The Story of a Historic Racket22 January, 2018
In the entrance hall of the Western Australian Badminton Centre at Wembley, a suburb of Perth, there hangs on the wall, as a distinct decoration to the five-court building a historic old Badminton racket. It was the first ever to be wielded on the Australian continent.
Early in 1900 a Mr. F.G. Moore, the general manager of the firm of W.D. Moore & Co., returned to Fremantle from a visit to England. He brought with him a complete Badminton set which consisted of two weighted posts, a net, a supply of shuttles and eight rackets, of which that now on display at Perth is one.
Even in England Badminton was then still in its infancy, but no doubt Mr. Moore felt that in such a great sporting country as was Australia the game would create some appeal. That year, with the equipment provided, the original Fremantle Badminton Club was inaugurated with the use of two courts at the Fremantle Drill Hall. Fourteen players, all men, formed the original membership and they played regularly every Saturday afternoon throughout the whole year.
The activities of the club continued until late in 1914 when most of the members left to join the armed forces. That good use was made of the eight rackets is made clear by the recorded fact that a Dr. Birmingham was responsible for keeping them in good repair. He used surgical gut for restringing.
It can be seen in the photograph that the head of the racket is quite oblong and that the gut is very much thicker than is used nowadays. lt will also be noticed that the shaft of the racket is the same size from one end to the other, except for the binding of very thin leather for the grip. The circumference of the grip is less than three inches, in contrast to modern rackets where the grip measures about 3.75 inches in circumference.
When or where the racket was actually made is not recorded, but it may be presumed that it is rather older than the date of purchase. This is inferred from the composition of the complete "set" which included eight rackets but only one net, and that therefore the "set" was intended for four-a-side Badminton which was quite the vogue in the eighties of the last century when the size of a court depended only upon the space available. It is known that the four-a-side and five-a-side game disappeared about 1890. Thereafter manufacturers would not have put together costlier "sets" for the game than was necessary. These "sets" were not unique to Badminton; they were marketed in the late 19th century for other games such as Croquet and Lawn Tennis, both of which were then mostly played on private courts. With the foregoing assumption, it seems reasonable to consider ca. 1890 as the date of the racket's manufacture, if indeed not earlier, and it is remarkable that after all the years which have since elapsed it is still quite flat though rather warped towards one side.
When this racket was imported, little was known about the laws of Badminton in the remote settlements that then constituted Western Australia. Fremantle and Perth, the capital of the colony, then not yet arrived at statehood, are 12 miles apart, and they did not have railway connection with the Eastern cities of Australia until 1917. The nearest of their neighbouring cities is Adelaide, some 1,200 miles away, and considerably further distant by ship.
Fremantle's population, including that of the suburbs was under 20,000 in 1900, and Perth and its suburbs had 36,000, and not until a year or two later did Fremantle become Western Australia's regular port of call for passenger ships from Europe.
Into this distant little community of Fremantle came a set of Badminton. At the time, the game then known as Ping-Pong was enjoying much popularity in Britain, possibly also in the few towns of Western Australia so that it was perhaps not surprising that there was a little confusion between the two games. At any rate, until the Fremantle club's secretary was asked to find out more details, and this was not until 1908, the club members adopted their own rules for playing. The resultant agreement was that a match consisted of the best of five games of 21-up with one player serving throughout the whole of the 21 points, and each rally counting as a point to the winner! From 1908 onwards, correct laws were adopted.
One Member's 60-year Span
One of the members of the club was Rev. E.E. Bryant who joined in 1905, and in later years he recalled using in his early games the actual racket photographed, though a year or so later he obtained from England a more modern weapon for himself. In 1910 Mrs. Bryant was permitted to join the hitherto men-only club, and so she became the first lady in Australia to play. The Rev. Bryant went on playing for many years and also introduced the game to country centres of the West. He was always known as "Daddy" Bryant, and in 1950 had the satisfaction of being elected President of the Australian Badminton Association, the first Westralian to hold that office. He died in 1967 and so his life spanned the period from 21-up games in the Fremantle Drill Hall to Thomas Cup and Uber Cup ties against Malaya and Indonesia respectively being played in Perth, as they were before he passed on.
ln 1914, with the break-up of the old Fremantle club, the game became dormant for a while, but a boys' club was started in Claremont, half way between Fremantle and Perth, in 1916. Two years later ladies were admitted, perhaps a sign that the boys were getting older! Soon afterwards the club changed its name from Christ Church to Claremont. It throve vigorously.
Because of the war it was difficult, and perhaps impossible, to obtain equipment from England, and the Claremont boys obtained possession of three of the originally imported rackets. One of those 1916 boys was called Syd Rowe. He later became one of the state's best players and a leading administrator in Perth, and he recalled using the photographed racket when he first played. It was probably then already about 25 years old! Subsequently Mr. Rowe gave the racket to the Claremont B.C. which, when the club closed down in 1962, passed it on to the B.A. of Western Australia as a relic of the past.
It was on the Claremont Club's one court that the first Championships of Western Australia were held in 1922, a few other clubs having been formed in Perth in the meantime.
Though the game was started in the far West in 1900, it was not taken up in the other states of Australia for several years. It was introduced in Victoria in 1912, in Tasmania in 1923, in South Australia about 1930 and New South Wales even later. The game caught on in Queensland only after the last war. The Australian Badminton Association was founded in 1935 in which year the first Australian Championship tournament took place. Inter-state matches between Victoria and Tasmania had started in 1929, and in 1938 Australia played her first international when she beat New Zealand by 16 matches to 4 at Wellington in the first of the present regular series.
(Much of the foregoing information is taken from a book entitled "Badminton in Australia and New Zealand" which was edited by E.G. Richman and published in 1939. The photograph was taken by the writer in 1971)
-- By the Editor, Herbert Scheele - World Badminton, Jan-Feb 1973