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The Early Years
The Wendouree Athletic Club Inc. started as the Wendouree Amateur Athletic Club in 1949.
A group of junior members of a club called Congoes (Congregational Church) originated the idea for an athletic club for Wendouree. These originating members were: Robert (Bob) Gudgeon, John (Wiry) Wiltshire, Eric (Sprinter) Peoples, Brian Gudgeon, Kevin Rowe, Norman Rowe, Russell (Rusty) Robertson and Doug Fisher. Practically all of the original members had an association with the Wendouree Football Club.
These mainly junior athletes entered into senior competition as the Wendouree Amateur Athletic Club.
The first official meeting was held on the 1st November 1949 at the home of Walter (Wally) Gudgeon in Dowling Street, Wendouree. Wally Gudgeon was elected President with Wiry Wiltshire as Secretary and Bob Gudgeon as Treasurer. Wiry was only seventeen years of age and Bob, eighteen.
At the original meeting were Secretary of the Ballarat Regional Centre, Bert Stevens and B.R.C. Committeeman and handicapper, Ted Crimmins, who helped with the original constitution and rules.
Others in attendance were: Bob Benoit, R. Robertson, E. Peoples, B. Gudgeon, K. & N. Rowe, D. Fisher and Len Ransome.
The chairman of the meeting was Jack Miller who at the time was the publican of the now defunct Essex Hotel, which was located in Howitt Street.
In their first year of track competition, the W.A.A.C. was runners up in A grade. Members of that original team were: Russ Robertson, Kevin Rowe, John Wiltshire, Jack Gillespie, Norm Rowe, Eric Peoples, Bob Benoit, Bob Gudgeon (Capt.), Dick Vurlow and Brian Gudgeon.
The second year saw success with the W.A.A.C. going A grade premiers. The final was held on a Wednesday night by mutual agreement of members. This was due to the Easter weekend being the date for the original finals competition. Wendouree had to win the last event, the relay, against Y.M.C.A.; unfortunately for Y.M.C.A., they dropped the baton and were disqualified, giving Wendouree an unexpected victory. A draw would have meant a run-off over 600 yards where Wendouree was strong anyhow.
Since then, the club has increased its Men’s A Grade premiership wins to nineteen as well as three A Grade Women’s premierships.
At this time competition was held at the Ballarat High School oval. The long jump run up had a hollow in it, making it impossible to see the athletes feet from one end to the other. Even so distances and times were of a high standard. There was a short time at the Ballarat Grammar School oval until the eventual move to Llanberris Reserve.
The move to Llanberris gave Ballarat athletics a permanent home, and Wendouree athletes played a prominent part in its inception.
At the time of the move to Llanberris, there was a cricket pitch in the middle of the oval and the cricketers wanted the oval for themselves. Bob Gudgeon and Bill Hyde under a suggestion from Alex Mills, then Mayor of Ballarat, had other ideas and one night armed with some gelignite attempted to blow up the pitch. Their first attempt was unsuccessful, but a couple of sledge hammers soon had the cricket pitch removed. Obviously no cricket pitch meant no cricket and so athletics won the reserve.
Much of the improvements and the clubrooms at Llanberris had been achieved with Wendouree A.A.C. labour.
Not only that, but the W.A.C. has supplied the B.R.C. with some excellent administrators with Alan Hunt (President), Ivan Gladman (Secretary), Richard Vurlow (Secretary) and Kingsley Curtis (Handicapper) and now a B.R.C. life member. All are held in high esteem for the amount of work they have done for athletics in Ballarat.
The early 1950’s saw the club being very successful, although we had no cross country teams. Bob Gudgeon was club captain for the first three years, a job he handled with distinction as he was renowned for being a never say die athlete. John Wiltshire was the best athlete the club had during the first two years until he turned professional in 1951. John Wiltshire, or Wiry, as he was called, was an all round athlete who excelled in sprinting, hurdling and jumping.
The club also enjoyed having the outstanding all rounder in “Rusty” Robertson, who set a country record in the then called Hop, Step and Jump of 47 ft. 7 1/2″ (14.51 m) on 24th January 1953. Also during 1953, the club unearthed an excellent junior named Cyril Geyer who was again a speedster with jumping ability. The club always had good all rounders but more importantly it has been the team spirit and comradeship which had held the club together and made it successful. This same spirit is still very evident today, although in the early days when the club held a monthly meeting practically everyone went, such was the loyalty and willingness of the members.
