The gardens were named to commemorate Queen Victoria’s younger son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, following an assassination attempt during his visit to Australia. In the early days of Melbourne the Edinburgh Gardens site was used for basalt quarrying and pasture. Between 1859 and 1894, the site was established as a reserve for a public park for recreational use and popular sporting pursuits, such as cricket, (1872), bowling (1877), football (1883 – 1967), tennis (1888) and baseball (1889). In 1919, a War Memorial Arbour, (behind the Bowling Club) was erected by the various sporting clubs, including the FTC, for those who lost their lives in World War 1 and who had been connected with the clubs.
Over the years, various sporting facilities have been restored and added. However the Ladies Bowling Club was demolished in 2005 and the area was reverted to parkland. The Yarra City Council has devised a Master Plan for further improvement of the gardens.
Establishment of the Fitzroy Tennis Club
A tennis club has occupied the present site since 1888. In 1894 it became the Fitzroy Tennis Club. A pennant competition was established in Melbourne and the club contributed to the establishment of tennis as a major competitive sport in the city of Melbourne. The Club has historical significance as part of the early history of the Edinburgh Gardens.
Tennis courts and a clubhouse first appeared in the plans for the Edinburgh Gardens dated around 1901. The 1901 plan shows asphalt tennis courts occupying the site of the existing courts, along with a number of other buildings and structures.
The clubhouse, though possibly dating from the early 20th century, has been modified and apparently relocated variously in the vicinity of the tennis courts. The tennis courts have been altered and resurfaced a number of times.
A 1966 plan of the cricket ground shows the tennis courts with a Cyclone wire fence on the perimeter and two small buildings in the south west corner. One is of brick construction while the other is labelled ‘old fibro and weatherboard clubhouse’. This is presumably the existing clubhouse although it appears to have since been relocated further to the north.
Growth of FTC
When the FTC was first formed in 1894, two asphalt tennis courts were constructed at a cost of £57. A third tennis court was added between 1901 – 1902 – an indication of the growing popularity of tennis at the time. By 1930, the FTC had five tennis courts, two asphalt and three resurfaced with concrete. During 1933-34, as tennis gained popularity with women, a ladies’ dressing room at a cost of £54 was added to the tennis pavilion.
Twenty years later, further improvements were made. A new shower and toilet block was built in 1953-5 and an additional tennis court was constructed in 1955-56, to cater for the growing numbers of tennis players. By 1961, juniors were being coached by Bruce Canaway on the concrete or asphalt court, situated next to the shower and toilet block, where the decking and the barbecue area stands today.
Fitzroy Tennis Club Champions
The Fitzroy Tennis Club Championships were first played in 1921 when L. Swan became the first Men’s Singles Champion. WW2 caused the Championships to be suspended in the years 1942-46. After the war, in 1947, the FTC championships were resumed with W. Guy being the Men’s Singles winner.
The Club produced some excellent tennis players. Bob Mark was the Fitzroy Club Champion from 1954-1959, the Australian Junior Champion 1956 and part of the Australian Davis Cup team 1959-60 as well as the Australian Doubles champion in 1959-60-61 partnering the great Rod Laver. He also won the Australian mixed doubles with Sandra Price in 1959 and the US Open Mixed Doubles with Margaret Court in 1961.
There is no record of women competing in the club championships until 1966 when P. Reilly became the first FTC Ladies Singles Champion. Apart from playing tennis, in keeping with the accepted social mores at the time, females didn’t umpire or sweep courts. Their role was to make afternoon tea, wash the dishes and clean the clubhouse. Tennis continued its popularity at FTC until 1971 when the last FTC Championships were held, Max Pettman being Men’s Singles Club Champion
It wasn’t until 1979, about 10 years later, that the FTC Championships were resumed with the addition, for the first time in 1981, of Mixed and Doubles categories. Junior Championships were held for for the first time at FTC in 1982 with M. Hokin as the Junior Boys Singles winner and, one year later, in 1983, C. Sourdis as the Junior Girls Singles winner.
Larry Liversage was in the Men’s Singles Finals ten years in a row, winning five of those and in 2010 won the mixed doubles with 15 year old State Grade Player Jacqui Guan.
