In the years 1925/26 the Bendigo Council developed the existing site of the Barnard St. Grass courts by draining what was then known as the Lower Reserve dam. The dam was partly filled with mullock from the various mining sites in Bendigo – the material being carted to Barnard St. by horse and dray. The newly formed lawn courts were opened for play in 1928, hosting for the first time, the Easter Tournament. Whilst the war years [1939-45] caused the courts to be closed, the Easter event resumed and continued until well into the 1960’s. In the late 1940’s a Men’s Pennant competition commenced. Records show that teams, named after team captains, such as Burgess, Gibson, Hill and Raggatt played in a keenly contested summer pennant.
This grass court competition is the first identifiable organised “forebear” of the Bendigo Tennis Association. A Bendigo Hardcourt Association had also existed for many years and “Bendigo Advertiser” articles of the day reveal that there had been for some time, unresolved differences between the 2 competitions & the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria. On 30 July, 1946 at the Annual Meeting of the Bendigo Lawn Tennis Association it was resolved that the Association be wound up and that a new larger body be formed to cater for all tennis players in the Bendigo area. After a much publicized period of wrangling, the “grasscourters” and the Bendigo Hardcourt Tennis Association convened a meeting at the Shamrock Hotel [27th. Aug. 1946] and formed the Bendigo Lawn Tennis & Hardcourt Association – later changing its name to the Bendigo Tennis Association. Original clubs included – Bendigo, Eaglehawk, Golden Square, Ironbark, Kennington, North Bendigo & Railways.
From then on, a summer grass court season followed by a winter hardcourt season has been conducted. The women’s grass court pennant competition commenced in the summer of 1946/47. In the early fifties there was no organized sports competition for juniors & it was a most welcome move when the BTA Secretary introduced a Junior Pennant competition. This was the first organised junior sports competition in the Bendigo area. Commencing in the mid 50’s & continuing for more than 25 years, the Bendigo Country Week Tennis carnival was a popular local event – drawing teams from all over Victoria and providing country players with a chance to meet their counterparts in grass court competition.
Financial assistance by the BTA enabled the City Council to extend the grass courts along the Park Rd. boundary so that 2 extra courts could be added to the existing 14. With a rapid growth in player numbers, BTA funds were also used to extend the original timber clubhouse. This clubhouse was later relocated to the Weeroona Oval area – where it now serves as a facility for hosting the Fire Brigade demonstrations. In 1972 the Kel Pell Pavilion was opened – again financed by the BTA.
In the mid 1970’s, after enduring the financial burden of the grass courts for many years, the Council finally decided to hand over the management of the courts to the BTA. During this period the BTA experienced phenomenal growth & with so many pennant players participating, many matches had to played on the courts of affiliated clubs as well as some sections having to play on a Sunday afternoon. During 1979-81 this pressure, caused the BTA & City Council to seriously investigate the development of a bigger centre. At the time, the surrounding municipalities of Strathfieldsaye, Huntly and the Borough of Eaglehawk – were all involved, in varying degrees, in site assessments for the building of a tennis complex. After a temporary [& most unsatisfactory] 2 year occupancy of a redeveloped asphalt area at Garden Gully [the present home of the Bendigo Hockey Assoc’n.], the BTA & the Bendigo City Council opted for building the Nolan St. complex – again, with the BTA contributing a significant part of the funds required. The 30 Synpave courts remain the largest single tennis complex ever built in the southern hemisphere – [Melbourne Park boasts 28 courts.]
Like the original home of the BTA, the Nolan St. site during its construction [1981-83] also required a substantial amount of mine mullock to stabilize the base upon which the new synthetic courts were built.
In recent history the Nolan St Complex, currently known as the Bendigo Bank Tennis Complex, underwent further renovations to upgrade the badly deteriorating surface, to again make it one of the most modern tennis complex’s in the world. In December of 2008 the BTA successfully sought and attained funding to have the the 30 courts updated in a combination of Plexicushion Prestige (13 courts) and Plexipave (17 courts) in “true blue” Melbourne Park colour combination. The upgrade was funded in a joint effort by Tennis Australia, City of Greater Bendigo and the Bendigo Tennis Association to the tune of $580,000. The redevelopments makes the courts identical to those at Melbourne Park for the Australian Open, giving the BTA a competitive advantage over most other like clubs.
As a result of the upgraded courts, the Association has been able to recapture a number of major tournaments to be played at the complex. The BTA hosted the final leg of the Australian Pro Tour in December 2009, the William Loud Bendigo International, which featured a strong mix of Australian and International players including, Alicia Molik, Olivia Rogowska, Matt Ebden and Brydan Klein. The club was also fortunate to be apart of the 2010 Australian Open, hosting the AO Junior Qualifier event in January 2010.
[History compiled by K.Pell / A.Watson / L.Retallick].