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.