Chapter 1: The Lions Rise

1947-1965

In the post WWII years, the Scots Presbyterian Church in Dandenong instituted a baseball team to play in the Dandenong Baseball Association. The Presbyterian Baseball Club held meetings in the church Sunday School hall, and a colour scheme for the uniforms of maroon, with royal blue piping and socks, and a maroon cap with blue peak was decided upon.

The Reverend, Mr Hadley, was appointed the first president, and John Crichton, who was to become a distinctive identity in not just the baseball community of Dandenong, was voted as treasurer. This might have been a difficult job – the Annual Report of 1947 notes that “during the year, our funds were spent before we obtained them, but the two picture nights we held straightened out our account.” Perhaps the motion put by the treasurer to fine players who didn’t turn up at practices or matches a shilling for a first offence (with the warning that they “would not be treated so lightly if there was a second offence”) helped to balance the books.

The team entered competition in 1947, and by that time congregation member Jack Beswicke had invited Ken Wearne down to play. Interestingly, Frankston Baseball Club’s history page mentions that Frankston beat Pressies 42 -1 in that year, at that time a record for the association. And this was not out of character for the new team. The “Pressies” or “the Scottish” were regularly trounced, as they came up against more experienced opponents, including the “Imps” (the Imperials) with Georgie Dicker, and the Springvale “Blues” with Bob Luxford. In one game against the Imps, the Scotsmen made sixteen errors. But the next year, they were clearly not the worst team in the league. In an article headlined “Presbyterians rout I.O.R”, the Dandenong Journal reported that “the Presbyterians opened the game sensationally with 18 runs. Every batter came up at least twice and V. Lovell crossed the plate four times [sic].” The Pressies ran out winners 52-2, and only gave up those runs because they were concentrating on keeping the margin at 50. The baseball writer decided that “safe hits would take too long to insert” but did note that B Crichton “who also received the vote for best player, had hit a home run. ln 1948, Ken was nominated for Secretary, and he and his brother Peter, one of the team pitchers, were the Material Stewards in charge of equipment. This might not have been too onerous a job; in 1950, a motion passed at the Annual Meeting instructed Treasurer John Crichton to buy one new ball.

An early game for the Pressies, with Ken Wearne catching.

But in 1949, a new Minister came to the Church, and the Reverend Jack Findlay was determined to improve the religious observance of the baseball players, worship being of greater importance than batting averages or ERAs. In the beginning, the movement away from church control was inconsequential. In 1950, it was decided that the playing name of the club be changed to the Lions.

But to avoid a complete break with the church, David Murden amended the motion to ensure that the name maintained a connection with the Church, so the full name of the club became the Presbyterian Lions Baseball Club, with Ken Wearne elected Captain (as well as Officer in Charge of Transport – as the only member with a car!), with John Crichton as vice-captain. The new club, though, was reported on as the “Dandenong Lions” in the local paper, which gave a glorious description of the club’s new uniform: “On April 21st, 1951 the ‘Lions’ will walk (or should I say stalk) onto the diamond for the first time.” The Journal’s baseball reporter thought that “spectators and other players” might “probably find it hard to realise that these startlingly dressed ball-players are the “Pressies” of 1950.” Gold had taken the place of the royal blue; “the new uniforms are in color, maroon, and in ‘cut’ the very latest fashion, or so Mr Hassett [of the Dandenong Sportsman Centre] told them when they purchased them from him.” There was an indulgently detailed description of these fine uniforms which had transformed the “Pressies” into the Lions: The maroon shirt has gold piping around the neck and arms and the name, ‘Lions’ blazoned across the chest; the trousers have a gold stripe down the leg, the socks marron with gold hoops and the maroon cap has a very life- like ‘Lion Rampant’ in gold on it. Altogether the “Lions” should quite dazzle the opposition for a while – at least until the uniforms become covered in mud and like substances which are generally easily picked up by sliding on one’s face or back along the ground!

And certainly this would not have taken long at the mucky Park Oval. The players listed in the Dandenong Journal for this first season with a new name and a new uniform were Ken Wearne (captain), John Crichton (vice-captain), Peter Wearne, S. Brown, David Murden, Norm Whitwell, Lindsay Fink, Ron Westwood, B. Evans and Alan Lightfoot. There was no coach, and the diamond at Park Oval, Dandenong was marked out each week with sawdust collected from the local sawmill. There were no clubrooms, and players adjourned to the nearby hotel after games, to down a few ales before six o’clock closing time. Old-time Lions might be surprised to learn that Ocker Little would drink nothing stronger than a lemon squash – made with water! The players were raw and untutored in the skills of baseball. They did not train much. They did not win. But each player had a magnificent tailored blazer in the team colours of maroon and gold, with a pocket elaborately embroidered with a rampant lion.

