The early history of BYS is documented in The Miracle at Scotts’ Shed – A History of Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron 1952-82 by historian and club life member Dr Edgar French. It was published by Georgian House in 1983.

The Golden Jubilee Booklet 2002 written 20 years later provides a brief overview of the club’s history from 1952 until 2002. 

To celebrate the Squadron’s Diamond Jubilee a pictorial history of the first 60 years was published in 2012. Scotts’ Shed: The Second Story 1952-2012 was written largely by Bill Chalkley and Ron Cooper, and published by Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron with generous help from Robert Ungar and Hinkler Books. Copies are available from the BYS Office.

The history of the old Clubhouse

The Fifties

The now-demolished clubhouse at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron grew from humble beginnings. When the club was first established in 1952, Louisa and Bert Scott, the owners of Blairgowrie House, then an operating guest house, allowed the first members to use their slipway, jetty and boat shed. It was a tin shed 3.7 metres by 12.2 metres with no water, no electricity and a sandy floor. This was the first clubhouse – the original Scotts’ Shed.

Working bees painted the roof, installed water and electricity, and concreted the floor. A request to the State Lands Department and the Sorrento Foreshore Park Trust for the use of 25 metres of land east of the boat shed to store boats was granted. The need for a ‘proper’ clubhouse was first raised at the 1953 annual meeting, and a building fund was established, which had reached £277 by mid-1956. Approval was given for an additional 60 metres of land on which to build ‘club premises to provide suitable accommodation for the members of the club and their guests’. (French, p.46)

Not all members agreed. Enthusiastic young sailors wanted all the resources to go to the sailing program with generous trophies, while some older members had a vision of a kind of ‘aquatic Bohemia – a country club on the beach’. (p.47) As ever, compromises were made, and in 1956 Commodore Des Rowley asked a mate to draw up plans for a 25-metre by 8-metre upper deck over an unenclosed ground floor. A builder quoted £2500, but this seemed a lot to the 169 members. Interest-free loans were asked for, and £500 was raised, but the committee decided to use the voluntary labour of members, ‘a move which was to uncover before the year was out a remarkable store of talent and good will’. (p.49)

Approvals from the Council and the Foreshore Committee took some time, and plans were altered to enclose the ground floor and add an ablutions block. Preliminary work in clearing and preparing the site went ahead under the direction of member Ron Williams, later to be the sixth Commodore, 1961-2. The building permit was finally issued on 28 May 1957. The deadline for completion was 9 November.

‘Work could only be done at weekends. When it finished each Sunday those members with special duties met at Pemberton’s boat shed … for refreshments. Williams and McGee used these occasions to plan the next weekend’s work. McGee … spent each Monday telephoning around to ensure that everything should be on site for work to begin at 8 am the following Saturday… Friday evenings he and his wife would be at Williams’s place loading gear and materials onto their trailer for transport to Blairgowrie, unloading being completed as late as 2 am Saturdays.

The greatest strains were often on bone and muscle and a new meaning was given to the term ‘working wives’ as Nancy Dore, Jean Griffiths, Nance Pizzey, Mary Le Soeuf, Dorothy Tapson and Jean Thomas made the bricks for the walls… Young stalwarts … kept a couple of cement mixing machines turning while Winifred McGee poured in the sand, cement and screenings… 300 to 400 bricks were turned out to dry each weekend; they were laid the following weekend…’ (French, p.50)

‘On the last weekend … work went on for 16 hours both days. Fifty working days had elapsed since the turning of the first sod, each day fine throughout, no accidents occurring apart from a solitary brick and a hammer falling on two workers, though without serious consequences, and the job was done.’ (p.53)

The reason for the rush was that Bernard Dowd, a club member and the owner of the Hickory garment company had asked to use the new clubhouse to welcome winners of the Miss Australia quest of which his firm was the sponsor.

‘The night of 9 November 1957 was one to remember. Every ticket …was sold well in advance… There were streamers and balloons in the club colours … and repeated dashes of red and white among the flowers and ferns with which Dowd embowered the whole building…Commodore George Pizzey spoke graciously in welcome but could not forbear to mention that by dint of members’ “superhuman efforts” at the “consistently attended working bees” … the Squadron had reached its “shining hour”.’ (p.54)

There had been a lot of favourable comment in the local papers about the huge volunteer effort, using the theme of self-help on the Peninsula, and many new helpers and members had joined in. But the committee still had financial worries. Despite materials and equipment being sourced as cheaply as possible, the cost was probably about £4000 ($8000) and donations and interest-free loans from members did not cover all expenses. A loan from the Council and an overdraft from the bank enabled bills to be paid, and the increasing membership (388 in 1959) meant that loans could eventually be repaid.

