Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dick Gray returns

One of the very good things about living on Norfolk Island is the variety of sports that are available to us to enjoy, and that visitors can enjoy too. There is golf, junior footy and soccer, touch football, a wide range of athletics, archery, shooting, snorkelling and diving, lawn bowls, squash, hapkido and other martial arts, surfing, bike riding, table tennis, horseriding, swimming, dancing, boxercise …. and on and on we could go. One that is very important is tennis, and Norfolk has a proud history in this sport.

So we were delighted to catch up with Richard (Dick) Gray, who was back on-island recently. He is fondly remembered for what he achieved for tennis here in the 1980s. Dick and wife Joy were visiting us from their home in Hamilton (NZ) to catch up with their many friends, and family – son Duncan lives on Norfolk with his family.

Dick was working as an insurance broker in Hastings (NZ), and after a very pressured few working years he and Joy came to Norfolk in 1980 for a holiday. They enjoyed the change of lifestyle offered so much that they decided to return to live the following year.

Dick was a very keen and good tennis player, and he took over the role of President of the Cheryl Tennis Club that had one tarsealed hard court, and five grass courts requiring lots of maintenance. The club had little by way of a financial base, and there was little competition too. Dick with help from members expanded the game here and improved it in every aspect. And Julie South, who is well known and much loved for her dedication to the sport, suggests Dick played a significant role in this improvement until he returned to New Zealand to live in 1992 – called back by ‘all of those grandchildren popping up everywhere’.

Dick took on ‘coaching’ duties, and focused a lot of attention on developing our juniors ‘who played their natural game of giving the ball hell’. Dick established a Junior Trust with generous support from Val and Alex Martinez to assist with travel costs for juniors travelling to overseas competitions. He travelled to Australia to improve his knowledge of coaching, but never attained formal qualifications as a coach. One of his sons, Jeff, was a qualified coach, and he would come to Norfolk to coach players here. Jeff had learnt the game from the famous Australian tennis coach, Vic Edwards. Vic is best known for being the coach of the amazing Australian player of the 1960s and 70s, Evonne Goolagong, who won Wimbledon in 1971, and again as a mum in 1980. Bill Gilmour, who played tennis for Australia, and is known for beating Roy Emerson, another great player, also coached here. His reputation helped lift the profile of tennis in Norfolk Island, and lead to the establishment of a permanent coaching position on the island.

Dick with help from many locals introduced several innovations into the game, and these helped build a very enthusiastic club. The tie break was introduced. A singles competition began in 1981, and one of our own, Bebs Sanders, one of our ‘young tennis guns’ of the day, will recall many a tough match against ‘ambidextrous’ Dick. Night tennis was introduced. More and improved courts were established, and he remembers how hard Norfolk’s Dennis Sterling and others worked to achieve this. A two-storey clubhouse was built. He recalls tough negotiations with Bill Sanders who was planning minister in Norfolk’s government in the 1980s, to build the clubhouse closer to the boundary than was the law of the day. The Johnny Walker tournament began that brought sponsorship into the game, with our own Liquor Bond being the major sponsor. And Dick was involved in establishing the Vets Tournament that is still going strong, with 110 players participating in 2010, many from overseas.

Dick has travelled through the South Pacific with tennis – to Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji – and in all of these places the people love their sports. They play bowls, tennis and much more, and so in part they are like Norfolk Islanders. But he believes that Norfolk is different and more special to every other place. It has ‘something intangible about it’, and while he can’t put his finger definitively on what it is, he thinks ‘it is possibly something about the history’.

We wish Dick and Joy back here soon. We thank him for all he has done for the game of tennis in The World of Norfolk.

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