Mordialloc Community and Youth Centre

Mordialloc Community and Youth Centre, Warren Road Mordialloc 1965. Courtesy Leader Collection.

Many individuals living in the Mordialloc municipality of the 1960s saw the need for a youth centre but there were those who disagreed. Efforts to get the Council to build a community centre in Heslop Street, Parkdale failed so many of the committee, formed to promote that scheme, redirected their energy to a proposal to build a centre on a council tip site in Warren Road, Mordialloc. [1] The proposal for the Warren road venture was first envisaged in 1960 at a special meeting called by the Mentone Police & Citizens Youth Club but it was not until April 30, 1965 that the new City of Mordialloc Community and Youth Centre was opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe.

Cr Cliff Sambell in 1961 reflected the views of the majority of his fellow councillors when he said the time was not ripe for the building of a community centre although he agreed with the principles of such a scheme. Most councillors saw the building of roads and improved drainage as having higher priority at that period. Councillors Shirley Burke and Roy Ward were exceptions in this regard. There was also a concern amongst some people as to whether such a community based organization could sustain its viability given that other similar organizations had gradually faded from lack of support.

A letter signed by 532 teenagers and written by Anne Froud of Parkdale pointed out that a lot of young people were roaming the streets and getting themselves talked about because they had nowhere to go. [2] Responding to the letter Cr Shirley Burke suggested a solution to the lack of money. She proposed that rather than providing a new building for the proposed library, council should incorporate a library in the Parkdale Hall as recommended by the Free Library Service Board as being ‘ideal’. [3] Then money saved by this action could be devoted to the development of the Warren Road site as a youth centre.

From a meeting called by the Mentone Police and Citizens Club on November 26, 1960 and attended by representatives from various local clubs, delegates were nominated to form a deputation to Council to press for support for a youth centre. As a result Council agreed to favourably consider the use of the tip site in Warren Road or other council land for youth centre purposes. [4] A second meeting of supporters for the building of a youth centre was held on March 16, 1961. Delegates from the Mentone Police and Citizens Club, the Mordialloc and District Community Youth Centre, Mentone – Parkdale Pony Club, Parkdale Life Saving Club, Mordialloc Apex Club and the Mordialloc Carnival Committee attended. It was at this meeting that Ern Suares reported that he and Peter Spence had met with Wal Galt, the city engineer, on the Warren Road site that morning. Galt had suggested that the Council land on the corner of Warren Road and Brisbane Terrace was most suitable for a youth centre with its frontage of 231 feet and a depth of 152 feet. The land in question was high and unfilled. At that time the site was occupied by the Council’s nursery but Galt indicated there was no great problem in shifting the buildings if the land was required.

Peter Spence, the president of the Mentone Police and Citizens Club and chairman of the meeting, reminded those delegates present that if their club was not right behind the project they should pull out. He warned that delegates to a planning committee would have to be given a free hand by their clubs so that progress was not hindered by constantly having to refer back questions for decision. The meeting then resolved that a planning committee be formed by drawing two members from each of the clubs affiliated to the project. In addition, it was agreed that each club be asked to advise their requirements in the planning of the centre and to indicate their agreement that their representative had power to act. [5]

The Mordialloc City News published a sketch of the proposed youth centre planned for Warren Road. Eric Rice, the architect of the Victorian Association of Youth Clubs, estimated that the complex consisting of main hall that would be used for dancing, films, boxing, judo, gymnastics, basketball and other indoor activities, a canteen, kitchen, covered swimming pool and meeting rooms for reading, arts and crafts and quiet activities, would cost £90,000. The finance for the venture was expected to come from government grants, current assets held by the participating clubs, donations from public bodies and private firms and from a door knock campaign conducted throughout the municipality. [6]

Ron Barnacle inspects the model of the proposed Youth Centre to be erected in Warren Road, Mordialloc, 1963. Courtesy Leader Collection.