And they had a rousing club song:
A Lion for you, a Lion for me.
If you’re not a Lion,
You’re no good to me.
There’s Chelsea and braw’
And Cheltenham and all,
But the cocky wee Lion’s
The pride of them all.

Results in the Journal from that initial season suggest that the “Lions don’t seem to have got over the loss of J. Beswicke, captain of last year. Well, that is the game, Lions – they come and they go.” The Saints outclassed the Lions on several occasions throughout the season, with Saints’ seasoned player Es Crabtree a steadying influence. Ken Wearne “struggled hard throughout” a loss to the Saints by 14 runs, and “received best support from J. Crichton, R. Westwood and S. Brown” and when Wearne missed the next match against the Saints, the scoreline was even more lopsided, with the resplendently uniformed Lions going down by 21. In this game, David Murden hit the ball well, while pitcher Peter Wearne was “good with the bat, bad with the ball.” It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. Lions trailed by 7 runs against Army C, but staged a “fighting recovery”, with the “Lions’ battery, D Murden and J Crichton” doing their “part by remaining steady all day, Murden pitching extra well. Ron Westwood, first bagger, slammed a couple of double plays home to write finish to a couple of attempts at the plate, while A Lightfoot, the boy of the side, fairly sizzled a return from left field straight to the catcher’s glove to assist in the cut out at the plate.”

The trouncings continued in 1952, with Imps and the “As” blasting the Lions, “who still need an experienced player at their head to bring them up to top form – and loads of practice”! With acts of individual brilliance, such as when “Freddy Webb at shortstop did a magnificent piece of anticipation to pick up one of George Dicker’s drives and cut him off at first base” the Journal was willing to predict that when the younger players “gain experience, the Lions will trouble all teams.”

They didn’t trouble many teams in 1953, though, winning only two games for the season. When “the Imps tame[d] the Lions” in one of the first games of the season, the Journal exhorted the Lions to “learn to play as a team”, but collegiality must not have been too much of a problem; with Ron Westwood marrying (during the baseball season!) and Ken Wearne his best man, the whole team was happy to forfeit a game to Carrum in order to form a guard of honour for the bride and groom as they left the church. So that was one of the losses. And the Lions only went down to Moorabbin 9-8, “with the result in balance right up to the 9th”. Freddy Webb “clouted a home run for the Lions” in this game. And even when the Lions were soundly beaten, their sportsmanship was admired. Losing to Cheltenham 16-6, the Journal’s reporter noted that “Cheltenham were too good all day for their younger opponents”, but commended the losing team: “The Lions, however, gamely battled it out to the finish. They always gain the honours on that point. Beaten week after week, they come back for more.” May the Lions always gain the honours on that point! And the efforts of the 1953 Lions were rewarded, when they “broke the ice” against the Imps in July, winning 11-4, with Ross Little, Norm Whitwell and Freddy Webb the best players, and “all others doing their share”. Sadly, the Lions could not carry on their winning form, and in one of their final games for the season, baseball reporter “Homer” noted that “the Lions, though making many mistakes, always gave the impression of knowing what to do with the ball, but that’s as far as they got.”

But, in late 1953, when the Reverend Findlay decreed that no one could be selected to play unless they attended a set number of church services for the month, several of the players were indignant at this restriction, with ideas about religious liberty perhaps less important than the attraction of a good game of baseball each week. So Ron Westwood and Ken Wearne decided to break away from the PBC and form a new club. The Dandenong Lions, then, was the result of an act of good humoured rebellion against petty authoritarianism.

