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History of Geelong Archers

As the result of the being “taken in” early in 1960 whilst watching a television documentary on archery, Owen Bourke and Rex Sloan began to arouse interest in forming an archery club in Geelong. After advertisements were placed in the Geelong Advertiser, a formative meeting took place on 5 May 1960, with 11 or 12 people being present. Also attending the meeting were the President of the Archery Society of Victoria (ASV), and the current man and woman state champions. It is a known fact one of the GA founders (Owen Bourke) was very proud the club he helped to bring into being is still in existence today (as told to the author personally) after almost 60 years, and is still going strong; in fact it is believed to be the 6th oldest club in Victoria and one of the oldest in Australia.

The first “organised” competition took place on Sunday 15 May 1960 in an open paddock at Cox Road, Lovely Banks, with 17 archers (14 men & 3 women) taking part; all shooting a variety of bows & arrows. The targets were black & white circles drawn on straw board/stramit (since those archers making the targets didn’t know any better). Following this successful initiative, a second General Meeting was held on Thursday 19 May 1960 at which time the club officially came into being, to be known as Geelong Archers – and the name continues to this day. Practice continued until 25 June 1960 when the first official “competition” took place amongst the new members. Unfortunately, there are no records of many of the original GA members, and there are no records of the number of women, since no records exist of the married names.

A club badge/logo was officially adopted in late 1960 and consisted of the silhouette of an archer with the bow raised at approximately 45° angle set on a white shield. This unique archer silhouette was not original, the concept being taken from the cover of the magazine “The British Archer.” The silhouette and shield were the result of a design competition won by one of the early members Ian Melhuish, and with slight variations continued as the club logo until approximately 2006. Suffice to say the logo has changed approximately 7 times, although the original archer has basically remained the centre point of 95% of the designs. In April 1966, Owen Bourke published the History of Geelong Archers under the title “Bowmen of Geelong” and a copy is available in the club shed at Deakin University.

Competition continued at the Cox Road site until December 1960, when an offer by the Geelong Agricultural and Pastoral Society for a small area in the Geelong Showground was accepted, with the then dog pavilion serving as the “club house.” At this time Geelong Archers entered into friendly interclub competition with the Wendouree Archers, and later the competition included Ballarat East Archery Club for a special the trophy which became known as the “Agincourt Eagle” was introduced. Sadly, this strikingly carved wooden trophy was lost in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires. The search for a more permanent home continued, which finally led to the site of the old Newtown quarry situated on the corner of Shannon Avenue & Fyans Street. In September 1961 the first real club house was erected (a metal garage) and on 7 April 1962 the grounds were officially opened by the Mayor of Newtown and Chilwell. Geelong Archers remained at this site until re-locating to the Belmont Recreational Reserve on 27 June 1965.

Towards the end of 1965, a field course area in the Eumeralla Scout Camp at Anglesea was secured, and a 28 targets field course was established. Shooting then alternated between Belmont one weekend, and Anglesea the next. During the late 1960s the club initiated a special event called the “H W Gladman Memorial Field Shoot.”

The rules specified all competitors shoot barebow recurve, the course was unmarked and the targets were animal faces. In February 1970 Geelong Archers moved to Anglesea permanently, and soon after this a club house was constructed, followed by a store shed. These excellent facilities and initiatives by the committee saw the club host several Field Archery Tournaments under the name of “Eumeralla Field Archery Tournament” and state Championships over the years. Sadly, in February 1983 all facilities were destroyed in the “Ash Wednesday” bush fires. For two years the club had no permanent home, although shooting continued in a paddock adjacent to a former member’s home in Leopold; allowing Geelong Archers to survive through the concerted efforts of a small number of the remaining enthusiastic members.

In approximately March 1985, Geelong Archers new grounds were secured situated on the river flats of the Barwon River across from Queens Park Golf Course. This venue again provided facilities for both Target and Field Archery, and Geelong Archers again hosted Field Archery Tournaments which were eventually named “Warralong” an aboriginal name meaning “on the side of a hill.”

