The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
To the many students whose interest in tennis helps to make the Victoria College courts possibly the most popular in the whole country, it may be a surprise to learn that twice in the last five years only the timely protest of an influential supporter of the Club has saved the courts from obliteration. Utilitarians, who could not resist the lure of almost half an acre of flat terrain for building sites, were finally persuaded that no real good could come of destroying one amenity to create another.
To tell the story of this amenity, it may be satisfactory to make a geographical, and then a geological, division of the fifty years. The first stage saw an enthusiastic organisation fighting for page 110 its status and having for its headquarters the parliamentary tennis courts. The unflagging efforts of several club supporters who hewed the four courts out of solid rock found the Club at its present site in 1906. Again, the boundless energy of certain members enabled a further improvement to be made in 1932, when concrete replaced the asphalt; and, finally, the spring of 1945 ended with asphalt courts once more.
Before discussing the period of the concrete courts, it may be appropriate here to remark that the game was not very seriously affected by the second world war. Only for two seasons was the regular competition suspended and, despite the lack of balls in 1942-43, the Wellington Lawn Tennis Association conducted a doubles competition in which Victoria was narrowly beaten in the final.
There was no general regret in 1945 when a decision was made to replace the concrete courts which, though generally satisfactory, had irregular patches where the original asphalt had seeped up between rather widely-placed concrete slabs. It is only now, with the emphasis set upon the value of concrete courts by Kramer and his fellow Americans, that the merits of the original, often-maligned courts are fully realised. To the ordinary player, however, who is concerned with the game only as a relaxation from study, the new surface has been more popular, despite the fact that the finished job, for a number of reasons, was not as satisfactory as expected. With the unlikelihood of the W.L.T.A.'s ever being able to spare grass courts for Easter tournament as was done in the past, the necessity for first class courts in the College becomes all the more urgent.
While no startling rise in the standard of play has been noted during the period of the present courts, the team of 1947 was sufficiently strong to win the cup outright. The members were Misses A. Reed, G. Rainbow, Y. Chapman, L. Webley, J. Robbins, and Messrs J. Walls, H. Davidson, D. Goodwin, and B. O'Connor. The men's senior team has played soundly over the past two seasons; and a gratifyingly keen competition for places in the Club's four teams has been noted during the past season. The return of R. Ferkins, a mainstay of so many of Victoria's teams in the past and New Zealand doubles champion (with V.U.C. graduate E. A. Roussell) in 1936 and 1937, has been welcomed by all Club members. His experience in administrative matters, and his continued ability as a player, are proving invaluable.
When tournament was held in Wellington in 1945 at two weeks' notice, the old concrete courts brought comments from the visitors, but, never-theless, they proved satisfactory, besides providing the setting for the most exciting finish in the Tournament Shield history. Everything depended on the mixed doubles tennis final.
The tennis finals in 1941, when J. Cope kept Victoria's colours flying by winning the singles, were played at Paekakariki on the only accessible courts that were not soaked by the heavy rain on Easter Tuesday.
Miss E. McLean was the last Victoria representative to win the ladies singles event when, in 1938, she beat the previous year's champion, Miss Inwood of Canterbury, in a hard-hitting final.
An injury to W. Smith, star Otago player, helped Victoria slightly to win the tennis cup in 1939 at Dunedin, but in 1938 the trophy was won hand-somely by a team in which every player recorded a point for the side. The 1938 team was Misses E. McLean, K. Pears, L. Ngata, P. Edwards, and Messrs N. Morrison, J. Hartley, B. O'Connor, and F. Renouf. Renouf was successful in the men's doubles for three years in succession with three different partners. The fate of the Tournament Shield in 1938 depended on the efforts of the Victoria finalists, and there was a note of relief when the men's and ladies' singles were made safe, to end Victoria's long reign as wooden spoon holders. Other prominent players during the period when the concrete courts were in use were N. C. Morrison and J. J. McCarthy, the latter winning the University title in 1936, and Morrison showing brilliant doubles form. The administrative work of E. Budge during the period until 1941 is worthy of special note.
Mr R. A. Wright, M.P., opened the new courts on November 28th, 1932, and again it was mainly because of the outstanding work of certain club members (J. L. MacDuff and C. S. Plank) that the old courts which sloped markedly in towards the net were replaced.