After meetings, the “standing’ high jump competitions were held inside the clubrooms, no bags of course. Don McConville is said to have jumped 57′ (1.7m) on one of these nights.
An important member of the club in the 1950’s was Richard “Dick” Vurlow who became our first Life Member on 7th December 1957. Dick was actually coaxed away from YCW whose friend of the time, John Tooley, had him training for the 880 yards. Obviously, an approach from Wendouree saw him get a way out to try the shorter stuff. Coming from a Catholic orientated club, at the first Friday night Pie night he attended, fish was served up. The Wendouree members were astonished to see him get stuck into the pies, which caused some humour. Dick was not as religious as they thought, it was some seven years later that Dick was let in on the humour from that night. He then told them that he was not a Catholic.
Something to note about these early competition days was that you could only compete in one grade on any one day, so teams were named in the paper, just like the football. It was not uncommon to have, say a good high jumper, do just that event.
One of the club’s leading athletes through the late fifties and early sixties was Graham Peoples who was a brilliant all-rounder. Graham had an extraordinary range, from 220yards through to 10 miles, and also specialized in almost all field events and hurdles. During this time he won numerous club championships and Ballarat titles in a whole range of events.
The early 1960’s saw Wendouree slump into an all time low with the club not fielding an A grade team in track and field competition. A meeting attended by Dick Vurlow, Pat Collier and Bill Hyde discussed about going into recess, but luckily they didn’t because not long after Wendouree made a resurgence. On the 12th October 1960 a junior by the name of Graeme Borchers joined the club and became one of Wendouree’s greatest ever athletes. Graeme was instrumental in the Club’s success in the mid 1960’s. The resurgence gained further momentum with the signing of Peter Hunt on the 4th December 1965. He and his father, Alan Hunt, led the club along with astute captain Peter Fyfe to the 1966/67 A grade track championship.
During this period the club produced some excellent junior teams and the 1966/67 team is disputably the best ever. The outstanding juniors being Peter Hunt and Trevor Chisholm both capable of running 50.5 sec. for 440 yards and 2 min. for 880 yards.
The 1960’s saw the consolidation of the W.A.C. in both Cross Country and Track and Field. The major key to the clubs success was a hard working club committee and good recruiting.
In addition to Graham Borchers, Peter Hunt and Peter Fyfe the club’s competitive fortunes during the sixties was assisted by Tom Harding, the club’s first Ballarat Cross Country’ Champion, and Paul Burnham who was club champion five times over two miles and four times over five miles, as well as Ernie Christopher and Don Newman in track and field.
The 1965/66 premiership was won by Wendouree athletes who were prepared to have a go, a tradition started with our foundation members attempting events they normally would not do. Importantly in those days before open athletics we lost athletes to the professional circuit. Graeme Borchers left to run the pro circuit in 1967, a big loss to the club. We did have a strong junior contingent which included some athletes who transferred from the disbanded R.S.L. club, which only had a junior team.
The club remained strong although not winning another A grade grand final until 1975/76.
In April 1974 the club made one of its most significant signings that was to be largely responsible for shaping the club’s fortunes for the next twenty-five years, including our magnificent record of ten consecutive A Grade Men’s premierships. This was Marcel Schnyder and his sons Paul and Marc.
Marcel Schnyder coaxed two other athletes in Stewart Pike and Jamie Govan back into running and together they started a resurgence in the club’s competitiveness.
The traditional power house clubs of Y.C.W. and Ballarat Harriers were now being challenged by Wendouree.
Family names synonymous with Wendouree were during this era were Cleary, Loveless, Schnyder, Govan, Gudgeon. With this came an enormous depth of talent, by 1975 the club had a formidable line up, consisting of National and State champions. The Cleary brothers David, Noel and Paul were brilliant all-rounders, excelling in the jumps.
The 1970’s and 1980’s produced many athletes of Australian standard like the club had never seen before. Ballarat’s first 15 metre triple jumper Paul Cleary, speedsters Michael Benoit and Gerard Keating, distance runner Lindsay Burgoyne, hurdlers Brendan Sevenson, John CaIjury and Dean Norton, middle distance runners Paul Schnyder, Marcus Downes and Greg Whitfield, decathlete Steven Bews as well as cross country junior Justin Plowright.
