In 1996, the headquarters of the long established Melbourne Hunt Club along Cameron Street [Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road] were demolished*. The end of these charismatic buildings was the end of an era when Cranbourne and its surrounding districts were at the centre of this traditional sport. Today when you travel along Cameron Street, you will see the construction of a new housing estate called The Hunt Club Estate. This is yet another symbol of the passing of time and the rapidly changing land around Cranbourne. Its rural foundations are gradually disappearing and are being replaced by the trademarks of progress. The Hunt Club name survives and with it a fascinating history that saw the intermingling of ‘elite’ Melbourne society with a farming community.
A long-time member who had enjoyed close associations with the Hunt Club since being a teenager in the 1940s, Mr. Derry Francis remarked that: ‘to see the club house, stables and houses removed recently was a very sad loss of a great lot of memories!’
The English tradition of fox hunting on horseback was established in Australia during the 1830s and the Melbourne Hunt Club dates back to the 1840s. By the 1870s, Melbourne’s wealthy families like the Chirnsides and the Clarkes, indulged in the hunt as a prestigious leisure activity for special occasions. Kangaroo hunts, as well as traditional foxhunts, were also popular. The club needed headquarters to stable members’ horses and to breed the hounds. The hounds were pivotal to the club. A club would become well known for the pedigree of its hounds and for how well the chief huntsmen could train them. Well-trained hounds would ensure a good chase of the fox for the hunters on horseback.
Cranbourne was selected as a new site for the Hunt Club when urban development was squeezing them out of their existing site in Oakleigh during the 1920s** Fox hunting relies on the availability of space and cooperation with neighbouring farms: land was the key to the survival of the club. Oakleigh’s farms were beginning to disappear, signalling a problem for the club. The Cranbourne site, on the corner of Thompsons and Narre Warren Cranbourne Roads was chosen by a special ‘Country Committee’ of the Melbourne Hunt Club in the late 1920s. The committee included Pakenham identity J.J. Ahern, S.A. Greaves and the owner of the ‘Mayfield’ property in Cranbourne, R.G.Hope. These men provided an important link between the Melbourne gentry society and the Cranbourne and Berwick Shire areas. As influential landowners, they could persuade the Club that Cranbourne would sustain the Club’s endeavours, providing them with plenty of space for their activities and township support.
Alec Creswick, George Missen and Rupert Richardson outside the Berwick Inn. The Melbourne Hunt Club used to gather at the Berwick Inn before setting off for the days hunting.
When the club moved to Cranbourne, there had already been a long association with the Casey-Cardinia region. The first Master of the hounds was George Watson, from the I.Y.U property in Pakenham. Permission was required from landowners to hunt across their property and the committee had to work very hard to achieve and maintain this. There was eventually a network of properties that would participate in the hunt, making their land available and allowing the club to install special points in their fences where horses could safely jump. Watson became a stoic figure in the club over the years and enjoyed the benefits of his sons owning land in Narre Warren and Hallam during the 1890s. His son Godfrey Watson owned ‘The Pines’ and kennelled the hounds there during the 1897 season. The Greaves family in the Berwick and Cranbourne district also featured in the history of the Hunt Club. Again they were a useful connection because they owned large properties and allowed the hunts to operate there. Greaves family properties included ‘Fernside’ at Cranbourne and ‘Strathard’ at Narre Warren.
The Hunt Club adopted parts of Cranbourne culture as its own. The sustaining industry during the 1920s and 30s in Cranbourne was dairying and the town was an industry leader in providing the first bottled milk. The Hunt Club picked up on the local culture and the following club poem describing local sites highlights this:
The Lyndhurst, Clyde and Cranbourne chaps
There must be easy seven
And other men from Nar Nar Goon,
We’d make up to eleven,
The Huntsmen coves, the General said,
Put sugar in their tea,
And Cranbourne milk is pretty strong
You take the tip from me….
The 1920s clubhouse at Cranbourne was the scene of many social engagements, especially refreshments after a hunt, and was a notoriously beautiful building. It was located near the railway line on Narre Warren Cranbourne Road, where the Hunt Club housing estate is now being developed. The buildings could not be seen from the road. They were at the end of a long and winding driveway. The clubhouse was on the left, followed by the Bregazzi house. There was an orchard, dog kennels, exercise yards and a room where all the meat was boiled up for dog food. At the end on the right hand side were the enormous stables. A car could be driven through the centre and there was a chute along which the chaff was shovelled.
A curious and compatible relationship developed between the local Cranbourne community and the patrons of hunting who travelled up from Melbourne. They shared a love of the country and of sport. Horse people and other locals from surrounding properties joined in the club activities, rubbing shoulders with prominent politicians, visiting dignitaries and wealthy business people from the city.
One of Cranbourne’s pioneering families, the Bregazzies, had a special association with the Hunt Club. Keith Bregazzi worked for the club between the early 1930s and 1975 when he retired. Keith was highly respected as ‘the backbone of the Melbourne Hunt Club’. He and his wife Phyllis lived in a cottage on the Hunt Club grounds and were well-known personalities, both locally and among the many and varied club members that came to Cranbourne to enjoy the high-quality organization that Keith quietly and efficiently maintained. He was in charge of the training and breeding of the hounds, the welfare of the horses and the overall property. Club member Derry Francis remembers: We became very friendly with Keith and I often went up to help him with the hounds and horses. On my 15th birthday, I was given a pony ‘Bidgee’ then I could go and help work the hounds pre-season, with Keith and Ted McCoy. Late teens I got a hunter and hunted with the hounds for years. In that period there were 4 different Masters – Sir Alex Creswick, Peter Ronald, Owen Moore and Jeff Spencer – great years!!
This is the Hunt Club at Cranbourne - it's part of the Casey Cardinia Library Corporation Archive collection, but I don't know the date or the source of the photo.
The Club was a very established part of Cranbourne’s identity. There are many memories held by locals who had various involvements with the club, either as members of the Hunt, workers at the hunt complex or as children. Children from nearby properties loved to play at the grounds. Pam Ridgway recalls: We spent a lot of time at the Hunt Club visiting the Bregazzi family. We used to play in the stables and around the kennels. During the hunting season the hunting party looked magnificent in their red coats and black hats. There were hurdles along farmers paddock fences so that there were safe places to jump.
Locals would follow the hunt by road in cars, on horseback and in jinkers, making a real occasion. The Hunt Club was a prestigious part of Cranbourne for many decades. Its headquarters are now located at Pakenham.
A 1980 aerial photograph of the Melbourne Hunt Club at Cranbourne. It was located on the east side of Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road and the north side Berwick -Cranbourne Road (Sladen Street extension). The railway line bi-sects the photo.
*I believe that some of the buildings were removed and that two buildings are now in Modella and being used as a private house [Heather Arnold]
** According to Niel Gunson, The Good Country: Cranboure Shire the Hunt club moved from Oakleigh to Cranbourne in 1925, but according to several reports in local newspapers on Trove, it was actually 1929 that they moved.