The Club's History
This is not a history of the Otago Squash Rackets Club. Rather, it is a story of the early years of the club based initially at Logan Park and subsequently at Mellor Park. There was an earlier Otago Squash Rackets Club; based at the squash courts in what was known as the Sharland’s Building at 12 Dowling Street. Little is known of the history of that original club, but there is a photo of some of the original members in the present club’s archives. The history of the two clubs does come together eventually, as will be shown later in this narrative.
The First Steps
A headline like that would probably be lost in the volume of circulars we’re confronted with nowadays, when we have leisure activities coming out our ears. But more than forty years ago that headline, in a promotional circular, was to extend an exciting invitation to many. It attracted a lot of interest, and within a short time led to the establishment of the first public courts to be built in Dunedin in more than twenty years. It sparked off a development that turned into an explosion of interest, reflected in the astounding development of facilities in Dunedin and then Otago.
The circular was the first step in the creation of the Otago Squash Rackets Club, and it is undoubtedly true that the outstanding success story of the Club contributed enormously to the growth of the sport in and around Dunedin, while club administrators have made a valuable contribution to the sport at district, national and indeed international level. The circular, dated 8 August 1962, was signed by Don Green and Peter Gray, convenor and secretary respectively of a subcommittee appointed by the Otago Lawn Tennis Association to promote the building of two squash courts at Logan Park to be ready for Easter 1963. The proposed subscription was five pounds five shillings ($10.50 decimal currency) with a charge of sixpence (5 cents) per game to cover the cost of electricity. It was proposed to close the membership at 250.
The cost of the project was to be met completely by the Otago Lawn Tennis Association. A public meeting was called at the Council Room in the Municipal Chambers, with the Mayor Mr. TKS Sidey agreeing to chair it, explain the project and answer questions on the proposed club. The meeting at the Council Chambers attracted considerable interest, and resulted in an interim committee being formed to see the project through to fruition.
A Contentious Vision
Not everyone shared the confidence expressed by the promoters. There were, as always, those who saw it as a gamble. They may look unusually conservative now in the light of the growth that followed, but to understand what a brave and imaginative proposal it was, one must appreciate the circumstances of the day. In 1955 there were only 841 players in New Zealand that were affiliated to the National Association. Twenty years later there were more than 40,000 affiliated players, and it grew in time to over 60,000.
The early growth in the number of courts in New Zealand had not been spectacular, rising from about 17 courts in 1945 to 34 courts in 1960. The local visionaries, however, pointed to the Australian experience, when even then a rapid growth in facilities there gave a clue to the future here. In 1962 the only functioning courts in Dunedin were at the Dunedin Club (at Fernhill) and at the hospital.
It’s interesting to note that the Dunedin Jaycees Inc had recognised the appeal that squash could have. They had proposed that the site of the old municipal swimming pool building in Moray Place should be converted into a sports centre primarily with squash facilities, including 6 courts.
The Logan Park Courts Are Built
The 1962 proposals became a reality in June 1963, at a cost of 7,000 pounds. At the inaugural General Meeting of the club on 4 June, the first election of office bearers was held.
Those elected were:
President – D.G.Green
Vice President – R.O. Talbot
Secretary – J. James
Treasurer – P.A. Glass
Committee – Mrs J. Black, Mrs C. Gilkison, P. Gray, J. Harrison, D. Preston, R. Scoullar. (Ex officio: J. Kyle, President OLTA)
The Logan park courts were officially opened by the Mayor, Mr. Sidey on 18 June 1963. In those days the sport was played on a strictly seasonal basis, so the first season was quite short. The 1963 season closed on 12 October with the completion of the first club championships. There were sufficient entries for three men’s grades and one women’s grade. The first club championship honours went to D.G. Green and Mrs J. Black. Short as the season was, club night, coaching and ladder competitions were all firmly established.
At this stage the club and courts were still under the control of the Otago Lawn Tennis Association, which paid an annual 50 pounds towards internal running expenses and paid affiliation fees to the NZSRA. Apart from the assistance, the club paid all membership fees to the OLTA, and assisted OLTA finances with housie evenings at the St Kilda Town Hall.
