The Taieri Tennis Club, certainly one of New Zealands oldest, is in it’s establishment, inextricably linked to the Otago and Taieri Plains area development.
1848 is the year determind as the founding of Otago Province; in that year occurred the arrival of the first immigrant ships John Wickliffe and Philip Laing with the initial groups of settlers and the beginning of an era in Otago and Taieri history.
The Taieri Club is situated in Wickliffe Street and Laing street is just around the corner from the courts and both are name after these vessels.
Saddle Hill, a distinctive promontory overlooking the Plains on the eastern side, named by Captain Cook whilst he sailed past in the Endeavor in 1770 is part of a range of hills that are even today physical evidence of the separation between Mosgiel and Dunedin, yet only 12 miles apart.
Captain Cook did not land and he could not realise just the other side of the Hill he named lay the fertile and flat area later to include the Plains and Mosgiel, population now nearly 10,000 and growing steadily.
An early arrival to Otago was Arthur John Burns, who was the son of the first Presbyterian Minister of the province. He farmed in the Grants Braes area overlloking Dunedin and the Harbour, but moved with his family to the East Taieri District in the 1850’s and purchased a 52 acre site, within which was land on where the Tennis Club and Taieri High School and a local Primary School named after him remain today.
On an historical note, the Muchline Ayrshire Scotland old farm of the Rev Thomas Burns was called ‘Mossgiel’ later the extra ‘s’ was dropped for naming the new township.
With the usual early Town development came the formation and cultivation of recreational and sporting pursuits and in the 1880’s in particular bowls, rugby, cricket and tennis established.
First mention of the intention to form a Lawn Tennis Club is to be found in the earliest local weekly newspaper the “Taieri Advocate” edition of Wednesday 24th October 1883 – ‘Lawn tennis – a Meeting of Gentlemen favourable to the formation of a Law Tennis Club in Mosgiel, will be held in the Taieri Cricket Club’s Pavilion on Monday evening October 29th at 7.30 pm. All those interested are invited to attend’ signed W Carncross.
That meeting was held and was well attended. A club was formed and the first grass court used was on the lawn alongside the home of J Hyde Harris called ‘Mosgiel House’. He had bought the property from the original owner Arthur J Burns. The house and grounds, approximately 500 yards from the prsent Tennis Club, was later to become and remains the site of Holy Cross College, a Roma Catholic Theological College. The college students are inveted to utilize the Taieri Courts at no charge today.
At its first AGM, the Tennis Clubs membership had risen to 40 Ladies and Gentlemen and the Club rented newly prepared courts from the Cricket Club, who had acquired the grounds alongside Mosgiel House, and named the area the Taieri Cricket and Recreation Ground. The fee was 10/- per annum. By 1910 the fee had risen to 15/-! Ownership of the Area had been taken up by the Mosgiel Borough Council and fees were paid to them.
The courts were resited in the Park to their present position near the Taieri Bowlings Club in 1910 and Club Rooms built. In 1911 two asphalt courts were laid and the Club Committee felt confident and proud to invite the Mayor H H Inglis and Councillors with their lady friends to the opening of their two new courts. Not surprisingly perhaps, the Council included Tennis Club members, in particular A F Quelch who became Mayor 1913-1918.
The first Club President was Dr Hugh McCaw. He succeeded the first Mosgiel Doctor J J Inglis, another Club member and Mayor from 1907-1912. McCaw was a very active supporter of a variety of local organisations including the Taieri Rugby Club of which he was initially Chairman in 1881.
First Tennis Club Secretary was Mr Walter Carncross, born in Australia, who was the editor and Proprietor of the Taieri Advocate Newspaper in Mosgiel. He was also one of the Towns first Councillors when the Borough Council was formed in 1885. A Captain in the East Taieri Rifles, he saw action in service in the Boer War, or more correctly the South African War. Later he secured a Seat in the house of Representative then Speaker in the Legislative Council and was Knighted in 1922.
The original Minute Book of the Club dating from 1883-1891 is of such historical interest it was placed in the Hocken Library Dunedin in 1984 season, when Taieri celebrated it’s Centenary.
