Club History: From a Tip to Tip-Top

In 1841 Henry Dendy made his “special purchase” and set up the township of Brighton. The boundaries of Dendy’s Purchase were South Road, Moorabbin, East Boundary Road Bentleigh, North Road, Brighton and the coastline of Port Phillip Bay. In hindsight, not a bad purchase at $5 per hectare, or as he paid back then: one pound per acre. The land around today’s Harold Caterson Reserve was used for market gardens back in the 1840s.

Parish Of Melbourne map 18641864 Parish of Moorabbin Map
(Click HERE for a large version)

Robert Keys was born in Ireland in 1818 and came out to Victoria in 1845 to join his family who had emigrated and had had a farm in Brighton since 1841. Robert married Charlotte, an Irish lass, in 1847 and they built and lived in the Brighton Club Hotel, now Dan Murphy’s on Nepean Highway, North Brighton. Coincidentally, this Hotel is where the Moorabbin U18's had their end of season function in 1970. (Stories from this function abound, but they will never be published!)

In 1870 he sold the hotel and purchased and subsequently moved to the land bounded by Chesterville Road, Bernard Street, Warrigal Road and Keys Road where he started a 15 acre fruit orchard. It is not known whether the road was named after the family because they had purchased the land but it is likely to be so because there is no record of the road subsequently being re-named in his honour. As a substantial local businessman Robert became a one of the first councilors at the inception of local government. He was a Brighton City Councilor in 1859 and subsequently served as a Moorabbin Shire Councilor (including some time as President of the Shire). He also served as a Justice of the Peace, until his death in 1887. Robert Keys is buried in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery in Charman Road, Cheltenham (adjacent to Cheltenham Railway Station). Charlotte died in 1914 and is buried with him as are several members of the family.

Robert Keys Headstone - Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery
Robert Keys Headstone
(Click HERE for a large version)

The whole area from South Rd. in the north to Centre Dandenong Road in the south was used for market gardens up through the 1940's and 50's then the land north of Cheltenham Secondary College (the rear of the rugby club) was developed for commercial use and the land south of the School was developed for housing. During WWII the supreme allied commander Douglas MacArthur had his headquarters in Melbourne and there was a secret wireless receiving station in Chesterville Road (where Mackay Rubber is today). There were lots of American servicemen riding motorbikes back and forth with messages to the Exchange Hotel on Nepean Hwy; the Hotel having been requisitioned to house American GIs running the wireless station. Several local girls ended up marrying Americans and returned to the US as War Brides. In the 60's Beecham Pharmaceuticals (think; Amoxil) built a factory in the area, as did Coca Cola (they are still there). Schweppes and Coates Inks also built in the area. HG Palmer had a large factory on the corner of Keys Road and Chesterville Road. They were a large electrical manufacturer and retailer (TVs and Radios). This is where the fruit retailer is today.

In those days everyone was a smoker and Phillip Morris built a factory on the corner of Cochrane and Chesterville Roads. Also, the Moorabbin Drive In theatre was a stone’s throw from the ground. Lindsay Fox was starting out down in Chesterville Road (more on him later) and the South Side Six Hotel (now the Sandbelt Club Hotel) was built on South Road. Moorabbin was booming. It needed facilities, it needed a tip, and one was established in Keys Road.

In those days recycling consisted of giving your empty beer bottles to the Boy Scouts, milk bottles to the Milk Man (milk was home delivered) and old newspapers to the fish shop to wrap fish and chips (some at the MRUFC will know this culinary delight as “fush ‘n’ chups”). Everything else was “tipped”. So by 1965 the tip was full and the council has covered the area with a thin layer of sand. The tip was situated on the slope of a hill, thus the topography of the tip was such that the west side was at road level and as you head east, down the hill the tip height grew to be about 20 feet above the road level.  When you stood on the eastern side of the tip the top of the rubbish was at about roof height of any buildings further east.  This is why today the fields have a huge slope that the balls get kicked down and become lost and that every kid loves to play down the slope during matches!

