Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Belshaw's World - anyone for tennis anymore?

I hope that you and yours had a happy Christmas.

Over the Christmas break, I continued sorting and digitising family photos. In this column, I want to share some of those photos with you.

Just to set the scene, this first photograph shows the tennis courts once to be found at the back of Parliament House in Sydney. David Drummond, then member for Armidale, is front right.Tennis At NSW Parliament House c1930

With the decline in the importance of tennis, it's hard to realise just how important tennis was in New England. It was the most important social game across the entire North. Most properties, many homes, every small settlement, had their own tennis courts. Most people played.

Tennis had many advantages as a sport. Land was then cheap, and courts were easy to construct. Tennis was a game that could be played by most ages. Importantly, it was one way in which boys and girls could meet and interact in a socially acceptable and relaxed fashion.

The next photo shows my grandparents and some of their daughters with friends.

This is actually a fairly typical shot from the 1930s. It’s a bush scene, with furniture dragged out from the house - two boxes, a formal chair, a wickerwork chair, one of those fabric sun chairs that you still see in England. They are all eating watermelon.Importance of tennis

Nearly everybody played tennis. Down at the local tennis club, players and those learning to play thronged the courts. The photo shows the Armidale club in the 1950s.Armidale tennis club 1950s

I learned to play tennis on the court at my grandparents’ house in Mann Street. There my grandfather and our aunts taught brother David and I to play from an early ageKathleen tennis champion.

I was just an okay player. Others in my family were better.

The final photo is of Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) as champion at the Armidale tennis club. Later she became club patron along with Paul Johnstone. 

Today, the tennis courts across New England have largely gone.

The small settlements with their tennis courts are now just locality names on maps. The home courts have been turned into building blocks.

With their end has gone the dominance that Australia once enjoyed in the sport. More importantly, the social cement that tennis once provided has gone as well.

In writing this column, I tried to think of a modern equivalent to tennis, one that allowed young and old to mix, one that allowed the young to meet and match, one that crossed the divides created by class and status.

I can’t. Can you?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 4 January 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.

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