The Tennis Courts

Tennis players in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s

Mrs Yeend (Mrs Beryl Quartel’s mother) was a keen tennis player and from as early as 1930 she, and a number of women from Canberra Baptist, were members of the Barton Tennis Club. The Barton clay courts are still in use and are located near the junction of Wentworth and Brisbane Avenues in Barton.

In 1931 a Young People’s Society commenced in the church and one of their sporting activities was tennis. Jack Welch recalls a number of the young people meeting at the Fire Brigade Club Courts at Kingston in the mornings before work for a game of tennis. The Fire Brigade Courts were located near Wentworth Avenue across from the old Kingston Power Station. They are now covered with medium density housing. After she arrived from Geelong in 1932, Ivy Welch (nee Dunstan) organised the group. She even had to get some of them out of bed on her way down to the courts. The young people met and played at the Kingston courts for quite some time.

By the late 1930s the young people had begun to use the Telopea Park School’s courts, with the permission of the then Headmaster, Mr Fry. The inaugural Baptist Church Tennis Club held its first tournament on those courts on 9 March 1940. The Mixed Doubles Competition was won by Jack and Ivy Welch. The school’s courts no longer exist.

Dr Waldock serving the first ball at the opening of the Church Tennis Club at Telopea Park School Courts on 9.3.1940

Tennis continued on these courts throughout the 1940s and 1950s until the Church’s own courts were built. The Canberra Baptist Church’s Tennis Club was re-established in late 1952. Mr T Curtis was secretary and Mr John Barnes was Treasurer.

Construction of the Church’s Tennis Courts

Proposals to build tennis courts on the church property were first raised at a Deacons’ meeting in early 1936. Following the meeting the Church Secretary, Mr Ransom, wrote to the Commonwealth Department of the Interior and asked if the Department would “undertake the construction of a tennis court on the church property on a rental basis”. He also asked that if the proposal were to be agreed to, what terms and conditions would the Department wish to apply.

At the time Mr Ransom wrote to the Department, he was apparently aware that Cabinet had approved donations to three Canberra Church Schools for improvements to their grounds – a factor which the Department noted on its files. The Department also noted that as the Methodists had recently built tennis courts on their property at their own expense, if the Baptist proposal were to be approved, it would be necessary to reimburse the Methodists.

The Department thought, rather quaintly, that it should not encourage “institutional courts” which could affect membership of district clubs. After looking at its files on donations to church schools, the Department wrote back to Mr Ransom on 17 February 1936 and simply said that the proposal would be further considered and he would be further advised. There is no record of the matter going any further or of the promised advice having been sent. In public service jargon, the matter seems to have been “resolved by the effluxion of time”.

In 1954 Lloyd Kershaw brought his bulldozer in from Bungendore and slept on the site overnight. The following day he cleared and levelled the area where the present courts are located in preparation for the construction of the courts. Lloyd recalls doing the work and Rod McMaster, who was a young lad at the time, remembers Lloyd camping near his bulldozer, which, of course, was of particular interest to a youngster. Minutes of the Church Deacons meeting of 30 August 1954 state: “Pastor reported that Mr Lloyd Kershaw had given his labour and equipment for the construction of the tennis courts as a donation to the church. It was decided to forward a letter of thanks to Mr Kershaw.”

Nothing further on the construction of courts occurred until November 1958 when the deacons were advised that Mr M Wallace had been consulted and he had advised on the need to remove weeds from the site and spreading a layer of gravel. The high cost of erecting a wire netting fence for the courts was also mentioned. No further action was taken until the Deacons’ meeting of February 1960, when detailed costs for one and two courts, including site preparation, drainage and court construction were considered. Mr Clive Price’s expertise was enlisted in developing the proposal at this stage.

On 19 April 1960 a tender obtained by the Minister, Rev Fred McMaster from Mr S W Dixon was accepted. It was to construct the courts at a cost of two hundred and fifty pounds ($500). Sixty pounds ($120) towards the cost of the courts was obtained from the Commonwealth Department of Health on the recommendation of the National Fitness Advisory Committee. The courts were finally completed and opened with a tournament on 10 December 1960.

