In the Sheds: Castlemaine celebrate 150th anniversary in style

By Paul Daffey

A FEW years ago, with questions still to be solved about the formation of the Castlemaine footy club, Magpies committeeman Maurie Crooke proposed that the club should take measures to establish just when it was created. Crooke organised for the Magpies to make a donation to the Castlemaine Historical Society, whose Aileen Hockley agreed to look into the club’s formation. Hockley’s research revealed footy dynamite. Articles in the Mount Alexander Mail showed that a meeting was held to establish the Castlemaine Football Club in Castlemaine’s Supreme Court Hotel on June 15, 1859. That’s one month after the formation of the Melbourne Football Club — and one month before Geelong was formed. The difficulty with the Castlemaine proposition is that, after a few initial articles, there’s no mention of the club in the Mount Alexander Mail or any newspaper for a decade. Crooke said the Magpies accept that their club might have gone into abeyance soon after its formation. “We claim the second oldest birth date,” he said. “We cannot claim to be the second oldest club with a continuous existence.” Until the Castlemaine discovery, Geelong had always claimed to be the second old Australian football club. Now the Cats claim they’re the second oldest Australian football club with a continuous history.

CASTLEMAINE’S discovery prompted big plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its foundation date. An essential part of the celebrations would be a book. A committee consisting of historian Darren Lewis, editor Stephanie Holt and footy club stalwart Jack Jefferies agreed to meet weekly. But with Lewis living in Bendigo and Holt often working in Melbourne, suitable meeting times were scarce. An agreement was reached to convene in the waiting room of the historic Castlemaine railway station on Thursday mornings. Lewis would get off the train from Bendigo at 10am and Holt would board the train for Melbourne at 11am. In the hour in between, everything was discussed from selection of bookbinders to player statistics, while supporters would often drop in with photos and items of interest. “It was like a giant clearing house,” said Holt. While passengers became accustomed to climbing over footy-club paraphernalia, those on the committee became entranced by the stories of 81-year-old Jefferies, who first played for Castlemaine in 1944, aged 16. James Benedict, the operator of the waiting-room coffee cart, became so enamoured with the meetings that he became an unofficial member of the committee. The meetings were so enjoyable that Holt missed her train to Melbourne almost every week. Now that the book is finished, the committee is considering resuming their meetings once a month. “For old time’s sake,” Holt said.

CASTLEMAINE’S 150th celebrations extravaganza began in the best way possible — with an upset win on the footy field. Before the match against Gisborne at Castlemaine’s Camp Reserve on Saturday, the Magpies had won one match and Gisborne had lost one. But the Magpies kicked the last two goals to win by eight points, with the appearance of some great names among the goalkickers adding to the occasion. Brodie Culpitt, a descendant of the late Wally Culpitt, who coached Castlemaine to the 1952 Bendigo footy league premiership, kicked four goals while Steven Oliver, the champion key forward who last month came out of retirement aged 38,  kicked two. Club president Ron Cawthan, a former half-back who played a club record 350 senior games, said the victory made up for a disappointing season. “It was great to hear the fence signs being belted again,” he said.

THE Castlemaine festivities continued on Monday night with a football-club committee meeting at Herons Gallery (formerly the Supreme Court Hotel) in the exact room in which the club was formed 150 years previously — to the day. After the meeting, the 70 who filed upstairs for the launch of the club’s history book, called A Day at the Camp, included all seven living former club presidents and two members of the 1952 premiership team, Jack Jefferies and Robert Armstrong from Perth. This Friday the footy club will unfurl a painting of 25 club legends by Melbourne artist Cathy Van Ee. And on Saturday, after hosting Strathfieldsaye—a club that is six months old—the festivities will wind up with a gala ball for 400 at the Castlemaine Town Hall.

THE Ballarat Football Club is planning big festivities for its 150th year, with the difference being that it has a continuous history. Ballarat has played ever since forming on May 20, 1860, just a year after Melbourne and Geelong, making it the third oldest club with a continuous history. For anyone wanting evidence of the Swans’ past, a book with details of every game since that first date is made available to all members of the public at every home game. The AFL is considering a request from Ballarat to play its oldest rival, Redan, as a curtain-raiser before the anticipated match between Geelong and Melbourne in the 2010 heritage round.

IN A complete break with history, Ballarat has a coaching structure that resembles an American football club. Former AFL coach John Northey (Sydney, Melbourne, Richmond, Brisbane) last year coached Ballarat to the Ballarat Football League premiership with a goal after the siren against Darley. This year Northey has a director or coaching role while Shaun O’Loughlin, an assistant the past few years, has taken over as senior coach. O’Loughlin is in charge on match days, even if Northey does sit next to him. Ballarat president Shane Manley said: “The chemistry between them is very strong.” The chemistry must have clicked a fortnight ago when Ballarat defeated the previously unbeaten Darley in their grand final rematch. But last Saturday the Swans suffered a letdown when they lost in windy conditions at Melton. “We were just flat,” said Manley.

In the Sheds first appeared in The Age on Wednesday 17 June 2009.

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