There was immediate and strong interest in the Club, and membership grew rapidly to 299, (245 men, 54 women) and was closed within a few months. Having to close the membership was very encouraging to the Committee.
Discussion on building an additional two courts took place later that year, because the length of the waiting list demonstrated a largely unsatisfied demand, even at that early stage. It was decided to look at options, and obtain likely construction costs. By April 1964 members were being canvassed to take up debentures. In August 1964 the OLTA called tenders for an additional two courts, and hopes were high that they would be ready for the 1965 season. Already squash club members had promised 3,500 pounds in debentures.
The tenders were considered and in mid September, with the lowest tender of 6,200 pounds being considerably higher than expected, it was decided that in view of the the finances of the OLTA, the development would have to be deferred and reviewed in 1965.
1964: The First Full Playing Season
Membership increased to 400 members, including 18 juniors. A successful innovation was an internal team competition, played one night a week. Club nights were well supported, and pressure for additional courts increased again. By now the standard of play was increasing significantly, and a full gallery appreciated the visit of Aftel Jawaid, who was world amateur champion at the time. The club also hosted the South Island division of the Cousins Shield and Mitchell Cup competitions.
The first members to represent the club in national tournament play were:
Men: D.G. Green, H.S. Skinner, J. Henderson, J. Molloy and K. Ottley.
Women: J. Black, L. Cranefield, A. Harrison, R. McKinlay and M. Sanderson.
Not content with this hectic start to the club in its first full year, the Club also staged the first Otago Open Championship in August with D. Preston (Christchurch) defeating B. Rippon (Timaru) in the men’s final. From then on club members started playing in tournaments in other centres, and the exchange of club visits with Timaru, Oamaru and Invercargill becoming annual events.
The First Change of Leader
At the AGM in March 1966, Don Green relinquished the presidency to Basil de Lambert. While the club has had many fine presidents, these two must be singled out for the simple reason that the Club owes its very existence to them.
Don’s contribution to the success of the Club is immeasurable. He had a profound knowledge of the sport from both a playing and administrative perspective. In those early days of the Club, early committee members leaned heavily on him while they built up their own experience. He inspired confidence as a leader with his own positive decision making ability. His fellow administrators found he had a happy knack of cutting away the irrelevancies and getting to the heart of any problem. His prime concern was getting on with the job in the quickest and most effective manner. Lesser people might have offended or even overpowered fellow workers while pursuing the cause, but without exception fellow committee members found him a joy to work with because his prime motivation was a deep regard for the sport, and the people that played it. This regard was always apparent and respected. Equally, he was sensitive to new points of view and invariably respected any genuine view contrary to his own. His greatest ability was to rubbish an idea or point of view without infringing on the self respect of the proponent of that view. More than one committee member has been heard to say that Don was at his most dangerous when he started out agreeing with a previous view, before turning it around. Present day politicians could learn a great deal from Don Green in this respect.
Don Green served a total of 9 years on the Committee (3 years as President). His assistance and help was legendary for years later, and he still retains a strong interest in the welfare of the Club. He subsequently was President of the newly formed Southern Districts Squash Rackets Association, and also served as Vice President and President of the New Zealand Squash Rackets Association. He and Murray Day of Palmerston North staged a rescue bid for the world body, which had been in the doldrums, and that organisation carried on to become a most successful organisation, as it is today.
As a player Don had represented New Zealand as a junior, and was New Zealand champion in 1956. In later years he was within an ace of winning the World Veterans title, and if his extremely busy business had allowed even a modicum of preparation, he would surely have pulled it off.
The leadership of Basil de Lambert ranks only second to Don Green’s service in the club’s history. As will be seen later, it was largely because of Basil’s financial help that the club was reborn with such extensive facilities at Mellor Park. It was only fitting that in 1976, along with Don Green, their services were recognised by life membership. Basil de Lambert was known by his gentlemanly courtesy, which never failed him. He was an intelligent and perceptive leader, who was respected by all who worked with him.
