Murrumbateman Tennis Club

History of Murrumbateman Tennis Club

23 July 2019 |

If you don’t know Libby Turner you’ll nonetheless recognise her from court number two, which has a sign with Libby’s name on it. Libby was an important character in the story of how MTC got its beautiful synthetic courts. Libby humbly insists it was a group effort, and would like to thank David Rowe (YVC) and the Ag Bureau in particular.
I caught up with Libby this month and asked a bit about what’s gone down in the past.

Libby insists she’s not old enough to be of any use, historically, and when I called her ‘the village elder’ I was very glad I chose to stand with a tennis fence between us. Apart from that, Kim’s retirement is a good time to consider our recent history.

Libby listed a few people I should probably talk to, with the addendum that actually, those characters are completely, unfortunately, long since properly dead.

So I would like to say a big thanks to the member who loaned me the ouija board so I could talk to them. This member reveals herself seldom, and only to certain completely trustworthy people who never exaggerate.

Back in the day, farmers used to play tennis at the weekend — that’s what they did. Unsurprisingly, the first record of tennis in Murrumbateman goes back to 1905. That would’ve been the court on Lot 7 in Camp Street.

After that, the court crept closer and closer to where they are now, next on Rose Street behind the school house, then in front of the school house.

Finally they jumped the highway. The official opening of the courts in their current position was 24 October, 1954. When Libby realised that was the day of her birth she almost fell over. I’m a little freaked out, too. I hope this isn’t going to be a Grandfather’s Clock situation.

Libby came to Murrumbateman in the mid nineties — several years later she was secretary of the MTC. Geoff Finn was president back then. Sturge wasn’t playing much locally but he was around. Annalisa was an active member from the early 90s.

In the early nineties the club was made up of people mainly in their twenties and thirties with a fairly healthy Sunday Social, which was for adults back then. This was a bit of a boom time. One year the Murrumbateman ladies’ doubles got into the finals.

But gradually the numbers dwindled. The decade or so preceding the synthetic courts was a fallow period for MTC. This may partly be due to the state of them. Balls kept coming back covered in burrs so Libby and Jill realised they had to get the weeds under control. They sprayed the joint.

Photos of the old courts are few and far between. But notice how close the club house was to the fence.

There was also very little space between the edges of the courts and the fence, so balls angled well were winners. Balls hit onto the lines were also winners, because the rest of the courts wore away due to foot traffic, leaving the lines slightly elevated. The ball would ricochet off the lines at very odd angles and I’m convinced this is why certain older members are so adept at hitting the lines. The lines were plastic strips that needed nailing down and regular replacement due to cracking in the cold. The lines needed to be ordered from Melbourne. But scratch below the surface and you’ll find a pesky bed of rocks, so when trying to attach the tape to the gravel the nails would skew off those rocks, resulting in lines which snaked seductively in a very non-championship fashion.

The committee meeting minutes from this earlier era tell us that every now and then the courts were re-gravelled.

Go back far enough and there were no lights at all, but for a while the club had very low and open lights, only about as high as a ceiling. You’d hit the lights about half the time. Playing at night was slightly impossible.

Eventually we got the lights we have now, but they are positioned where the old courts used to be, which is why they shine right into your peep hole and why we’re applying for a grant for new ones.

Mobile phones have made it much easier to organise games. These days Sturge sends a text around and you can be sure someone’ll turn up. Back in the 1990s you might get changed, go down, unlock, limber up, limber up some more… only to realise you’ve been stood up. Not out of the ordinary when your club comprises approximately five members. However, there was a volley wall, which is some consolation for the lonely. This got demolished in the upgrade to synthetic courts. But we do have a picnic table.

Council agreed to pay half of the new courts. Fifty per cent came from the community aka Murrumbateman Field Days. MPA took out a loan and paid ten thousand off it per year. The courts were finally paid off just a couple of years ago.

Pictured above is the opening to the new courts, featuring a goodly proportion of members at the time. Jill Buckfield was president (pictured in the navy track suit). The synthetic courts are now about 12 years old.

When the new courts were built Kim Williams came along and stirred up the joint. Our club is a lot bigger as a result. Several attempts had previously been made at offering coaching to under 12s, and at instituting a regular Sunday Social, but a club coach and synthetic courts has had a big impact on membership numbers.

Paul Trezise has also been working quietly behind the scenes all this time keeping things ticking over. A big thanks to Paul. It’s only when he goes off gallivanting or gets poached for other voluntary work that you realise the extent of what he does.

If you’d like to see some photos of those very old courts, check out the book on Murrumbateman history by Dorothy Mulholland.

Thanks to Annaliese, Sturge and Libby, who very generously played along at my ouija board session. We sat in the dark and held hands in a circle.