From 1979 Wendouree won 10 A grade Grand Finals, you may think we were dominant, but we were not. Ballarat Harriers and especially Y.C.W. were very strong. Enough cannot be said of Paul Schnyder, who is one of the best athletes our club and indeed Ballarat has seen. Paul was a national standard middle distance runner who also excelled at the javelin and triple jump. Paul and Jamie Govan are the only two athletes to have competed in the ten consecutive A grade grand finals.
Paul Cleary, along with sprinter Gerard Keating were among the first athletes to attend the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. Gerard Keating held the Australian 100-meter record and represented Australia at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and all other international competitions throughout the eighties.
Wendouree were now very powerful with an enormous depth of talent and growing numbers in female and junior ranks. The following list of National athletes shows why we were such a powerhouse.
Sprints: Gerard Keating, Michael Benoit.
Jumps: Paul Cleary, Robert Lehman, Megan McLean.
Middle Distance: Paul Schnyder, Marcus Downes, Greg Whitfield, Andrew Curtis.
110 Hurdles: John Calijury, Brendan Stevenson.
Steeplechase: Mervyn Johnstone.
Distance: Lindsay Burgoyne, Mervyn Johnston, Malcolm Johnstone.
Decathlon: Steven Bews.
Race walk: Craig Jeffrey, Sharon Schnyder.
With all of these athletes to choose from Wendouree were always going to be a strong combination. YC.W. retained its strength in distance running and were strong in the throwing events which made each competition very close.
Y.C.W. usually dominated the distance events and Wendouree the sprints. It nearly always came down to the relays, and with Keating, Benoit and Schnyder we always had a chance. In fact for 10 years (1976/1986) Wendouree A grade were never defeated in the 4 x 100 and Medley Relay, – this includes the normal rounds of competition as well as finals, an amazing feat.
On three occasions the Grand Final was decided on the last event of the final day, the 400 metres. In this event Wendouree has been well served with names like Peter Hunt and Paul Schnyder. In 1981 we had to run first and second in the 400 and persuaded Gerard Keating into running, he hated the 400. He went out like a scared rabbit but no one could run him down, the result Keating 1st, Schnyder 2nd.
Sharon Schnyder had the distinction of competing successfully in the men’s “A” grade competition.
After the meteoric and sustained achievements of the 1980s the competitive fortunes of the Wendouree Athletic Club was to go through a series of peaks and troughs throughout the 1990s. The Loughlin Shield for men’s A grade track and field competition was won a further four times during this period while in the latter part of the decade, the club’s veteran and junior athletes have led the way in registering team success. Many Wendouree athletes from local, through to state and national level have achieved individual success and in doing so have brought honour and pride to the club.
Entering its fifth decade the club’s stocks were at an unusually low ebb. After having its 10 year domination of the men’s A grade track and field competition broken the previous season and despite being the reigning women’s A and B grade premiers the club was not to play any part in the 1990 finals. For the first time in twelve seasons the Wendouree Athletic Club had not won a track and field premiership in any grade. Many observers considered that it was the end of an era.
This was however not necessarily the case. A successful 1990 winter season, in which the club’s highest ranked team in Athletics Victoria competition won every event it contested in the men’s C2 grade, provided an indication of a turnaround in the club’s fortunes.
After two years in the wilderness, the Wendouree Athletic Club was decidedly back on track for the 1990/91 season. A clean sweep of the men’s A, B and C grades against YCW in the finals and premiers in the women’s B grade signalled the club’s return as a competitive force. From sprints to distance, in the walks and in the field events, Wendouree was represented by quality athletes in almost all events. This was a team also with a depth of talent rarely matched at any other time in the club’s history. Robert Lehmann, Paul Schnyder, Mervyn Johnstone, Craig Jeffrey, Brendan Stevenson and outstanding recruits Evan King and Adrian Hatcher formed the nucleus of the team that was to enable Wendouree to again dominate the men’s A grade competition, resulting in successive premierships in 1991/92 and 1992/93.
At championship level Wendouree athletes also enjoyed some considerable success. Marcus Downes, Greg Whitfield and Paul Schnyder achieved a unique distinction by filling the first three placings respectively in the Victorian Open 800m title of 1990. The club’s strength over the 2 lap distance was further emphasized with back to back Victorian 4x800m titles in 1991 (A. Curtis, P. Schnyder, J. Catley, G. Whitfield) and 1992 (D. Haigh, P. McLennan, P. Schnyder, G. Whitfield). Others to enjoy success at state level included Robert Blomeley – high jump, Robert Lehmann – long jump, Stuart Meerbach – 2km steeple, and Adrian Hatcher – javelin. Another notable individual achievement of the early nineties was Greg Whitfield being the third Wendouree athlete to take up a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport in 1991.