During Moorabbin’s first season in 1965 the club was allocated to play at Wishart Reserve off Bluff Road in Moorabbin (today it is Hampton East but what's in a name?). Wishart Reserve did not have car parking or change rooms but it did have a nice slope, marching girls and a worn path across the field.

Fortunately one of our brand new committee, Les Bradbury, was a golfing buddy with Councillor Don Bricker and he managed to convince the city council via Cr. Bricker to find a permanent home for the new club. The club was offered the newly covered tip in Keys Road. It was to be shared with a cricket club in summer. We accepted the offer as did the cricketers. And cricket was played there for the 1965-66 season but due to the state of the oval the cricketers walked off and never returned. Moorabbin has not had to share their fields with a summer sport since. Sadly, this cricket pitch is the site of my worst ever cricket performance and it will not documented further here but you could see me at the bar and buy me a beer and I’ll enlighten you on my miserable cricketing career.

The original pitch was at the rear of the tip area at the Cheltenham Secondary College end. The street frontage of the tip had piles of filling dumped on it. There was a green shed to keep the line marker in, two thunder boxes for toilets that generously wafted to wherever you were standing and nothing else that could be construed as facilities. Rob Morley reminded me that before every match there were emu parades to pick up all the rubbish that poked through the covering topsoil. This practice continued for a number of years.

1972 Keys Road - U10s1972 Keys Road - Moorabbin U10s
(Click HERE for a large version)

Another founding committeeman, Harold Caterson paid for a steel, single car, Falcon garage to be erected on site to be used as change rooms. Graham Blair managed a working bee to lay the slab for the floor. These quickly became club rooms where an unlicensed bar was installed, the toilets were the back fence.  The next season a set of showers were added to the Old Tin Shed with a briquette fired hot water service in use. Young players can ask an old member what a briquette is? Most importantly, Harold made it his mission to manage/entice/convince/badger the council to improve the pitch and its surroundings. Those who knew Harold knew that he was very persistent.

Moorabbin Rams - Old Tin ShedMoorabbin Rams - the "Old Tin Shed"
(Click HERE for a large version)

Later, through club working bees, a more sophisticated (although still unlicensed) bar and verandah were added and this brought shelter from the weather and allowed additional revenue to be made. Terry Sullivan made a personal sacrifice each training session after the warm up was finished to excuse himself from training to go back into the tin shed and light the hot water service for the showers. Strangely, Terry was rarely sighted again outside the club rooms before training had finished.

The club rooms became a home away from home after home matches during the season with the bar being open so early on Sunday mornings before last drinks were called. Members sometimes slept in their cars because they were in no condition to drive home. On one Sunday morning when I came up to clean up after the Saturday night I found a player who was freezing cold in his car; he had climbed into his car early Sunday morning and started the engine to keep himself warm but he ran out of fuel sometime during the night. We needed to go to the local servo to get a tin of fuel to get the car started so he could head home. It may or may not have been Graham Blair. Yes, Sunday morning clean-ups could be a lot of fun with on other occasions shotguns being let off.

1972 Moorabbin Rams old drivewayThe 1972 Moorabbin drive way
(Click HERE for a large version)

In those days we drank beer out of 18 gallon kegs and weekly the beer truck had to struggle up the muddy driveway to deliver full kegs and retrieve the empties. The bar was important, it was invaluable to finance the club and loyal club members did their very best to strengthen the club finances. There were stories, which I have been unable to verify, that the local police were well aware of the unlicensed bar at the club and had a deal with the club that they would provide a “heads up” if the licencing squad were sniffing around. According to one of these stories on one occasion a “heads up” was received and club members scrambled up the club early on a Sunday morning to clear the booze out of the club. This was then taken to the Presidents home where the members proceeded to drink the evidence. MRUFC members have always been prepared to put their bodies on the line for the club. Of course this is only legend and would not happen today. This shed was used up until 1978 when the council built a set of club rooms for use, including toilets, social club, training lights and better showering facilities. As well as training, match day and after match functions the old tin shed saw many 21st birthdays and buck’s nights. The less said about the buck’s nights the better! In the early days there were also visits from a South Australian team, West Torrens, every second year. MRUFC members were divided into two groups, the players who were to remain sober until after the game and those who were to meet the West Torrens bus and ensure the their players were well oiled before the game commenced. The defunct St. Kilda Rugby Club had a longstanding relationship with West Torrens and this transferred to the new Moorabbin club.

