History of Squash in NZ

Adolescence and expansion: The sixties

One of the most infectious characters in NZ Squash has been Bryden Clarke, former New Zealand Rep, national champion runner up, team manager, management committee member, national selector and life member. His enthusiasm reflected the sixties period when squash started to extend its earlier growth phase. On a working holiday in Britain during 1988 he penned this contribution to the Jubilee Booklet.

"I have just witnessed my first British Open at the 3,000 seat Wembley Centre and what a far cry from the days of forms, tables, nail boxes and planks and about ninety people who could squeeze in, stand or "hang from the roof" to view the matches in 1959. My pride and nostalgia caused a moist eye as the kaleidoscope of people and events flashed by eventually focusing on the characters that made it possible for the end results to occur."

The Sixties in my mind was the period of adolescence, conceived pre-war in a man's world, a quiet pregnancy and birth attended by many professional men, with women occasionally included! The 1959 inexperienced child in the form of the NZ Mens Team of A.M. Johns, D.G. Green, G. Bird, N. Coe and B. Clarke was severely thrashed by Australia in Sydney, who in turn were whitewashed by Great Britain. We were tennis players playing squash and lacked technique. From this point the NZ Management willingly and hand in hand with the players and clubs began the expansion phase. The sixties saw 1,700 players grow to almost 17,000. Court construction leaped from 37 to 194 and clubs from 17 to 81. Phenomenal progress in 10 years.


The motivation to give the players international competition never wavered and generous application of funds saw annual visits by Australian Women's teams and then annual visits to Australia by our Women's team in the latter sixties. Oamaru's Ann McKenzie (Stephens) took three of her six National titles, Dot Linde (Deacon) (an ex pat Aussie), Pat Mills (Taylor) from Hamilton, Megan Burmeister (Waugh) and Val Milligan (Biss) Palmerston North and Pam Buckingham (Guy) Cambridge were champions. In 1965 a quiet young Australian, Heather Blundell (McKay) took the title as she embarked on her amazing dominance of World Women's Squash. The men's game was dominated by Palmerston North, with Charlie Waugh (five consecutive titles), Trevor Johnston (2) and Don Burmeister (2) having 9 of the 10 titles between them. What a ruckus ensued when an over-enthusiastic Management Committee gave Australian Dick Carter 50 pounds towards his expenses to get to Masterton which stopped Waugh's inevitable sixth title.

Club champions

Timaru so long a major force fought back to end Palmerston North's dominance of three wins in a row in the Cousins Shield.

The drift to the North of their players prompted Timaru to coin "we breed them, you use them". The inevitable strength of Auckland's men emerged in 1965 when Remuera kept out Oamaru, Timaru, Hamilton and Palmerston North for the first time. Remuera's women had matured somewhat earlier with their Mitchell Cup victory in 1959. Noel Cashmore deserves mention for his vigorous efforts to get Remuera established once the Motorway had sliced off half of their original complex.

Henderson, fuelled by copious quantities of Corban wines, surged off the mark with the first three court club and unrivalled hybrid enthusiasm from its Dalmatian community. To the fore was Dr Tom Childs so ably supported by his first wife Alison. This man of medicine, wine, food, guns, dogs, ducks and pheasants and great persuasion, as NZ President cajoled and inspired Squash New Zealand into progress through international competition. Neville Rykers deserves mention as a leading character including the 1979 establishment of Henderson's international facility and national reputation through his Presidency, cartoons and "odd stag party". These men and their teams could scarcely have foreseen the strong position Henderson and New Zealand were to take in World Squash in later years.

Stepped in

Murray Day stepped into the Squash New Zealand ring and his efficiency immediately challenged long-standing Secretary, Roy Haddon. Roy rose to this challenge and even greater efforts ensued. After initial jousting Murray's abilities were accepted and his contribution as President to NZ and then to the World as International Squash Rackets Federation (ISRF) President were immense. His club, Hamilton, so long a major force on the national scene, relocated with a modern luxurious building and three courts in 1960 as the headquarters of the Waikato, which included Bay of Plenty through to the seventies.

Palmerston North continued through the decade as the home of the Management Committee, conducting the day to day affairs in conjunction with the President and Vice Presidents, but it has to be said that the amazingly energetic Roy Haddon held and drove the Association with unflagging enthusiasm and foresight. It was a golden decade for Roy when Palmerston achieved so much for New Zealand.

The Palmerston North members of the Management over the decade were then Pete Long, Ted Christmas, Allen Johns, Innes Rowland, Jack Tyler, Trevor de Cleene and Bryden Clarke. Presidents and Vice Presidents were a spread of South and North, away from Palmerston North to keep the balance.

Commercial development

The rise of squash in New Zealand was all Club orientated until John Reid (in Wellington) and Colin and Lorna Brownlee in Rotorua introduced commercial courts. Squash New Zealand were apprehensive about this development and exactly what part they had to play. Their fears never materialised as the Reids and Brownlees were such enthusiastic sports people that they accommodated the non-profit amateur sport in a manner complementary to the sports cause despite their need to profit.

Resisted pressure

The South Island with Christchurch and Dunedin always active and resisting the pressure from the North had an admirable stalwart in Don Green. During his Presidency Don's knowledge as a sportsman and his strength of character won many battles at management level including the friendly tugs of war that the imbalance of population and factors of distance created between North and South.

Competition set the standard

New Zealand could not have reached today's standards without competition. Just in behind the champions of the decade were many memorable competitors from within New Zealand: young Graeme Bird, durables Norm Coe and Ivan Easton, Margaret Naylor and Ailsa Tietjens, Laurie Greene, John Stevens, Cecilie Fleming, Theresa Lawes, John Isaacs, John Walker, Larry O'Neill, Helen Hargreaves, Lorna Brownlee, Marnie Meldrum, Peter Dibley, Jocelyn Legg, and Heather Corporal, Julie Hislop and Aileen Buscke, the late Shane O'Dwyer, Jenny Webster. And from overseas came Australians Owen Parmenter, Dick Carter, Cam Nancarrow, Aftab Jawaid, Fran Marshall, Lyle Hubinger. Ken Hiscoe and the great champions Geoff Hunt and England's Jonah Barrington who graced our courts. Along with many others including London's (nowadays) squash and leisure entrepreneur Mike Corby, Australia's character Ted Hamilton, South Africa's and Indian's men's teams and SRA Secretary John Horry. A passing parade of riches, vital characters and the World's best.

Insatiable energy

Finally as the decade closed three youngsters with insatiable energy, bounced around the courts in Rotorua and Whitianga. Bruce Brownlee, serious and dedicated, went on to make the first major breakthrough by later taking the British Amateur title for his sports loving family and supporters. Little did they realise in 1969 the personal triumph and the tragedy of an injury-shortened career that was to follow.

From Whitianga, Mercury Bay, Ross Norman a very short, wiry blond imp with a flying father, overcame a twisted foot, a parachuting disaster and eventually Jahangir Khan to become World Champion. At Rotorua a tiny wisp of a child with legs like matchsticks scurried around, encouraged by older brothers, Mum, Dad and the Brownlees. Little did they realise that this seven or eight year old was to become World Champion to fulfil and embody the hopes and dreams of the squash players of NZ and to richly satisfy the ambitions of the Squash New Zealand.

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