It was at this time also that the club was at its strongest in distance and cross-country running. In A.V. competition the club had been elevated to B grade where it was highly competitive although locally there was always the powerful YCW combination to contend with. The club’s Daylesford Relay record of 2.14.25 set in 1991 was about as much reward as was able to be reaped from local events. Individually Mervyn Johnstone was the standout Wendouree distance athlete of the period., His achievements included: Victorian 10km Track Champion (1990), two Victorian Country 8km Cross Country titles, a trifecta of Chas Suffren victories from 1990-1992 as well as wins in the Wal Brown 8km Cross Country (1994) and the George Richardson 10 Mile (1994). In addition Mervyn also competed internationally running marathons in Los Angeles, Berlin and London, running a best time of 2.16.12 in Los Angeles. Other well performed athletes during the winter seasons of the early nineties included Malcolm Johnstone, Robert Wallis and Paul Schnyder for the men while Sharon Schnyder, Kirrilee McKee and Anne Christopher were the club’s leading female athletes.
Race walking was another discipline in which the club was blessed with high calibre athletes during this period. Craig Jeffrey and Sharon Schnyder both rank as undoubtedly the club’s finest walkers. Both were Victorian champions, Sharon over 10km and Craig over 30km, and both competed internationally, Sharon representing Australia in the World Cup of Walking in San Jose, USA in 1991 and Craig at international events in Europe in 1992.
The introduction of a Veteran’s track & field competition was to prove one of the few highlights of the 1993/94 season. With the inaugural title up for grabs the Wendouree old fellas managed to snare a 2 point victory over Eureka, a title the club was to retain for the following two seasons. The C grade men were the only other Wendouree team to contest the finals that season. The following season, 1994/95, the Wendouree Athletic Club was again resurgent in the open men’s competition. Derek Bowey and Anthony Neal were significant acquisitions into the club and combined with Adrian Hatcher, Paul Schnyder, Adam Govan and Neville Down lifted the club to its nineteenth, and most recent, A grade premiership. The club’s most notable achievements of the 1995/96 season were to be in the Athletics Victoria Cup and Plate competition. Competing against strong metropolitan clubs including Doncaster and Box Hill, Wendouree had the distinction of being the only club to make the final of both competitions. After a stirring night of athletic competition at Olympic Park in Melbourne the club finished runners up by just 22 points in the Cup and scraped home to win the Plate by a mere 3 points.
Finding itself back down in C2 grade for the 1995 A.V. winter season the club claimed its second Winter Premiership in that division by winning all but one event for the season. Malcolm Johnstone, Anthony Neal and Stephen McLennan were prominent in ensuring the club’s promotion back up to B grade. The following year saw Wendouree win its highest A.V. pennant with the club winning the A.V. B grade Half Marathon. Other good results throughout the season earned the club further promotion into the renamed Division 1 for 1997.
With many of the club’s best athletes unavailable the following year the club remained in Division 1 for just a single season but has continued to field competitive teams in Division 2 since and may still make a return to the top flight in seasons to come.
Throughout the nineties Wendouree athletes continued to distinguish themselves in major championships, none more so than javelin thrower Adrian Hatcher. After joining the club in 1990 he broke the Ballarat and Victorian Country Records on a number of occasions. He became multiple Victorian Champion and Victorian Record holder for the event and in his best season, 1997, he won the Australian Championship, extended the Victorian Record to 83.64m and gained selection for the world championships of that year. It was that season also that Adrian shifted to Newcastle to further his career. Junior athletes Jordan Minster – triple jump and the club’s most recent track champion Tristan Kenna, who won the 1999
Victorian Under 16 1100m and 200m titles, have also enjoyed success at state level in the latter part of the decade. Individual success for Wendouree athletes in the cross-country season has been far less common than it has been on the track. In the past few seasons however George Eppingstall in the men’s 50+, Robert Brookes men’s 45+ and Catherine Ranger women’s U/1 8 have all struck gold in winter championship events.