FTC Clubhouse early 20th century to 1981
From 1970 – 1980, most of the buildings and the facilities in the Edinburgh Gardens were allowed to fall into disrepair, including the tennis courts and clubhouse. The reason for this is not known. It may have been due to a change in demographics in the local area and a general lack of interest in the gardens after the departure of the Fitzroy Football Club.
Rebirth of FTC
In the late seventies, a group of Fitzroy residents – Peter Barnes, Carlo Furletti, the late Del Carli, (after whom the Del Carli Trophy was named), Jock Wastell and others - with a passion for tennis and appreciating the beauty and history of the Edinburgh Gardens, approached the Council in a bid to lease the property and to take over the management of the then defunct Fitzroy Tennis Club. They planned to replace the dilapidated courts with 6 en-tout-cas courts and refurbish the clubhouse through membership fees and other fund-raising events (such as bush dances, raffles, disco nights, round robins, etc.).
A committee of dedicated people was formed and office-bearers elected. Peter Barnes was President of the “born again” club, from 1978 to 1986, except for 1980 when Janine Eastaugh, the first female President, took over the reins. Since then there have been 3 female Presidents.
By 1981, the new tennis courts were constructed (later lights were added) and the clubhouse was rebuilt along heritage lines with some modern additions inside and outside. The designs were carefully prepared by Architect, Alan Willingham, and today the FTC is a magnificent feature in the Edinburgh Gardens.
In the early 1980s, FTC was primarily used for adult social tennis. Competitive tennis was restricted to the annual Club Championships and Saturday afternoon competition between clubs. Night competitions, Pennant and junior tennis did not appear on the agenda until much later.
A City of Yarra Council report describes the building as:
“Presently, the tennis club is located to the east of the grandstand. The site contains six en-tout-cas courts with a high galvanised steel pipe and Cyclone wire fence to the perimeter. The clubhouse, located to the west side of the courts, is a single-storey, timber-framed building with battened fibro-cement cladding above a weatherboard plinth. It comprises two parts: a gambrel-roofed section at the northern end and skillion-roofed section at the south, each with corrugated galvanised steel roof cladding. The skillion-roofed section has a timber-framed verandah extending along the east elevation, facing the tennis courts.
The main entrance, located on the south elevation of the gambrel roof section, has a bracketed awning and a non-original flush panel door. Extending across the north elevation of the gambrel-roofed section is a verandah supported on timber posts with prominent carved timber brackets and a central gablet. The wall behind the verandah contains a recent glazed, timber-framed, double-leaf door, flanked on either side by paired timber-framed, double-hung sash windows. Recent timber decking runs around north and east sides of the building.”
In 2013, as part of its water conservation policy, the Club voted to replace en-tous-cas courts 4, 5 & 6 with a waterless clay surface (Tiger Turf). Joe Spano, ex-President, was instrumental in the initial design and planning of the development, which included relocating the fencing and installing a viewing area between courts 1, 2 & 3 and 4, 5 & 6. The opening ceremony in May was attended by Yarra City Council officials, Mayor Cr Jackie Fristacky and Cr Roberto Colanzi.
The facility was developed by Fitzroy Tennis Club and Yarra City Council in partnership with the Victorian Government. FTC negotiated with Council and the Government to provide the balance of the necessary funds to complete and supervise the project.
At present, there are between 400 and 500 members in the Club. The club is open to both members and non-members of all ages and standards. For tennis enthusiasts, it is a meeting place in which to enjoy both social and competitive tennis, during the day or at night under lights. Competitive tennis includes Pennant, midweek ladies and masters, men’s, women's and mixed at night, and Saturday morning junior competitions. First-class coaching is available.
The club was incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act in 1993. The present FTC Committee is committed to further developing the Club within its historical legacy for social enjoyment, competitive achievement as well as providing excellent coaching programmes for both adults and juniors.
Acknowledgement: This history is based on information from reports by Allom Lovell & Associates 23 Edinburgh Gardens CMP, In association with John Patrick Pty Ltd
Edited by: Liz Morrow, August 2006 | Sergio Rivosecchi January 2015