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The History of Square Dancing in Australia can be found here

If you have any items that you think other dancers may be interested in and would like to share them here, Please contact us

To start with we have the following items of interest

A copy of “Come Square Dancing” circa 1950 – Click Here

Then  we have an interesting article from the late Jack Murphy from Victoria – Click Here

We are also compiling some History of Square & Round Dance Clubs in Australia – Click Here

You may also be interested in looking through some back issues of Square Dance magazines – Click Here

How about “Square Dance” a publication from South Australia in 1953 – Click Here

We also have a collection of items relating to National Conventions In Australia – Click Here

 Square Dance Australia                    National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc

 

Our thanks to Phillip Hartley from Western Australia for allowing us to share a copy of a Square Dance Magazine from the 1950’s

 

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia

SQUARE DANCING – HOW IT ALL STARTED IN AUSTRALIA

By Jack Murphy (caller)  Whitehorse Club – Melbourne

American servicemen took square dancing to England where it is very popular today and also with the occupational forces at the end of the war in Japan. Two events led directly to the growth of square dancing in Australia. One was the return from Japan of two girls who had been teaching soldier’s children and had been introduced to square dancing  by American servicemen. The other was the visits of Dallas, Texas, Caller Joe Lewis.

Several small groups had been square dancing before these events took place, mainly with a small repertoire of singing calls. In New South Wales Eddie Carol had been trying to popularize square dancing ever since he learnt to call as a young lad, with little success and much opposition from dance promoters. An American caller named Leonard Hurst here with the American services during the year, led American serviceman and local girls through their paces at the Red Cross Recreational Centre in Townsville, Qld, while he was stationed there. He later married an Australian and made Adelaide his home. These were only isolated events.

The growth of square dancing in Australia really dates from the first two events mentioned.

The first event took place at the Teachers’ College summer camp at Queenscliff, Victoria, in 1949. The two girls back from Japan were attending the camp and they passed on the knowledge of square dancing that they had learnt there. Also at the camp was Bill McGrath, a lecturer in physical education. Square dancing interested him right from the start and he began all he could about it. From then on it became a regular activity at the Melbourne Teachers College, and Bill McGrath set out to interest other people.

In March 1950, the Teachers’ College held a square dance in the Melba Hall, at Melbourne University, attended by over 400. Many other demonstrations were given throughout Victoria in 1950 by Bill McGrath’s exhibition sets, and over 6,000 people went to the Melbourne Town Hall to see a “Hollywood Square Dance Contest”. Square dancing in Victoria became very competitive and the Victorian Championships were held that year in Prahran Town hall. Twenty-Two sets were entered and all three places were taken by sets trained by Bill McGrath. On the whole, 1950 was a year of struggling to interest people in Victoria without much success.

But at the end of the year an event took place in 1950 which was to lead to the forming of Melbourne’s first square dance club. During the Christmas holidays a group of people with homes on the Ranelagh Estate brought a set of Joe Lewis’ records and got together to work out the calls and dance to them.

Joe Lewis’ first visit to Australia also took place in 1950, when he gave exhibitions to big crowds in Sydney. This led to a boom in square dancing in Sydney for a while, but it soon died, due to the lack of suitable callers and the fact that some of them made a farce of dancing and dressing.

It was the second visit of Joe Lewis in 1951 to conduct the “Women’s Weekly” 6,000 ponds competition that gave square dancing its big and much needed boost. In conjunction with the Australian Championship, Joe Lewis called for many exhibitions at leading stores in both Melbourne and Sydney and brought square dancing to the notice of a big section of the public. Eddie Carol was the official caller for the Australian Championship which was won by the “Denver Dudes” of Sydney. Members of the set were: Gary Cohen, Roy Starkey, Colin Lister, Sydney Tomlin, Pat Cohen, Marie Weston, Shirley Clifford and Ivy Newman. A Victorian set was second. Joe Lewis was the judge.

Local callers, Eddie Carol and Bill McGrath in particular, were also to gain much valuable experience from Joe Lewis. Joe left behind a band of well trained dancers, many of whom later became callers.

Now let’s get back to the group of people at Ranelagh Estate who taught themselves to dance from records. When the big competition was announced they decided to enter a set in the Victorian section. They had caller Charles Leesing to train them, and danced so well that they reached the final round. After the competition they decided to form themselves into a club, and so Melbourne’s first club, The Village Square Dance Club, at Toorak came into being. Charles Leesing continued to call for them for a while, then Bill McGrath took over, and by the end of 1951 the club had closed its membership.

In Sydney after the competition, Eddie Carol was selected to call at the Trocader, one of Sydney’s biggest ballrooms, and many clubs sprung up.

