FORMATION OF THE CATHOLIC WALKING CLUB

Based on contributions from Jack Vanderfeen, Sheila Cotter and Kerry Maher

With the Walking Club now well past its 50 it is worth reflecting on those early days

Three of the founding members of the Club were Jack Vanderfeen, Joe Cotter and Patricia Murphy.

Joe (who turned 80 last September) became interested in Bushwalking in 1946, and over the next few years walked with the Patrician Walking Club, the Melbourne Bushwalkers ad the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club. It was during the New Year period of 1948/49 that he met Jack Vanderfeen when the pair joined a small party on a walk around the shores of Philip Island. The following Easter they joined others on a walk from Harrietville to Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham, then to Harrietville via the Great Alpine rd.

The venture to the mountain country took them out of reach of attendance at Sunday Mass and discussions around campfires touched on the matter that Walking Club programs took no account of the obligations of Catholics in relation to Sunday observance. Camping near the headwaters of the Diamantina River, below the Diamantina Hut on Mt Hotham the subject of forming a Catholic Walking Club was touched on.

While at Mt Buffalo Chalet on September 1949, Joe and Jack met Fr O’Hanlon, Parish Priest of Mentone, with whom discussions covered the idea of a Catholic Walking Club. However, Fr, O’Hanlon was a dedicated skier and urged the formation of a Catholic Skiing Club as being a more urgent need.

Over the Christmas New Year period of 1949/50, Joe and Jack joined a party of Patrician, Pallotine and YHA members started from Tawonga, climbed Mt Bogong, crossing the Bogong High Plains and continued on to Mt Hotham and Feathertop and finally down to Harrietville.

Joe and Jack had by this time joined the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club and were impressed by the club’s organisation and spirit, but the problem of Sunday observance remained.

Joe and Jack were joined by Patricia Murphy (later to become Jack’s wife) for discussions regarding a Catholic Walking Club. They discussed ideas on how a club could create a program that catered for mass attendance, including open air masses. They met with the Vicar General of the diocese, Monsignor Fox to discuss their ideas. However, the good Monsignor was less than helpful, stating that the saying of mass in the open air was permissible only in war situations. The trio were urged to join a Catholic Tennis Club which would provide exercise without the need to miss Mass on a Sunday. Jack says “we retreated from the cathedral precincts bloodied but unbowed”.

Patricia worked for the New Weekly and through her work came into contact with Mr McLaine of the Catholic papers the Advocate and the Tribune. He gave the group considerable support and through the papers the word was spread that a meeting would be held at Roma House in Elizabeth St., Melbourne in March 1951.

Joe and Jack fielded a large number of telephone enquiries in the weeks before the meeting so there was considerable excitement as the number of prospective members rose. Jack borrowed a copy of the Constitution of the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club and made the necessary alterations to suit the new club. The meeting was held, the constitution accepted and elections conducted, Jack being elected as the president, Patricia as Vice president and Joe as secretary. Fortunately, a suggestion from one member that membership be restricted to males was rejected!

An inaugural walk was announced and well attended and so the Catholic Walking Club was launched. Over the ensuing months membership continued to grow and the Club joined the Federation of Victorian Bushwalking Clubs.

So Jack, Joe and Patricia ensured that the club had a solid start , and demonstrated many of the undoubted joys of CWCV membership and bushwalking generally.