In more recent seasons it has been Wendouree’s junior teams that have enjoyed the most success on the track. Seven premierships in the under age categories over the past four seasons plus success in the 1997/98 A.V. Junior Shield bears testament to the club’s endeavours to develop its junior athletes. In the club’s fiftieth year the men’s Under 18 and women’s Under 16, as well as the Veterans won premierships. The coaching support provided by Peter Luke and Paul Cleary can be directly linked to the growth in the number of junior athletes currently competing with the club. Chris Hooper, Patricia Anderson, Jordon Minster, Sarah Foley, Zac Curran, Claire Scott and Tim Pollard are among those who have contributed to that recent success and upon whom the club will be looking to build its future.
While Wendouree teams and Wendouree athletes have bought the spoils of success to the club, its officials have also made significant contributions to the conduct of the sport. Kingsley Curtis and Bill McLennan have given many years of service not only at club events but also as senior officials in Ballarat Regional Centre competition. Along with Marg Nunn as a recorder or as a judge and Lil Cleary, who was also to be found on the judges’ stand during most interclub competitions throughout the nineties, ensured that Wendouree was always well represented in an official capacity. Furthermore they have also officiated at Victorian and Victorian Country Championships, Grand Prix events and the Australian Championships. In 1997 Kingsley and Bill were selected to assist at the World Junior Championships while Bill has recently been named as an official for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, with Kingsley and Marg to be on duty for the 2000 Paralympics also to be held in Sydney.
Off the track the club has strove to develop a strong administrative base to support the activities of the club. Throughout the nineties the club has maintained a stable and relatively consistent executive and committee which has steered it though the past decade. Defining the criteria and process for life membership nominations and the consideration and adoption of a new look uniform have been two of the more significant issues that the committee has had to consider in addition to managing the operations of the club during the past ten years.
Administratively Wendouree has also maintained a strong representation on the board of the Ballarat Regional Athletic Centre. Phillip McLennan (1990 – 1993), Daryl Shipham (1993 -1994), Peter Luke (1994 – 1997) and Sheldon Hamilton (1997 – ) have presided over the club during this time that has seen it consolidate its administrative and financial position so as to give it a sound foundation upon which to build beyond its first fifty years. Christine Govan, Marg Nunn, Bill McLennan, Marc Schnyder and Craig McLennan are others who have served on the executive as either secretary or treasurer in this period.
Perhaps the greatest travesty that has confronted the Wendouree Athletic Club as it comes to the end of its fifth decade is that it does not have a secure home to identify with. Having conceded its existing clubrooms to enable its construction, and despite the best intentions of those who conceived the Wendouree Community Sports Complex it has not met the needs of the W.A.C. and its members. From the outset it was perhaps a bit too much for the purposes and capacities of the Wendouree Athletic Club and the other member organizations of the Wendouree Community Sports Club (W.C.S.C.). Crippled by a blow out in construction costs and the prevailing interest rates on the borrowings taken out to fund construction the complex never really managed to get up and running. Within a few years the Wendouree Football Club, being unable to draw any income, had withdrawn its patronage of the facility while the Wendouree Cricket Club not wishing to incur any liability from the W.C.S.C. also opted out. In light of the Wendouree Community Sports Club being unable to meet its financial obligations, the then Shire of Ballarat reclaimed the complex in 1991 and advertised for expressions of interest in its management. For the next few years the complex was jointly managed by the athletic club (summer) and football club (winter) on a seasonal basis again under the guise of the W.C.S.C. The Wendouree Cricket Club re-entered the arrangement to share responsibilities with the athletic club over the summer months. After failing to agree to terms with the Lake Wendouree Football Club for its ongoing management, the Wendouree Athletic Club finally conceded any operational responsibility for the facility in 1997, when the council again called for applications for its management. Throughout, the W.A.C. had maintained its commitment to the complex from the beginning while others wavered, providing staff, coordinating bookings and contributing to its upkeep. In return the club is represented on the management committee for the complex and uses it for its monthly meetings but has little identity with the complex and is effectively without a home.
Another significant matter, although not just to Wendouree, that has drawn out over the last decade has been the development of a new track in Ballarat. First mooted in 1990 because of the deteriorating condition of the track surface at Llanberris, athletes are still waiting for this to become a reality nearly ten years later. While work has commenced on redeveloping Llanberris in the latter part of 1999 over the intervening years there has been plenty of toing and froing, including proposals to relocate to the City Oval or the University of Ballarat that ultimately never got out of the blocks, that have frustrated a generation of athletes and administrators. Jamie Govan was one of the main instigators of the move to redevelop Ballarat’s athletic facilities and pursued the project for a number of years. In more recent times Bill McLennan, as President of the B.R.A.C., has also had an involvement that should see the concept finally realised.