So, at a meeting at the home of Ron Westwood, it was moved by Ken Wearne and seconded by Ted Wilson that the Presbyterian Lions Baseball Club be disbanded immediately. This was carried, and “following this resolution it was decided to form a baseball club, namely The Dandenong Lions (Baseball Club) and that we enter a team in the Dandenong Baseball Assoc competition for 1954.” It was decided that this meeting on 28th November 1953 be deemed “the inaugural meeting of the club”. Office bearers elected at this inaugural meeting included Ernest Wearne (Ken’s father, always referred to respectfully in the minutes as Mr Wearne) as President, with Freddy Webb and G Stein as his Vice Presidents, Ron Westwood as Secretary, Freddy Webb as Treasurer and Ken Wearne Transport Officer. Ken Wearne was to be the first Captain of the Dandenong Lions with Ron Westwood and Freddy Webb as his Vice-captains. Ernest Wearne was elected as scorer, and, as in previous years the Selection Committee would be made up of Captain, Vice-captains and Scorer (a power some later scorers might like to have wielded!). Ross Little (who was to become Ken’s brother- in-law and future Life Member), Ken and Ted Wilson donated a ball each to the club, and at the end of the meeting “competitions of various kinds were enjoyed by all” and resulted in a profit of three pounds and two shillings for the new club.

With only one team, names in the scorebook from that inaugural year include Westwood and Wearne, Crichton, as well as the Fink brothers, Lindsay and Neville. But the Lions had also recruited well, with Es Crabtree and his brother transferring from the Saints, and some of their younger players developing well. The season opened disastrously for the new club, with Ocker Little breaking his wrist in the opening round loss to the Saints. While Barry Wigg “cracked a nice homer” for the Lions in the

second game, it was another loss to Oakleigh. But the new Lions of 1954 were a different outfit to the losers who had been “beaten week after week” in 1953. The team started to win, and “Homer” of the Journal cheerfully decided that “with the development of Wigg and other young players, the Lions are settling down and playing good baseball.” While Oakleigh was the clear ladder leader, the Lions were battling it out for second place and the double chance. The recruitment of Es Crabtree was decisive and his pitching prowess added to the Lions’ confidence. Late in the season, the Lions even defeated Oakleigh, “coming from behind to snatch the points in the last half of the ninth frame.”

It was a tight season, and in that battle for places in the four, the Lions were fiercely competitive, defeating the Imps “after a grand battle in a finals atmosphere.” The perpetual losers of the previous season, “Homer” declared that “on recent form, the Lions must be a contender for the flag”, and he enjoyed the Lions’ percentage building win over Frankston: “It’s a change to see the Lions ‘dishing it out’ to others after being on the receiving end for so long.” At the end of the home-and-away games, the Lions who had been last in 1953, were second on the ladder, and the new club was ready for its first finals’ appearance.

“Homer” thought that, although Oakleigh had “more experienced players…the Lions might have a slight edge in individual ability and they might gain the honours with nothing to spare” in the semi- final. But it was experience that won out, and “Homer” mused “that the Lions found the occasion too much for them.” Set to face the Imps in the preliminary final, it was predicted that “their lack of experience in finals may be their downfall.” But by the eighth innings, the Lions held a five run advantage, with the Crabtrees, McDonald and Webb hitting well, while the defence stood up strongly. In the ninth, though, the Imps lead-off walked, and then the Edwards’ brothers strong hitting induced some errors. They scored three, and there was none down. George Dicker was the first out. Ken Shannon “took a brilliant fly at left-field”, but the run scored. Lions were one run up with two down – a fiercely suspenseful situation for a team that had never played finals. Bases were loaded with a hit and walk. Barry Wigg took the mound for the Lions. Ironically, it was the Imp’s Keith Purton, soon to join the Lions, who cracked the match-winning hit over the head of first baseman Ken Wearne. Homer’s prediction had been sadly vindicated.

The Social Committee were busy in these early years, responsible for hiring a three piece orchestra at the cost of five pounds for a dance, in aid of Club funds. To entice members to part with their three shillings for entrance, it was declared that “The President Mr Wearne will act as Master of Ceremonies, and supper will be provided by the Ladies of the Club.” Social Committee Secretary Ross Little organised tennis nights, and picnics at Emerald Lake, for which those with cars would provide transport. This is recorded in the minute books as “a very pleasant outing. About 25 members, friends and relatives, also a group of girls from another party, bathed and played an impromptu cricket match in the evening. The pangs of hunger were staved off with an excellent barbecue.”