The pitch was a quagmire after rain and when it dried out you needed to do another emu parade to pick up the broken glass, and metal bits, etc..  There was no designated car parking in those days so cars could park all around the ground and up on the hill by the High School; club rugby with car horns tooting after a try was scored.  And of course to begin with there was no lighting, except car headlights, at training.  Over the years Harold Caterson haunted the council offices, he developed good relations with the council officers while Jack McDavitt “managed” Cr. Bricker and thus incrementally improvements were made to the site.

1972 Keys Road - Moorabbin Rams 2nd grade1972 Keys Road - 2nd grade
(Click HERE for a large version)

It was not all smooth sailing. As the vacant land available for commercial purposes was used up, our rugby pitches were, and still are the only “vacant” commercially zoned property in this area of Moorabbin. It was rumored that the Lindsay Fox Organization was offering the local council a premium to move the club’s playing fields to Kingston Heath Fields so that the Fox Corporation could develop the site. Kingston Heath is opposite DFO and Moorabbin Airport where hockey, soccer and tennis facilities were being developed. However, the club staying in Keys Road has been a good thing, except for car parking!  The club is surrounded by factories on three sides and with the Secondary School to the south, we do not have residential neighbours and thus can make a lot of noise late into the evening and not have any complaints.

But the club was growing. In 1975 after years of having our best players pinched by the first grade rugby clubs Moorabbin earned promotion to the first grade (Premier Division today) and became the only club in the Moorabbin municipality playing with a football either round or oval, that was in the top division of their sport. This was, in part, due to the club persisting with the development of junior players, something that continues to this day. Then a second pitch was developed in 1981 which was just in time to enable the club to cope with the ever continuing growth in teams. Four open aged teams and a full complement of juniors were being fielded each Saturday and both fields were required for training nights.  Most summers the Council would re-seed the fields and water them regularly. They also installed automatic watering systems over the years to facilitate improved rehabilitation of the pitches over summer. And while they repaired and upgraded the pitch in the 1980's we spent a season training and playing on the nearby Rowans Rd. Reserve using hired lights strapped on the verandah of the club rooms and car headlights to train by. The growth has also meant that lower grades have from time to time played at the Dane Rd. field depending upon pitch availability at Keys Rd. and the matches fixtures.

Dane Road - Moorabbin Rams U18s (playing in black and red)Dane Road Reserve - Rams U18s (red & black)
(Click HERE for a large version)

Our Maori members would often put down a Hangi to celebrate life at the club. Initially these were held in member’s back yards, the first in Sandringham at Graeme and Joy Sweet’s home with Peter Newson as the chef. The Hangi pit at the Harold Caterson reserve is quite unique, in fact we are the only club in Victoria who has a Council permit to put down a Hangi. The Hangi tradition continues and currently the responsibility for Hangis is managed by the Tipene family.

Moorabbin Rams Hangi - Jack McDavitt Day 18/08/2012Moorabbin Rams Hangi - Jack McDavitt Day 2012
(Click HERE for a large version)

In December 1994, the Moorabbin Shire Council became a part of the City of Kingston following the amalgamation of the former cities of Moorabbin, Mordialloc, Chelsea, Springvale and Oakleigh.

The club rooms were renovated and expanded in 2006. Around $800,000 was spent increasing the number of our change rooms to six, ensuring that there are separate showers for females and improving the bar and canteen. Sadly, the "Old Tin Shed" from 1965 was sent off to an operational tip, this time as fill, because the of the increased club room footprint. Then in 2012 match quality lights were installed with grants from the Victorian Government, Kingston Council and a large contribution from the club. The Kingston Council replaced the main field with a tough winter grass that will cope with scrums and not have divots torn up.