A year later the Mordialloc City News reported that the Mordialloc Council proposed deleting £45,000 from its loan programme for 1962-63. This money was to be used to finance the construction of the first stage of the Youth Centre. For some councillors the centre scheme was too big and money would be better distributed amongst existing clubs. Cr Arthur Burke was said to be emphatic in his view that street construction should come first and sports centre second. Cr Cliff Sambell, according to the report, believed the sports centre was a ‘grandiose’ scheme, which even the Melbourne City Council would think twice about. While other councillors acknowledged the need for street construction they also believed the Council had an obligation towards the youth in the municipality. Cr Shirley Burke argued the Council had plenty of money as the city engineer could not handle all the street construction assigned to him over a twelve month period. Cr Mal Buxton was dubious about Cr Burke’s assessment. As a result of the Council discussion, the newspaper report said the matter was referred back to the finance committee to review the situation, a decision not supported by Crs Shirley Burke and Roy Ward. [7]

George Barnacle, the secretary of the planning committee, disputed the accuracy of the report published in the Mordialloc News. He said there were two errors. One was the reference to a ‘Sports Centre’. The centre to be built was a ‘Youth Centre’ not a ‘ Sports Centre’ and he hoped the newspaper would refer to the project as such in any future article. The second error Barnacle described as being far more serious and drew attention to a letter to his committee from the council to support his argument. In the letter the Council advised the planning committee that if a further investigation of Council’s finances established sufficient monies were available for private street construction it would re-incorporate the sum of £45,000 onto the loans programme of 62-63 and council would make every effort to raise the sum of £45,000 on a long term basis. Although in the spirit of what the newspaper reported there was a more positive ending, an ending the newspaper report lacked. In addition, the letter advised that Mr Rice, the architect, had been instructed by Council to proceed to prepare working drawings for the whole of the proposed Youth Centre, showing possible development in two or three stages and to prepare plans and specifications of a recommended stage one not to exceed £45,000. [8]

A deputation of the planning committee to Council explained that the construction of the centre would be undertaken in three stages. The first, estimated to cost £55,000, consisted of the gymnasium and club building. The second stage provided for an open air swimming pool, filtration plant and dressing sheds, costing £12,000. The third and final stage involved the covering of the pool and the installation of a heating plant for the pool and the gymnasium to cost £27,000. Mr Suares told the Council that the loan required from them to achieve these stages of development should not be considered as a grant but an investment in the youth of the community. [9]

Some councillors were taken back at the estimated costs of the project. At a meeting of Council Cr Arthur Burke argued they had not authorised the architect to commence work on the project and that the estimated costs of the first stage were too high. As a consequence he received support from the majority of councillors in reaching an agreement that the architect be instructed to cease work on the plans immediately. Councillors Shirley Burke, Roy Ward, John Beesley and Tom Shaw voted against the proposal. [10]

The decision of the Council brought a sharp response, published in the Mordialloc News, from the secretary the Mentone Police and Citizens Youth Club, George Barnacle. After two and a half years of planning, during which time Barnacle claimed the Council had repeatedly assured its support for the project, the Council had “shelved or kicked out the project." He reminded his readers that the council wanted the Mentone club’s property at the rear of the Coles’ store for parking and had indicated it would be acquired either by compulsory acquisition or by negotiation. As a result of negotiation the club agreed to accept the Council’s valuation of £1050, in contrast with the club’s own valuation £10,000, together with an assurance that the Council would assist financially with the establishment of the youth centre at Warren Road. Given this situation Barnacle urged people interested in the youth centre project to attend the next meeting of council. [11]

When the Council met the public gallery was packed to capacity with supporters of the youth centre project. They listened to a debate that lasted for two hours. Cr Mal Buxton said the planning committee was under a misapprehension regarding the Council’s attitude to youth centres. A letter circulating throughout the municipality conveyed an erroneous impression that council was hostile towards the centre project. This was not so, he claimed. As far as he knew there was no councillor opposed to it. The matter of financing the venture had simply been referred to the finance committee pending clarification of the council’s financial position. He did point out that the Loans Council had reduced Mordialloc’s allocation of loan monies by £54,000 and the original cost estimate of the centre of £30,000 had grown to £94,000. Councillor Shirley Burke repeated her earlier contention that the necessary money was available and pressed that a grant £45,000 be provided. Her proposal, however, failed to gain the support of a majority of councillors. [12]

Two weeks later the Council took over responsibility for the project, arguing that if they were expected to spend ratepayers money they should be responsible for instructing architects, calling tenders and applying for grants. The decision was also make to allocate £25,000 from the current year’s loan allocation with a further £20,000 the following year. The secretary of the Youth Centre’s planning committee, George Barnacle, welcomed this news. [13] At the same Council meeting a proposal to name the Warren Road tip site the Walter Galt Reserve in honour of the city’s former engineer was accepted. Galt, employed by the Council for twenty-five years, was instrumental in obtaining the eighteen acre site fifteen years previously at what was considered a bargain price of £650.

