The four tennis courts were behind two old Summer Hill houses. Our two were called Maroona. They’re now a parking lot, wouldn’t you know it?
You were so right Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
It was paradise to us kids. Mr William Knight ran the club called ‘Maroona’ and coached us all. Behind his back we called him Willie but always Mr Knight to his face. His wife was Connie and I just remember a distracted old lady in a long coat and a great old bloke teaching us to play.
Willie would stand at the net with a bucket of balls and fire them at us. His trousers were held up with string and he wore ancient tennis shoes.
“Don’t just pat the bloody ball,” he’d yell at me. “Hit it!”
Then would come a burst of operatic singing followed by a demand to know the square root of some impossibly large number. I wasn’t keen on either!
We were allowed to play any time the courts weren’t in use as long as we left it swept. So after school we’d race to the courts, practise for a while then play. Afterwards we swept it with a huge broom and did the metal lines with a little one. The lines were nailed down somehow, then we’d put the net away. The courts were clay, in pretty bad condition with patches of rubble, which was okay for us. Put a nice forehand there and the opposition had no chance as the ball would skid out of reach.
He put us into district competitions and organised our teams for Saturday afternoon comps, which involved being driven to different clubs to play. Mr Knight drove an old black Buick and stuffed us all in there somehow. That made seven people in the car. He only ever drove forwards so parking was interesting.
Any kid near a window had to yell out if another car approached since he didn’t ever turn his head.
“Car on the right, look out!”
How on earth did we get places unscathed? I’ll never know. In front of the courts was a rickety little shed with a table and seats so we could have afternoon tea like grown ups and watch the game. We always had a team in the Saturday afternoon comps, which made us feel very adult. The first singles competition Willie put me in was at the courts in Burwood. I asked him about the girl I was to play.
“Never heard of her,” he bluffed.
The day arrived and I was a nervous wreck, so much so that I wasn’t really there, more like in a dream. Lost 6-0,6-0! A few years later I ended up at high school and in the school tennis team with that same girl. We had school blazers with crossed racquets on the pocket. Classy.
Now behind the Maroona shed was a laundry where we filled the jug to make the giant pot of tea. Always tea, never coffee. Coffee? Never heard of it. I can remember a shocking moment when I poured the tea and a single cockroach leg emerged. I fished it out with a teaspoon and no one noticed. Where was the rest? I wasn’t brave enough to look.
We also used those laundry tubs to see who could hold their head under water the longest. You’d fill up the tub, someone would put their head in and you’d start counting. Behind the courts was an abandoned milk yard with fridges and grass and rubbish where we played cowboys and Indians and locked each other in fridges. The locks were rusty so no real danger. We came home from tennis looking the worse for wear.
Do you know that song ‘Grenada’? Well Mr and Mrs Knight’s daughter Dorothy Dodds wrote the lyrics. She was a composer and lyricist born 1926, so I suppose she was into her musical career when we were hitting balls around. I had no idea at the time that she existed and how prolific she was.
I didn’t resume playing tennis for many years and now it would quite possibly kill me off! I still love to watch it.
People who could answer my questions about Willie and his daughter are long gone along with lots of suburban tennis courts. What a shame, but for many years now I’ve enjoyed the opera and I wonder how much is due to those tennis days listening to it and ‘patting’ those balls.