HISTORY 1944 - 1990
Let us go back in time, about the middle or sometime towards the end of 1944. It is documented that round about this time a dozen of Hawthorn business men decided that with the end of hostilities in sight in Europe and their services no longer required for Voluntary Defence Corp, Air Raid Precaution, Auxiliary Police and Firemen, they would get together and put their energies and financial backing to good effect in forming a Boys Club. The support of the Hawthorn City Council was requested and obtained and they were promised the use of the Auburn Recreation Hall (the present headquarters).
The early meetings were held at Fareys Bakery in Liddiard Street as one of the original organising members was Mr. Les Farey who resided at 20 Liddiard Street and was the owner of the Bakery. Little documentation is in existence of their early meetings and the first documented minute refers to November 27th, 1945. However, prior to that and precisely on July 12th, 1945, the Council signed an indenture giving the above mentioned premises to the Committee, already formed, for the purpose of conducting the activities of the Hawthorn Boys Club.
The Club was officially established on September 1st, 1945, with a suitable, opening night.
Notable people on the Committee were Cr. Alan Patterson and Messrs. Frank Guy, Les Farey, Charles Behrendt, John White DCM, Constable Francis and others. The Committee had at their disposal the Honorary services of medical officers such as Drs. Jona, Begg, Cussen, Heller, Fremantle, Little, Raphael and Wickens. It quickly registered with the Charities Board of Victoria under the Hospital and Charities Act No.4846 and it affiliated with the National Fitness Council of Victoria. A Constitution was written and approved and the objectives and proposed activities of the Club clearly defined.
The Club was on its way:
The first Manager was Mr. Les Dettman. Equipment was the first priority of the Committee as well, some early approaches were made to the Council regarding building extensions suitable for sporting facilities. In the minute of January 30th, 1946, Cr.Patterson reported that the Council had deferred decision regarding building extensions for six months. Regarding equipment the Club, in conjunction with the Mayor and the Councilors, the Chief Commissioner of Police, The Sun News Pictorial and Dr. Scholes of the National Fitness Council, conducted a drive, a programme a public relation exercise, call it what you will, to raise funds for this purpose. A booklet was printed, unfortunately bearing no date, and the only copy remaining of this booklet is now inside the Hawthorn City Council time capsule. Many activities were organised such as Carnivals, Dog Shows, Camps, Picnics, Sporting Days, Celebrity Concerts and the inevitable string of Raffles.
They also had their problems. In June 1946 it was reported that the Club Manager had not been heard of since late April. He was subsequently asked to resign. Finance was a big problem. In the minute of September 1947, the Committee agreed to approach the Council for a donation to augment the Club funds. At that meeting Cr. Moffatt, in a most constructive speech advised all Councilors to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Club and suggested that a deputation from the Club be received to ascertain first hand and fully the ambitions of the Committee. The 2nd Annual General Meeting was held at the Hawthorn Town Hall, Cr.Pridmore deputised for the Mayor. At this meeting it was decided that the position of President should be rotated whenever possible. The third President elected was Mr. Charles Behrendt, he succeeded Mr.Frank Guy. Financial problems struck again in 1949. The then Treasurer had been ill and the books were in a 'mess', so it was decided to close the books as at April 30th, 1949 and a Financial Sub Committee was appointed to investigate and report back to the June, 1949 meeting. As a result, Mr. David Morris was appointed Club Honorary Treasurer. Mr. Morris, together with Constable Bill Basse and later Mr. William Churcher and Mr. Fred Westbury, formed the strong quartet which spearheaded the Club in the late 50s. Mr. Fred Westbury was appointed Secretary/Manager in March 1951 for 2 pounds per week. Finance was still the predominant problem at the time and the Club almost wound-up activities because of this and called a special meeting to discuss the situation. It is documented that on that night an envelope was found on the floor of the foyer containing a bank cheque of 500 pounds from an unknown benefactor and as a result the Club was operative again.
The 1952 Annual General Meeting saw Mr. William Churcher elected President for the second time. At this stage a young 16 years old boy, Sam Coffa, appeared on the scene making noises about the fact that girls were not allowed to become members of the Club and asking also for Wrestling and Weightlifting equipment. Mr. Churcher noted these two items and in 1953 the matters were discussed for the first time and deferred. In April 1953 notice was given to alter the Constitution of the Club to substitute the word 'Boys' with 'Youth' to enable girls to become members.
A giant step forward and a daring one at that time!
Believe it or not Council objected to the change of name and at the Annual General Meeting in 1953 great debate ensued on the matter with the ladies in attendance giving their views. The matter was referred to the Hon.Solicitor to obtain advice re-alteration to the Constitution.
Young Coffa, in the corner of the Hall was still arguing about all this in broken English and he was still after mats and weights. He was finally told that some weights were available and he should see the Secretary/Manager. He did, and an activity which was later to become the dominant element within the Club program started in a corner of the Club Hall with two boys.