By the end of 1963 the proposal to build a youth centre had been modified a little but the notion of a three-stage development persisted. The first stage was the building of a hall, gymnasium and canteen which was to be fully funded by the Council. The estimated cost was £25,000. Stage two was the provision of reading rooms, library, television room, art and craft rooms and rooms for quiet activities. The cost of this stage was estimated at £19,315 and was to be funded by a Capital Building Grant, loans from the Youth Advisory Council and donations from the Mordialloc Carnival Committee and the Southern Opportunity Shop. Stage three was the construction of an unroofed swimming pool to cost £26,612. This would later be enclosed and heated at an additional cost. The youth centre committee planned to seek a £1 donation from every ratepayer within the city to raise £10,000 the amount of money it was required to contribute. [14]

In January 1964, fourteen months after the Council took responsibility for the project, the Mentone Police and Citizen’s Youth Club moved its clubrooms from the initial location at the rear of Coles’ Store to the new reserve in Warren Road. Joining with the Mordialloc and District Community Youth Club, the amalgamated organisation quickly implemented its program in the relocated hall. The Mentone club was strong in amateur boxing, unarmed combat, gymnastics and football, while Mordialloc brought its strengths in judo, basketball, football and tennis. [15] Here was a positive initiative but further tensions between Council and club were just around the corner.

Ninjas members 1972 – Michael McMahon, Dominic Murgo, Mike Young, Larry James, Greg Matthews, Ken Eldridge, Trevor Bilney, Peter Galley, Brian McMahon and Richard McMahon.
Courtesy Leader Collection.

By the end of February a proposal was put at Council to limit expenditure on the youth centre to the £25,000 previously approved and the plan to spend a further £20,000 be abandoned as some councillors believed the youth club committee had not met its agreed obligations to formalise its constitution and undertake a fund raising drive. This the committee denied pointing to progress made on both issues. Cr Mal Buxton advocated a ‘wait and see’ policy to establish whether the youth club could raise funds. The outcome of the debate in Council was the defeat of the move to limit the financial allocation to the project but some councillors were still cautious. [16]

The inaugural meeting of the new club elected Cr Roy Ward unopposed at its first president. Former councillor John Beesley and planning committee president Ernie Suares were elected as vice presidents. George Barnacle, with a history of strong involvement with the planning committee and the Mentone Police and Citizens Boys’ club, was elected unopposed as secretary. There were twenty one nominations for committee positions but only twelve positions so interest was high. [17] Cr Ward, in his speech to the meeting acknowledged the importance of the Council’s financial contribution in achieving the first stage of the planning committee’s vision, but pointed out that two additional sections had to be built and “each was equally important in training the youth in this very complex world." [18]

Cr Roy Ward at football presentation night with John Gray, Alan Robertson and Peter Williamson, 1965. Courtesy Leader Collection.

In June 1964 the Council accepted the tender of D S Begg Pty Ltd for the erection of the first stage of the youth centre at a cost of £23,617 while recognizing there would be additional costs for architects and surveyors. This welcome news saw the formation of a committee under the chairmanship of John Beesley to plan the activities program to be implemented in the new building on its anticipated opening in 1965. Instructors had to be appointed, leaders trained and equipment obtained. The aim was to provide a diverse program for 500 boys and girls. Other committees were formed to explore the financial needs of the club and to ensure the smooth amalgamation of the Mentone Police and Citizen’s Club and the Mordialloc Youth Club. [19]

Foundations laid for Mordialloc Youth Centre at Warren Road. Former Mentone Police and Citizens’ Youth Club in background. Courtesy Leader Collection.