Women of Wendouree
The history of women and the Wendouree Amateur Athletic Club seems to be very closely linked to that of women’s athletics in Ballarat. Club photos of the 1953/54 season are the first to show women to be represented among the numbers who competed for Wendouree. However the Kevin Ruddick book, Always Striving – The Ballarat Harriers First 100 Years, notes that a Ballarat Harriers Women’s Club was formed in September 1952 to compete against a Wendouree team and also mentions the Harriers women winning the premiership of 1953. Whatever the chronology, what is for certain is that Wendouree was at the forefront of the development of women’s athletics in Ballarat and continued to be so until the unification of the sport for both men and women in 1979.
Initially the women competed at the same venue as the men, Ballarat High School, doing a limited number of events and definitely no longer distance running. In the absence of any documented listing, those who are thought to be among the original members for Wendouree include Lorna Gudgeon, Janet Gudgeon, Dulcie Hoffman, Val Greaves, Janet Greaves, Janet Saunders, Pat Dalton, Doris Pollock, Miss Veal and Miss Beale. The establishment of women’s athletics in Ballarat coincided, perhaps not unremarkably, with Australia’s golden age in the sport. Marjorie Jackson and Shirley Strickland and later Betty Cuthbert and Marlene Matthews would have provided the inspiration for many that took up the sport during this time. By deduction the Wendouree women’s team must have been relatively successful in these early years. The Harriers’ 1953 Premiership is cited as being their only one and, there being only two teams, it follows that Wendouree must have been successful on the other occasions. What is known for sure is that the Ballarat Harriers Women’s Club was not to survive into the 1960’s and consequently the Wendouree women were to have to look to themselves for ongoing competition.
For the 1960 /61 season the women sought to adopt a sister club in Melbourne through the Victorian Women Amateur Athletic Association (V.W.A.A.A.) to host competition opportunities for each other. A sister club relationship was struck with the Brunswick Women’s Athletic Club and in January 1961 a picnic meet is recorded as being held for the visiting Brunswick team. Colac, Box Hill and Skipton are also places that the women travelled to for competition in the early 60’s.
Training and regular competition of some form did continue locally for the women members although it seems no longer on the same day as the men. In 1962 information and rules regarding the staging of a cross-country season was investigated. A program of events was initiated in conjunction with the men with a relay from Ballarat to Scarsdale being included. The 1962/63 track season saw the women form two teams to compete against each other during the summer. Despite essentially having to provide their own competition the Wendouree women’s team remained quite strong. Leading athletes included Rosalie Dow who went on to represent Victoria as a sprinter, Carmel Rushbrook, a jumper / sprinter who competed at state level, Judy Knight, a distance runner who was selected to compete at the Australian championships as well as Bev Dalton, Joy Mortimer, Alma Knight and Lucy Bath. The club also won the Victorian Country Championship teams title in 1961 and again in 1963.
In April 1963 the women moved to form their own club. The men pledged their full cooperation for the establishment of the suggested Wendouree Women’s Amateur Athletic Club. When it came into being the club was named Ballarat Wendouree Women’s Athletic Club. Betty Travers was instrumental in the formation of the club with Myra Conroy, Anne O’Callaghan and Dulcie Brooke also among those involved in the administration of the newly founded club.
For a couple of seasons events were held on the oval behind the Ballarat Girls High School in Barkly Street before moving to the Wendouree reserve. While the No. 1 oval was used for a season, the No. 2 oval became established as the venue for the club’s competition through to the mid 1970’s. Evidence of the autonomy of the women’s club from the men’s club by this time was that they accessed separate rooms on the reserve. For a number of years the track had to be marked with lime every Friday before competition. Eventually, after considerable lobbying, the council agreed to burn the lane markings permanently onto the oval each season. Competition was still conducted on a two-team basis with an aggregate perpetual trophy, the Donald Shield, being the reward at the end of the season for the winning team. The teams are thought to have initially been called Strickland and Cuthbert – later to become Kilboume, although press reports of the early 1970’s refer to the teams simply as Ballarat and Wendouree.
A change of competition day from Saturday to Sunday assisted the conduct of the program with men including Col Dobbin, Bill Anderson, Harry O’Callaghan and Lindsay Hustwaite able to act as officials. However Lorna Opie recalls having to go up and turn the taps off about 11:00pm on Saturday nights when the trots were on at the adjoining showgrounds otherwise the track would be flooded.