Early matches played were against Dunedin Clubs Green Island, Taieri Plains, Milton and Bruce.
Unfortunately, like many early sporting organisations, Taieri did not maintain Club records, especially in the years after the turn of the century until the late 1940’s.
To be fair, the Town development and population growth was not dramatic and facilities were poor by todays standards plus the World Wars and the Great Depression all had an adverse effect on membership etc.
Early Club trophies that must have been played for have been lost, however what is known from verbal advice of Club members of many years ago spoken with at the time of the Centenary in 1984 and of surviving members since, is that the Club continued to be a vital part of the local sporting scene.
Many Club members served overseas in the armed Forces in the First and Second World Wars and some well known Taieri names feature in the original Rolls of Honour mounted in the Clubrooms. These include A S Falconer, W & R Muirhead and the Cheyne brothers in the Great War and Bill Borrow, Arthur Crawford, Eric Gordon, Jack Swallow, Alan Colvin, Bill Cousins, Cam Meldrum and Bert Quelch in World War 2.
Between the Wars, Club membership was not high but activity remained steady. The late Jack Swallow had clear memories of his days playing tennis with the Club and especially afternoon tea – ‘One of the main attraction for vising Clubs was our cream sponges and I’m sure fulling up the opposition with them was one of the reasons we won so many games!’ At the time of this comment in 1984, Jack, then aged 76 knew of two other ex-members older than him who had lived in Mosgiel, one being Mrs H Gibson, then living in Rotoura and aged 83, who when she played for Taieri was Miss Helen Hanlin, the other being Allan Mitchell, who lived at Company Bay near Dunedin. In 1984 he was aged 86 and was believed to be the oldest ex-member then living.
Jack Swallow played for Taieri C Team in 1921 and remembered playing against Dunedin Clubs Cozy Dell, Kaituna Anderson Bays and Green Island, and travelling back and forth the 12 miles to Dunedin by train always ensuring the match was ended by 5 pm to allow the team to catch the train back hom!
Further, Jack remembered playing in long white trousers; that the racquets were mainly wooden, with a few with steel strings. His memory also was of the Taieri Club in between the War years only extending to B Grade run by the otago Lawn Tennis Association.
It would not be until the 1970’s that the Club won its first top Senior title. Bill Cousins, the Club mens Singles Champion in 1939/40 who later represented New Zealand at Lawn Bowls and Arthur Crawford, both residing in Mosgiel, recall clearly the year pre and during World War Two when Club events still continued even with reduced manpower.
1938/39 season Taieri won the OLTA Mixed C grade, Arthur Crawford was a proud member of the team including Cam Meldrum, Norman Frew and BillCousins’ sister Margaret.
Taier was one of the seven clubs represented at a meeting in the Wains Hotel in Dunedin on the 29th October 1886, at which the Otago Lawn Tennis Association was Constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr I C Batchelor. The Taieri Club has remained affiliated ever since.
In 1942/43 Dick Pilling won the Club mens Singles to be followed just after the War by Eric Gordon. Dave Murray, Bill Campbell, Harold and Vic Robinson and Gerald Birley were Club Champions in the late forties and fifties.
Beginning on grass courts, and laying two courts in asphalt, these were replaced during the 1930’s by concrete courts, and later the addition of a third court as a result of assistance provided by the Government to help the problem of the unemployed during the Depression years.
With the new Labour Government in 1935, and their determination to provide full employment for all, the Policy of subsidising unemployed labour commenced and in the Mosgiel context Scheme 5 was superceded later by Scheme 13, works undertaken included the drainage of sub soil of the Recreation Ground on which the Club was situated.
Courts were laid in coloured concrete to reduce glare and Bill Cousins remembers the excitement of Club members on playing on such an improved surface.
In the late 1940’s the courts were given a light covering of asphalt but no further upgrading work was undertaken until the arrival of the late Noel Kerr in 1955.