In 1954 the Committee recognised this activity and the two boys, Sam Coffa and Barry Semmens, were to receive instructions from any other Club with experience and that they were the only approved members to use this Club Weightlifting equipment as it was considered to be extremely dangerous.
In June, 1956, Cr. Patterson presided over discussions on enlargement of the Club with the possibility of girls joining as members. At the 1957 Annual General Meeting, Constable Bill Basse urged immediate thought be given to the needs of the 14 to 18 years group, boys and girls, and suggested again the change of name to the 'Hawthorn Citizens' Youth Club'. Cr. Fowler replied that having 'sown' the germ of the idea, he (Const.Basse) ought to go through the correct channels. This was done and the name was officially changed on the 5th September, 1957 and girls were admitted as from October 1st, 1957. It took five years to break this barrier!
By this time of course, television was in and all Clubs were suffering with lack of attendance and interest in general. However, the small Weightlifting group was still going strong and was attracting older boys. Sam Coffa started to question again the age restriction on the Constitution also suggesting that the-premises were inadequate and uninviting. He was asked to appear before the Committee to explain what he had in mind. He did. His thoughts then being directed to a Community Youth Centre' suitable for sporting and recreation activities for people of all ages. To his amazement the Committee decided to appoint a Sub Committee to investigate the proposition and send a possible deputation to the Council to discuss the matter.
In the meanwhile the needs of the Weightlifting group were given a boost when the Rotary Club of Hawthorn, through one of the Club Life Members, Mr. Charles Fryer, donated 50 pounds to purchase a set of weights and the Club Committee at that stage determined to shift the group into the spare room at the back of the Hall to be shared with the Quoit Throwing group. A platform was built and the Sport of Olympic Weightlifting officially started in Hawthorn. Membership down elsewhere was very good in the Weightlifting Section. Sam Coffa was appointed representative of this section on the Committee and the fight to have a new Centre built in the City of Hawthorn began. A letter was forwarded to the Council requesting consideration be given within its planning to the provision of a modern building specifically built as a comprehensive Youth Club and Community Centre and the Committee suggested the Tintern site in Glenferrie Road as as suitable location. During this time the push for more room for the Weightlifting Section was really on and a lot of research and planning was taking place with the accent on community facilities.
It followed that the Council resolved that a Club of the magnitude proposed was out of the question because of costs, but would consider building a Heavy Gymnasium as a first step and at a meeting of the Club attended by the Town Clerk, Mr. Roy Johnson, and Cr. Keith Miller the proposed plans and conditions were discussed. So it was that an agreement was reached between the Council and the Committee with the Club having to pay the first 1000pounds plus 3000pounds yearly until 3 300 pounds had been paid.
In 1962 Sam Coffa become the first Club member to represent Australia at the British Empire Games in Perth.
In April 23rd, 1964, the then Minister for Local Government, The Hon. Rupert Hamer, officially opened the Weightlifting Centre at the Tintern site. On this occasion a Weightlifting contest was held and Club members Tony Marguccio and Sam Coffa both qualified for Olympic selection and in fact they were selected and went on to be the Club's first Olympic Representatives at the Tokyo Games.
It was during this year, I964, that Sam Coffa was elected Club President.
Things went reasonably well during this period although membership and attendance was still very much on the decline. In July 1965, the Club lost one of its real top Officials, Mr. William Churcher. He was truly a distinguished citizen, so much so, the Council awarded him the only Civic Award ever given. It was read by the Mayor at his (Mr.Churcher's) funeral. This special human being had a lot of influence on the life of the Club and its operation. His services were never forgotten and at a later date a Memorial Trophy was perpetuated in his name to be presented to the person who renders outstanding services to the Club during any one year.
August 1965, Mr.Walter Jona, MP, Member for Hawthorn, was welcomed by Sam Coffa, Club President, at the 20th.Annual General Meeting of the Club. The Hon. Walter Jona did not miss too many such meetings since and he become one of the Club's great supporters. Appropriately, The Hon.Walter Jona was later to become the Patron of the Club and an Honorary member of the Weightlifting Section 300 pound Club. About this time the Club being aware of falling attendances started to look at various activities such as Olympic Gymnastics, Ballroom Dancing, Trampolining and a sub Committee was appointed to investigate various fields. A ladies Committee was formed also.
1966/67 were indeed bleak years with attendances and membership at an all time low. During the month of March 1967, the Club Secretary/ Manager, Mr. Fred Westbury, died suddenly. He was another of the Club giants. A special meeting was called by the President, Mrs.Leslie Raven, the first female Club President, to discuss the effects of Mr.Westbury's death on the Club. Sam Coffa was appointed Secretary, a position he held for many years.
One of the first job the new Secretary was asked to do was to investigate and report on membership, finance and administration. The Committee at this stage was meeting fortnightly. These were truly hard times.