Competitions at Horsham, Stawell, Dimboola and Chelsea were highlights on the club’s calendar while regular competition against other country centres in Melbourne also became established for the club’s better athletes. Interestingly newspaper coverage of one such competition, the Wimmera Amateur Athletic Championships, during the late 60’s report names such as Ralph Doubell, Ron Clarke, Peter Norman and Pam Kilbourne, Olympians and Olympic medallists, among the competitors.
The number of members grew steadily through the sixties and into the seventies as the Ballarat Wendouree Women’s Athletic Club created interest from many female athletes and their families. The competition was very strong and very even with up to 150 members from Under 11 to open taking part in competition. During this time many fine athletes competed with the club including Glenda and Marilyn Hustwaite, Ann Shannon (sprinting), Elizabeth Travers (jumps), Kay Thurlow, Janet Mann (throws), Elizabeth Mann (hurdles) and Celestine Conroy (javelin).
The most outstanding athlete to emerge was undoubtedly Sandra Opie, a very talented sprinter. Sandra Opie’s natural ability was apparent from an early age. As a junior in club competition she regularly broke and re-broke records over the sprint distances, often recording times faster than those of much older athletes. In 1969, at the age of fourteen, Sandra became the first Ballarat female athlete to win a Victorian track and field championship running 12.8 and 26.7 respectively to win the Under 15 100m and 200m at Royal Park in Melbourne. She also went on to set a new Victorian Record of 26.5 seconds for the 200m in winning the Victorian Country title later in the season where she was also to be awarded the Australia Day Medal for her performances. Sandra continued to claim titles and set records in the seasons to follow, equaling the country record for Under 16 100m in 1970, and in later years, as Sandra Griffin and having started a family, continued to be one the club’s most outstanding athletes. A spin-off of Sandra’s participation in the sport was the strong interest and involvement of her parents, Lorna and Geoff Opie. Both became an integral part of the Ballarat Wendouree Women’s club, Lorna in an administrative role and as an official, and Geoff in providing coaching guidance.
For many, the Victorian Country Championships was the pinnacle event of the season and for the club it was a chance to measure itself against the other regional based clubs. In 1973 Ballarat Wendouree was defeated for the aggregate trophy by just 2 points. The following year the club broke an eleven-year drought when it won the team title at the Victorian Country Championship at Alberfeldie. Sandra Opie and Dianne Murray both won doubles with Sandra establishing a Country Record for the 200m, 25.0 seconds, and being awarded the Australia Day Medal for the second time.
Competition conducted by the then V.W.A.A.A. was done in a very official and very efficient manner. Championships were ran with all heats, semis and finals of events held on the one day. Rules were strictly adhered to. This included no jewellery (wedding bands were taped over) and padded bras were not allowed as it was considered to provide an advantage when dipping for the line. Margaret Murray and Lorna Opie were two of the club’s leading officials and went on to achieve the rank of Field Referee and Track Referee respectively.
In 1976, despite opposition from some quarters of the male orientated Ballarat Regional Centre, the women transferred competition to Llanberris. With the unification of men’s and women’s associations at higher levels the Ballarat Wendouree Women’s Athletic Club amalgamated with the men’s club in 1978.
While for many years Ballarat Wendouree had been the only women’s club in Ballarat the other clubs also formed women’s teams around this time, in some cases drawing athletes from the Ballarat Wendouree Club to establish a team.
The amalgamation process was not necessarily all smooth sailing and it was a couple of years before the cultures of the two clubs were fully integrated to form the basis of the Wendouree Athletic Club as it has evolved today.
The formation of other women’s teams also meant a new competition environment. On the track Wendouree initially had a strong team that included Gail Bridges, Sandra Griffin, Marie Moore, Gillian Dobbin, Chris Murnane and Megan McLean however the quirks of the competition structure and scoring system played some part in denying the club any premierships in these years. It was to be not until the season of 1986/87 that Wendouree was to claim its first women’s A-Grade Premiership. The club then went on to follow it up with repeat successes in 1987/88 and 1988/89. In these years Wendouree boasted a wealth of talented female athletes across almost all events. Cathie Morcom – who still holds many of the club’s distance records and remains the only senior female Wendouree athlete to win Ballarat cross-country titles, Sharon Schnyder, Megan Cahill, Lindy Cahill, Deborah Cotter and Belinda Jakiel were some of the athletes that contributed to those successes. These were to be Wendouree’s only A-Grade premierships although it has managed others in lower grades and junior competition since then. Throughout this period Christine McLennan, Michelle Hawkes (nee Davis) and Catherine Ratcliffe have carried the banner for the club even assisting the men’s teams to some success. The development of the club in junior ranks has been most promising in recent seasons and bodes well for the women of Wendouree again challenging for glory on the track in the seasons ahead.