His description of the facilities, such as they were, was recorded at the time of the club Centenary in 1984 —
“Attending the Opening declared by President Bill Campbell, the area was a damp dismal sight — the gate would only half open onto a pool of water inside, the court surface was only fair, all the run—backs were in grass which were slippery when wet and a little uneven, poles were rusty, bent and broken, and the netting had more large gaps then usual.
A holly hedge had encroached on to the playing surface, and the macrocarpa hedge on the Wickliffe Street side was untidy.
The clubhouse, originally built in 1910 had paint peeling off it and consisted of a wooden structure with a small room at each end and a larger open unlined middle section. The wooden patio was in poor condition, you had to watch where you walked!”
Noel Kerr and a few others including Harold Robinson, Tom Johns, Ray Holt, Craig Peterson, Lawry Columbus and Gerald Birley set about improving things! They worked with others, long and hard for some years, Mr Kerr’s view being a committee worked better if the Club was in over-draft!
Improvement was dramatic including the removal of grass run—backs, new railway iron fence supports, replaced netting surrounds and the patio set in concrete. The clubrooms were closed in and lined and moves were made to again recover the three courts and arrange new net posts and winders.
In this period the majority of players were Senior and only a small Junior group was evident. Of course in those days there was no Junior competitions for players until U—17 level.
However an explosion in popularity of tennis in Mosgiel through Junior promotion was about to commence in earnest.
Emphasis on young players within the Club had been piece—meal prior to 1966, but the few Juniors present were assisted by Senior players of the time, especially Noel Kerr, Harold Robinson and later Ray and Marj Holt.
Following his attendance at the NZ Coaching School in Auckland in 1964 as a pupil under the guidance of Peter Nicholls and Peter Hubrich in particular, as Otago’s top U—17 junior at the time, Selwyn White, who had joined the Club from Taieri Sub—Assn tennis in 1960/61, took a personal interest in existing and new Junior members.
Especially newcomers Russell Milne and Roger Miller from the East Taieri Presbyterian Club and Marie Peterson and Moira Cursey then two of a small group of promising players. He received an U—17 NZ ranking in 1964 and began coaching part—time.
Boys and girls teams coached by White entered in the OLTA inter club grades in 1967/68 Season won their Sections without the loss of a Match.
He would go on to win the Club Singles 19 times.
The following Season White set up and coached a Learners Class Group for players prior to their entering competitive Grades. This would become the basis for the club’s outstanding success to follow and it has continued to this day.
In the 1970/71 Season, for the first time a separate Junior Committee was formed in the Club and became the model from which other Association Clubs who were interested could emulate. Few have.
Formed with two main objectives —
1/ to control and promote junior tennis within the Club.
2/ to become Otago’s most successful Club overall.
With Junior players graduating to Senior ranks and also being given the opportunity and supported to achieve Representative status.
The Club entered teams that 70/71 season and built up to 25 teams in 1975/76. In the 60’s White captured every Otago Junior Title to U—21 level, and led Otago Slazenger Shield teams to NZ Final Play—offs. He gained full Senior Representative level in 1968/69 and later No I ranking winning many Otago Provincial Titles Open, Invitation, Grasscourt and Hardcourt. He coached professionally in 68/69 season and has continued a coaching role for the Taieri Club when invited to this day.
His interest with older Juniors is more towards how to play the game in the tactical sense, not just how to hit the ball. This is an area he perceives as poor in many of the current Club and Representative players. White was also a Senior and Junior Soccer Representative and in Squash reached B1 level.
Russell Milne and Roger Miller also gained U—19 Slazenger Shield honours and were followed by Robert Courtney and in Howe Shield by sisters Kathleen and Gaye Robinson and in rep Jan Holt. Both Kathleen and Gaye won numerous Otago and Provincial Championships and Gaye represented NZ in the U—16 Girls team to Brisbane in 1976. They were outstanding players. Gaye also won the NZ U—16 Girls Doubles with N Robinson of Canterbury in 1974/75.
The strength of the Taieri Junior Scheme was evident in the early 1970’s in particular local players dominated Rep teams and Otago Champs organised by the OLTA.