The stage was then set for the square dancing boom to begin. The Village Club had closed its membership and was rapidly reaching an advanced standard of dancing. To cater for the overflow of dancers another club opened at Brighton early in 1952. The craze was spreading, and by the middle of 1952 new clubs were forming almost every week. Two such clubs, Valetta and Whitehorse are still operating today.

Some clubs were banded together under the Square Dancing Society of Victoria, and Bill McGrath had begun training a team of new callers to take over the new clubs as they opened.

By this time the big ballrooms were beginning to sit up and take notice. They soon realized that square dancing had taken a good hold and that ballroom dancing must suffer as a result.

In September 1952 Earl’s Court, St Kilda, opened for square dancing. And Leggett’s, Prahran, followed suit. A young Melbourne journalist, Jim Vickers-Willis, who had been dancing with the Brighton club, began calling at both ballrooms. As an experiment a broadcast was made from the Earl’s Court dance, and it proved an immediate success. This broadcast and the many others that followed did much to bring square dancing to everybody’s notice, and the boom was then really underway. By the end of 1952 the Square Dancing Society had over 100 clubs and more callers were being trained.

In Sydney square dancing had once again left the big halls, but was still going strong in a number of small clubs. It was about this period that some present day callers namely Wally Cook (Vic), Jack Murphy (Vic), Ben Jones (NSW), Les Johnson (W.A), Kevin Leydon (Vic), and Lee McFadyean (Vic) commenced their calling careers followed by Graeme Rigby (Qld) and Graeme Whiteley (Tas) in 1953 and Allan Frost (S.A) in 1954.

Eddie Carol with his wide experience and knowledge, soon become a firm favorite with Melbourne square dancers. He brought with him many new ideas and dances, which he passed on to Melbourne callers, and Leggett’s soon had to increase its square dances to five nights a week. Early in 1953 Cr and Mrs. McIntyre, Mayor and Mayoress of Box Hill decided to give a Mayoral Square Dance Ball – Australia’s first with Jack Murphy as the caller. All the guests were square dancers and they bowed to the Mayoral couple in true square dance style. The Whitehorse presentation set after making their bows gave an exhibition.

New South Wales:

In the early fifties square dancing staged a revival in Sydney with the formation of the Australian National Square Dance Club, which had opened beginners’ nights in several suburban ballrooms and town halls. Two of the early established Sydney clubs were the Carrs Park and Balgowlah clubs. The Carrs Park club was restricted to married couples only.

Prominent callers in Sydney at the time were : Ron Jones, Gary (Chuck) Cohen, Smiling Billy Blinkhorn, Alan Blackwell, Jack De-La-Warr and Erin O’Daly.

South Australia:

Adelaide’s first club was launched by American caller Leonard Hurst in 1951 at the Y.W.C.A. known as “Sundowners” which became a training ground for future callers. Len Peters was to become the first local caller. For a while Jim Vickers-Willis flew weekly from Melbourne to call at the Palais Royal and Graham Stone also called there as well as at the Embassy.

Western Australia:

Square dancing in Perth started in 1953 and was restricted to a few small groups, meeting at irregular intervals. The first clubs to form were Milsurf in Subiaco with caller Ross Ewen who was a lecturer in Physical Education at the Teacher College and Circle “C” with caller Laurie Nash, also a club named Orane. Square Dancing was given a boost in 1954 when a dancer named Fred Humphries who was a starter at the 1956 Olympic Games invited Bill McGrath and Jack Murphy and his Whitehorse Exhibition Set to perform in Perth at such clubs as Milsurf, Circle “C”. Mt Lawley & Bunbury.

Queensland:

Square dancing also came to Brisbane in 1953 but was confined to small groups, until the arrival of Melbourne callers Bernie Kennedy and Doug Neeson. Clubs then opened very quickly with local callers John Gurney, Harvey Lake, Ray Ryan and Graham Rigby.

Tasmania:

In Hobart, square dancing commenced in 1953 at Charlie Brown’s with headquarters in the Royale Ballroom with caller Freddy Goninon. Brown and Goninon virtually pioneered square dancing in Hobart. Apart from Goninon there was a caller named Peter Smith who conducted his own club. Peter had been calling for sometime as he started back in his homeland – England. In 1953 Launceston boasted as many as 22 clubs. The Northern clubs formed an association and in conjunction with Radio 7XX and the National Fitness Council conducted Tasmania’s first Square Dance Festival at Campbell Town. Graeme Whiteley also started his calling career about this time.

This information was obtained from various publications printed between 1950 and 1954

Our Source

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia

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This page is an effort to preserve the history of Square & Round Dance Clubs and related Societies in Australia.

If you have some history of Square or Round dance clubs that you would like placed here, or even corrections and/or amendments,  please send us the information preferably in Word format.

We currently have items from the following.

