History compiled by Rhonda Carpenter, Rupe Cheetham and Lee Manning, in consultation with life members.
100 years of hockey in Benalla…
Hockey has been played in Benalla since at least 1916, with a Benalla High School girls team featuring in Benalla College’s “Our Schools” publication of 2012. Their long, pleated skirts, long sleeved blouses complete with a tie, and long wooden sticks are a far cry from the moisture-wicking shirts complete with a printed logo, and light-weight graphite hockey sticks seen today.
Benalla Women’s Hockey Club, 1927
The Benalla Women’s Hockey Club formed in 1927 with a team playing in the Wangaratta Hockey Association competition. Home games were played on the grass Friendly Societies oval behind the old Benalla gas works (the current All Blacks football oval), which became very boggy during the winter competition. Players used corrugated cardboard in their socks to protect their shins from wayward sticks and lifted balls. The uniform was a dark long pleated skirt and tunic, with a long sleeved white blouse and tie.
Successful under the inaugural president Miss D. Arnott, the women’s team competed in the Victorian Country Week competition in 1928, and between 1930 and 1936 sent two teams down to Melbourne to compete in Country Week, with Miss M Martin and Miss Ray Bamford selected for the Victorian Country Team in 1935.
After an interlude for World War II, a resurgence in 1951 saw weekly games held at the Gardens Oval in Benalla. The Benalla Ladies won their first A Grade premiership in 1974, in a red skirt with white top uniform, which continued through to 1990. Numbers were so good that a second team was formed, playing in an attractive green skirt with a white top. The “Benalla Reds” and “Benalla Green” teams played for a number of years, with both teams winning premierships. Late in the seventies Benalla transferred to the stronger Goulburn Valley Women’s Hockey Association based in Shepparton, and won premierships in 1980 and 1982.
Benalla Men’s Hockey Club, 1977
Men’s Hockey developed in Benalla in 1977 under the guidance of Rupert Cheetham, who had been coaching and umpiring the women’s team. His pre-season training of the women involved a fast-paced friendly practice match with a novice men’s team. Shortly afterwards, the Goulburn Valley Hockey Association (GVHA) proposed a Men’s Competition, and the Benalla Men’s Hockey team was formed, with a green and gold uniform.
Benalla Minkey Hockey Club, 1985
A junior Minkey competition was established in 1985, under the initial guidance of Terry Nichols and a big team of helpers. Many young players moved up through the ranks into the junior (“underage”) and then senior competitions, often returning in later years with their own children. Family names such as Baumgarten, Berry, Birch, Cheetham, Citroen, O’Brien, Purcell and Perry have been seen on team lists for decades, as children and even grand-children came to play, with the fast, skilled juniors often playing in the senior teams alongside their parents.
The Benalla Hockey Club was invited to move to the northern side of the new Churchill Park in the late sixties, using the then-new brick change rooms. As the park developed, hockey was played on the newly grassed surface inside the athletics track.
In the late 1980s, having played on the sand ground in Albury, the Men’s hockey club approached Benalla Council for permission to construct a sand field on the last part of the old Benalla rubbish tip, on the corner of Margaret and Waller Streets. Council sent an engineer to sand hockey grounds in Melbourne and Albury and shortly afterwards gave permission to go ahead with construction.
In 1988 the ‘dream’ of an all-weather sand surface was finally realised, when the ground was officially opened by the Honourable Mr Pat McNamara, MLA, the first sand field to be constructed in north eastern Victoria. Fencing, lighting, dugouts and seating were installed during the nineties, with the Clubrooms completed in 2009.
Benalla Hockey Association, 1990
In 1990 the Benalla Hockey Association was formed, with the Women’s, Men’s, Underage and Minkey clubs uniting as one club. The uniform became an orange, collared top with black stripes on the sleeve, with black shorts or skirt and black socks. The circular Club logo had two crossed hockey sticks and ball centrally, with a rose overlay.
“The Benalla Bully” newsletter was produced for a number of years, and hockey featured regularly in the local newspapers, including in “The Benalla Ensign” and “The Weekly Telegraph”.
The evolution of the hockey playing surface has contributed significantly to the game’s style of play and its rules. While today most games are played on the fast-paced synthetic grass, Benalla’s sand surface requires a slower game, with the basic hockey skills of trapping, pushing, dribbling and short-passing coming to the fore. Player safety has also improved dramatically, with shin pads, mouthguards, face shields for penalty corners, and a fully-padded and helmeted goalie all compulsory these days.
The Benalla Hockey Club also evolved, with Thursday night training under lights and a Minkey competition on Saturday mornings. In 2012 thirteen games were played in Benalla as part of the GVHA competition. 2013 saw a resurgence in Minkey hockey for primary school aged children, with a new “Hook In2 Hockey” introductory program preceding each Minkey season since then.
In 2013 a fun local summer hockey competition was introduced, playing indoors at the new Benalla College stadium off Helms Crt. This fun game is very fast-paced, and provides good skill development and fitness maintenance over summer.
2013 also saw the Club celebrate 25 years since the opening of Benalla’s sand hockey field, and in 2014 it was named the “Rupe Cheetham Hockey Field” in honour of Rupe’s 67 years of dedication to hockey and the Benalla Hockey Club. He is still playing international and national hockey and coaching Minkey and Junior players in Benalla in 2016.
The Benalla Hockey Club embraced the modern era in 2014, with MP Dr Bill Sykes unveiling a new “Benalla Tigers” logo, and new uniform of orange and black top printed with the “Tigers” logo and sponsors names, over a black skirt or shorts and black socks. This new identity was very timely, as both the Men’s and Women’s teams won premierships in the GVHA B-Grade competition that year.
Hockey in Benalla in 2016 and on….
The Benalla Hockey Club prides itself as being a family-friendly Club, where all ages and abilities are embraced. Members aged 5 to 83 enjoy playing hockey socially and competing in the local GVHA competition. The Club hopes to continue its long history of supporting players to regional, state, national and international success. New players and supporters are always welcome.
Benalla Hockey Club Life Members:
1982 Rupe Cheetham, Doug and Dawn Payne
1985 Bernice O’Brien
1989 Warwick Noad
1993 Robyn Birch, Annie Fraser
2005 Vicky Perry
2012 Noel Baumgarten, Don Berry, Bob Citroen
2013 Sylvia Baumgarten
Note: This is not a complete list pre-1990.
A-Grade Premiers: 1974 (Wangaratta competition), 1980, 1982, 1993.
A-Reserve Premiers: 1984, 1992.
B Grade Premiers: 2001, 2005, 2006, 2014.
B-Grade runners-up: 2007, 2012, 2015, 2016.
B Grade Premiers: 1990, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017,2018
B Grade runners-up: 2011, 2015, 2019