Jack McDavitt Pavillion
(Click HERE for a large version)

And in 2018 the MRUFC committee petitioned the Kingston Council to re-name the reserve The Harold Caterson Reserve in recognition of the work that Harold had done for the club since its inception in 1965.

Harold Caterson Reserve - Moorabbin Rams Rugby ClubHarold Caterson Reserve
(Click HERE for a large version)

Jack McDavitt reported in his 1981 President’s Report that during the year the Council had developed a second ground (fronting Keys Rd.) and had promised a proper driveway and car parking to come shortly. Jack notes in his 1981 President’s report that “ I believe that in the not to distant future we will have conditions second to none”.  He continues:  “ No one wanted a tin shed and a field without grass. Plenty of sporting bodies would like to share what we have. Don’t do anything to help anyone get a foot in the door” Jack’s future is now here……..except for the car parking!!!!

Moorabbin Rams Rugby Club - Melbourne AustraliaMoorabbin Rams Rugby Club 2020
(Click HERE for a large version)



Many thanks to Graeme Sweet (who reminded me of much that I had forgotten),

Graeme Sweet is an original Ram from 1965 and with his brother John played in the 1967 Premiership team.  He played for many years before moving to the Yarra Valley with his wife Joy to manage thier pharmacies.  Currently, they live on the NSW South Coast.

Ken Dowman is an original Ram who played for McKinnon High and St. Kilda Colts before coming to Moorabbin in 1965 and he also played in the 1967 Premiership team.  Ken had been Patron for a number of years. You’ll see him on the sideline each home game.

Rob Morley is another original Ram who played for many years and after retiring from playing Rob managed many teams.

Ron Caterson played juniors and seniors at Moorabbin, including the 1974 Grand Final, son of Harold and is the current Patron of the club. You will see Ron at the club often fixing the training rooms or marking the grounds, etc..


Reference Books:

Battlers Tamed the Sandbelt, Tom Sheehy, City of Moorabbin

Moorabbin: A Century History 1862 to 1962, John and Esta Handfield (public Relations Pty Ltd.) for Moorabbin City Council



1864 Parish Of Moorabbin Map - Historic Plans collection from Public Record Office Victoria

Grave of Robert Keys 
In the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, adjacent to Cheltenham Station.

1972- U10s
The good end of the field!!!!
Note the piles of soil for the second field.
Jack McDavitt coaching the U10s, with John Haigh refereeing

Extended old tin shed
This had been extended several times since 1965. In its final iteration there was a first grade changing room included.
Photo  circa 2005 courtesy of Ron Caterson

1972 Keys Rd. – Driveway
Front left is Paul Pierce, originally an Aspendale Tech junior, behind him is the van that the club purchased to transport juniors to matches, mostly driven by Ken Lemon. Behind the van is the tin shed.  Harold Caterson adjacent to the van is walking towards the camera.

1972 Keys R. 2nd Grade -Second grade playing Old Scotch.
Note the state of the field,
Moorabbin players from left: not sure, Jeff Gilbert (70s side burns), Terry Sullivan, Paul Wilken, Graeme Blair (over Paul’s shoulder), John Taylor (red hair) Graeme Sweet (moustache), Geoff Hutchison (just), Peter Lowe

1969 Dane Rd - Moorabbin U18s vs Army Apprentices School (Balcombe)
Moorabbin in “old” red and white hooped hand me down jerseys from who knows where!!!!
Note the railway line behind the field.

Moorabbin Rams Hangi - Jack McDavitt Day 18/08/2012

Jack Mc Davitt Pavillion
Named after Jack in 2005 

Harold Caterson Reserve sign
The fields were named after Harold in 2018

Tip Top Grounds
Today looking from Keys Rd. towards the school