Speewa – Victoria

Westgate – Victoria

NSW Society

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia

 

In 1978 Frank Kennedy began calling Square dancing at a hall in Indented Heads. He had Ten one night stands in order to qualify as a recognised Square Dance Caller – this was the requirement for those times.

He began his Club – Westgate Square Dancers – at Altona North in the same hall it is in today. In the early years there were many young dancers with the hall being packed to the rafters. Also a va­riety of visiting Callers would attend to join in the fun. For Frank there have been many highlights over the years, including radio and TV appearances, but at the age of 70 the Silver Fox thought it was time to move on. On reflection, he feels the experi­ence of calling and running the Westgate Club was wonderful and he would do it all again.

Neil Wynn took over Westgate in 1996 along with David Tucker. Neil felt fortunate to take over the reins of a successful club from Frank whom he regarded as a master. Previously, Neil had taken part at an amateur caller’s night and never looked back. He enjoys calling at special functions and Conventions.

David Tucker loves country music and feels that because Square Dancing is instructional the dancers can enjoy themselves more. He gets pleasure from holding one night stands and demonstra­tions at nursing homes and just seeing people happy.

Probably the best memory for both Neil and David, and also most of the dancers at Westgate, was a very special birthday dance. Frank decided to make a title for the 16th birthday – “King Ken­nedy’s Court”. There were so many great costumes that it was like visiting Camelot that night. Frank dubbed both Neil and David with his sword and proclaimed that he was passing on the Club to the “boys”.

All of Westgate’s three callers agree that their wives have been a wonderful backup and they could not have coped without them. Another thing they agree on is that Westgate is a friendly, sociable club where everyone is welcome.

 

Reprinted from squares Around Victoria May 2004

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia

Speewa had its first dance on the l2th July 1967 at the Barn.

We had seventeen sets dancing to a live band with seven callers. Membership for the club sold at 50 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. Soft drinks were sold for 5 cents a bottle and local charities received the profit of every dance. Two inaugural members, Des Devereux and Joy Stevens are still active members to this day. Seven families have been awarded life membership to Speewa these been the Devereux’s, the Stevens’, Smyth’s, Humphries’s, Rushton’s, Borchard’s and Gadsden’s.

Our first Easter Holiday Hoe down Weekend was in 1974 at a cost of $5 per person. The Barn was transformed into a caravan park with many people arriving on Thursday and Good Friday with caravans and tents.

Friday night tea was always fish and something, a dance would follow going to all hours of the morning. Saturday was a free day with our members preparing for Saturday night’s festivities on the Murray River Bank. Everyone would go to the Pioneer Settlement, board the Pyap Paddle steamer and cruise up the river dancing on the Pyap. On arrival to the festivities site they all were greeted by bonfires and a pig on a spit being cooked on an open fire.

After tea and a sing along it was back to the Barn for the famous hay ride During the hay ride around the roads most people would end up with eggs, flour and water all over them. After this they would shower and return to the Barn for another dance till the wee small hours of the morning.

Sunday afternoon would always be a workshop, and then it was time for Sunday night tea followed by a dance. At the conclusion of the dance there would be a country style supper provided.

Peter Humphries has been our caller at our three major functions (held each year) been Easter. Birthday and Christmas and still is till this day. Our club over the years has been like a family celebrating weddings. births and mourning deaths together.

Over the years the Barn has seen some changes with a kitchen and dining room been added but still holds its unique country atmosphere.

After forty years of club activity our club will close with our final birthday and time capsule opening.

03-12-2011

The Speewa Club was located in Swan Hill on the Murray River on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Ed

 

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia

By Jim White

In December 1954 I was approached by club members and friend Harry Jackson who felt that we should organise a square dance organization to replace the rapidly fading public interest in square dancing due to the new rock and roll craze and promoters leaving square dancing. I said it couldn’t be done due to the difficulties between callers largely because of their previous distrust caused by the Para dance activities.

In February 1956 I had further conversation with Harry advising that I had changed my mind but we needed to carefully plan the move. So we held a series of meetings inviting a select group of dancers who were followers of all major callers to explain the idea and explain it to the callers.

On a Sunday in July 1956 we held a meeting of the Square dancers Society at the Homebush RSL club. We planned it that there was a representative of every major caller on the committee so that they would not criticise the Society. I was the first President but resigned to go overseas in late 1957.

In my opinion square dancing would not have survived in NSW without the society. As things settled down over the next few years and caller suspicion subsided the format was changed to include callers. In those first few years we resurrected the Haymakers club at Randwick and encouraged dancers to join a square dance group organised by Allan Blackwell to teach dancers to call. we organised square dance balls at major locations and ran a square dance demonstration in Hyde Park at the first Waratah Festival.

© Square Dance Australia

This page is provided by the National Square Dance Society of Australia Inc as a service to square dancing in Australia