A Brief History of Men's Lacrosse in Victoria
Lacrosse in Australia commenced in Albert Park, Melbourne on the afternoon of Saturday 22 June 1876.
It was initiated by Melbourne businessman, Lambton Le Breton Mount who, a month earlier, had placed a letter in the Australasian Newspaper inviting young men interested in trying lacrosse to attend a meeting at the Port Phillip Club Hotel in Flinders Street.
Mount himself was Canadian born and came with his family to the Ballarat goldfields in 1853 when he was sixteen years of age. He soon became well known as a champion runner, his exploits in the late 1850's and early 1860's including match races for the Championship of Victoria against H.C Harrison, the father of Australian Rules Football. These events attracted large spectator crowds to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and later Mount became a member of the MCC Sports Committee.
While watching a football match between Collingwood and Carlton in late 1875, Mount's memory was taken back to his childhood contact with lacrosse in Montreal and the excitement of watching the native American Indians play. He considered lacrosse to be a superior game and made up his mind to import some lacrosse sticks and start it as a new sport for the colony
Twenty or so young men responded to Mount's invitation and turned out in Albert Park for the first encounter under the banner of the Melbourne Lacrosse Club. They continued to play each Saturday in Albert Park during July to September of 1876, playing "Reds versus Blues" matches, developing their skills and introducing new players. Mount was a regular participant and captained the Reds.
A similar structure was repeated in the winters of 1877 and 1878, after which the pioneer players agreed to split and form club teams. The Victorian Lacrosse Association was formed to coordinate the game in 1879 with Melbourne, South Melbourne, Collingwood and Fitzroy as the founding clubs. The Melbourne University club was formed in 1883 and remains the world's oldest lacrosse club in continuing existence. MCC commenced in 1895, Williamstown followed in 1896 and Malvern and Caulfield got underway in 1904 and 1909 respectively.
Through direct personal contact with lacrosse participants in Melbourne, the sport spread to South Australia in 1882, to New South Wales in 1883 and to Queensland in 1887. In July 1887 the South Melbourne Lacrosse Club took a team to play in Adelaide and Queensland hosted New South Wales in an interstate contest played in Brisbane. In the following year interstate competition commenced in Melbourne between Victoria and South Australia.
By the time of Australian Federation in 1901 lacrosse was being played in all Australian states. In addition to the capital cities, clubs and local competitions had sprung up in regional centres, including Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria, Launceston in Tasmania and Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie on the central goldfields in Western Australia. Lacrosse was being publicly hailed as the sport most likely to rival football.
International lacrosse came to Australia in 1907 when the State Lacrosse Associations, the Melbourne Cricket Club and the South Australian Cricket Association combined to sponsor a visit by a team from Canada.
The Canadians started their tour in Brisbane and then traveled south playing sixteen matches over a 3-month period in Sydney, Melbourne, Bendigo, Ballarat, Adelaide, Perth and Kalgoorlie. The competitions included four test matches against Australia, two played at the MCG and witnessed by large spectator crowds, and two played at the Adelaide Oval. Canada won the Test Series by 3 matches to 1.
The Canadian Tour led to wider interest in lacrosse and player numbers and clubs expanded in all states, including Tasmania. In 1910 the first Australian Lacrosse Carnival was held in Adelaide with all six States competing. Lacrosse appeared set for big things. The First World War intervened from 1914-18 and the growth of the sport was temporarily curtailed before a new surge of expansion through the 1920's and 1930's. The thirties was the golden era for lacrosse with the numbers of players and clubs peaking around Australia, interstate competition thriving, and prospects emerging for Olympic recognition. Malvern, led by the legendary Jack Beattie, was the powerhouse club in Victoria, winning ten consecutive "A" grade premierships from 1931.
In 1939 the outbreak of the Second World War brought the progress undone for the VALA with large numbers of players enlisting in the Armed Forces and the sport unable to do much more than keep skeleton competitions in place during the ensuing six years. When the hostilities were over the State Association faced a difficult task of picking up the pieces. The membership had been lost from many clubs and playing equipment, which was largely imported from North America, was expensive and difficult to get. The game was steadily but slowly rebuilt during the 1950's. The Malvern club resumed its dominance in Victoria with a second string of ten consecutive "A" grade premierships between 1950-59.
The next significant milestone in the development of the game was the visit to Australia in 1959 by the Washington & Lee Universities team from the USA which played matches against State teams in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, culminating with a USA v Australia match on the MCG on 8th August. The success of this tour and the unveiling to Australia of new techniques, new playing rules and international rivalry whetted the appetite for more.
In 1962 the first Australian team to travel overseas toured the United States and Britain, playing 14 matches and returning with new ideas for the future of the sport. Three quarters of the Australian squad were from Victoria with Don Miller (Caulfield) as team Captain, Ian Jewett (Williamstown) as Coach and Fred Durham (Coburg and later Eltham) as Manager.
The recommendations for change that they brought home included ten on-field players, bench area for team substitutions, revised field markings, an offside rule and protective helmets and armguards. These were radical and contentious changes but Victoria took the lead and adopted them. Other States soon followed. The 'modern game' became established in Australia and the scene was set for Australia to become a key player in the expansion of international lacrosse.
The staging of World Championships commenced in Toronto in 1967 when an Australian team competed, defeating Canada and England but losing to USA.
The second World Championship was hosted in Melbourne in 1974 and billed as the celebration of 100 years of lacrosse in Australia. It had been widely understood that Lambton Mount's introduction of the sport occurred in Melbourne in 1874. Subsequent research has proved 1876 to be the founding year so our world championship to celebrate the centenary was an historical accident, held two years early. Henry Volk, the then VLA President, actively promoted the concept of a four yearly cycle for World Championships and helped to draft the Constitution of the International Lacrosse Federation which has overseen international promotions and world championships since that time. Australia has since hosted world championships in 1990 and 2002, both staged in Perth □
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