Growing Pains at Logan Park
The Logan Park Courts were the forerunner of many other courts in Dunedin, and by 1966 a monthly interclub match was in full swing. The club membership was closed at 400 on 14 May 1966 and remained closed for the rest of the season. The pressure on court membership was extreme, with the large membership. Further submissions for additional courts were made to the OLTA in support of further courts, and was a bitter disappointment to squash club members when the OLTA resolved at its AGM in September not to take any further action. The squash committee attempted to arrange a joint meeting of both committees to discuss the organisation, control and future of Logan Park. The OLTA would not agree to such a meeting until a plan of the overall future of Logan Park was determined.
Planning for Independence
The squash committee realised that if the constrictions on growth were to be overcome, then it must go it alone with the establishment of its own courts. By the time the Squash Club had its AGM on 15 March 1967, the City Council had been approached regarding the possibility of other sites being available for the erection of squash courts. The Council initially offered sites on the Town Belt Reserve near the Southern Cemetery, or a separate part of the Logan Park Reserve.
Two squash courts in Dowling Street were also inspected, but discarded as a possibility. Those courts were in good order, and had previously been the headquarters of the first Otago Squash Club, founded about 1936. Background information on the Dowling Street courts was provided by Alister Stewart and Rod Talbot, who had both been members of the early club. (R.O. Talbot’s name is recorded in the club by way of the Talbot Cup, which is the trophy for the Women’s Championship.
The Declaration of Independence
At the AGM in 1967, there was a lot of discussion on the club’s relationship with the OLTA, and the unsatisfactory way in which the development of the club was being restricted. A key notice of motion was passed:
That this meeting recommends that the committee of the Otago Squash Rackets Club investigate in detail the club financing and building its own courts in readiness for the 1968 season, and as part of this investigation a postal ballot of all club members be held to assess their support for this proposal.
The meeting was advised that the City Council was concerned that Council land should be used to the best advantage of everyone, and was therefore calling a meeting of representatives of the Squash Club and the OLTA in an endeavour to resolve the deadlock that had developed. The mayor, Mr Russell Calvert, convened the meeting, and it resulted in a decision to discuss the matter with a meeting with the OLTA executive, which the mayor had also agreed to chair.
Planning for Independence; The Ultimatum
Following the meeting with the mayor, the Management Committee of the OLTA resolved:
That the Otago Squash Rackets Club be advised that, as from tonight, full control of the courts will be taken over by the Management Committee of the Otago Lawn Tennis Association
This crisis only increased the Committee’s resolve to remain active and make every endeavour to build new courts for the 1968 season. Compromise options were still presented to the OLTA, offering to lease the two courts, be responsible for building a further two courts adjacent to the existing courts, and to set up an independent Trust to arbitrate on matters of mutual concern. The OLTA declined to make any further commitment in respect of squash. The two courts were looked on solely as a financial investment, with the returns being used to advance tennis, operating under the premise that Logan Park was to be the headquarters for tennis and must preserve its tennis character. The squash club proposals were referred to individual tennis clubs, who eventually voted against their acceptance.
Opportunities for a Joint Venture Lost
Pending the results of the OLTA delegates’ votes, the squash club committee looked at a number of sites that might be used for the establishment of squash courts. From a variety of sites the City Council offered three sites: part of the Shingle Reserve (site of the existing University Courts), a site in the Town Belt near Sligo Terrace, and Mellor Park. The joint venture with the University was explored in detail, and reached the stage of being approved in principle, subject to the Students Association. Eventually both sides had reservations, and the Otago SRC committee was authorised to secure the Sligo Terrace site, with Mellor Park site being its second preference.
Mellor Park is Chosen
The Sligo Terrace site, although offered and accepted, was proving difficult with the legal difficulties arising over the use of the Town Belt. An early start to construction was imperative, and the Club opted for the Mellor Park site. The original owners of the land (the Ellis family) had expressed the wish that the land might be used for tennis courts when they donated the land to the City Council. They were happy to approve the use of the land for squash courts however, and Council approval for the use of Mellor Park as squash courts was conveyed to the club on 3 November 1967.