The period which had just closed had witnessed the zenith of New Zealand University tennis. Just how high the standard was can be realised when we note that Roly Ferkins, Wellington Wilding Shield player, could win only one title in five years of competition. C. M. Malfroy, who in later years was recognised as the second best doubles player in England, gave Victoria a singles win in 1929, but to do so he had to beat the equally eminent A. C. Stedman in the final. A Barnett of Canterbury also came into the picture at this time to complete an imposing quartet of names. A Victoria player who found the competition difficult at a slightly earlier period was Russell Young, who won his Cambridge tennis blue soon after leaving New Zealand. Another fine player of this period was N. H. Burns, later to become Secretary of the N.Z.L.T.A. He is a nephew of one of the foundation members, and a brother of D. M. Burns who acted as Club Secretary in 1932.
Victoria's first singles win after the first war was registered by Miss Tracy in 1924, five years after Miss Walden and C. F. Atmore had won the combined doubles title for Victoria. Matches were played with Trentham teams during the first World War, and spirited discussion centred round the desirability of Sunday tennis.page 111
Before the war, the Club won the Wellington Senior Championship for two years in succession, though unable to make much impression at the University Tournament.
In 1909 and 1910, Miss Reeve won the ladies' singles, and it is at this time that we make the acquaintance of Mr S. Eichelbaum whose interest in the Club has never waned, and whose cheery words of encouragement on successive opening days in the present decade always give a fitting initiation to each season's activities. Mr Eichelbaum represented the College on several occasions and today still engages in a tactical game of doubles on Sunday morning down at Thorndon.
In 1908, Miss Scott won the ladies' singles and, with Miss K. McIntosh, the doubles. All five events were won in 1907, G. S. Prouse taking the men's singles and Miss J. Scott the women's singles. Prouse won the combined dodubles with Miss J. Scott and the men's doubles with G. A. Vogle.
The Club is fifty years old. In 1899, a tennis committee was formed at the instigation of the Students' Society, and soon students interested in tennis were playing on a parliamentary court behind the old library building. The members of the foundation committee were Misses Greenfield, Fleming, and Ross, and Messrs Thomson, Logan, Richmond, and Smyth. When the Students' Society imposed a five shilling levy on members of the new club, the Club, at its next annual meeting, protested that their organisation should be independent of the Society. A debate upon the question took place at the Annual General Meeting of the Students' Society—the battleground of similar boisterous discussion so many time in the years that followed—and the meeting resolved that "the Tennis Club be constituted a separate body from the Students' Society."
The value of this new club as a social centre was soon appreciated as it began to play matches against other Wellington clubs, and then against Canterbury College. Misses Greenfield and Ross, and Messrs H. P. Richmond, J. C. Burns, and F. P. Wilson (later Professor Wilson) played in this match, which was to presage the inter-university tournament two years later. Athletics, debating, and tennis were the only contests in the tournament, and the first contest enhanced the standing of the Tennis Club.
No rule restricting players to two events operated in the first tournament, and, though the men players found Anthony Wilding a stumbling block, Miss C. V. Longton won the ladies' singles, and, with Miss Van Staveren, the doubles. The team on this occasion was Mrs C. V. Longton, Misses Van Staveren, F. G. Roberts, M. C. Ross, E. F. Wedde, and A. W. Griffiths; and Messrs F. P. Wilson, R. C. St. J. Beere, F. P. Richmond, Graham, F. A. de la Mare, and A. J. Will.
Victoria won only one title in the next two seasons. Miss A. F. Batham won this in 1904. But at this time the interest of several professors, who presented the Professorial Challenge Shield for competition in the Club, brought a keenness which assisted Victoria greatly to win the shield for the first time in 1905. Miss Batham and Miss Van Staveren again performed with distinction. The tournament was again won in 1906 and 1907, F. A, de la Mare winning the singles, and Miss F. G. Roberts the ladies singles.
In 1905, the work of excavating the courts on the present site was begun. F. P. Wilson, F. A. de la Mare, and R. St. J. Beere constituted the special committee, and the services of H. Sladden as surveyor were availed of. The Rt. Hon. R. J. Seddon turned the first sod, and thirty-two ambitious players and supporters faced the starter's gun on that Saturday, September 9th. Every Saturday for two years this work was continued in spite of the gradual thinning of the ranks. Messrs Beere, Eichelbaum, Dobbie, Hewitt, de la Mare, Dixon, and Gillanders completed the three courts, while Dixon and Gillanders (both non-players), and finally Dixon on his own, completed the fourth court. The last-named is the 'influential supporter' of the Club mentioned in the opening sentence of these notes. Perhaps it is well to end by speaking of the same person.
Good players help to bring distinction to a club, but it is to the unostentatious supporters who do the hard work that organisations such as the Victoria College Tennis Club owe most gratitude. With a tradition of selflessness behind it, the Victoria Club and its present enthusiastic committee should carry on a work so auspiciously begun and so splendidly maintained by its supporters.
B. M. O'Connor