The Sand Dune
In the early years of the last century, venturesome travellers proceeding from the little village of Melbourne to Gipps Land would often end their first day’s journey at the big sand dune.
This was a pleasant spot at the junction of the road to Dandenong and the Wattle tree track to Gardiner’s Creek. There were clean sand hills here and a sparkling little stream of fresh water, where Orrong Crescent now curves its way. There were plenty of fish in the stream, good grazing for the oxen and horses, and an abundance of game with the countless black duck and kangaroos.
The sheltered area of the big sand dune provided a pleasant spot for the first night’s camp. The travellers could obtain rest and refreshment here, and it was always a relief to get away from St Kilda Road and its bushranger infested swamps and scrub.
The road to Dandenong broadened at its junction with Wattle tree Road, and was lined by immense gum trees, the homes of thousands of colourful parrots and cockatoos. Amid the sand dunes were numerous springs of crystal-clear water and this was the main factor inducing settlement and the introduction of farming and grazing in the area.
The Port Phillip District of New South Wales, as Victoria was then known, progressed very slowly and the district around the big sand dune remained thinly settled for many years.
Gold had been discovered at Bathurst in New South Wales, and, it seemed that Port Phillip District would lose what little population it had with the rush to the goldfields. But in 1861, gold was discovered in Ballarat, Warrandyte and Bendigo, and the population of Victoria (as it was named soon afterwards) increased by 400,000 in five years.
The Formative Years
With the growth in building, there was a big demand for sharp, clean sand, and the big sand hills near Dandenong Road were soon denuded. However, it was found that the sand was in considerable depth, and before long the sand hills had become sandpits and were eventually abandoned. The former resting place for travellers and its idyllic setting degenerated into an ugly rubbish tip.
The Melbourne Daily Telegraph published boastful articles about the growth of Caulfield, Malvern and Elsternwick in the 1880s and the early 90s, and even in the disastrous years following the bursting of the land boom in 1893, the district continued to grow and become more solidly established.
The Vision Splendid
In the early 1900s the unsightly rubbish tip was purchased by R.H. Mundell – a man of vision and a great capacity for work. He filled the sandpits in, levelled the site and created a bowling green and tennis courts. The newspapers of the time printed paeans of praise applauding the venture as ‘one of the finest and best equipped sport grounds around Melbourne’.
A Bowling and Tennis Club was formed on the first day of November 1913. It was decided to name the new club The Alma Bowling and Tennis Club because of its location close to Alma Road. Shortly after its foundation the Club added to its development a Croquet section.
Less than a year later the Great War erupted and like all sporting clubs The Alma Club had to severely curtail its activities. One interesting fact emerging from those dark and dreary years was the gesture of the Club in staging the newfangled outdoor moving pictures in aid of patriotic funds.
The projector was situated in a shed on the northern side overlooking the green, and until 1974 the small rectangular aperture through which the projectionist showed his flickers was a noticeable feature of the northern wall. The screen for the movies was erected in front of the old green grandstand.
Following the Armistice of 1918, the Club resumed its activities and began to prosper with good team representation in bowls and tennis. About 1924 Mr. Mundell sold the Club to a Mr. Murdock. Membership was increasing all the time and in the ensuing years many members began to dislike the idea of the Alma Club being privately owned.
So, in September 1927, the members bought the Club from Mr. Murdock. It was a courageous and momentous move and those early members are deserving of commendation for their far sightedness.
Naturally enough, human nature being what it is, the new venture did not experience all smooth sailing. There were differences of opinion, resignations and withdrawals, but despite these difficulties the Club kept on growing.
In January 1938, the Club amended its Articles of Association to allow the admittance of fifty Squash Racket Members. Members of this new section would have to pay one guinea entrance fee and an annual subscription of one guinea.
Only one month later, the General Committee agreed to purchase a cash register for an amount not exceeding sixty-five pounds. Things were really looking up; in the same year it was decided to open the bar from 10 am Monday to Friday.
Then once again, Australia was at war and the Club became to diminish its activities and growth. An interesting motion carried in 1944 was that the Honour Boards be photographed and printed, and together with copies of each Annual Report and Balance Sheet be lodged for safe keeping with the Club’s solicitor or bankers.
The Club began to really grow after the Second World War, so much so that membership of the various sections was strictly limited and many applications for membership were rejected on various grounds. The Alma Club began to be regarded as somewhat exclusive and membership was something to be sought and treasured.
In the forties and early fifties, there was much talk of expansion. It was even proposed that the Club purchase all the houses between the southern boundary and Alma Road, but unfortunately nothing eventuated. Another proposal was that the Club purchase a house or houses on the western boundary and build a clubhouse there but, again, nothing was done.
After much debate and long and involved discussions, varying amounts were spent on repairing and maintaining the old clubhouse, which was really showing its age. More money was expended on the ladies’ lounge, on electrical fittings and plumbing, and on alterations and extensions to the bar. But there was some feeling that these were only palliatives postponing the day when something definite would have to be done about the clubhouse and environs.
Owing to the disastrous drought of 1964, this feeling became more evident with the advent of new blood in executive positions. Some bold spirits advocating drilling for water to try to save the Alma green, which was fast becoming a diminishing asset.
The history of the area indicated that the travellers and pioneers in Australia’s early years had a high regard for the purity of the water in this locality. The venturesome people won the day, test bores were sunk and an unfailing supply of the purest water in Australia was revealed. The crystal-clear water that had attracted travellers to the big sand dune was once again bestowing its benisons.
In 1971, all the doubts and difficulties about the clubhouse were resolved, for it was destroyed by fire.
The General Committee acted quickly and a splendid temporary clubhouse was erected in a matter of days. Good friends at Elsternwick Club and Caulfield Central R.S.L welcomed all Alma Members and Albert Park V.R.I. Bowls Club made its green available for their bowls pennant games. It was a wonderful example of warm-hearted mateship.
Then after some delays, a start was made on the erection of a new clubhouse and once again the history of the sand dune manifested itself. Shortly after excavations for the foundations commenced, workers discovered a spring of bounteous clear water.
At the time, Victoria was suffering yet another bad drought, and it was a paradoxical situation to have severe water restrictions imposed by the Board of Works while thousands of gallons were flowing to waste along the gutters of Wilks Street and Alma Road. After some delays work resumed on the excavations, only to uncover several more springs of good water. It was an embarrassment of riches, and big canvas hoses were run out to dispose of the water. People nearby were taking buckets to obtain water from such a plenteous supply, as the drought continued.
The new clubrooms were completed in 1972 and formally opened in October 1972.
Immediately afterwards, the club’s membership began to increase with a big influx of social members. The Bowls, Tennis and Squash Sections also expanded, and the character of the Club changed from a small intimate organisation to a booming vigorous entity. In September 1977, it was fifty years since the purchase of the Club from Mr. Murdock. The surroundings of today are a far cry from the big sand dune of last century and the noisome rubbish tip of the early 1900s.
Written by Gladys Vallati for the Caulfield Historical Newsletter October 1994