into the hands of his son Fred Bramich.

“I’d been doing my level best to stay out of hotelkeeping because it was going on all around and I thought there’s gotta be a better way in life,” he said.

Wanting to do more in life, Mr Bramich went to Dookie College before dairy farming on a small property in Lilydale.

Even then that wasn’t enough, so he went back to his studies and became a secondary school teacher which saw him move to Wodonga and then back to teach at Lilydale High School.

“I had five years there but in my fifth year my dad passed away in the September of that year and so we had to make some temporary arrangements to keep the pub running but by the end of that year I was free and I took it on,” Mr Bramich said.

For the next 21 years Mr Bramich owned The White Dog, bringing it to life.

“It was a good business for a long time, it was affected a bit by the recession we had to have in the very late ‘80s and that slowed it down a bit and I guess the other pubs carried out works and geared themselves up for poker machines and so forth, so the White Dog got left behind a bit.”

“It was fun for a fair bit of the time but here and there you might get somebody that has just come in to make trouble and might cause a fight.”

Even with some of the ruckus that goes on at pubs, Mr Bramich was still able to recall all the wonderful memories and moments that happened throughout the years.

During the ‘70s Mr Bramich said his good friend, the late Michael Jordan, an Irishman with lots of character, would be a regular entertainer at The White Dog.

“Just about every Irishman from here to Tipperary would roll up to the White Dog on a Saturday night, so they were really happy times,” Mr Bramich said.

“Apart from being a good entertainer himself, he would run a kind of talent quest and invite people up out of the audience, so that was great fun.”

Also around that same time, The White Dog would host regular bingo nights to raise money for the local Catholic primary school and Mr Bramich would invite celebrity callers to come along.

“There was a Collingwood footballer who lived in Lilydale from ‘77 to ‘82, his name was Phil Carman and they called him ‘fabulous Phil’.

“While he was with Essendon he had an altercation with a boundary umpire and got disqualified for 20 weeks and I remember him calling the bingo and he got to number 18 and he said ‘18, 18 to go’, 18 weeks before he could play again.

“He was a very entertaining customer insofar as even though he was high profile, he’d come in and he’d mix with the ordinary working guys, so he was a great personality.”

Mr Bramich said the community was what made the pub welcoming and a good place to be.

People would always roll up in big numbers on special gala days or days like St Patrick’s Day.

“They were a great communal group for sure and a lot of them were ordinary working people and it wasn’t so much a business man’s pub.

“I think the bank managers and others who went to work in suits were more inclined to go to the other places which was fair enough too but we were very happy with the ordinary, humble working people, they put bread on our table so we were grateful for their loyal patronage.”

Mr Bramich said with all that history, he is sad and disappointed to see the pub the way it is now.

“I can’t be too critical because perhaps I could have done something myself but I was really running it without any family members.”

“We always kept the place tidy and I had three regular customers. One was my carpenter, one was my plumber, one was my painter and the painter, his job was to always keep the White Dog looking white and bright and he did that faithfully.”

Although always keeping the exterior white, Mr Bramich said it looked better in the 1920s.

“The front looked better in the ‘20s because it had wrought iron along the balcony and along the verandah,” he said.

“I’m only guessing but I think by the late ‘30s with the war coming on [the wrought iron] might have gone for armaments for bullets or something like that.”

For 30 years Mr Bramich lived at The White Dog Hotel and until February 1994 he ran it wholeheartedly before finally leasing it and selling shortly after.

“I was a bit sad to leave it in the finish but I was getting a bit worn out and so I just jumped although I didn’t have any real plan,” Mr Bramich said.

“But I couldn’t get pubs out of my system for a while and I used to go up and help out at the Woori Yallock pub which existed until about four or five years ago until it got burnt down.”

More on the history and current state of The White Dog Hotel in next week’s edition.