Early in 1990, Geelong Archers again moved to the present ground at Jarvis Oval, Deakin University (DU). A Target Archery Range was constructed, followed by a 24 targets Field Course in the bush on the side of the hill. Use of the sports pavilion was obtained, followed by the purchase of “time share” space in two steel garages from the Deakin University Cricket Club. It is significant during almost 60 years GA has moved 9 times:

  • Paddock – Cox Road, Lovely Banks (rental $4.00 per week) May to December 1960
  • Geelong Showgrounds (the target range was the arena) December 1960 to August 1961
  • Quarry – Newtown (target & field) August 1961 to June 1965
  • Belmont Recreation Reserve (target) June 1965 to February 1970 ???
  • Eumeralla Scout Camp, Anglesea (target, field & clout) ??? February 1970 to February 1983
  • A privately owned venue, Leopold (target) March 183 to February 1985
  • Ziller Crawcour Park, Newtown (target & field) March 1985 to approx February 1990
  • Deakin University, Waurn Ponds (target & Field) and: Approx February 1990 to present
  • Abe Wood Reserve, Lovely Banks (target & clout) Approximately October 2012 to present

It is interesting to note GA members nearly 50 years (1960 to approximately 2009) were always required to shoot recognised archery rounds each week (alternating target & field) and everyone scored – unlike the present!

The history of the GA club uniform is quite interesting, and even way back in the 1960s caused many headaches and arguments, and even today there is some consternation amongst a few members as to the logo design and colours of the polo shirt. The original uniform consisted of:

  • Black trousers or skirt
  • White polo or T shirt
  • Black jerkin/vest

This was subsequently amended to:

  • Olive green trousers or skirt
  • White polo or T shirt
  • Olive green jerkin/vest (this was then changed to tan or light brown [a sample is framed in the club shed])

In all cases the club logo/cloth badge was to be worn on the shirts and jerkins.

During the past 50+ years eleven members have been honoured with Life Membership in recognition of their exceptional service to the club and the sport of archery:

  • Owen Bourke (a founding member) 1966 † 15.09. 2017
  • John Womersley OAM (foundation member) 1988/89
  • Bill Vale 2003 (personally relinquished 2020)
  • Marion Hope 2005
  • Bill Hope 2005 † 24.12.2012
  • Leanne Hardwick 2010
  • Trevor Barraclough 2012
  • Robert Kelly 2015
  • Susanne Womersley 2016
  • Maria Niewinski 2018
  • Lovrenc Niewinski 2018

Also, GA has 2 Life Members who have been awarded the “treble”

  • Susanne Womersley GA, AV, AA
  • John Womersley OAM GA, AV, AA

During the early years several Geelong Archers members decided to undertake the sport and recreation of bowhunting, utilising hunting bows and arrows. The 1st organised hunting trip took place in June 1961 at the Lerdederg Gorge (near Bacchus Marsh) – attended by Owen Bourke, Don Locket, Ian James, Bill Gladman and John Womersley. A great time was experienced (especially around the camp fires in the evenings), but sadly no game fell to the bow hunters’ arrows.

During the early years from 1970 to 1986 GA had a small group of avid bowhunters who journeyed each June to properties north of Hay NSW for approximately 9-10 days hunting. The initial bowhunters paradise was called “Ulonga,” but then moved after 2-3 years to the adjacent property called “Waljeers.” The groups hunted wild pigs, goats, rabbits, foxes, wild ducks & pigeons and fished the Lachlan river. No kangaroos or emus were ever shot. The bowhunters did however pluck quite a lot of “kangaroo feathers” off the top rung (barbed wire) of the fences and wore them in their hats. Many of the bowhunters also wore small metal arrows in their hats to signify how many hunting trips attended.

GA also had quite a few early special members (mostly bowhunters), with some great “nick names”:

  • Ken Wilks – “Pedro”
  • Ian James – “Moose”
  • Russell Rice – “Wrongway”
  • Keith Chiller – “Chief Killer” or “the Chief”
  • Graham Hill – “Howard”
  • Ray McHugh – “McUg”
  • John Womersley – no way will this be known!!!

