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.

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