A Finance Committee had already been established in anticipation of approval, followed by a Building Sub-Committee, under the convenorship of John Harrison. His firm of Allingham & Harrison prepared sketch plans for a 3 court complex. Lack of finances ruled out the planned upstairs lounge and 4th court, with all facilities being at ground level. Provision was made for future extension to 4 courts, and added facilities upstairs.
Progress was rapid, and later that same month members were advised (on 24 November) that plans had been finalised and a tender from Stevenson & William of $29,973 had been accepted. The Building Fund by then stood at $23,500, representing 102 promises of gift, free interest or 6% interest loan monies. The balance was met by a loan of $6000 from the ANZ Bank, secured by the personal guarantees of 6 committee members of the Club. The history of the Club at Mellor Park was underway.
Spin Off to Squash
There had been a good deal of investigation into the possibility of a joint venture with the University of Otago. Although this project had eventually been turned down, there is no doubt that the discussion led to an awakening of student interest in squash, to the extent that they began planning their own facilities, and they were eventually able to open these on 30 August 1968.
New Catchment for Squash
The Mellor Park site was seen as the opening up of an entirely new area to be tapped for membership. Some members living on the city side of Roslyn had expressed reservations about Mellor Park as a site. In fact the hill proved to be no barrier at all, and the courts, when opened, attracted members from a wide area.
The Mellor Park Complex is Completed
The Mellor Park courts were constructed for a total contract price of $32,950, and were officially opened on 11 May 1968 by the Deputy Mayor, Jim Barnes. That they were completed and available in such a short time resulted from the planning of an extremely hard working committee, and the leadership of Basil de Lambert during this critical period in the club’s history. It was largely because of Basil’s financial help that the club was reborn with such extensive facilities at Mellor Park, and it is fitting that in 1976, along with Don Green, whose leadership was responsible for the initial formation of the Club, their services were recognised by life membership. Basil de Lambert was known by his gentlemanly courtesy, which never failed him. He was an intelligent and perceptive leader, who was respected by all who worked with him.
The Mellor Park complex was an instant success. Membership of 185 on 7 May 1968 had risen to 360 3 weeks later when the 5th AGM was held. On 6 June the membership was closed at 424. This included 331 seniors, 19 juniors, 65 school juniors, plus 9 country and non playing members. The waiting list was 33. Subscriptions were set at: Men $12; Women $9; married couples $16.
Basil de Lambert was elected president for a third term, and had his committee set about organising club and tournament activities. In 1967 there had been no Otago Open competition, and the club had been obliged to decline the South Island Championships which had been allocated to it.
Later in 1968 the Otago Open Championships attracted an entry of 110, and in early November the Club Championships were held with the unprecedented entry of 146 competitors. Club nights were well supported during the year, and junior activity was keen. Nearby schools took the opportunity to include squash as a school sport and were allocated playtime on the courts on weekday afternoons.
The Committee soon found itself planning for a fourth court, with a decision on 18 June 1968 to proceed with the next moves for an additional court. By early July a builder’s quotation was available, and the membership was approached for its financial support and commitment to the project. At a meeting on 9 July, the Committee agreed that the contract for the fourth court should be accepted and work should begin immediately. Ten days later the tender of $84,484 from Stevenson and Williams for the fourth court and gallery was accepted.
In anticipation of the additional court being available within two to three months, the membership was reopened. It was closed again in October when membership reached 623. It was made up of 478 seniors, 29 juniors, 99 school juniors, 8 country members and 9 non playing members. At the same time an entry fee of $10 was introduced to all new applicants for membership, to apply from the start of the 1969 season.
The fourth court was completed in time for the Club Championships at the beginning of November. Without its use the large entry in the tournament would have been a huge organisational problem. In total, members had contributed $28,000 towards the cost of the completed four court complex; made up of $530 gift; $5,345 interest free and $19,150 lent at 6% interest.
In the years that followed, several rugby clubs in Dunedin noticed the increasing interest in squash, and took the opportunity to build squash courts as an extension to their rugby facilities. At Mellor Park, it was a time of consolidation for the Otago club. It had made a commitment to repay all loans to members within a 10 year period, and it was a great satisfaction to successive committees that that promise was kept and all repayments were completed by 1977.
