Club History

The 1990's

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.