Yeah, the boys

Yeah, the boys

The Smithton Sports Centre was built on community spirit, generosity and the volunteer efforts of the Smithton Boys Club. 

In the early 1950s Smithton was a prosperous town boasting several timber mills, a cordial factory, a butter factory and a prominent agricultural industry. 

Sporting clubs across the region were alive and thriving, with the Circular Head football and cricket associations both hosting large and multiple divisions.

Aside from weekend sport, tailor Michael Blizzard noticed a lack of things for young men in the area to do outside of work. 

He established the Smithton Boys Club and before long had a strong following in the region, with young men from all over Circular Head meeting once a week to participate in various activities. 

The group would engage in a wide range of sports and activities, mostly boxing but also gymnastics and bushwalking. 

The club met in abandoned buildings about the town to coordinate and participate in events. 

Soon it had attracted over 200 boys from the area, and it became apparent that it would be impossible to sustain such a large group with no space to meet and fraternise in. 

As such, a survey was devised to gauge community interest. Michael approached the Apex Club who helped to distribute the survey throughout the region. The response was overwhelmingly positive, including from the Apex Club, who would go on to lend the boys club hundreds of hours of voluntary labour.

And so, the club formed a committee, including as many pillars of the community as possible, knowing their influence would come in handy. 

It didn’t take long for the community to come through with the goods. Farmer Sid Hingston offered to donate trees from his Faheys Lane property for timber.

Committee member Murray Poke was a contractor in Forest at the time and felt privileged to receive the donation, volunteering to fell the trees himself.

The logs were transported from Irishtown to the Circular Head Amalgamated Timber mill behind the high school free of charge by trucker Jack Saville. The foreman of the mill was none other than Jack Wainwright, a member of the committee and a real go-getter in the community. 

He rallied the mill workers to volunteer their services on the weekend, and they obliged. Under the watchful eye of Jack Wainwright, the mill treated the entirety of the timber for the project free of charge. Construction began in 1956, as members of the boys club sprung into action to get their gymnasium built. A resourceful bunch, the boys used the timber for the roof first as scaffolding for bricklaying.

With the foundation complete, it was on to the next hurdle: bricks. 

Apex Club life member Rex Smith worked for a man by the name of Worrall Vertigan who owned a brickstamping business. Worrall had gotten wind of the project and offered to lend his equipment to the club. 

The boys were delighted, and paid the favour forward by eventually hiring Worrall to lay the bricks. 

Having the tools to make the bricks was one thing but having the sand was another. The fellas had come across a serious roadblock and it was beginning to look like bulk funds needed to be raised, and raise them they did. 

Suddenly there were barbecues and raffles galore as the community banded together to pull the project across the line. 

The club put up gazebos and held Friday night entertainment at the site that now forms the public buildings. 

“Community support for the project was phenomenal. Everyone helped out in their own way, everyone supported the fundraisers,” says Rex.

Enter the Beacom family. The local family owned a quarry at Black River and inspired by the project, offered to cut, grind and cart enough sand to double brick the perimeter of the gymnasium. 

They delivered the sand to Vertigan’s Brickyard and thus the process of brickstamping commenced. The boys were ecstatic.

The enthusiasm of the lads was contagious and they hit the brickyard in droves to pump out the bricks. Hours were donated after work shifts, on lunch breaks and on weekends to get the job done. 

The money they had raised could then go to Worrall, who before long had trowel and mortar in hand.

Using the homemade wooden scaffolding the boys had knocked up with the timber from Irishtown, Worrall made good use of the bricks. 

As the walls grew higher and higher every day and with a plethora of plumbers and sparkies within the club, the group could see just one obstacle ahead: the truss’.

Michael pitched the problem to the committee and sure enough Tom Rennison, head of the Togari Land Clearing Scheme, offered to supply the steel and have the truss’ welded at his engineering workshop. 

Bunny Cuttriss was the man for the job and just like that, the boys had everything they needed. After a few small plumbing and electrical costs were covered, the building was complete.

Fortunately, the gymnasium was large enough to fit a basketball court and squash courts, and now as part of Smithton Wellbeing Indoor Recreation and Leisure centre is the jewel in the crown of sport in Smithton. 

Having helped out with the construction of the building, (from left) Ken Marthick, Rex Smith, Graham Birtwistle and Jack Saville reflect on the hoops the club had to jump through to get their gymnasium – now the Smithton Sports Centre – built back in the ’50s. Picture: Isaac Popowski.