The Sixties

That the clubhouse would have to be extended became clear within a few years of its opening. Proposals for extensions were discussed by the General Committee in May 1961. Increasing membership with a large number of junior members had caused many senior members “to become restive at the lack of a space where they could escape the incessant racketting of the juniors.” (p 83) The Foreshore Trust granted further land, but there were other demands on the club’s finances for repairs and extensions to the jetty and the slipway, as well as the need for patrol boats, so the clubhouse project was deferred.

In 1964 membership had reached 500, and there was a proposal to extend the clubhouse eastwards by 12 metres and northward at the eastern end by 15 metres. But the plans were rejected by the Council, and were sent backwards and forwards between the Foreshore Committee and the State Lands Department. These were frustrating delays, and moves were made, albeit unsuccessfully, to solve the problems by limiting the number of members.

In 1965 the new Commodore Allan Pizzey (son of former commodore George) asked the Development Committee to revise and resubmit the plans. The application “ dwelt on the Squadron”s improved standing in yachting circles, its facilities for cruising yachts unique to the southern shore, its value to the Blairgowrie business district, and its enlarged membership for which the existing ablutions block, storage areas, entertainment space and racing control area were no longer adequate.”(p 88)

Plans were approved by December but there were further delays and problems with health and building regulations. So the building permit was not finalised until August 6th 1966, just 16 weeks before the season’s Opening Day on November 26th. But with his youthful enthusiasm and management expertise Commodore Pizzey was determined that the extension which was of similar size to the original building would be completed in 2/3 of the previous time, using volunteer labour for most tasks as before.

It was a “preposterous timetable” (p 94) but Commodore Pizzey and his team were extremely efficient in their management of volunteers, of tradesmen and of the logistics of the project. “The sound of the last hammer could be heard as the Social Committee arrived to prepare for the Opening Day celebrations, but the job was done.” (p 95).

The Seventies and after

In the early days nearly all race control was from the clubhouse – starts were with a real shot gun for many years. Race management and radio operators shared a room, and on busy days the noise and the interruptions were stressful to all concerned. A separate radio room was proposed in 1971, in a second-floor addition such as later existed, but this was thought to be too expensive so a new radio room was included in the plans to extend the clubhouse to the west. Temporarily the radios were moved to a section of the balcony that had been glazed in.

Plans were approved in 1974, but progress was slow because of competing needs for funds for jetty repairs and new patrol boats. However, in 1977, the 4-metre westward extension was completed, with a new entry and stairs as well as a new kitchen and starters’ room. In 1978, races were controlled off-shore for many events, and improvements were made to the radio room and committee room.

The need for a higher location for the radio room and race management was made clear in January 1981 when a 50-knot southerly capsized all but 10 in a 79-boat fleet in the Sabre National Championships. Many yachts and sailors were swept north towards the channel. It was four hours before all were safely accounted for. Club officials felt they had coped as well as possible, but that a better view from a higher position would have been beneficial. Planning was begun, but it was not until 1986 that the new tower was opened with two fully-equipped rooms for starters and radio operators on part of a third floor of the clubhouse, each with a sweeping view of 180 degrees from Swan Bay to Martha Point.

Another project that was many years in the planning was the demolition and rebuilding of Scotts’ Shed, the original 1952 clubhouse. A more substantial building was needed, to be erected further to the west to make more space available in the yard. After a mainly volunteer effort the new Scotts’ Shed was opened in 1984 by Dr Edgar French, the author of the BYS history of its first thirty years, The Miracle at Scotts’ Shed published in 1983. This detailed and authoritative work is the source of much of the information for this clubhouse history. At the opening, Commodore Cosgriff said that ‘the new Scotts’ Shed will last forever’. Perhaps it will, in its renovated and extended form.

Throughout its life the clubhouse has had frequent renovations, alterations and improvements. A new committee room was built at the western end in the early 1980s. In 1987, a new foyer was fashioned on the ground floor, also at the west end. The final structural development was the extension of the deck area in 1996 from a narrow walkway to the large well-used space of recent years. Two items, long deferred and much needed, were the thorough refurbishing of the ablutions block, and the ceiling of the ultra-resonant upstairs lounge. They received their due in 1997 and 1998. (2002 Booklet, E.L. French)

The old BYS clubhouse served its many thousands of members well for over 50 years. The new clubhouse will be very different. Unlike the 1950s building it will not be built by club members labouring at weekend working bees, as that is not possible in our highly regulated society. However, it will be the creation of the contribution of members and the constant and dedicated endeavour of the General Committees of BYS who have wound their way through the maze of regulations and constraints which must be navigated in this century if major projects are to be completed.

References: French, Edgar, The Miracle at Scotts’ Shed (Georgian House, 1983)
Chalkley, B, Cooper, R., Conning and Cunningham: Scotts’ Shed: The Second Story (BYS 2013)

Alison Jones, December 2014