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St Andrew’s Tennis Club has remained intertwined with St Andrew’s Anglican Church Brighton for all of its 102-year history.
St Andrew’s is a community driven and compassionate parish, and the Club has remained true to the St Andrew’s Anglican Church principles of community and religious values, as well as providing significant opportunities for social participation.
The tennis courts are situated on part of a ten-acre allotment that was conveyed to the church in 1843 by a benevolent and community spirited group of prominent businessmen and civil servants. The group included future parishioners Henry Dendy, Robert Deane, Robert Dunsford, George Were, and Jonathan B. Were (who established the Melbourne Stock Exchange, and later J. B. Were & Son). Bishop Broughton consecrated the land that same year.
Saturday April 29, 1911 was a conspicuous day for several reasons. In the early morning there was a rare total eclipse of the sun. In the afternoon was the opening game of the 1911 VFL fixture. It featured a replay of the 1910 grand final between premiers Collingwood, and runners-up Richmond. Then, for a lucky and excited few, His Worship the Mayor of Brighton, Mr R A Edmanson, officially opened the St Andrew’s tennis courts.
The Argus newspaper reports that it was a misty day with a slight southwesterly breeze. Those standing on the two newly made courts would have noticed the smell of fresh asphalt rising from under their feet. Interestingly, guests would have been afforded a virtually uninterrupted view through to Church Street to the south and New Street to the west. The only nearby buildings were the ironstone school at the corner of St Andrew’s and Church Street, (currently a restaurant), and in the distance, through the trees, the Victorian building which is now part of Cabrini Hospital. Moving clockwise, the St Andrew’s bluestone church and cemetery were the only other landmarks. What is now Brighton Grammar School were just fields and pine trees, filled with the loud squawk of cockatoos.
The story behind St Andrew’s Tennis Club starts in October 1910. Records show that a formal approach was made to the Vestry seeking permission to construct a tennis court within the church grounds. The Vestry determined that no portion of the immediate church grounds was suitable for a tennis court. However there was no objection to granting approval for a court to be laid on an agistment paddock situated between the church and cemetery, and St Andrew’s Street. The Vicar, Reverend Edward Crawford and his family recognised the community benefit of a tennis club and became keen participants in its formation. The Vicar chaired the establishment of a budget committee to begin planning construction of the courts. When a completion date was secured, the Vicar, in concert with the committee, determined the festivities and invited the Mayor of Brighton, to officiate at the opening.
When the inaugural committee nominations were
called and voted, Reverend Crawford became President, his wife Vice President, and his daughter, Honorary Secretary. In its first two years as a tennis club, St Andrew’s won both local winter pennants.
By 1938, it had become apparent that two courts could no longer serve the demands of members, and a third asphalt court was approved. The cost was one hundred and twenty eight pounds and five shillings ($257.00). The courts had now been bordered on the south side by the existing church hall, which today, is separated from the courts by the driveway. Like the Tennis Club, the hall provided opportunities to further complement the church’s outreach through community participation.
Following the Second World War, and into the early 1950s, the asphalt courts deteriorated badly and in 1955 were replaced with en tout cas tennis courts. These were opened by Mr. J.F. Rossiter, MLA, and Mrs Rossiter. After an introduction from the Club President, the Reverend George Codrington, the Official Opening Ceremony was kindly performed by Mr Rossiter who greatly praised the Church for the splendid amenities it was providing for young people of the Parish.
Membership boomed. A Young People’s Fellowship in the Parish, fostered by Reverend Codrington, saw increasing family membership and junior Saturday morning competition. On Saturday afternoons, St Andrew’s Tennis Club had six to eight senior teams in the Church of England and South Suburban Tennis Associations. Although highly unusual for the period, social tennis was permitted on Sundays after attendance at church. Sunday afternoon social tennis became so popular that a court captain was required to manage the playing roster.
In 1976 the Club Committee voted to appoint a professional coach. In 1982, Gerard Douglas was appointed to the coaching position, where he remains today. Gerard has been instrumental in promoting the profile of St Andrew’s as a community based club through junior and adult tennis development classes.
Lights were installed in 1994 at a cost of $22,821 and were officially opened on a bitterly cold June evening in the presence of His Worship the Mayor of Brighton and his wife. The project was made possible by funds borrowed from the Anglican Development Fund (ADF). This fund raises money from parishes and the wider Anglican community within the Diocese of Melbourne. These funds are used to finance capital improvements within the Diocese. Night competitions began that year on Monday and Wednesday nights, with over forty players participating, and the present strength of the club owes much to this initiative.
In 1997 a committee was formed to investigate the building of a new pavilion. With all approvals sought, the new clubhouse was completed at a cost of $50,000. Once again, the ADF was instrumental in funding the project. Opened in May 1999, the new pavilion was named after long serving committee member and Vestry representative, Jim Brown. The most recent upgrade was made in 2005 with the new synthetic poli-clay surface, which has substantially reduced maintenance, upkeep and water consumption. At a cost of $75,000 (and again funded by the ADF) the new courts were officially re-opened by the Vicar, Reverend Kenyon McKie in April 2006.
Today the Club has a broad membership. It includes junior development programs for children aged four to seven years of age on half court, and junior development on full court. For adults there is an extended community offering of cardio tennis (for those who wish to improve their fitness, while ‘chasing’ tennis balls around the court). No doubt passers-by would be amused at the antics of these enthusiasts playing under lights at 7 AM, in the freezing depths of winter!
St Andrew’s Tennis Club remains an important form of outreach for the greater St Andrew’s Church. It attracts a diverse membership, particularly younger players and young families, and offers exposure to, and connection with, St Andrew’s Anglican Church - a parish dedicated to serving its local community.
As in its founding years, the St Andrew’s Tennis Club philosophy has remained closely linked with St Andrew’s Anglican Church. The tennis club is an important avenue for outreach, reflecting the Church’s community and spiritual values. It offers opportunities for friendships, social participation and physical activity. It continues to contribute long-term to the community health and wellbeing through active participation, something that is often lacking in today’s society.
In addition, the Club has been proudly supported by local government through the office of the Mayor, with mayoral support for every Club upgrade for over one hundred years. Like local council, the St Andrew’s Tennis Club holds a continuing role in engaging and supporting the local community.
St Andrew’s Tennis Club owes much to the St Andrew’s Anglican Church and Vestry for its formation, existence and continued support.
At a time when many parish courts, general community courts and school courts tennis courts are disappearing, the members of St Andrew’s Parish are indeed blessed to have such premium player facilities, right in the heart of Brighton.
Jim Brown and Gary McCloud