That success has never been repeated to the same extent but Taieri has currently over 150 young players and entered the largest number of teams in the Otago Tennis grades with 16 for the season just ended. Numerous grades were either won or Taieri teams ended runners up.
Both Premier Boys and Girls won Sections and as is Club policy they will be promoted to Senior ranks in 1993/4.
With 28 Teams in competition, the Club entered the most teams in OTA inter —club.
With an active and progressive Junior committee and in addition -the
Learners Class group being visited by Southern Districts Pro Coach Neil
Carter to support the local Coaches, Taieri will continue to be a force
in Otago tennis.
Harold Robinson and later Peter Bathgate both represented Otago at Senior level, Robinson noted as an effective baseline player with an excellent backhand, and Bathgate as more a noted doubles exponent with high quality smash and volleys. Both have held the Position of Club President and won Club Titles, Bathgate-also winning the Otago Hardcourt Championship in 1965 after joining Taieri from Andersons Bay Club where he was part of a Senior Interclub side that included Des Shaw and Bill McAuley, the current OTA Chariman.
The highlight of the 1992/93 Season was the Brooker Holidaymakers Taieri
win in the OTA Premier Ladies Championship, the first time since the 1977/78
Season for the Club.
Led by outstanding performers Captain Nicole Rosie and Paula Shortall and well supported by Suzanne Patterson, Rebecca and Natasha Duff. Both Rebecca and Natasha Duff are both developing with distinction in Otago and Southern District Junior girls age group Teams.
In addition the Gales Taieri Premier Mens Team were runners up in both the Championship and Presidents Trophy. Team No 1 and Southern Districts Mens top player was Mark Milburn with experienced players Jim Smith, John Harrop and John Spence and reserve Selwyn White completing the squad.
Competitive results in OTA Grades have varied since the 1970’s when Taieri men also won the Mens Senior Title for the first time in the Club’s history- (1970/71), but overall both Senior and Junior has been outstanding.
During this time Doug Huband and Gwen Cowie were also Senior Rep players of distinction.
A feature of Taieri’s membership list of those playing in interclub is the majority of persons under the age of 19 years and this is as a direct result of a well established Junior System. Some Senior players have always been prepared to offer the young players some instruction as they themselves have received same from Pro Coaches or played to a high level.
However a lack of qualified OTA Coaches and motivation to go out to those Clubs like Taieri who are developing programmes to promote and support players including subsidising coaching where possible will be a difficulty the OTA Administration must face up to and seek to overcome.
Geographically the Taieri Club is only 12 miles from the Logan Park HQ but where the essential difference lies is in the declared intention of Taieri to promote the ordinary club player on its own facilities which are now first class and not to rely on the attraction of upgraded Facilities at the HQ.
A fourth court was laid in 1975 and at this time showers and toilets were installed and floodlighting for two courts. In addition, following the plastering of the Clubroom walls the roof was replaced and the inside repaired and repainted and renovated.
In 1979 three courts were resurfaced in smooth asphalt to a depth of 4 inches and a new volleyboard and fence erected with the assistance and cooperation of the Bowls Club.
In the mid 1980’s the Club suffered a downturn in numbers with fewer persons prepared to accept responsibility on Committees and a lessening of Junior coaching and promotion especially Learners Class area. The highlight however was the Centennial Celebration of 1984 to which a number of old players took part.
By 1989 then President Kelvin Brown felt moved to call a Special General Meeting to consider the future of the Club.
The Meeting impact was successful and plans were put in place to regenerate the Club. Since that time the membership has steadily increased to its highest ever level. This was no accident but by adopting a well reasoned and achievable Strategic Plan in 1989, all areas were addressed particularly Learners and Casual players. Sponsorship connections cultivated with income from signage board agreements ear—marked for Senior and Junior promotion by subsidising coaching and special Tournaments, Invitation, Masters and Junior.
Taieri is generally regarded now as Otago’s most progressive and innovative as it was in the 70’s.
The Clubrooms have undergone an upgrading with a renovation programme since 1989 and a verandah added. All court areas have been decorated. A special fund has been established to be used when courts and/or clubrooms need replacement.
