Wodonga Croquet Club's history
In 1924, a group of Wodonga women met to form a croquet club. Its membership was to be restricted to the town’s womenfolk. The men had their golf, cricket and football. The women could have their croquet. They approached the tennis club for permission to establish their courts on land not being used by the tennis club on Wodonga’s recreation reserve located on Church Street. Some members of the tennis club were reluctant to agree to the request. The women went ahead anyway. They secured permission from the council to establish their courts on the reserve and promptly did so. The croquet courts were formally opened on 13 December 1924. However, its membership was restricted to the more affluent women in the community. The annual membership fee of £1/1/- would have been beyond the reach of Wodonga’s working men and their womenfolk.
The Wodonga Croquet Club was a great success. It had over 50 members and these women were enthusiastic fund raisers. By the end of 1925, for example, they had raised enough money to install electric lights over the courts to allow members to play during the evenings. And although originally intended to be played during the summer months, from the end of the 1920s, games were being played year-round. Clearly, it met what one of the founding members described as a ‘long felt want’ amongst Wodonga’s women for something to do.
By the end of the decade, the Wodonga Croquet Club was a well-established fixture in the town. It ran social days and tournaments, and began to play other clubs within the region. As for the version of the game its members played?: hoop and peg, circle, bell, clock, ladder, hoop line, zig-zag, bagatelle and crazy croquet. Its future looked bright. The Great Depression dramatically changed that.
The impact of the Great Depression on the club was profound. Membership plummeted. In 1933, the club had a meagre 11 members. The club’s finances also collapsed as it lost members, forcing the secretary to seek a reduction in rates from the Wodonga Waterworks Trust. The Trust refused to reduce its rates, but did agree to cut excess water rates by half. The club was still in financial difficulties a year later. It asked the council for assistance in having the top dressing done on the lawns using sustenance workers. The council supplied labour and supervision, but the women were responsible for providing material and transport. Membership slowly picked up during the 1930s. Social days, tournaments and interclub competitions continued during the decade. The outbreak of war in 1939, however, brought new disruptions to the club, especially after the beginning of the Pacific War in 1941 with the Japanese Raid on Pearl Harbour. Social days and tournaments continued, although attendance from other clubs dropped sharply because of rationing. Interclub competitions basically ceased. And although members were engaged in voluntary work supporting the war effort, croquet remained an important part of their lives. The game offered them a brief respite from the uncertainties of war, a sense of normalcy, of a well-established and familiar routine, especially during 1942 and 1943 when many feared a Japanese invasion of Australia. However, upkeep of the courts lapsed. They were in a ‘shocking state’ by war’s end.
The immediate post-war years saw a return of interclub competitions and a new development: in 1954, the club opened its first club rooms. Members posed proudly in front of the new building for a photograph to mark the formal opening of the rooms. In 1960, Wodonga joined the newly created North Eastern District Croquet Association (NEDCA) and was affiliated with the Victorian Croquet Association (VCA).
In 1968, Wodonga co-hosted NEDCA’s regional championships. Yet, the club was already in decline. It ended its affiliation with both NEDCA and VCA in 1974. Wodonga’s club simply reflected the general decline in the sport’s popularity across Victoria during the 1960s and 1970s. The VCA’s historian attributed this to the general belief that this was a sport for older people, and that this older generation had done little to recruit new members from the upcoming generation.
Wodonga’s croquet club re-emerged in 1999 when the Wodonga Tennis Club contacted two croquet club members, asking if they were interested in using the new tennis club grounds to play their game. The tennis club was looking for a sport that could use the tennis courts in the off-season and croquet seemed ideal. Once it was made clear to the tennis club that croquet was a year-round sport, the Wodonga Croquet Club was re-established, and was reaffiliated with both the VCA and NEDCA in 2000. And it reflected the spirit of the women who established the original club in 1924. They raised funds for a building to store the club’s equipment and to buy that equipment. They also sought help from other NEDCA clubs for assistance by providing balls and mallets. Social days, hosting tournaments and championships, and interclub play are still an integral part of the club’s programme.
There are, however, two differences between the current club and the club formed in 1924: men are now admitted as members; and no-one knows the rules for crazy croquet.
[Further Reading] More detailed information can be found in John McQuilton, The Wodonga Croquet Club: A Brief History (Wodonga Croquet Club, 2019), Joyce Ridley, A History of Croquet in Victoria 1866-1980 (VCA, Melbourne, 1980) and VCA, A History of Croquet in Victoria 1980-2014 (VCA, Melbourne, 2015)