Finally, it would be remiss not to make mention of the achievements of arguably the club’s most outstanding female athlete Sharon Schnyder (nee Loveless). There is no question that dedication and application are essential qualities required to achieve in the discipline of race walking and that Sharon Schnyder exemplifies such characteristics. A competitor with Wendouree since a junior, Sharon has set Ballarat records, won Victorian Country titles as well as being successful at Victorian Championship level and has represented Australia in international competition. She was a member of premiership teams with the men, has been one of the club’s leading distance runners and was actively involved in the formation of the Ballarat Walker’s Club to assist the development of the sport in the area.
In April 1959, a move was made to form a Ladies Committee with the purpose to raise monies to support the Athletic Club. The original meeting was held at the Trades Hall, with subsequent meetings at members’ houses. Money raised was achieved by holding apron parades, performing comic sketches e.g.: Cinderfella, Bathing Belies and in particular organising Euchre parties. This was somewhat enhanced by games of illicit bingo after the card playing was finished. Much to their credit, a sum of 300 pounds was handed over in 1963 for the Committee purchase of an army hut, which was to become the original club rooms of the W.A.A.C.
The ladies continued to raise money from concerts, coffee parties at the G.S.F. Hall and theatre nights at the National, B.L.O.C. and Lyric Theatre Companies, while enjoying a social night out. Credit must go to Faye Luke who for many years dressed a Bride Doll, which was raffled at Christmas time. Also to Lorna Hyde for her contribution of a Santa Suit which was and still is hired out to many a Christmas party.
The founding and subsequent members consisted of Lorna Hyde, Faye Luke, Val O’Brien, Ricky Hughes, Gwen Simpson, Shirley Maloney, Marion Curtis, Hazel Prestwich, Mrs. Speechley, Lois Gudgeon, Theima Tangey, Peg Dean, Margaret Potter, Ina Gamston, Maureen Christopher, Meryl Peoples, Joan Foley, Shirley Benoit, Marge Hammond, Lil Cleary, Val Ffrost, Joan MeLennan, Helen Burzacott, Lydia Rowsell and Christine Govan.
These and others contributed greatly to the well being of the W.A.A.C. before disbanding after more than 25 years of service.
The current Wendouree Athletic Club uniform is significantly different to that which was first worn by the club’s founding members over fifty years ago. The original uniform comprised a white singlet with a red vertical block on both front and back. A white ‘W’ was centred in the block on the chest. This was worn with white shorts, Later red stripes/piping was added to the shorts and a club logo included on the breast of the singlet. With the exception of the material of the singlets, that has ranged from cotton ‘Bonds’ type to mesh and nylon, and the style of the shorts, originally football type shorts, the uniform remained essentially unchanged for over thirty years.
The early women’s uniform from when the men’s and women’s club combined in the late 1970’s comprised a white vest-style top with a thin red stripe down one side. In time this type of uniform phased out and the club’s female members competed in matching uniforms to the men.
The first significant change to the uniform saw the adoption of navy shorts/briefs to complement the existing singlet in 1983 (?) and this became the club’s ‘look’ for the next decade or so. At the time white running shorts were becoming increasingly difficult to acquire and so the change of colour to blue was implemented as much for practical reasons of availability as just updating the look of the uniform. Initially the shorts were intended to have alternate red and white stripes on each side but as they too became unavailable plain navy shorts became the accepted norm.
The most recent changes to the club’s competition uniform have been the most significant. After some considerable debate the club singlet of over forty years was significantly altered in 1995. The red block was reduced to a converging centre panel front and back with navy blue introduced either side of the red in the top part of the singlet. The lower part of the singlet is white. The white ‘W’ was retained on the chest with ‘WENDOUREE’ arced across the back. This is matched with navy shorts.
Also in recent years a number of accepted variations of the uniform have become available. Bike shorts, men’s and women’s bodysuits and women’s crop-tops adopted to the club’s colours have all been worn in varying combinations in competition