There was considerable excitement amongst the youth centre committee, members and parents on April 30, 1965 when the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, came to officially open the centre on its site in Warren Road. The governor congratulated the centre’s committee, the council and parents, on their achievement, probably unaware of the difficult gestation period the club had experienced. Young Dale Greig presented the governor with a set of cuff links emblazed with the city’s crest while Kathy Sullivan presented a bouquet of flowers to Lady Delacombe

Sir Rohan Delacombe shakes the hand of Dale Greig, 1965. Courtesy Leader Collection.

The club was quickly functioning in its new building and the former Police Boys’ Club hall, offering a variety of programs. This was seen to be due to the meticulous planning of the centre’s committees. Roy Ward, in his presidential report for 1965, said the centre’s program had focussed on the strengths of the Mentone and Mordialloc clubs but in 1966 he envisaged the trend would be to more group activity. He stressed the committee wanted to meet the needs of those young people who “misspent their leisure time with reckless actions or showed a lack of interest in anything to do with a full community life." To help in achieving this goal the club committee proposed appointing a club leader who would be supported by at least twelve instructors. Ward also took the opportunity to warmly praise the contribution of the small women’s committee who raised more than £800 for equipment and the purchase of end of year prizes. He specifically mentioned Mesdames Leggo, Jackson, Rennison and Brook in his remarks and commented, “We are fortunate that their enthusiasms never wane." [20]

By 1966 the membership of the club had reached more than 500, rising from the 150 it had in May the previous year. This brought its own stresses and strains. “ It was just like a school," Roy Ward said, “It had more enrolments than Parkdale High School and compared with large primary schools in the City of Mordialloc." There were problems of class sizes, discipline, finding and training good leaders and fund raising just as in schools. [21]

Gymnasts at the Club – Julie Harvie, Sandra Tonkin, Janette Atkins, Vicki Cornish and Jill Richardson, 1966. Courtesy Leader Collection.

While the official opening of the youth centre at Warren Road by the Governor was a great achievement the committee had not lost sight of their original three-stage plan. President Roy Ward took opportunities to draw attention to the need for a swimming pool in the growing area of North Mordialloc and East Parkdale and the committee stressed the need to cater for those people not able to participate in physical activity but still needing opportunities to socialise. [22] In 1969 the committee approached the Mordialloc Council for assistance in financing a twenty five square extension between the two existing buildings to provide a passive recreation area; the second stage of their master plan. The contribution by the Council was expected to be about $20,000 while the members were left to find approximately $10,000. With this money, space was to be provided for library facilities, social functions and film screenings. As Secretary of the centre, Graeme Watkins said, “We have always wanted to provide for passive recreation but we haven’t had the room. When this work is finished the centre will have a cultural dimension." At this time it was also planned to give the old gymnasium originally brought from Mentone a ‘face-lift’. The wooden external walls were to be replaced with brick veneer and the internal walls lined to create a facility for passive recreation.

At first the Council was unable to raise its portion of the necessary finance and the centre was struggling to raise its share. In his annual report of 1971 the club treasurer, Eric McDonald, said, “the centre had had a quiet year". He expressed the view that when people had a lot of money or were in a reasonably safe position they became lazy. “When we were struggling we got a lot of help, now we don’t," he said. He welcomed the idea that the new building would make them go broke because then people would be willing to work. [23] Eventually money was found and the extensions to the complex were completed. The Mayor of Mordialloc, Cr Kevin Hayes, and the president of the club, the Hon H R Ward, performed the opening ceremony on July 2, 1972 in the presence of more than one hundred and fifty people. [24] Stage Two was complete.

Now the committee was able to expand the Centre’s program and cater for a growing and more diverse membership. By 1978 the Centre was reporting a membership of more than 2000, a very significant increase since the Warren Road facility commenced with a little more than 150 subscribers. Roy Ward attributed this success to the willingness of the committee to accept suggestions, as he said, “We didn’t knock back ideas. Anything that came forward had to be looked at positively." [25] On the other hand if a program was not meeting an identified need the committee were prepared to close it down.

