THE WANDERING GOLFER: BRENDAN MOLONEY
AUSTRALIA lost a distinguished historian and golf is poorer for the recent passing of Professor Weston Bate at the age of 93.
The Melbourne-born academic had an extraordinary life into which he crammed flying Lancaster bombers in World War II, teaching at every level from, kindergarten to PhD and writing the histories of the Metropolitan and Barwon Heads Golf Clubs.
He said his taste for history and his take on it stemmed from growing up, the third of two girls and five boys, in suburban Mont Albert. There they lived in a Californian bungalow with a Californian mother (Molly, from Montecito near Santa Barbara, CA). It was by the railway station in a village full of Dickensian characters and had a wonderful feeling of belonging. When asked to write a local history he realised he had a feeling for it where his historian contemporaries would have washed their hands of the idea.
This led to his acclaimed history of the Melbourne suburb of Brighton and was the start of a brilliant career in which he was Chairman of History at the University of Melbourne, Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University, President of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and Chairman of the Museums Advisory Board, Victoria. He was also influential in the creation of Sovereign Hill at Ballarat.
Before all this he answered his country’s call and learnt to fly Tiger Moths at Benalla in northern Victoria before training on the big bombers and given his command at the age of 20 shortly before the war ended. He did not think it extraordinary that someone so young was responsible for flying the huge, four-engine bombers and for the lives of his seven crew.
“I flew a Lancaster before I could drive a car, or shaved, or kissed a girl,” he recalled in an interview in 2016. “Because I had done well, I was commissioned. I went to the Australian headquarters in Kingsway (London) and got a uniform, from Saville Row! My old sergeant’s uniform was cut out with a knife and fork. The little man who measured me was looking to see if one shoulder was slightly higher than the other...
“I had a lovely uncle in London, a clergyman who was secretary of the Colonial and Continental Church Society, which of course did not have much to do on the continent during the war. I had a lovely gift from him. His office just off Fleet Street had its view of St Paul’s (Cathedral) cleared by the bombing. He had a friend who was a very good watercolourist come in and paint the view for me and gave me the picture. I still have it.”
His golfing career started in his pre-teen years in the early 1930s when he and a mate played the seaside Torquay course with just a putter and balls they found in the water hazards while on holiday. “My first lesson was when I was at the University (of Melbourne) and used to go to Royal Park to play,” he recalled. “There was Peter Thomson practising. He was 15 (Bate was 20). He was drawing a ball around a tree on the 7th hole and then slicing one the other way. Peter saw me and corrected my grip. It had been hopeless and it made a huge difference.” He got down to single figures playing at Metropolitan but said his golfing career contained just two memorable moments ... Many years apart.
“This is very boastful but the highlight of my golfing life was in 1951 when my brother John, who was not much of a golfer, and I went out for a round at Sorrento and I birdied the first five holes. It was extraordinary. It was only a social game and I finished just over par. I could hit the ball a long way in those days and my fairway woods were pretty good. I got my handicap down to six but I did not go any further. I gave golf away for football. Then I got married and had to give it away for 25 years before coming to Metro.”
The other highlight came 64 years later, in 2015, when he won the Metro C Grade championship in a play-off that attracted the members from the bar to form a good gallery. He won at the 20th hole against Andrew Burridge, 30 years his junior. “Andrew is a delightful man who has had MS for many years,” he said. “He is such a determined character and we had a lovely match. When we finished we embraced in the middle of the green. Coming up the 18th he waved his handkerchief as a white flag.”
Vivid memories from more than half a century ago included watching South African Bobby Locke “with his absolutely precise draw. It was amazing. I also liked Ossie Pickworth and I followed Peter Thomson with a lot of delight because he was such a lovely man.”
He was chuffed when told he had something in common with Thomson who obtained a handicap so he could play in club competitions with wife Mary at Sorrento. Just as Metro boasts about its nonagenarian C Grade champ, Sorrento’s centenary history has a chapter on its five-time British Open champion. The caption under his picture says simply: “P.W. Thomson, B Grade mixed foursomes champion”.
Weston Bate (24 September 1924 – 31 October 2017) is survived by his wife of 62 years, Janice, and five children.