In the early years, the end of season party would be hosted at the home of Ken’s parents, Ernest and Daisy Wearne. If Ern decided you were old enough, there would be a glass of beer, and Daisy would prepare dainty home-made delicacies. The 1951 “wind-up” was reported in the Dandenong Journal as “an excellent night of games and music.” That year, John Crichton – “the man in the iron mask” – won the trophy for best and fairest, while Norm Whitwell won “most improved.” Ken Wearne was not only runner-up in the best and fairest, but was awarded trophies for highest fielding and highest batting average. Peter Wearne retired and “was presented with a mounted and inscribed baseball” and bat boy Billy Crichton, “who keeps the batters rolling” was the only non-player to receive an honour. During the evening, “music was provided by Messrs Norm Whitwell (piano), Les Naismith (guitar) and Ken Wearne (radiogram)”. And “the evening was brought to a happy conclusion with…the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. In 1953, “the famous Lions Trio…rendered several items in their usual – or should it be unusual! – style.” These items included Norm Whitwell’s “very amusing sketch with piano accompaniment entitled ‘The Morning After’”. Ken Wearne was again runner-up in the best and fairest, with the honour going to Ron Westwood, but again won the fielding award, with an average of .920, although first year player T Stein was commended for his average of .900. Dave Murden batted an exceptional .562 to secure the batting award. Trophies and prizes were donated by players’ parents – Mr and Mrs Webb, Mr and Mrs Westwood, Mr and Mrs Wearne, and Mr and Mrs Little, with Daisy Wearne putting up one of her fabled sponges as a prize, gratefully accepted by the musical Norm Whitwell. It was, said the Journal, “a fitting end to a good club year.”

Trips to Provincial Carnivals, then, as now, provided opportunities for some more boisterous entertainment. In the early 50s, there was a beer strike called before the Carnival in Geelong. Four of the Lions players managed to bag themselves a bottle each. Having booked a room in a hotel in Geelong, they rang ahead to ask the publican if he could get them a dozen bottles. Yes, he thought he could manage that – and he could, only it was a dozen bottles each! – which they ranked round the wall of their room. In another Carnival, Ken Wearne and his players decided that they were being particularly disfavoured by the umpire, and hatched a plan to throw him in the nearby creek at the end of the game. Duly, when time was called, Ken charged out on to the field, only to look behind him and discover that none of his co-conspirators had followed him, leaving him to shake hands with the umpire and congratulate him on a game well called.

The minute books from this period, meticulously kept and signed off by both Secretary and President, record the ways in which the structure of the club shifted and evolved. With only one team, the club still maintained a Social Committee, and in 1954, ladies were admitted as members “at an annual subscription of 5/- [shillings] each”. Mrs Daisy Wearne, Miss Shirley Little (soon to be Ken’s wife), Mrs Fink, Mrs Crabtree and Mrs Escott were confirmed as members, with Shirley appointed to the Social Committee along with her brother Ross. Meetings often included a lecture, sometimes by member Es Crabtree, on field placings and tactics. And each meeting concluded with a “delicious supper” served by those ladies who had now been admitted as members. In 1954, Ernest Wearne, the club’s first President, was elected as the club’s first Life Member; nominated “owing to the sterling service he has given”, the motion carried by acclamation, and he was joined in 1959 by Jack Vaughan, “an inspiring figure to us all” and in 1960 by Mr R J Wigg, made a life member for his “enthusiastic services which have been greatly appreciated.”

Obviously, service and inspiration were needed at times. At a meeting during 1956, the Secretary recorded that “it was of the General opinion that the team lacked interest and moral[e] was sadly lacking and in efforts to build up team spirit and discussion was held to try not to suffer Bad defeats and after this Discussion things looked much brighter for the future.” But recruits, like Len Cahill, Grove Judd and Keith Purton came to the club, and by 1957, the Captain reported “that we now have at least two chaps to play in each position”, which must, at least, have given that selection committee something to do.

Keith Purton fondly remembers crossing to the Lions from the Imps with his brother Lance. As a train- driver, Keith would be on Friday night shifts. Coming home from work, he would set off to mark the diamond, and while he might feel a little lethargic during warm-up, he was always “good as gold come game time.” After the game, the team would head back to the Crabtrees, where lack of sleep would overpower him. He would curl up for a kip, and wake up raring to go, only to find everyone else heading home. Both Lance and Keith would play in Carnival and state sides, and Keith remembers Carnival manager Bob Luxford’s wife Betty sitting on the side-lines with her needle and thread, and sewing up tears between innings. Keith described foundation member Ken Wearne as someone who “loved to win, played every game like a grand final,” perhaps a genetic trait that has been passed down through Lions’ generations. Keith himself, though, was a jovial fellow, and a ten run loss or a ten run win would be the same to him. He did love to try to con the umpires on close plays, though, with theatrical insistence that outs had been made, and he would watch “like a hawk” for any chance to steal a base.

