By Andrew Tasiopoulos
The Perth Zoological Gardens, located in the suburb of South Perth, was formally opened on October 17th 1898[i]. In 1903 six grass courts were constructed within the Zoo and the Western Australian Lawn Tennis Association hired these courts for the winter pennant season of that year[ii]. The Western Australian Lawn Tennis Association (W.A.L.T.A.), seeing that after a long winter the state championships site would not be available, decided to utilize the Zoological Gardens courts for the 1903 Western Australian championships[iii]. The Western Australian tennis championships were played at the site between 1903 and 1910 and the site hosted the 1909 Australasian championships between October 16th and 25th of that year.
The South Australian Lawn Tennis Association was initially offered the 1909 Australasian championships just prior to the beginning of the 1909 South Australian championships. The 1909 Australasian championships though were scheduled for later in the year and not in conjunction with the S.A. championships. The S.A.L.T.A., not wanting to host a separate event, suggested that they could hold the 1909 Australasian championships in March of 1910 and align it with their state championships[iv]. The Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia decided to reject this proposal and in May of 1909 they offered the 1909 Australasian championships to the W.A.L.T.A.
In 1909 travelling to Perth from Melbourne took about one week by steamer but the W.A.L.T.A. were very hopeful that several leading Australian players would still make the trip for the championships. In 1906 Stanley Doust and Harry Parker had travelled to Perth and they fought out the Western Australian championships men’s singles final. During most of 1909 both Doust and Harry Parker were playing tennis in England and on the European continent but both made promises to return to Australia by October, just in time to play in the Australasian championships[v]. Neither Doust nor Parker made their way to Perth but neither did any other leading Australian player. Anthony Wilding came to the rescue.
After winning the decisive rubber against Alexander in the 1908 Davis Cup challenge round, Wilding returned to New Zealand. He won the New Zealand men’s singles championship that was played in Nelson and then Wilding motor-cycled down to Christchurch[vi]. Wilding remained in his home town for most of the year and he devoted his time to qualifying for the New Zealand Bar at his father’s law office[vii]. The New Zealand champion still found time to play competition tennis and he won three singles championships. Wilding, unlike the other major Australasian players, agreed to play the Australasian championships and on September 25th 1909 he sailed from Auckland[viii]. He reached Perth on October 11th 1909, a few days prior to the commencement of the championships[ix].
There were only twelve entrants for the men’s singles championship with Ernest Parker, the Western Australian singles champion of 1903, 1904, 1907 and 1908, the best of the local players. By 1909 the number of courts at the Zoological Gardens site had increased to twelve whilst a pavilion and a temporary stand had been erected from which spectators could see all the action. About 500 people were present on the first day to see Wilding play. Wilding easily defeated Robert Neil, a young Victorian player who would go on to win the N.S.W. singles championship in 1920, 6-0 6-0 6-1. In this match the New Zealander “always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and, with his timing, placing, volleying, and ground strokes, seemed invariably to put the ball just where it would do the most good”[x].
Wilding was too good for the local opposition and he only lost one game in both his quarter-final match against Richard Eagle and in his semi-final match against Ronald Kelsey, a Perth resident who was originally from South Australia. Ernest Parker was not extended in his preliminary matches and he only lost four games during his straight-set wins against Ian Gaze and Gerald Michael O’Dea, a South Australian who had travelled over to the Perth with his brother Justin O’Dea.
The final was played on a Monday public holiday. Ernest Parker’s fine play in the semi-final gave locals some hope that he might “win a set or two from Wilding” or at least test him[xi].
None expected that Wilding would get a runaway in the singles from Parker, the local champion, and they were not wrong, for we saw the visitor thoroughly extended, and realised that in some respects at all events he could be taught something by the local player. Although Wilding won three sets straight the game was characterized by a large number of excellent rallies, strokes, and games. While all the time realizing thoroughly that the better man was winning, there was always the hope that Parker would win a set, or even two, for time after time by a brilliant stroke he would pass his opponent. It was in the air that he shone, however, and where he was much superior to the visitor. Whereas Wilding but rarely killed a long or even a short lob, Parker gave them sudden death every time. But what a wonderful player Wilding is! There is his service, with the first just as good as the second, his striking-out at full pace every time and with the ball never more than a couple of inches above the net, the marvelous recoveries from almost impossible positions, the short drop shots from hard-driven balls, the cross-court half-volleys.
Everywhere but in the air he was really marvelous, and as he had trained himself into splendid health he was able to get about the court very fast and without becoming in the least bit distressed. On the other hand Parker was not trained to the moment. The awful strain of the encounter soon began to make itself felt, and after his big effort in the second set, when he secured five games, he looked absolutely done up, and was unable to make anything like so good a showing in the third set. The greatest excitement prevailed throughout the encounter. While giving the visitor every praise and applause, the attendance could not but think that their man had little to be ashamed of. The chief difference was that in the match Wilding only hit four or five balls into the net or out of bounds; it was no use trying to rely upon him making losing shots. In striking-out Parker often hit the ball into the net, Wilding never did; thus the difference. Many congratulations to Wilding upon again securing the Australasian singles championship. He has come a long way for the title, and none begrudge him the victory.[xii]
Wilding, whose main aim of playing the championships was most likely to get sufficient match practice prior to Davis Cup challenge round, defeated Ernest Parker, 6-1 7-5 6-2, and he thus won his second Australasian singles championship. Lindsay Crooks had the distinction of partnering Wilding in the doubles but the pair were defeated by Ernest Parker and John Vivian Keane, 1-6 6-1 6-1 9-7, in the championship final. Ernest Parker would have his day in the sun when the next Australasian championships were played in Perth.
Beatrice Ethel Lydia Barker, née Woods, (circa 1876-1953), had already won three Western Australian women’s doubles championships with Martha Anthony Walsh before she annexed the women’s singles title in 1909. Beatrice Woods, who was born in Melbourne, was the daughter of George Austin Woods, a naval officer and at one point the Premier of Fiji, and Lydia Mary Woods[xiii]. Lydia Woods, with Beatrice and other family members, moved from Melbourne to Perth in 1891 to join her son, the merchant George Roby Woods, who had been residing there for several years[xiv]. Beatrice Woods played in some of the first tournaments that were conducted in Perth and she won the women’s singles handicap at a tournament which was played in Perth in 1893. In September of 1896 Beatrice Woods married Edmund Shelley Barker and the couple, who lived in the western suburb of Peppermint Grove, had two children. Both sons, Eric Martyn and Keith Austin, would later represent their state in the game. After several years of trying Beatrice Barker reached her first Western Australian singles final in 1909 and on that occasion she defeated Margaret Low in three sets, 6-4 4-6 6-1.
The Zoological championships
[i] The West Australian, 18th October 1898, page 5
[ii] The West Australian, 4th June 1903, page 6
[iii] Daily News, 20th November 1903, page 3
[iv] Evening Journal, 28th April 1909, page 3
[v] The West Australian, 1st May 1909, page 14
[vi] The Star (Christchurch), 9th January 1909, page 5
[vii] Captain Anthony Wilding. Arthur Wallis Myers (1916). London: Hodder and Stoughton, page 100
[viii] The Manawatu Evening Standard (Palmerston North, New Zealand), 28th September 1909, page 5
[ix] The West Australian, 12th October 1909, page 7
[x] The West Australian, 18th October 1909, page 7
[xi] The West Australian, 25th October 1909, page 6
[xii] The West Australian, 27th October 1909, page 9
[xiii] Observer (Adelaide), 23rd September 1905, page 47
[xiv] Western Mail, 12th September 1891, page 11