Over the first few decades GA has witnessed a turnover of many really good early members who helped to forge the club into what it is today:

  • Owen Bourke (founder of GA) †15.9.17
  • Leon Gleeson (1st President)
  • Norm Jackson (foundation member) †???
  • Don Lockett (early President) †???
  • Ian James †???
  • Ian Melhuish †???
  • Bill Gladman (early President) †4.2.64
  • John Womersley (early Treasurer)
  • Pat Carvill (GB – an absolutely brilliant archer)
  • Russell Rice (early President) †???
  • Dr Frank Murray (a dentist) †???
  • Ron Tharme (ex GB – a great clubman) †???
  • Michael Potter (ex Junior AV champion)
  • Joy Barnes (maiden name)
  • Lesley Davies (maiden name)
  • Peter Langhorne
  • Allister Deans

In the early years GA members were completely annoyed with the ASV/AV awards system, consequently they designed their own badges, in either cloth or metal:

  • GA Perfects – cloth shoulder patch
  • GA cloth field archer badge
  • Round metal Master Bowman badge

GA can be justly proud of the record of hosting a number of significant tournaments:

  • ASV Field Archery Championships – may times
  • GA “Eumeralla” Field Archery Tournaments – many times
  • AAA 1994 Junior National Championships – Deakin University
  • ASV 1987 Target Archery Championships – Belmont common
  • Australian Masters Games 2009 & 2011 – Deakin University & Abe Wood Reserve
  • AA 2011 National Championships – Deakin University & Abe Wood Reserve
  • GA “Warralong” Field Archery Tournaments – Deakin University 1986 to present

GA can also be very proud of the fact two members (Susanne & John Womersley OAM) officiated as FITA/WA International Judges (Technical Officials) and served with distinction at many international championships and Olympic Games. Whilst John has completely retired (having been honoured with the FITA Plaquette in 2008), Susanne continues to serve internationally, nationally and at state level.

The 20 years since moving to Deakin University have been quite interesting in that GA initially had no club house/rooms, only the small “cricket umpires” room on one end of the sports pavilion; however the club set up the room with areas for equipment, other storage facilities, a refrigerator and notice board. The area next to Jarvis oval was mowed, a mound was built parallel to Waurn Ponds creek and for many years utilised as the target range. The target butts consisted of old shrink wrap plastic inside a wooden frame.

Sometime in the mid-1990s GA introduced the “Come ‘N’ Try” courses for members of the public to “have a go with a bow”, resulting in the membership slowly increasing to approximately 35+. Unfortunately about this time GA suffered from some differences between a small number of members, resulting in the loss of a small number of people. GA survived and the “Come ‘N’ Try” courses were upgraded to incorporate AA and AV technology, plus newer members took over the planning and conduct of these courses; resulting in them not only becoming more popular but also a slow but increasing membership. Currently GAs membership is around 95+ and the courses remain popular. During this period membership fluctuated between the high 20s to the low 30s but didn’t increase beyond these low figures. It wasn’t until approximately 4 – 5 years ago a significant increase took place. In September 2012 GA merged with Corio Bay Archery Club, resulting in the influx of a few new members; but most importantly another target and clout ground situated at Abe Wood Reserve, Lovely Banks.

In February 2008 Deakin University recognised GA by building a metal club shed on a cost share basis, with a clear 15 years tenancy, and the possibility of an extension. Unfortunately, GA are not permitted to call the building a “club house” but shall refer to the structure as a “club shed,” despite the fact for all intents and purposes the inside lay out is essentially a club house.

Unfortunately, due to a situation involving a neighbour Deakin University Sports Division determined the direction of shooting on the target range needed to be completely reversed, and strict conditions were applied to the layout of the field course. Both of these conditions have been complied with, and currently GA have a good working relationship with DU.

Throughout the past few years, GA has found it necessary to purchase new foam target butts, also entry level recurve and compound bows; plus arrows and other necessary equipment to cater for the influx of members of the public attending the “Come ‘N’ Try” courses and trying the sport of archery prior to joining the club.

Currently, GA conducts monthly Club Championships Target Archery competitions, with the winners of the various categories recognised during the annual Christmas celebrations in early December. Apart from these principal events an increasing number of members have been attending major state and national tournaments, with some winning gold, silver and bronze medals.

Also, GA members past and present currently hold a small number of state and national records.

Finally, it is worth recognising the words of Mrs Inger K Frith OBE (past FITA President) who said following the completion of the very successful 1977 29th FITA World Target Archery Championships in Canberra:

“This most noble and ancient sport”

The future of Geelong Archers Inc continues!

Recognition is accorded to other authors and past GA members. The text of this document has been taken from previous histories and expanded to include additional relative information.

Edited and written by:

John Womersley OAM

GA Life Member

GA Ambassador

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