In the early seventies a passive recreation area was opened but was closed down within a year. The reason given for the closure was lack of involvement by teenagers, the targeted group. But there was also the suggestion that the committee of management was uneasy with the notion of providing a place for young people to do little more than talk, play pool or listen to music. [26]

Nevertheless, the key to the centre’s approach to programming was flexibility. Flexibility was seen not only in the nature of the service or program but also the client group. The games program provided for the development of coordination and confidence for the five to fifteen age group without the pressure of competitive sport, but it led on to basketball, judo, boxing, netball gymnastics and other sports activities.

The diversity of the centre’s activities was observed in both the pre-school playgroup and the senior citizens meetings. With the pre-school children being catered for, an opportunity was created for mothers to socialise with one another at the centre, and thereby reinforce their sense of community while providing a break from being house bound. [27] The senior citizen meetings came about when the centre responded to a request from the group for use of the centre’s facilities.

Kids and Mums at ‘Playtime’, 1974. Courtesy Leader Collection.

In May 1978 the role of president of the centre was passed to Brian Howarth from Roy Ward, who had more than twenty years involvement with the centre, including thirteen years as its foundation president. Brian Howarth was a former treasurer and secretary. He was joined on the committee by Jim Cook and Ian Lyons as vice-presidents, Frank Tighe as secretary and Judy Howarth as assistant secretary with Ron Simon as treasurer. Christine Lyons was appointed as the publicity officer. [28]

Reflecting on the history of the centre Roy Ward, its first president, said, “In essence the youth centre progressed in spite of the Council." In his view the success was primarily due to the hard working committee, the volunteer instructors and a few dedicated individuals who gave time and money. In his final speech as president Ward warned members that the club could only live a short time on the reflected glory of its achievements and that it must face the challenges of an endless future. [29] At that time the building of a swimming pool, phase three in the development of facilities, had not been completed and the centre committee was increasingly being overburdened with management and financial issues. Finding solutions was not easy but it was something they addressed in future years.

Interior view of Youth Centre, 1976. Courtesy Kingston Collection.


  1. Whitehead, G. J., Community Centre at Parkdale, Kingston Historical Webpage, Article 313,
  2. Mordialloc City News, August 24, 1961.
  3. See Whitehead, G. J., Getting a Library for Mordialloc, Kingston Historical Webpage, Article 341.
  4. Mordialloc City News, March 23, 1961.
  5. Mordialloc City News, March 23, 1961.
  6. Mordialloc City News, October 12, 1961.
  7. Mordialloc City News October 18, 1962.
  8. Mordialloc City News, October 25, 1962.
  9. Mordialloc City News, November 1, 1962.
  10. Mordialloc City News, November 1, 1962.
  11. Mordialloc City News, November 8, 1962.
  12. Mordialloc City News, November 15, 1962.
  13. Mordialloc City News, November 29, 1962.
  14. Mordialloc City News, December 5, 1963.
  15. Nixon, W., Lyons, I., Lyons C., An Early History 1960 – 1979.
  16. Mordialloc City News, February 27, 1964.
  17. Office Bearers and Committee Members – President Cr R Ward, Vice Presidents, Messrs E Suiares and J Beesley; honorary secretary: Mr G Barnacle: assistant secretary Mr L Pateman; honorary treasurer: Mr R Coleman; public relations officer Mr J Danckert; committee: Messrs N Gunnell, B Rattigan, A Edwards, A Maslen, C Davis, B Kavanagh, M Merlin, K McGann, and Mesdames C Timmermans, D North, M Bolger and K McGann. The auditor was Mr Greg Goulding and trustees Messrs Wal Thomson and Ken Williams, and Cr Gerry Green.
  18. Mordialloc City News, March 19, 1964.
  19. Mordialloc City News, June 11, 1964.
  20. Mordialloc City News, January 13, 1966.
  21. Mordialloc City News, February 10, 1966.
  22. Mordialloc City News, May 13, 1965.
  23. Mordialloc Chelsea News, March 10, 1971.
  24. It was on this occasion that Graeme Watkins and John Earp were presented with Life Memberships of the Club.
  25. Whitehead, G. J., Interview with Roy Ward, March 2003.
  26. General History of the Club – manuscript.
  27. General History of the Club – manuscript.
  28. Mordialloc Chelsea News, May 10, 1978.
  29. Mordialloc Chelsea News, May 10, 1978.
27 June 2018
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