The long term plans for the Club had included construction of an upstairs lounge. Unfortunately changes to building regulations meant that the existing framework no longer met building consent conditions, and the proposed development upstairs could not proceed. Plans prepared in 1972 for a ground floor extension proved to be too expensive, and in the end it was ten years after the original courts were built that a lounge of reasonable proportions was built.
On the playing front, the Club finally hosted the South Island Championships for the first time in 1969, and (despite the very small lounge) hosted the New Zealand Championships in 1972. It was no coincidence at all that the national championship were awarded to Otago when the president of the national association was Don Green. It was of enormous satisfaction to the organising committee, as it must have been to Don, that the championships were a huge success. It should also be mentioned that, despite the modest facilities, the accompanying social program was rated by senior players from throughout New Zealand as ‘the best ever’.
The New Zealand Championships were not the only highlight of those early years at Mellor Park. A capacity crowd was present to see visits and exhibition matches by Geoff Hunt and Ken Hiscoe (world champion and runner up respectively).
A less obvious but equally proud highlight was the growth in membership numbers. In those early years the club had a membership of more than 600. Junior membership alone was over 150 for many years, and on occasion the club had the highest junior membership in the country. This was in no small measure due to the work of Noel Carroll and his helpers (and successors). In those days many juniors who grew up and learnt their squash in Dunedin left the city and found careers elsewhere. At one stage all but two junior members who had represented the club in the first eight years no longer lived in Dunedin. Another successful export story, but not so good for the future of the Club.
The initiative and enterprise that marked the first ten years at Mellor Park carried on into the second decade with the venture into a gymnasium and further squash courts in Dowling Street. The early part of this narrative mentioned the first Otago Squash Rackets Club, which had operated from squash courts in what was known as the Sharland’s Building in Dowling Street. The Club did not long survive the 1940s but the courts did, although only a few people knew of their existence.
The prime mover in the Dowling Street was Bernie O’Donnell, who started the process during his term as president of the club in 1978. His drive and enthusiasm was largely responsible for the purchase and transformation of the old, empty building at 12 Dowling Street into a highly successful commercial squash and exercise complex. It was known as the Downtown Sports Centre, and its motto of ‘Sport for Sport’ summarised the financial benefits that amateur sport derived from successfully and profitably developing this commercial venture.
The development was a joint venture between the squash club and the Zingari Richmond Football Club. The football club had unsuccessfully tried to establish squash courts at its home ground of Montecillo, and subsequently took a half share in the Dowling Street venture. It’s worthy of note that the squash club funded its half share of the purchase cost totally by a mortgage of $15,500. The amount may seem trivial in today’s dollar terms, but it was half the cost of purchasing a commercial building, and took a great deal of courage and enterprise. A huge amount of voluntary labour went into refurbishing the building, but the not insignificant costs, plus the costs of building two new courts at a later date, were met by additional borrowings. It was a large and courageous investment.
Eventually two additional courts were built in the building, making a total of four courts. Incidentally they were on the fourth floor of the building, which meant getting to them was a workout in itself (there was no lift!). The Centre was a great income earner for both clubs, and when it was eventually sold to the Les Mills group of companies it provided the clubs with a significant capital sum. Given that the squash club had borrowed 100% of its interest (and long since repaid it) it found itself in the enviable position of looking at the best way of employing this surplus capital. A number of club members had put a huge amount of energy into the establishment of the facilities at 12 Dowling Street, but it simply would not have existed without the vision and energy of Bernie O’Donnell.
Not all of the club’s energy went into Dowling Street. The lounge at the Mellor Street courts was extended in 1977, while a significant upgrading of hot water systems and changing room facilities took place in 1979. In 1984 a glass wall was installed at the back of court two. It added a new dimension for court viewing, and was largely instrumental in the club being chosen later than year as the venue for the first test between the New Zealand and Australian Womens’ teams.
