Anthony Brophy’s favourite place

By Liz Mellino

The walls of the Old Students tennis clubrooms in Shepparton speak a tale of years gone by.

Premiership flags, wooden rackets, team photographs and candid shots beam down at you from inside the small building behind Shepparton High School.

While the facilities may not be flash and the adjacent tennis courts could do with some tender love and care, the area tells a story of camaraderie and companionship from the past 89 years.

It is clear why this place has become a sanctuary for members: a place to share triumphs and a cold beer on a Saturday evening.

It is easy to see why this is Anthony Brophy’s favourite place.

The Shepparton local and office manager for Victorian Senator and National Party Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie, comes here to escape.

Joining in 1980 after returning to the Goulburn Valley, Mr Brophy has witnessed more changes at the club than most.

‘‘Since the late 1980s I’ve played every season with the club, some more than others, and in that time I’ve had family grow up and have had three sons that played juniors and seniors through here,’’ Mr Brophy said.

‘‘It became really iconic for me to pick this place as a really special place because I’ve sort of grown up with it over the last 30 years.’’

Established in 1930, the Old Students Tennis Club shares a wealth of history.

While the photographs adorning the clubroom walls illustrate the changes during the years, there are not many other members who can say they have lived through them.

‘‘The amenities have changed. When I first started, we used to be in the old work keepers area way down the school, it was a tiny little room and we used to have to bring the table out to have afternoon tea under the peppercorn tree in the dust,’’ Mr Brophy said.

‘‘The transformation over a period of time to actually have our own clubhouse, to actually have proper courts and to then bring in juniors is great.’’

The former president, secretary, junior co-ordinator, head of the social club and life member has achieved more than most during his time with the club.

Sitting in the middle of the clubrooms reminiscing on the many weekends spent there, it is evident Mr Brophy has a true passion for the game.

‘‘I was the eldest of four children, Mum and Dad worked away — Dad was a shearer and so I had to look after the kids, so I couldn’t play tennis. I always loved tennis, but only through school I was able to play a little bit, so when I came back here this was the opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘I was a real mature-aged beginner, so I’m very unorthodox, completely unorthodox, but I tend to get through.’’

Mr Brophy has gathered many titles from his time with Old Students, with club champion, singles and doubles tournament winnings and a number of premierships sitting proudly under his belt.

While he admitted the accolades were nice, it was clear the friendships he had gained and the true camaraderie throughout the club had made the experience even more worthwhile.

‘‘You look up and you see yourself in some of the photos from that time and the thing that really stands out though is the actual individual people,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s got to the stage where we’ve got better facilities, but you wouldn’t be playing here if it wasn’t for the people and that’s what it really comes down to.’’

A true gem in his tennis collection is a Pancho Gonzales wooden racquet from the 1960s or 1970s.

In near-perfect condition with only small patches of paint missing from the rim, Mr Brophy said he remembered the day he used the racquet alongside Ross Opie to claim the doubles tournament at the Kyabram Lawn Tennis Easter Tournament.

‘‘The youngsters we were playing against had never seen anything like it, we actually dressed retro for the part... we have some really great photos of that,’’ he said.

This true diversity in tennis is something Mr Brophy said made it unlike any other sport he had played.

With age no barrier and background or ethnicity meaning nothing when you hit the court, he said the game had given him and many others memories he would cherish for a lifetime.

‘‘Tennis is one of the few sports where a mother, for instance, can play with her son in mixed... that’s why it has become very much a family club,’’ Mr Brophy said.

‘‘I remember one day we were at Toolamba and we had Faye Reid who was 64 and we had Kate Pettigrew who was young at the time, she was 13, and they played doubles together and won... it’s hard to get a 51-year disparity in another sport and they still play well together.’’

While he was no stranger to spending each Saturday at the clubrooms, assisting juniors in the mornings before coming back for an afternoon match, Mr Brophy admitted his work schedule had taken time from his passion.

However, it is evident this will not stop the proud member from hitting the courts again in the future.

‘‘It’s a pretty hectic pace at the moment I haven’t had a lot of time for my tennis, my passion, but the people that I play tennis with are lifelong friends,’’ he said.

‘‘We come from all walks of life and different ethnicities as well, we all come together and you get to know everyone and their families... it’s not really about tennis it’s about the community.’’