The Tennis Club (from 1960)

The Tennis Club, which had apparently ceased to function towards the end of the 1950s, was re-constituted after the church’s own courts were built, and prospered through the 1960s. The 1962 Annual Report says: “During the year the Tennis Club has continued to function satisfactorily both from a social and financial point of view. The courts are used regularly on Saturdays (juniors in the morning and seniors in the afternoon) and on Tuesday morning by the ladies.”

During 1972 lights were installed on the courts for night tennis. The Annual Report added: “The club owes a special debt of gratitude to Ken Williams and Norm Evans for this development’. At the same time a drop in usage of the courts on Saturday afternoons was noted.

Tennis lost popularity during the mid-1970s, but by 1978 there was another revival of interest with a number of people using the courts on Saturday afternoons. Also the young people played on Tuesday evenings. By the early 1980s there was a new development. Hiring of the courts to outside groups began and the committee (headed by Cec Joyce) had to develop a hire and charges policy. The Annual Report for 1983 indicated that there was “disappointment that the courts had not been used to any great extent by church members”. It went on to report, however, that the Tennis Club’s bank balance of $1,036.00 indicated good usage by other groups. This remained the case from the early 1980s onwards.

Money from the hire of the courts was used to keep them in a state of good repair and to introduce improvements. The courts were still in good condition into the early 1990s. The 1991 Annual Report said: “Phil Mills has made two new attractive seats and the shrubs around the courts are developing nicely”. However, the report went on to say: “It is regrettable that such a fine facility is not used more by church members”.

The financial records indicate that the tennis club ceased to operate with the closing of its bank account on 29 November 1993. The courts have not had any significant use since the early 1990s.

Some of the personalities involved

The late Mr Cec Joyce, who was a keen sportsman, was active over a number of years. Jack Welch has a photo, believed to have been taken at a tournament at the church’s courts in 1963, which shows Cec manning the official table and running the tournament. Other names which have come up regularly have been Jack Welch, Jack Pettifer, Rev Fred McMaster, John Barnes, Beryl Quartel, a number of members of the Joyce family, Rosemary White, Bill Hellier and Rhonda Edwards.

Only a few documents, other than the financial records, have survived, but a list of the 1964 Tennis Club Committee included: Rev Fred McMaster (President), Mr Jack Pettifer (V-P), Mrs Jean Ramage (Secretary), Miss Rosemary White (Treasurer), Mr John Barnes (Court Captain). Other committee members were Everyl Price, Graham Daniels, Colin Newell, Harry Ramage, Reg Joyce, Eileen McKay, Bob Kinnear and Tom Stirling.

Jack Welch recalls a visit to the church in the 1970s by the US astronaut, James Irwin, who had been on the Apollo 15 mission that landed on the moon on 30 April 1971. (Irwin went to the moon a non-believer and came back a Christian.) Apollo 15 was the first of three scientific expeditions and brought back 77 kg of moon rock and soil, some of which Irwin brought with him to Australia. Jack Welch, Jack Pettifer and Cec Joyce  played tennis with Irwin on the church tennis courts during that visit. Irwin did not have any gear so Fred Mac lent him his stuff, Keith Joyce was ball boy.

The future

It is sad to see the courts in their present state, so it was encouraging to hear that there is some interest in the church to tidy them up and, if enough interest is shown, to re-constitute the tennis club. At the last two Deacons’ meetings the gradual decline of the tennis courts has been noted. It has been agreed that there is a need to clean them up and keep them in reasonable condition. Inquiries are also being made to see what interest exists among church members in making use of the courts. Mr Bill Hellier is the person to talk to if you are interested.

Source:

Minutes of Church Meetings, Deacons Meetings and Annual Reports. Discussions with a number of persons including Jack Welch, Beryl Quartel, Rod McMaster and Lloyd Kershaw. Photos supplied by Beryl Quartel.