Night tennis has been an added dimension for local players since the mid 70’s and many tournaments sponsored or otherwise have been held and given more court time for early season practice and extra income.
Taieri in addition to all its achievements over many years, can take particular credit for encouraging the merging of the Union and the OLTA Bodies into what is now the Otago Tennis Association and as a catalyst for the setting up of an actual Junior Body within the OLTA to promote and administer Tennis in Otago.
The Taieri Club however believes a further look at all interclub is now vital, that its emphasis should be on the strengthening and support to those Clubs by the OTA wishing to promote activity on their premises to build their memberships and the ordinary club player. This will help the OTA. It will strengthen the affiliated base and supply more players to assist Logan Park utilisation and ultimately NZ Tennis.
The innovative nature of Taieri was evident by its staging of three separate attempts on the World Tennis Doubles Marathon record.
In 1973 March, the first of these was held, setting a new World record of 41 hrs. 28 mins. This was recognised by the Guiness Book of Records.
The players were Russell Milne, Roger Miller, Selwyn White and Barry Hellyer all senior players at that time.
50% of the proceeds were donated to the Mosgiel Senior Citizens Assn. towards furnishings of their Club rooms, and 50% to the Taieri club towards their fourth court and club room renovations.
The second attempt was again held on the Club courts utilising the new lighting system, in-March 1975 and again the World record was broken. The time set was 50 hrs 5 mins and the players Harold Robinson, Peter Bathgate, Roger Miller and Selwyn White. Proceeds went towards facility improvements and a proportion donated to the Mosgiel Sub branch of the St John Ambulance Assn.
About 300 spectators including Town Councillors and Club members were at the courts when the new World Record was established.
During this marathon the four played 1109 games and 120 sets of tennis and great support was given by the Community.
After the resurfacing in 1979 funds needed a boost and a third Marathon was decided upon to recapture the record, as Northern Hemisphere Clubs broke it in their summer.
No. 3 was held in March 1980 when after 72 hours the attempt was abandoned due to the general exhaustion of the players, who were Selwyn White, Roger Miller, John Van Der Loo and Keith Ruthven.
The World Record at that time was held by a Club in Yorkshire England with a time of 80 hrs and now the record exceeds 100 hrs!
With a large membership, especially Junior, although the proportion is narrowing, the Club has been allowed to utilise the Taieri High School courts by arrangement and this has assisted the Club development over the years since 1969/70.
12 courts are therefore available for interclub, coaching and tournament play.
In the Otago context, Taieri’s Club facilities are second to none and retain an edge over most local clubs by their promotion of their facilities by staging special events and the emphasis on Juniors. This desire to promote is the essential difference.
In addition, as an Incorporated Body, the Club rules have recently been updated and revised, and a new Position created, that of Club Administration Officer, the first of whom is Sue Howell. The Club is contemplating a Caretaker also to enable the current improvements to be well maintained. Wedged between the new Taieri Bridge Club, the Taieri Bowling Club and the Taieri Cricket Club, expansion will be difficult and such enigmas as bar facilities will be a decision for future ‘guardians’ of the Club.
Promotion in that direction, has not been actively pursued, principally due to the nature of the development of the facilities over many years, where emphasis was on improvement of court surfaces for play rather than enjoying social activities off, and perhaps more importantly the mix of membership weight in favour of Junior.
However with the facility improvements the Club is gaining more adult casual players and the question may have to be re—addressed.
To ensure the strong continuation of this old established sporting club, in addition to current Life Members, Eric Gordon, Ray and Marj Holt, Harold Robinson, Peter Bathgate and Selwyn White, honorary Vice Presidents were elected at the 1992/93 AGM being Gloria Jackson, Shirley McNeilly, Roger Miller, Steven Brenssell and Kelvin Brown.
The future of Taieri may eventually be tied in to an ‘accommodation’ with another racquet sport, for example squash, as more and more play both.
Article researched and submitted to Editor Tennis NZ Magazine
S C White
President Taieri Tennis Club