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This piece was written to commemorate the Club's first eight years.

FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS Fred Hillas in conjunction with John Vanderfeen, March 1959

To the person desirous of pursuing bushwalking as a pastime, he has at his disposal about a dozen clubs in which he can seek membership. The first club in Victoria, The Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club, was founded in 1894, and in subsequent years other clubs came to life, so that today bushwalking is organized on a sound basis.

In the years before 1951, however, there was no true Catholic walking club except, perhaps, the Patrician Walking Club which was connected wit the St Patrick’s Old Collegians Association. As a result of this, Catholics wishing to take up walking as a pastime had either to join one of the existing clubs, or arrange walks with friends.

Great danger exists in this practice, for inexperienced walkers without the guidance of an organized club, subject themselves to unnecessary risks and dangers to which an organized club is normally immune. A greater danger facing the Catholic walker is the temptation to neglect Sunday Mass. Walking clubs make no allowance for their Catholic members on a Sunday and justifiably so, as a delay in the morning could seriously affect their proposed programme for the day.

But in the New Year break of 1948/49, a group of Catholic bushwalkers from several clubs, conducted an extended walking tour over the Bogong High Plains, and jokingly called themselves the ‘Catholic Walking Club’.

An attempt was made in the Autumn of 1949 to form a Catholic Walking Club similar in ideals to the other established clubs, but this move failed. However, during the next two years a group of Catholic walkers grew in Melbourne who had the desire to form a club of their own, and primarily by the efforts of John Vanderfeen and Joe Cotter, and an intensive campaign among Catholic members of existing clubs, the way was may clear for them to achieve their goal. Finally, on 26th April, 1951, the following advertisement appeared in the Catholic Press and the promoters waited anxiously by their phone for enquiries from interested Catholics:

CATHOLIC WALKING CLUB

FOR THE PURPOSE OF FORMING A Catholic Walking Club, a meeting will be held at ‘Roma House’, Elizabeth Street, City, on Tuesday, May 1, at 8 p.m. Catholics interested in bushwalking are invited. If time permits a colour film of a recent walk through the Cradle Mount – Lake St Clair Reserve, Tasmania, will be shown. Particulars from Mr John Vanderfeen (MU 8961 – day) or Mr Joseph Cotter (FW 4366, evening).

Twenty people attended this meeting, where it was decided to form a Catholic Walking Club. An interim committee of three, comprising John Vanderfeen, Pat Murphy (future Mrs John Vanderfeen) and Joe Cotter, was elected to compile a constitution and to control club affairs until the Annual General Meeting. The constitution, which was subsequently styled on that of the V.M.T.C., was accepted by the newly formed club at the following meeting.

A general meeting was held on July 31st, when the first executive and committee were elected. Principal office bearers were John Vanderfeen, President; Joe Cotter and Pat Murphy, Vice Presidents; and Leo Donoghue, Secretary.

The first official Club walk, led by Don Mees, was held on King’s Birthday, 12th June, from Wattle Glen to Warrandyte. The first weekend walk, led by George O’Brien, was held in the Kinglake area on 8th and 9th September, and the membership slowly began to grow. Weekend walks to the Cathedral Range and Acheron Gap to Donna Buang via the Boobyalla Plateau followed, and at Christmas fifteen members took part in the Club’s first extended trip from Mt Stirling to Upper Maffra West, via Mt Howitt and Tarli Karng.

The year 1952 showed promise of being eventful for the new club, and surfing, canoeing and skiing trips were added to our activities. Honours for the first marriages of Club members went to George O’Brien and Pat Scully, and a few weeks later, John Vanderfeen and Pat Murphy.

The Catholic Walking Club showed that it was progressing soundly when, at the first Annual General meeting on Thursday, 26th June [1952], the retiring Secretary, Leo Donoghue, expressed in his report ‘…a total of 25 walks were held…including six weekend walks and trips at Christmas and Easter’. John Vanderfeen, who was re-elected President, added ‘…I would like to thank Leo…and Joe Cotter and Pat Murphy for the amount of work they put in during the first few months…when we were just struggling along. Many people said that the Club would be a failure, but to date we have proved them wrong, and I hope that in the new twelve months the Club will attain the place it deserves among the other walking clubs in this country’.

The annual elections followed with George O’Brien and Hilary Lysaght becoming Vice Presidents and Joe Cotter commencing his long term as Club secretary. The new Club year started with 41 members and 12 prospective members and walks were being held almost weekly. It was in July of that year that Geoff Luscombe was given the onerous and tedious task of producing and developing the Club photographic album, and the album as it stands today is a fine tribute to Geoff and a fitting memento to the many hours of work he spent on its development.

Towards the latter end of the year, the Club sought affiliation with The Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs, and this was effected early in 1953.

The year closed with an extended tour from Buckland Valley to Harrietville via The Barry Mountains and Mt Hotham.

This account of the first two years of the Club’s life would not be complete without recalling some advice given the infant Catholic Walking Club of Victoria by the Chaplain and Founder of the Catholic Bushwalking Club (Sydney), Rev Father Coghlan when he wrote ‘…Catholic is the first word in your club’s title and therefore the object of your club should be to make walkers Catholic rather than Catholic walkers’.