Worse was to happen. Mr. David Morris, another devoted Official resigned from the position of Treasurer, a post he had held for some twenty years.
The Club Rooms were dirty and run down, the floor was bad, the ceiling was falling down, the Club was in a real bad state.
Following the 22nd Annual General Meeting, the Club started to settle and it was reported that the official total membership was 34, mostly being weightlifters. All Sub Committees were inactive. Finance was terrible and administration non existent. The Committee realised it had a job to do and set out to do it. Exhibitions were given, bottle drives were conducted, car trials organised as were surveys and essay competitions. Sub Committees were revived and a request went to Council and the Victorian Association of Youth Clubs for assistance. The Committee started to look at the Constitution in an endeavour to have senior members recognised as Adult Subscribers, it began budgeting and looking at the Management Structure, fund raising, programming, promotions and Public Relations. It was during this period that some Councillors suggested to the Youth Club Committee that consideration be given to have the Y.M.C.A. operate the Club. Another Sub Committee was appointed, much to the disgust of some of the Committee members, to discuss the various aspects with Officials of the Y.M.C.A. Of the five members Sub Committee three fought very hard to stop what was virtually a take over bid. Instead the Club and the Committee set out to convince the Council and the community that the Club's Committee of Management deserved to be given a chance to operate the affairs of the Club and it promised a complete restructure of the Management. On August 1968, Mr. Helery Hamilton-Smith, Field Officer of the V.A.Y.C., addressed one of the Committee meetings and as a result a restructuring process was set in motion. Other Clubs were visited, the City was surveyed once again and further discussions were held with Mr. Hamilton-Smith and Mr.Geoff Rawson of the V.A.Y.C. All this work resulted in the decision being made by the Committee against the reappointment of a General Manager, instead a Management Scheme was instituted which would demand a number of Activity Managers.
And so it was that the activities started to spread and a number of Sub Committees of Management came to life. At that stage the Club Program included Junior Boys and Girls Activities, Basketball, Table Tennis, Trampolining, Judo and Weightlifting. It was not long before Junior Football, Junior Cricket, Calisthenics and Ballroom Dancing were added and other activities were on the pipeline. At that point a real concerted effort was made to bring to the notice of the Council the work being undertaken by the Committee and the large number of volunteers and it concluded by stating that the Committee believed the community through its Council should be partly responsible for the conduct of the Club and asked for a grant to be made on a yearly basis. On October 23rd, 1968 a letter was received from the Council expressing the intention of the Council to make a grant available to the Club on a yearly basis up to a maximum of $3,000.00 on a dollar for dollar basis. The battle had been won! The Club, in the opinion of the Committee had received recognition and it would now want to prove to Council and the community the worth of the Hawthorn Citizens' Youth Club.
The Club had a facelift, a neon sign was erected, the floor was repaired and re sanded and polished, a new ceiling was fitted, publicity pamphlets were printed and distributed to schools and further activities such as Craft, Olympic Wrestling, Open Age Football and Cricket, Social Groups (including the rage at the time 'drop-in-coffee shop'. Later followed by Badminton, Fencing, Netball, Soccer for Junior and Senior and Jazz Ballet. Many other activities were tried and abandoned. In many ways the Club went as far as it could with the facilities available. It was time to think of expansion. A Planning Sub Committee was appointed. The theory of a new Youth Centre was again advanced to the Council. It was thought, since the new Premier of Victoria, The Hon. Rupert Hamer, had appointed Mr. Brian Dixon as Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation thus creating a State Department, it was now or never. Preliminary plans were submitted to the Council which in turn appointed a Joint Sub Committee and the long road to build a new facility began.
Well, what happened is now history! A Community Recreation Centre was built and the Club Secretary, Sam Coffa as the Mayor of the City of Hawthorn in November, 1979, presided over the Official Opening Ceremony by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Winneke. Indeed a fitting tribute!
In this the 46th year of operation the Club program includes ten outstanding and well structured activities: Badminton, Ballroom Dancing, Calisthenics, Football, Indoor Soccer, Jazz Ballet, Judo, Olympic Wrestling, Soccer and Weightlifting. All of them at some stage in the last 10 years have reached the peak of their grading winning many individual honours. In particular the Weightlifting Section boasts National Youth, Junior and Senior Champions and International Representatives, indeed, the Section has not failed to have members representation at World Junior and Senior Championships and at Commonwealth and Olympic Games since 1962.
That is the brief history of this great Club!
Where it goes from here one knows not, but we do know this, the people who laid the foundation, the people who built the Club, the people who have assisted in making this Club one of the best run and most successful in the State, the people who continue to give freely of their time and service were, are and no doubt will be dedicated persons with a common purpose, the welfare and interest of the Youth of our community who are the most important and valuable resource of this great Country.
To them we offer tribute and thanks for their magnificent contribution.