Perhaps it was this combination of characters, a mix of the jovial and the competitive, the sociable and the committed, which made the club such a special clan. In 1954, as “Westy”, Ron Westwood, signed off on his last minutes as Secretary for the Club, he appended a note that reminds us all of the rewards that being a member of this community can offer. He wrote “the good times and grand sport that I have had with the team will always remain in my mind and the comradeship of my team-mates

I will always remember in my heart.” And he finished with a rousing prediction: “fight on in the Lions Tradition, and the Premier Pennant will soon be presented to my Club…”

It was to be twelve years before the Dandy Lions would win a flag. In 1965, the A Grade made it all the way to the Grand Final, but the team fell agonisingly short of its elusive first premiership, losing in the eleventh innings. The C Grade team lost also. But as Secretary Peter Longson reported, “we at least have the consoling thought of having been the second best team in the respective grades for 1965. And he cheerfully predicted that “we will soon achieve the ultimate aim of the Club; that is to be able to boast of having, not only the happiest Club in the Association, but also the best on the field with perhaps one or two Premiership Flags to show as proof of this fact.”

 

Some Lions of old – players of the 1960s include (back row) Gary Living Snr, Roger Clarke. Wayne Reddaway, Peter Longson, Ross “Ocker” Little, Keith Purton, Gary Living Jnr, (front row) Ken Wearne, Len Cahill, Rod Kingman, Col Carmody, Bob Chatto, Peter Went, Bill Murray

Note: There are some members of this photo who are unknown. If you know of someone who is missing and can put a face to the name, please contact us at springvalelions@gmail.com.

Public Comments

Hi Jenni
I have just finished reading your first chapter of the Club history – and thoroughly enjoyed it!
In the photo I think there are two names I can help with. I am pretty sure the kid between Roger Clarke and Wayne Reddaway is David Allen – who actually played a few games with the Springvale junior side when we represented the Lions – he was the only junior Lions player (the Wearne boys were still all too young).
I also think the guy between Keith Purton and Gary Living Jnr is Ian? Campbell (who worked at the Dandenong Ten Pin Bowl).
Looking forward to the next instalment
Regards
Jim Prokhovnik

Hi Jenni.
Finally got to read your entertaining article pertaining to the History of the Springvale Lions Baseball Club. Very well done. Many memories
Your referral to the Dandenong Journal’s Scribe and the reporter “Homer” was I believe the Lions own, John Crichton. The Lions certainly had the inside running for News coverage
The Photo includes some wonderful players and I think that a Kevin Kirkpatrick was a member of the early Lions team (possibly back row, second from left) Kevin was a coach of the Dingley Baseball Club during the late 60’s
A wonderful read Jenni, and I look forward to reading the continuing history of the Springvale Lions Baseball Club and reliving a few memories
Thanks and regards
Doug McLean

 

Hi , I’ve just read about the club history on your page and found it great to read about how my beloved lions came to be.

I’d like to know how things are going with the future chapters.

Myself and my brother (Chris) used to play in the early 1980’s , we both had a great time.

We both have fond memories of the great times at the club , from training on hot summer days then jumping Ernie jones’s fence and into his pool , the big plastic sheet slip n slide we used for practicing our sliding drills to the cold mornings before games where you hoped you didn’t get to warm up your throwing with Gelsi just in case you caught the ball in the palm of your glove , he threw hard and shit that hurt for 10 minutes afterwards. , and the many characters around the club. ( glad to see Pete Gelsi as a life member}.

The hot summers on the hill at burden park watching the firsts play , Robbie Saunders on the mound , his brother Pete at leftfield , Lobo on 1st , Ricky Steelo Steele catching , Greg Morley on 2nd , relief pitcher Alan Brooks in the bullpen (if you’d  call  on top of the hill  that ) and those 2 crazy old buggers Billy Reay & Ernie doing the shit stirring of opposing teams.

Billy Reay with his fungo bat , Ernie yelling at us to get behind the bloody ball , Spook (club coach) lurking around looking for future stars for the 1sts , Mick Magee coaching us u15s , pitcher/catcher training on a Wednesday night (we loved that).

It was a great time at the club , I’m looking forward to reading what memories come up on the page in the history of my beloved lions….once a lion always a lion.

cheers for now
Dave Walsh