AFTER MORE THAN 110 years, the life of the tennis courts with one of the best views in Melbourne is officially over.
The courts were established in 1907 and had been used to varying degrees until they were seconded by VicRoads as a worksite during the recent bridge redevelopment.
Rallies by the River, a book produced by Judy Green and Keith Wilson in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of Warrandyte Tennis Club, notes that: “In September 1907 ‘with valuable assistance from the Progressive Association’ the land was gazetted by the Government to be used for ‘public purposes’”.
The courts were built by volunteers and opened in May 1908, “to celebrate the occasion ‘a large number of members assembled and some very enjoyable games were played’”.
The years that followed saw regular inter-club tournaments with neighbouring townships.
However, devastating fire and floods wrought havoc on the riverside courts, with the floods of 1934 washing the courts away, and the 1939 bushfires melting the asphalt surface.
These were replaced by concrete courts, but construction was interrupted by WWII, with the courts at Mr Ted Hemsworth’s Yarra Street home being used in the interim.
The Warrandyte Tennis Club continued to grow over the following decades, but with threats of road widening and the position’s geographical constraints, the club moved to Taroona Avenue in 1974.
The courts were unused for some time after Warrandyte Tennis Club had established itself at Taroona Avenue.
Enter the Warrandyte Lions Club who has now been managing the tennis courts by the bridge for more than 40 years.
Ron Cuthbert was a member in 1978 and recalls when the Lions decided to bring the courts back to life after the courts were damaged.
“There was a truck that came down and took out the whole fence.
“We had the idea to restore the courts, but we couldn’t find out who had control of the courts, it was the local MP who came to sort all that out,” Ron said.
It turned out the land belonged to the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, and once the Lions had established the ownership, they were able to undertake works to upgrade the area.
Long-time member, Denis Robertshaw said when the club took the courts over it was just asphalt.
“The Lions volunteers did all the work fixing it up, weekend after weekend, and then put the en tout cas [red clay] down.
Ron adds “Johnny Gilbert did the maintenance”.
Denis elaborates: “He was a stalwart gentleman, he was in his 80s, he used to come down here, and if he was going past and a branch had come down overnight, he’d be down here the next day.
“He was so diligent, even when it was not his allotted day, he would come down and have this place really clean and tidy and have it ready for anybody that was going to come and have a hit.
“First thing in the morning at 7am, he would be down here,” Denis recalled.
Ron said the club rooms were originally a small timber shack, but local bricklayer Eddie Ohlman constructed the brick clubhouse that stands to this day.
Current Lions President David Englefield recalls the honour system used when they rented the courts out to the public.
“We used to charge $10 per hour for a court.
“It was good fun, the lolly shop had the key, people would pay their $10 and collect the key and return it when they were finished,” said David.
At various times the keys were held by Riverview Café, Scandles, Landfield Real Estate and the Lolly Shop.
But it was not just social hit-ups that the courts were used for, at times Warrandyte Tennis Club and Kangaroo Ground Tennis Club would use the courts for competition when they needed extra courts.
Current Lions Club Secretary Lyn McDonald remembers using the courts in her youth.
“I played here when I was playing with Kangaroo Ground, we had to use it when there were not enough courts up there,” she said.
Former member Colin Davis told the Diary that Lions used to run a program for people with special needs.
“We called the program Everyone for Tennis, it started in 2007 and ran for four years.
“We had professional coaches and it was a good atmosphere, sometimes we would get 30 players,” he said.
However, Denis said the use of the courts had been in decline over the last few years.
“It was costing us a lot in maintenance each year to keep it up-to-date, and when you do not have the use, it is very disappointing.
“Then VicRoads announced they were going to remodel the bridge, they wanted to have it for extra space, so they commandeered the land,” Denis said.
David added “it was very disappointing when we lost it all, we put a lot of work into it to keep it up and going, and a lot of people wanted to keep it going, but the Council said, ‘it’s not your property, it is our property’.
“For the last three or four years it has just gone to wrack and ruin, VicRoads used it as a depot, parking the trucks and using it for their sheds.
“We are very sorry to see it go,” said David.