Leadership and Service
The club has honoured a number of members with life membership, and this record would not be complete without listing these members and the contribution they made:
Don served a total of 9 years on the Committee (3 years as President He subsequently was President of the newly formed Southern Districts Squash Rackets Association, and also served as Vice President and President of the New Zealand Squash Rackets Association. As a player Don represented New Zealand as a junior, and was New Zealand champion in 1956.
Bernie was secretary and president of the club at various times, but his greatest contribution was to accept the challenge of setting up the Downtown Sports Centre in Dowling St. (Later leased then sold to Les Mills.) It took a huge amount of legal expertise, financial acumen and energy, and Bernie used all these talents to make the enterprise a huge success.
There were few areas of squash where Michael didn’t make his mark. He was at various times president of the Otago SRC, the Southern Districts Squash Rackets Association, and the NZ Squash Rackets Association. He wrote a squash column in the local paper for many years under the non de plume ‘Tin’.
Apart from time on the committee, including a year as President, Noel’s principal interest and commitment was coaching juniors. His coaching and patience was the main reason for the club leading the country for junior membership numbers for several years. In those days junior involvement included interclub and interschool. With the help of people such as Ray Williams, an enormous amount of work behind the scenes was accomplished, such as doing draws of up to 128 players in the hey days of junior tournaments.
Every club needs someone like Bill Douglas, and the Otago SRC was fortunate enough to have the original. Apart from being president, Bill was on the committee for many years, and set up and ran summer league for a phenomenal 20 years.
Lindsay has taken an active role in the management of the club for 20 years. He was president in 1984/85, and was bar manager for 15 years. He also acted as Tournament Controller or Director for many of the large tournaments hosted by the club, and part of the management committee of the Dowling St. complex from 1984-1990. Lindsay also oversaw the installation of the glass back to Court 2 and the opening up of the lounge behind it in 1984.
Lindsay was a member of the Otago Squash Club since a month after the courts opened at Mellor Park, and stayed with us for many years thereafter. He was club treasurer, mens club captain, president, junior coach, and committee member. He was on the Committee which ran the NZ Champs in 1972, treasurer for the NZ Junior Champs in 1991, and secretary of several National Teams events. For 10 years he wrote a weekly squash column for the Weekender, and was court controller for the Otago club courts NZ Masters Games in 2006.
Gerard joined the Otago Squash Club in 1979 and was an A Grade player and Southern Districts and Otago representative for many years. He joined the committee as vice president in 1992 with the promise that this position was one of the less onerous on the committee. Six months later the club’s president, Ron Fyfe, left Dunedin for Nelson and Gerard took over as president in 1993 and held this position until 1997. He resigned as President after being elected to the board of Squash New Zealand. He was chairman of Squash New Zealand from 2002 until 2006 when he was elected Vice President of the World Squash Federation.
Greg’s first involvement with squash was when he was appointed to the NZ Champs organising committee in 1972 for those championships. He was president of the club in 1979, and coached squash at the club for two decades. He was Southern Districts coaching director for eight years; the first president of Squash Otago and a board member for five years.
Chris has been a club member for more than thirty years, and as a junior he represented the Southern Districts. Chris tragically lost his right arm in an accident in 1981, but with a good deal of courage came back to squash, this time as a very competent left hander. He has served on the committee for more than twenty years. Many of those years has been as mens’ club captain, while he has also run summer league in recent years.
The squash club has also been well served by many presidents and committees over the years. In many instances these members have also served squash at a provincial, regional or national level. The following is a list of club presidents:
In recognising the services of all these members, the club must be conscious not only of its debt to them, but to all club members who worked with them to provide the successful club and environs that the membership enjoys today.
‘Gribbs’ has really done it all. He has been Club President, Club Champion (24 times) and Open Champion (13 times). He has also coached at the Club for many years, and has been awarded a number of national coaching awards.
The squash club has also been well served by many presidents and committees over the years. In many instances these members have also served squash at a provincial, regional or national level. The following is a list of club presidents:
Don Green passed away in 2011. We lost Lindsay Dempster in 2013.
The presidents of the last ten years: