The history of tennis in the Hinterland

Jack hones his tennis skills with his daughter, Anne Therese, in 1980

Jack hones his tennis skills with his daughter, Anne Therese, in 1980

Maleny author and historian Jack Wilcox has put on record a facet of the history of the district: Maleny Memories: thru the lens of tennis.  Through the memories of locals, Jack shares how tennis shaped the lives of many on the hinterland and sadly, how it is dwindling away today.

Jack Wilcox found tennis to be a constant companion over the years from his youth through to university. Also, whilst working in government where he found himself regularly playing tennis with then-Deputy Prime Minister, Doug Anthony.

It was therefore almost inevitable that Jack would continue to champion tennis and its rich history once he began to write for publication.

In his latest book, Jack explores the culture and local customs of the Maleny district. The time frame is the 20th century.

“In the early part of the century the then remote dairy communities above ‘the ice box’ enjoyed social activities, sporting activities and intermarried to the point where everyone seemed to be related to everyone else,” Jack explained. “ It was, and still is to a large extent, a very close community.”

After extensive research of newspapers and reports dating back to the late 1800s, Jack probed the memories of many of the people whose families had been part of the tennis rollercoaster between 1908 and 2004.

“In a journey covering a century in an isolated district, it is inevitable that several family names dominated and became dynasties with up to four generations being represented in tennis history,” Jack said.

“Probably unique in the history of sport in Australia is the story of the Langfeldt sisters.

“The Langfeldt family lived at Eudlo until 1964 when they relocated to Landsborough where Norm worked as postmaster.

“During the ‘60s and ‘70s the family, consisting of father Norm, son Ross and three daughters − Pam, Merilyn (known as Meril) and Val − played tennis for the Palmwoods and District Tennis Association and the Maleny District Tennis Association.

“In a remarkable sequence, the three sisters each won the ladies singles championships played at the Maleny courts: Pam won the event in 1965; Meril won in 1971; and Val in 1972.“

Joe Herron serves the first ball to wife Kay on new court 1986

Joe Herron serves the first ball to wife Kay on new court 1986

Another story to unfold comes from two Landsborough women, supported by their families, who were the outstanding family team in the 20th century.

“This was in a male-dominated era,” added Jack. “Dawn Wendt, the first president of a tennis club in the district, was the driving force in getting the club resurrected in 1970 after a long malaise.”

Working in harness, Dawn as President and Secretary (Pat Collins) were responsible for keeping the Landsborough club together for the rest of the century.

“As I read through the minutes, it was interesting to note that at many of the general meetings in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s only women attended.”

The two women overcame significant challenges. “They met when Pat worked in the Landsborough school library and Dawn had the afternoon shift as a cleaner at the school.

“During the period from the early ‘60s to the late ‘80s, Pat had 14 children (seven girls and seven boys) and Dawn had six.

“Asked how they coped, Dawn said they both had a rigid discipline where every child had a job.”

During this period, Pat’s husband, Vince, was president for several years and Dawn’s husband, Frank, helped out.

“The two families were obviously totally focussed on tennis,” Jack said. “Coaching lessons were organised for the children, which paid off as three of them became district champion during the ‘80s – Patrick and Francis won the men’s title and Suzanne the women’s.”

Apart from finding time to play competition tennis Dawn also represented Queensland in the Vigoro vets and played goalie in a soccer team for 13 years.

“Pat’s tremendous output raising funds was incredible,” Jack shared.  “In her majestic copperplate handwriting (no typewriter), she wrote hundreds of letters organising members, farming out jobs and seeking funds.

“A classic example was the demise of a local cricket club. Almost the day after the cricket club closed down, Pat was asking the ex-president of the cricket club if there were any funds freed up.

“Someone said it was dangerous to bump into Pat in the street. You finished up with a job.”

Along with other personal accounts, Jack’s book traces the history as tennis soared to become the social hub of the district in the early half of the century − only to plummet towards the end as technology (particularly the internet and mobile phones) became a distraction, especially for the young.

“Jean Elder summed up the era in her book Bald Knob: ‘At a time before cars became reliable and affordable, families relied on home entertainment and local dances’.”

But the most cogent comment came from Jan Humphries commenting on the demise of the Peachester club in the ‘90s, “The kids grew up and we got old.”

Jack Wilcox shares Maleny memories in his new book

Jack Wilcox shares Maleny memories in his new book

For Jack the most rewarding aspect of the book was going down memory lane with some of the ‘golden oldies’ of the Maleny district.

“When they died the lights went out and tennis as the social hub of the community died with them.”

Maleny Memories: thru the lens of tennis rescued from obscurity a facet of district history which the late Jean Elder says in her foreword to the book, written only days before she died: ‘has done the community a great service for which our grateful thanks are due’.

Jack’s book launch will be at 10.15am on Sunday, June 17 in the Pat Daley room under the Maleny Catholic Church. Morning tea and harp music by former champion.