Current and former members gathered at the courts in late May to farewell the old courts.
Denis told the Diary they are donating $45,000 to purchase fitness stations to be installed in the new Lions Park and are pleased to continue to help people enjoy the area by the river.
“It is the Lions’ swan-song as tenancy of the tennis court area, but we are more than happy that the electric BBQ we built is going to continue on, so visitors to the area can still enjoy their snags and have a picnic… it’s going to turn out to be something usable — and nice,” Denis said.
The courts and clubhouse will now be demolished, and the land incorporated into Lions Park (see story below).
Rallies by the River by Judy Green and Keith Wilson is available from the Warrandyte Historical Society.
Lions Park construction gets under way
By DAVID HOGG
THE CONTROVERSIAL Lions Park project might finally get underway this month to create a new dynamic park area running from the Federation Playspace to underneath the bridge on the south side of the river.
The Manningham Council meeting on May 26 approved a draft budget which included $600,000 for this project, and concluded in closed session to discuss and approve the tender responses for the works.
Angelo Kourambas, Director City Planning and Community, Manningham Council, told the Diary “Works on the first stage of the Lions Park upgrade at the Warrandyte River Reserve are anticipated to start in June and be completed by the end of November 2020.
“The upgrade will include new fitness equipment, which will be funded by the Lions Club of Warrandyte.
“A full list of works can be found in the document library at yoursaymanningham.com.au/lions-park
“Stage two works are planned for the financial year 2021/22.
“This will include a new playspace, picnic area, art project, and additional indigenous planting,” Mr Kourambas said.
There is slight confusion as to which of the works are included in Stage 1 this year, and Stage 2 in the 2021/22 financial year, particularly as the signs on display at the site are a later edition than the original master plan on the referenced website, but it looks safe to assume that Stage 1 consists of everything on the site plan apart from the four items listed above, and an extension to the existing Fire Garden.
We understand from the Lions Club that they have set aside $45,000 for provision of fixed-apparatus fitness equipment, which they had hoped would be out in the open but council has decided to locate under the bridge.
Progress on these works has been slow and controversial.
The original master plan was approved by council in September 2018 and we were assured at the time that work would be started shortly after completion of the bridgeworks in early 2019.
In May 2019 the Diary announced that council had allocated a total of $450,000 to the project in the financial years to June 2020, and that work would start shortly.
In fact, no work has been done since VicRoads vacated the site of the old tennis courts which they used as a depot for the bridge reconstruction, and it has been fenced off and abandoned.
Lions Club member Denis Robertshaw is concerned about the future of the 4-burner BBQ which is in good condition.
He tells us “This BBQ was a bicentennial project funded by Lions Club and all the bricks in the surrounds have people’s names on them; people in the community that we approached to donate money.
“I believe Council is going to retain the bricks even though they are going to repurpose them but it is a shame that they will be throwing out a perfectly good 4-burner BBQ and replacing it with a new 2-burner one; a waste of Lions Club donators’ and ratepayers’ money.
“Council tell us that the reason for this is that the area has to be made wheelchair accessible; we thought it already is!”
Lions Club Secretary Lyn McDonald tells the Diary “It is still to be called Lions Park, that’s what we have been told, emphasis that the Lions have had this space for so long, and it would be terrible to lose that history.”
The Diary is seeking clarification from Council on the funding for this project.
We know that $450,000 was allocated to the project in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 budgets although no work had started in these years.
We know that $600,000 has been included in the draft budget for 2020/21 but do not know whether this includes the $450,000 previously committed or whether it includes the Stage 2 works to be commenced in 2021/22.
We know that council debated the awarding of the contract for the works in a closed session in their May meeting but do not know who the contract was awarded to, the value of the contract, or whether this was for the whole project or just for Stage 1.
These are questions we have asked of Council, but they had not responded as we go to press, so we will seek to clarify next month.
Rather like the bridge widening project, we are sure it will be excellent when eventually completed, but final completion date and costs may differ from what was originally outlined.
Manningham’s short video walkthrough showing how the final implementation will look is very impressive and can be found at tinyurl.com/wlpk9